So, you’ve decided to watch the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Congratulations!

Buckle up. It promises to be a bumpy ride to Glendale, Arizona. Last year’s semifinalists stunned us: Connecticut, San Diego State, Florida Atlantic, and Miami. This year figures to be bonkers also because only the defending champion Huskies have been reliable.

This might be the final edition of March Madness as we know it. Conference realignment starts next year with the expansion of the SEC, Big 12, and ACC, coupled with the end of the Pac-12. Plus, SEC commissioner/supervillain Greg Sankey seems hellbent on ruining the NCAA Tournament by adding more teams. And pretty soon, the players may become unionized employees

For now, let’s focus on why this tournament could be so unpredictable:

If that’s not enough to convince you that we’re living in bizarro world basketball, consider the following:

We have no idea what’s going to happen. Just embrace the madness. 

What you should know about the No. 1 seeds:

East Region

Connecticut (31-3)

Head Coach: Dan Hurley

Most recent One Shining Moment: 2023 national champion

Big Man on Campus: Tristen Newton (15.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists)

UConn will try to be the first to repeat since Florida (2006, 07), but the East is stacked with challengers like Iowa State, Illinois, and Auburn. The Huskies don’t have a bad loss on their résumé (Kansas, Seton Hall, and Creighton). They beat fellow No. 1 seed North Carolina in December, won the regular-season Big East title easily, and won the Big East Tournament title. Last season, UConn rolled in the NCAA Tournament by an average margin of victory of 20 points. This time, however, the Huskies are facing expectations that last year’s No. 4 seed didn’t have.

The Huskies are deep, with five players averaging double figures, led by Tristen Newton. They also boast the nation’s most efficient offense, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. UConn doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses, although St. John’s scoring 90 points on them might give some opponents optimism. As long as Dan Hurley isn’t sidetracked by anger-management issues, expect to see the Huskies back in the Final Four.

Midwest Region

Purdue (29-4)

Head Coach: Matt Painter

Most recent One Shining Moment: 1969 national runner-up

Big Man on Campus: Zach Edey (24.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks)

It’s the Final Four or bust for Matt Painter and Zach Edey, who have a relatively easy path to Glendale. No team in the field faces more pressure. After being stunned by No. 13, No. 15, and No. 16 seeds in consecutive years, there are no acceptable excuses anymore. This must be the Redeem Team after losing in the first round last season to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson, which didn’t even win its conference tournament and only got into the tournament on a technicality. The Boilermakers handled business during the regular season, including an impressive run in the Maui Invitational with victories over ranked opponents Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Marquette.

However, Purdue’s performance in the Big Ten tournament is reason for concern. Struggling against Michigan State and being upset by Wisconsin in the semifinals doesn’t inspire confidence. They swept those teams in the regular season. How the Boilermakers respond in the next close game they play will be fascinating.

South Region

Houston (30-4)

Head Coach: Kelvin Sampson

Most recent One Shining Moment: 1984 national runner-up

Big Men on Campus: L.J. Cryer (15.3 points) and Jamal Shead (13.1 points, 6.2 assists)

Houston looked like the best team in the country until its implosion versus Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament title game. Reason for worry? Probably not. That was probably an outlier performance by the Cougars who might have their best shot at winning a national championship. They have the top defense in the nation in points (56.6) and field-goal percentage allowed (37.9). They’re second in defensive efficiency by the Pomeroy ratings. Plus, if you believe that guard play wins in the postseason, you’re not going to find a better backcourt than Jamal Shead and L.J. Cryer.

The biggest red flag is Houston’s style of play. Pound for pound, Kelvin Sampson is as good a coach as there is. But this team’s offensive pace is troublesome. Houston plays at the 15th-slowest tempo in the nation. That might leave the Cougars more prone to an upset than the rest of the No. 1 seeds.

West Region

North Carolina (27-7)

Head Coach: Hubert Davis

Most recent One Shining Moment: 2017 national champion

Big Men on Campus: RJ Davis (21.0 ppg) and Armando Bacot (14.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks)

Love it when Roy Williams shows up to enthusiastically cheer on Hubert Davis, who obviously appreciates the support. Wish more legendary coaches would do that. Davis has had an up-and-down few years since being Williams’s hand-picked successor. Final Four in 2022. Missed out on the tournament in 2023. This year, with some roster tweaking, North Carolina won the ACC regular-season championship. After some early-season stumbles, the Tar Heels had won eight straight before being upset in the ACC title game versus NC State.

The Tar Heels have an exceptional 1-2 senior punch in RJ Davis, the ACC Player of the Year, and veteran big man Armando Bacot. But what has made a difference are the transfer portal additions of Harrison Ingram (Stanford) and Cormac Ryan (Notre Dame). