Rating the region: Toughest of the four. Three teams won a major-conference title. Five teams are in the Pomeroy Ratings top 15. This is your group of death.
Contenders to cut down the nets in Philadelphia: North Carolina, Kentucky, Xavier, West Virginia, Indiana.
Pretenders who will be bounced early despite high seeds: None. Although Indiana and Wisconsin both stumbled significantly in the Big Ten tournament and will have to play better to avoid a first-round knockout. The Hoosiers have health concerns, with guard Robert Johnson out three weeks with an ankle sprain, and Collin Hartman and Juwan Morgan both banged up.
Cinderellas: None likely in this loaded region. But No. 12 seed Chattanooga, No. 13 Stony Brook and No. 14 Stephen F. Austin are formidable mid-majors. SFA is on a 20-game winning streak, with the last nine victories by 21 points, and has a No. 33 Pomeroy rating – 72 spots higher than the next No. 14 seed.
Team that doesn't belong: Tulsa, which squeaked into the play-in round in Dayton despite a 22-point American Athletic Conference tournament loss to non-Dancing Memphis – the Golden Hurricane's second loss to the Tigers in their past three games. Frank Haith's charmed life continues.
Chances of a 1-16 upset: None. North Carolina gets the winner of Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Florida Gulf Coast, and this isn't the Dunk City team of 2013. That Cinderella team entered the tournament 50 spots higher than this year's version in the Pomeroy Ratings.
Best potential round-of-32 game: Indiana-Kentucky. Especially since they won't schedule each other anymore.
Best potential Sweet 16 game: North Carolina-Kentucky. Merely the winningest (Kentucky) and third-winningest (North Carolina) programs in college basketball history.
Best potential regional final game: North Carolina-Xavier. Musketeers would be shooting for first Final Four in school history; Tar Heels trying to get there for the first time since 2009.
Best coach: North Carolina's Roy Williams has two national titles and seven Final Fours on his résumé.
Underrated coach: Stephen F. Austin's Brad Underwood is 98-13 in three seasons on the job and has lost just one Southland Conference game.
Best player: Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis has carried the Wildcats to this stage and is the best point guard in the country.
Best player you haven't heard of: Stony Brook strongman Jameel Warney, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound wide-body who averaged 30.3 points and 15.3 rebounds in the America East tournament to lead the Seawolves to their first NCAA bid.
X-factor: Has to come from X, right? That would be freshman guard Edmond Sumner, the deluxe athlete who dropped 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds on Villanova but then scored a total of five points in his next two games. If he's locked in, he's a tough matchup for anyone.
Welcome March sight: West Virginia coach Bob Huggins in his warm-up jacket, press pass dangling from his belt loop, scowling and howling.
Best part of this bracket: The USC-Providence first-round matchup pits America's most ghoulish mascot (the Friar) against America's hottest coaching wife (model Amanda Marcum, married to Andy Enfield). This will be a live performance of Beauty and the Beast, Thursday night in Raleigh.
Pat's pick: North Carolina.
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