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March Madness: Breaking down the NCAA Tournament: Who will make it to Houston?

ncaa tournament
Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The selections have been made and the 68-team field is set.

It’s NCAA Tournament time.

What that means is it’s time to expect the unexpected and to get ready for some thrilling down-to-the- wire college basketball games these next few weeks on the road to the Final Four in Houston. Alabama seems like the team to beat in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but Kansas, Texas, UConn, Purdue and University of Houston could all have something to say about that.

At any rate, buckle yourself in and get ready for another wild ride through basketball’s best tournament.

Here is a look at what you might see along the way.

Best bets to make it to Houston

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As is usually the case, there are potential pitfalls for all of the top teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field, but look for Alabama Crimson Tide, Texas Longhorns, UConn Huskies and Purdue Boilermakers to be the four teams that will make it to the Final Four in Houston.

The Crimson Tide, who are a No.1 seed for the first time, have been one of the most dominant teams and freshman forward Brandon Miller seems unstoppable on the floor. The Longhorns have displayed great mental focus after their head coach was fired early in the season, winning big games and then stunning the Kansas Jayhawks for the Big 12 championship, and that will serve them well in the run to the Final Four. UConn has a tough one out of the gate against Rick Pitino’s Iona squad, but after that the Huskies should be able to dominate. The Boilermakers may have the clearest path to the Final Four with a potential matchup with Duke in the Sweet 16 being their toughest test in the East bracket.

NCAA Tournament upset special

kent state
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Look for the 13th-seeded Kent State Golden Flashes, of the Mid-American Conference, to shock Indiana during Friday’s opening round in the Midwest Region. Kent State has been impressive throughout the season, playing both University of Houston and Gonzaga close then routing top-seeded Toledo during the MAC Tournament championship game over the weekend.

There is a precedent for this upset. In 2001, the 13th-seeded Golden Flashes upended the Hoosiers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Look for history to repeat itself.

5-12 Stunner

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The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee really outdid itself with the potential first-round upsets in the 5-12 games. Almost every year, a 12th seed pulls off the first-round upset of a fifth seed and there could be a few in this year’s Tournament.

Drake over the Miami Hurricanes could happen as could Charleston over San Diego State and No.5 Tennessee may be at less than full strength against Louisiana Rajun Cajuns. But the one that is the best bet will be Friday’s West Region matchup between No. 5 St. Mary’s and No.12 VCU. With wins over Vanderbilt and Pitt earlier in the season and the dramatic comeback over Dayton in the Atlantic-10 championship game, the Rams are definitely better than a 12th seed. St. Mary’s also seems to be ranked a little high. The Rams’ defense will prove to be the difference against St. Mary’s.

Toughest road

NCAA tournament
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The thinking was that despite a stunning loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship game, Kansas’ overall body of work was enough to be worthy of the second overall No.1 seed and a path through nearby Kansas City to the Final Four in Houston. But 20-point losses to TCU and the Longhorns and an early-season double-digit defeat at the hands of Tennessee were enough to drop the Jayhawks to the third No.1 seed behind Alabama and Houston and into the much tougher West Region.

The Jayhawks could face a stumbling block in the second round, where either Arkansas or Illinois await. Should they make it to the Sweet 16, the Jayhawks could face UConn, which is one of the teams many believe will advance to Houston.

First No. 1 to fall

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The University of Houston Cougars have had a thrilling season, occupying the No.1 ranking for much of the time. But the Cougars, who dominated the American Athletic Conference, haven’t played the toughest schedule and that will work against them as soon as the second round where the Iowa/Auburn winner will be waiting in Birmingham. Auburn will be particularly tough playing practically in its backyard. Both Power 5 conference schools have the athletes to wear down the Cougars, and if star Marcus Sasser (groin) isn’t at complete strength that will definitely doom the Cougars’ run.

March Madness Bracket buster

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For those who have UCLA going far, forget about it. The No. 2-seeded Bruins’ NCAA Tournament run will end in the second round of the West Region when they are upset by No.10 Boise State. The Broncos are usually a football school, but that blue turf magic will extend to the basketball court where the Broncos will upset No.7 Northwestern in the first round and then take out the Bruins in the second round.

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Where the NCAA Tournament Committee got it wrong

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The NCAA Selection Committee seemed to do an excellent job for the most part in selecting and seeding the teams. But there were some head scratchers when it came to the last four teams let in and the last four teams that were left out.  Perhaps the most egregious omission was that of Clemson.

The Tigers, who lost to Virginia in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, have a 23-10 record and went 14-6 in conference play. Most glaring is that North Carolina State, a team Clemson defeated three times this season, made it into the NCAA Tournament as an 11th seed in the South Region.

And the winner is …

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Look to hear Alabama isn’t just a football school anymore a lot during this NCAA Tournament season. And that is because the Crimson Tide basketball team, led by freshman Brandon Miller, have been dominant all season. That will continue to be the case with the Crimson Tide being the last team standing in Houston. They should have a relatively smooth run to the Final Four provided Miller can continue to be shielded from the controversy surrounding him and the gun that was in his possession before it was used to kill a young woman in Tuscaloosa.