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News Press bracket predictions: Our picks for the 2024 NCAA men's tournament

Mar. 19—March Madness provides some of the best theater in the sports calendar, and everyone wants to have that perfect bracket.

It'll never happen, but the News Press sports staff writes gave it their best shot. Here are their predictions:

East

Trevino: UConn

UConn is the safest pick — even in the most competitive region. Iowa State, Auburn, Illinois, San Diego State, BYU and Florida Atlantic are all worthy foes, but the Huskies have been regarded as the best team in the country for a reason.

They lost three starters and five of their top eight scorers from last year's national championship team, and they're still the team to beat. This speaks to how coach Dan Hurley has developed talent and retooled the roster to be even better with players such as Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle.

Breeden: Auburn

There hasn't been a back-to-back champion since Florida in 2007, and to go one step further, the defending champ has not even made it past the Sweet 16 since then.

UConn will meet its match with Auburn. The Tigers are one of the hottest teams in the country at the moment, having just won the SEC Tournament and on a stretch of seven wins in eight games.

West

Breeden: North Carolina

Not much of a case is needed for a No. 1 seed to make it to the Final Four, but UNC has all the pieces of making a deep run. The Tar Heels made it to the ACC tournament finals before losing to red-hot NC State, but North Carolina has the star power and the experience to make it this far in the big dance.

Armando Bacot is back for year five and RJ Davis is the unanimous ACC Player of the Year. Both of them were pieces of UNC's Final Four run in 2022, so they know how to get back.

Trevino: Arizona

Arizona has been a disappointing tournament team with its two most recent coaches, but the Wildcats have a great path to the Final Four, which will be played in their home state.

North Carolina is on fraud watch after losing the ACC Championship to NC State. And wouldn't it be poetic if Caleb Love, the Tar Heel turned Wildcat, sent UNC home in the Elite 8?

South

Breeden and Trevino: Houston

The Cougars have a recent history of crashing and burning quickly in the tournament even including the 2021 Final Four appearance, but this year will be different for Kelvin Sampson's team.

Houston has the best guard trio in the country with Jamal Shead, Emanuel Sharp and Baylor transfer LJ Cryer. The Cougars not only can score at-will with those three, they are also the best defensive team in the nation from an opponent field goal percentage standpoint. They have the best resume in the country based on NET Rankings.

Midwest

Trevino: Tennessee

This is admittedly a cautiously optimistic pick. The Vols have never been to the Final Four, and they haven't advanced past the Sweet 16 under coach Rick Barnes.

But, if there's a player that can get the best of Purdue's Zach Edey, the back-to-back National Player of the Year, it's Dalton Knecht. Knecht averages 21.1 points per game on 47% shooting from the field and 40% from 3.

Breeden: Creighton

Creighton has a tough road ahead of them to get here, with potential matchups with two-seed Tennessee and one-seed Purdue, but Creighton has a few things that give it an advantage in this year's tournament.

The Blue Jays are one of the most post-dominant teams in college basketball. Baylor Schierman and Ryan Kalkbrenner both average more than seven rebounds per game and also score 17 points per game.

Not only can the Jays defend and score from the paint, they also shoot it 36% from behind the arc as a team. The biggest factor in the whole equation is Creighton's slow-tempo offense, giving them the ability to turn fast-paced teams stagnant.

National Championship

Breeden: Houston over North Carolina

Having two one-seeds in the finals is boring, but this would be an intriguing matchup considering the elite versatility of Houston and the experience of North Carolina.

These two teams are elite offensive and elite defensive teams, they're both hot heading into the tournament and this would be one of the best championship games we've had in several years.

Ultimately, Houston's guards will make the difference in the game, and the Cougars will get the better of the Tar Heels for its one shining moment.

Trevino: UConn over Houston

Every once in a while, there comes a team that's nearly impossible to pick against: 2018 Villanova, 2007 Florida, 2012 Kentucky ... 2024 UConn.

Sometimes those teams lose — such as the 1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels or 2015 Kentucky Wildcats — but picking against them and watching them cut down the nets would be a gut punch. UConn and Houston have been on a collision course to the national title game all season.

Houston's concerning 28-point loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship is too much to overlook. UConn will cement itself as one of college basketball's all-time great teams.