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Let the madness begin: 3 things to watch at the NCAA basketball tournaments

Members of the Drexel team celebrate during a game against Stony Brook in the championship of the Colonial Athletic Association conference women's tournament, Sunday, March 17, 2024. Drexel won and qualified for the NCAA women's basketball tournament - and will now face No. 1 bracket seed Texas.
Mark Schiefelbein
/
AP
Members of the Drexel team celebrate during a game against Stony Brook in the championship of the Colonial Athletic Association conference women's tournament, Sunday, March 17, 2024. Drexel won and qualified for the NCAA women's basketball tournament - and will now face No. 1 bracket seed Texas.

It's time to get those No. 2 pencils out, and brackets printed.

March Madness has arrived.

The official brackets for the men's and women's NCAA Division I college basketball tournaments were revealed Sunday evening, with the final list of the 68 selected teams showing a lot of excitement – and a few surprises.

Whether you're one of the roughly 68 million Americans expected to place a bet on the tournament, or you're just looking for an easy entryway into the March Madness conversation with some insider lingo (Cinderella, anyone?) – here are some highlights to pay attention to heading into Tuesday's kickoff:

1. Top picks for men

The University of Connecticut Huskies are the defending champions who remain favored to win this year's tournament. This marks the sixth time the Huskies have achieved the No. 1 seed in the East Region. If they can pull off another championship, they'll be the first repeat win since Florida in 2007. Other top seeds include Houston, Purdue, and North Carolina.

Favorites aside, selection committee members said this year's selection process was one of the most challenging in years.

"It's never been this hard for the committee," David Worlock, the NCAA Director of Media Coordination, wrote on X. "Not only because of how close so many of these teams are, but because of the abundance of bid thieves which have knocked teams out."

2. Increasing excitement for the women's tournament

Could this be the year that talk around the women's NCAA tournament overtakes the men's? Some analysts say it's the more interesting of the two championships, anyway.

The growing buzz around the women's tournament is thanks in part to the fan frenzy surrounding Iowa's Caitlin Clark. Earlier this month, the 22-year-old became the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division 1 basketball - men's or women's.

But it's not just about Clark, whose team bagged a No. 1 seed. Iowa faces a stiff competition from within its own region, where UCLA, Kansas State and LSU lurk. In fact, Iowa lost to LSU in last year's title game.

And then there's South Carolina, which is hoping to continue its undefeated run by capturing its second title in three years. Only nine women's teams have capped off an undefeated regular seasons with a championship – and that feat has been accomplished by only four universities.

3. Scoping out the "Cinderellas"

Who doesn't love an underdog success story? That's what the so-called "Cinderellas" of the NCAA games are all about. To find the Cinderellas, experts know to look no further than the No. 12 vs. No. 5 seed face-offs. After all - there have been 53 upsets by 12-seeds sincethe tournament field expanded in 1985.

One game that analysts are eyeing from the men's first round is No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 James Madison. James Madison could be a popular upset pick, with the Dukes (31-3) topping off the Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a 13-game win streak.

Another hot one is the No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 McNeese State, with some analysts predicting McNeese could upset and go all the way to the sweet sixteen round.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rebecca Rosman