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College basketball fans thought picking the bracket was tough last season.

Wait til this NCAA Tournament really gets going.

With no clear-cut favorites and seemingly a dozen teams that could take down the nets in Houston, this March could be the mother of madness.

Regardless of whether you have to shred your bracket early, it figures to be a fantastic road to the Final Four:

East Regional

Get to know No. 1

If North Carolina (28-6) can play defense like they did against Virginia to win the Atlantic Coast tournament, it will go far. Senior Marcus Paige has had shooting slumps but is the team’s director, averaging 12 points and 3.8 assists. North Carolina is in a loaded region with No. 2 Xavier, No. 3 West Virginia, No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 Indiana.

Cinderella

It will be a tough task with Kentucky waiting in the wings, but No. 13 Stony Brook took Vanderbilt to overtime on the road and won 22 of its last 24. Senior forward Jameel Warney has NBA talent, averaging 19.8 points and 10.7 rebounds.

Top first-round matchup

No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 Providence. The Trojans ended 5-7, but have five players who average double-digit scoring. And USC is the same team that beat Wichita State, Arizona and Colorado. The Friars had some late-season stumbles but have won four of their last five.

Players to watch

Kris Dunn, Providence: The junior guard has NBA lottery-pick talent, averaging 16 points and 6.4 assists. He passed up the draft last year to come back and try to help the Friars to a special season.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: The senior guard’s season started with an injury. The regular season was relatively quiet. But in the ACC tournament, Paige stood out, especially on defense. He held Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia scoreless and forced Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon into difficult shots.

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: As a freshman, he averaged 5.6 points. This season, he’s averaging 16.8 as a linchpin for the Wildcats and is being discussed as the nation’s best point guard. Ulis is coming off a 30-point performance against Texas A&M in the Southeastern tournament final.

West Regional

Get to know No. 1

Pac 12 champion Oregon (28-6) had 10 victories over the RPI top 50, went 5-1 against the AP Top 25, played the nation’s third-toughest schedule and ranks No. 2 in the RPI. Its two losses outside the top 100 have a caveat: They came during a one-week stretch when freshman Tyler Dorsey was injured and Jordan Bell was just coming back from a broken foot.

Cinderella

No. 11 Northern Iowa isn’t going to flinch. It has beaten North Carolina, Iowa State and Wichita State (twice) this season. It has a balanced roster with four players averaging double-digit scoring.

Top first-round matchup

No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Northern Iowa. Is this a different Texas team than we’ve seen in recent Tournaments? The Longhorns have failed to get out of the first weekend the last seven years (including the no-bid year of 2013).

Players to watch

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Anyone who saw the senior guard’s (waved-off) buzzer beater against West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament knows Hield is capable of bringing March Madness excitement. He leads the field, averaging 25 points, making him a national player of the year candidate.

Grayson Allen, Duke: You either love the sophomore guard or hate him. Allen showed in last year’s NCAA championship game he is a player who deserves attention. This season he has been involved in some controversial tripping incidents, but he can score, averaging 21.6 points.

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: The Canadian-born sophomore forward is the leader of a versatile cast of Ducks. He averages 16.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists. After a rare three-point game against USC, he has averaged 17.3 his last three games.

Midwest Regional

Get to know No. 1

Nobody defends like Virginia (26-7), which hold opponents to fewer than 60 points and forced 12 turnovers. The Cavaliers rank fourth nationally in defensive efficiency. Their downfall might be that they rely too heavily too often on guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Cinderella

No. 11 Gonzaga has flown under the radar in a rare off season by its standards. Forwards Kyle Wiltjer (20.7 points) and Domantas Sabonis (17.4) are tough matchups. Gonzaga faces a tough first-round matchup against gritty No. 6 seed Seton Hall, but has the personnel to win it.

Top first-round matchup

No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Iona. The Gaels are a team that could make some noise. They can play at a pace to keep up with the Cyclones and they boast guard A.J. English (22.4 points). Iowa State has disappointed in recent Tournaments, losing its first game last season and falling to seventh-seeded Connecticut in the Sweet 16 in 2014 as a No. 3 seed.

Players to watch

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: A prototypical Michigan State senior, Valentine does it all for the Spartans. The national player of the year candidate’s versatility is obvious on the stat line with 19.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.6 assists. He has three double-doubles the last four games.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The sophomore guard’s go-ahead basket against Villanova for the Big East tournament title literally floored coach Kevin Willard. He could provide more wows. Averaging 18.4 points, Whitehead has scored at least 20 in seven straight games.

A.J. Hammons, Purdue: The 7-foot senior has evolved into a dominant, reliable and tough center. A top shot blocker who can hit an occasional 3-pointer, he pairs with other big bodies to make the Boilermakers a tough matchup.

South Regional

Get to know No. 1

With stunning depth and enviable experience, Big 12 champion Kansas (30-4) earned the Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. Senior forward Perry Ellis (team-high 16.7 points) and junior guard Wayne Selden (13.3) are eager to lead Kansas back to the title game for the first time since 2012 and win the championship for the first time since 2008.

Cinderella

No. 11 Wichita State has a history of upsets before rising to national prominence. Behind gritty point guard Fred VanVleet, it is in a relatively weak side of the South bracket, with potential games against No. 6 Arizona, an up-and-down No. 3 Miami and No. 2 Villanova, which has a history of too-early exits.

Top first-round matchup

No. 4 California vs. No. 13 Hawaii. The Golden Bears are young but talented in their second season under coach Cuonzo Martin. Hawaii has flown under the radar with a 27-5 record and a three-point loss to Oklahoma in December.

Players to watch

Devonte Graham, Kansas: The sophomore guard proved to be a difference maker in the Big 12 title game with 27 points, four steals and five rebounds against West Virginia. He averaged 5.7 points as a freshman but has made big strides this season for the talent-loaded Jayhawks, averaging 11.7 points and 3.8 assists.

Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: A four-year captain who has never missed a game, Arcidiacono is a steady leader who averages 11.9 points and 4.4 assists. He competes like a football player, frequently diving into the stands for loose balls.

Roderick Bobbitt, Hawaii: The senior guard from Oakland, Calif., gets a chance to show the local team what it missed in a first-round matchup against Cal. He does a little bit of everything for the Rainbow Warriors with 13.3 points, 5.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds. He scored 32 against Oklahoma in the Diamond Head Classic.

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