Previewing the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament

March 19, 2024
The 68 DI men’s teams were revealed on Sunday, and the single-elimination (!!!) tournament officially begins tonight.
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Previewing the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament

⚙️ How it works

The 68 DI men’s teams were revealed on Sunday, and the single-elimination (!!!) tournament officially begins tonight.

In terms of logistics, after ranking teams from one through 68, the selection committee then divides them up into the bracket’s four regions: the East, South, Midwest, and West.

  • Ranks one through four become the four No. 1 seeds — one for each region. Teams ranked five through eight become the No. 2 seeds, and so on.

The committee also places teams into each region. Generally, higher-ranked programs earn the privilege of being placed in the region they’re closest to geographically, but that’s not always the case.

  • For example, if all four No. 1 seeds were located in or near the East region, the No. 1 overall seed would be given the East, while the others would get dispersed across the other three regions.

The First Four matchups will determine the final seeds in the 64-team main grid. Tonight, Wagner and Howard will battle for a No. 16 seed at 6:40 p.m. ET, and Colorado State will take on Virginia for a No. 10 seed at 9:10 p.m. ET.

  • Tomorrow, Grambling State will face Montana State for the last No. 16 seed while Colorado must contend with Boise State for the final No. 10 seed, also at 6:40 p.m. ET and 9:10 p.m. ET, respectively.
  • Why the No. 10 and 16 seeds? Because the four lowest-ranked automatic qualifiers vie for a No. 16 seed while the four lowest-ranked at-large bids fight for a No. 10 seed. Basically, the committee grants better seeding to at-large squads vs. smaller DI conference champs.

Then the real Madness begins with 63 win-or-go-home contests over the next three weeks — including the round of 64, round of 32, Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four, and April 8th’s championship game. It’s a marathon and a sprint.

1️⃣ The No. 1 seeds

Previewing the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament
Source: Quinn Harris/Getty Images

🐶 UConn Huskies (East): The five-time national champs are the No. 1 overall seed. Simply put, UConn is a beast: This year they set the Big East’s single-season conference wins record, became the Power Six’s only conference No. 1 seed to win their tourney, and are riding into the mayhem with a 31-3 record.

  • Despite losing top players from last year’s title-winning squad, a stellar trio — sophomore center Donovan Clingan, senior guard Tristen Newton, and freshman guard Stephon Castle — are poised to make the Huskies the first back-to-back champs since 2007.

🐆 Houston Cougars (South): Houston’s the only other Power Six squad to post 30 dubs this season, and that’s in large part due to their lockdown defense, which limited 10 of their opponents to 50 points or less. With the addition of transfer senior guard L.J. Cryer to direct the Cougars’ offense, Houston could hoist their first national trophy…ever.

♨️ Purdue Boilermakers (Midwest): The Boilermakers are coming in hot with their newly minted all-time leading scorer and last year’s National Player of the Year (POY), senior center Zach Edey and his whopping 7-foot-10.5 wingspan. Even more impressive? Purdue is the country’s second-best three-point shooting team.

  • Last year, Purdue became only the second No. 1 seed to fall in the first round, so they’ll be out to prove they’re not a March mistake.
  • Of note, the first top seed to crash out like that was 2018’s Virginia…and they responded by winning the 2019 natty. What’s that about history repeating?

👣 UNC Tar Heels (West): After a terrible 2022–23 season that saw the six-time champs left out of March Madness entirely, the Heels are so back. With fifth-year forward Armando Bacot and one of the nation’s best guards, senior RJ Davis, leading the way, this year’s trophy could be etched in Carolina blue.

👊 The contenders

Previewing the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament
Source: Vol_Hoops/X

🔶 No. 2 seed Tennessee Volunteers (Midwest): When people think of Tennessee basketball, they think of the Vols’ eight-time national champ women’s team. But this year, thanks to elite defense and scoring spark plug fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht — a POY contender — the men have a real shot at winning their first national trophy.

🐅 No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats (West): The Wildcats didn’t have the toughest conference schedule; however, they more than made up for it with major non-conference victories over dynasties like Duke, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. With four double-digit scorers, including UNC transfer senior guard Caleb Love, these ’Cats prove winning is a team effort.

🐦 No. 3 seed Creighton Bluejays (Midwest): Less than a month ago, Creighton earned their first win over a No. 1-ranked team, handing UConn their worst loss since 2019. If the Bluejays can bring that “beat anybody” energy, expect their formidable offense to carry them to their first-ever Final Four.

