The NCAA Tournament kicks off on Thursday with first-round matches across the country, and as 48 teams prepare to try and make their championship dreams come true, SBI will look to provide you with a good primer on all that the NCAAs have to offer.
We will begin with the first two brackets in the 48-team field, the brackets led by tournament top seeds Notre Dame (No. 1 overall seed) and Maryland (No. 2). As defending champions of the toughest conferences in the nation, the Fighting Irish and Terrapins will be projected to meet in the championship game in Hoover, Alabama in December.
There are several potential stumbling blocks on the way to that potential final, starting with the brackets they each must survive through.
Here is a look at the first two of four brackets in the NCAA Tournament (look for the second half later today):
NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW (Part 1)
Top seeds– (1) Notre Dame, (8) Saint Louis, (9) North Carolina, (16) Indiana
Favorite-Notre Dame is the top seed in the tournament and the pick in this goup.
Players to watch– Dillon Powers and Ryan Finley (Notre Dame), Mikey Lopez and Danny Garcia (North Carolina), Eriq Zavaleta (Indiana), Yannick Smith (Old Dominion).
Sleeper team-Old Dominion. The Monarchs boast the kind of dangerous attack that could cause problems for a team like North Carolina in the second round. Yannick Smith is a handful and could boost his MLS Draft stock with a strong showing against the Tar Heels.
Outlook-The top three teams in this bracket are all strong and should cruise to the Round of 16, but Indiana’s late-season struggles have them looking like a prime candidate to be knocked off early, with Xavier and Kentucky both being capable of pulling off that win.
Prediction-Notre Dame beats out North Carolina for the place in the College Cup semifinals, though Saint Louis won’t make it easy for the defending champion Tar Heels to get to the Elite Eight.
Top seeds-(2) Maryland, (7) Marquette, (10) Louisville, (15) Wake Forest
Favorite-Maryland is favored to win the NCAA Tournament, let alone this bracket.
Players to watch– Patrick Mullins (Maryland), Axel Sjoberg (Marquette), Dylan Mares and Andrew Farrell (Louisville), Sean Okoli (Wake Forest), Pedro Ribeiro (Coastal Carolina), Chris Thomas (Elon).
Sleeper team– Coastal Carolina. As much as it is kind of a reach to call them a sleeper, Coastal Carolina has the talent to make a run at the Round of 16, and give Maryland some problems. That is assuming they can get by a very tough first-round test against Elon, easily the best match-up of the first round, as well as beat a Wake Forest side that owns a win against Maryland just two weeks ago.
Outlook– Maryland hit a slump to close out the regular season, but they impressed in winning the ACC Tournament and must be considered the clear pick from this group. Louisville isn’t getting much attention this year but they are stacked with talent and more than capable of making a surprise run.
Prediction– Maryland beats out Louisville in the Elite Eight, but not before being pushed to the brink in their Round of 16 match.