🦅 No. 2 seed Marquette Golden Eagles (South): Unlike the Bluejays, Marquette failed to challenge the Big East–leading Huskies this season, but they have toppled powerhouses Illinois and Kansas. The biggest question mark in determining how far these Eagles will fly? The status of Marquette’s injured assists leader, senior guard Tyler Kolek.

🐈 No. 3 seed Kentucky Wildcats (South): While blue blood Kentucky flew under the radar in the cutthroat SEC this season, don’t get it twisted — their roster is stacked: Senior guard Antonio Reeves drops 20 points per game (PPG) and freshmen guards Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard are likely Top-5 NBA Draft picks. Their Achilles’ heel? Inconsistent defense.

🐯 No. 4 seed Auburn Tigers (East): Speaking of the chaotic SEC, the Tigers’ offense propelled them to a surprising conference tourney title. Their mid strength of schedule means they haven’t been deeply tested, but there’s nothing like March to force these Tigers to show their stripes.

🐎 The dark horses

Previewing the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament
Source: Duke MBB/X

😈 No. 4 seed Duke Blue Devils (South): Five-time national champ Duke boasts a POY contender in sophomore center Kyle Filipowski on their talent-rich roster, which led the ACC in offense and three-point shooting percentage. That said, the Blue Devils struggled against ranked opponents this season. TL;DR: Their potential is limitless, but they’ll need to dig deep to turn it into reality.

🐱 No. 7 seed Washington State Cougars (East): The last time Wazzu made it past the Sweet 16? 1941. But these Cougs — who finished the regular season on an impressive 13-3 run after adding junior forward Jaylen Wells to the starting lineup — look ready to end that 83-year drought. As the only team to topple Arizona twice all season, don’t underestimate these big cats.

🌪️ No. 2 seed Iowa State Cyclones (East): The Cyclones absolutely thrashed Houston to steal the Big 12 tournament trophy, and were none-too-pleased to find themselves below No. 1 on Selection Sunday. A poor road record contributed to their seeding, but their elite defense could see them storming deep into the Madness.

🪶 No. 4 seed Kansas Jayhawks (Midwest): Making their 34th straight trip to the natty are the Jayhawks, who started the season as the country’s No. 1 ranked team thanks to senior stars Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. — both of whom were recently injured. If they’re healthy, watch out.

🐺 No. 11 seed NC State Wolfpack (South): Playoffs wipe the season’s slate clean, and no team embodies that more that NC State, who lost 10 of their last 14 regular-season games before flipping the script and winning five straight — including topping Duke, Virginia, and UNC — to take the ACC tournament title.

🦬 No. 10 seed Colorado Buffaloes (South): A First Four team as a dark horse? Bet. After a season cursed with injuries, the finally healthy Buffs ended the regular season on a six-game win streak, plus a run to their conference tourney final. Some say better late than never, but we’d say these Buffs are right on time.

💪 (More) players to watch

Previewing the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament
Source: San Diego State Athletics

Jaedon LeDee, San Diego State (East): Last year’s championship game could have capped LeDee’s already solid NCAA career, but the No. 5–seed Aztec forward chose to return. And the POY contender leveled up this season, averaging over 21 PPG (up from 7.9 last season) and adding a three-point shot — which he drained 41% of the time — to his toolkit. Slay.

DaRon Holmes II, Dayton (West): Joining LeDee as the only other mid-major baller on the POY semifinalist list, Holmes drops over 20 PPG and leads the Atlantic 10 conference in rebounding — both of which helped Dayton to a No. 7 seed.

Boo Buie, Northwestern (East): No. 9–seed Northwestern brought bedlam to the regular season, and grad student guard Buie was responsible for a lot of it, including netting a season-high 31 points to upset Purdue on December 1st. The Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer can’t do it alone though, and roster injuries could hamper a deep run.

Tyson Walker, Michigan State (West): In his final season as a Spartan, Walker led No. 9–seed MSU on the scoresheet. But just like his head coach (HC) Tom Izzo (who’s making his NCAA–record 26th straight trip to the tourney), you can never count out the grad student guard in March.

Tucker DeVries, Drake (East): Junior guard DeVries doesn’t just lead his No. 10–seed Bulldogs with nearly 22 PPG, he’s also the sixth-best scorer in the entire country. And his dad, Darian, who’s also the team’s HC, might be the key reason for his success. Who doesn’t love a father-son duo?

📺 Tune in

Previewing the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament
Source: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Clear your cal for three epic weeks of basketball, starting with tonight and tomorrow’s aforementioned First Four games. The fun tips off at 6:40 p.m. ET with Wagner vs. Howard on truTV in the U.S. and TSN+ in Canada. Let’s dance.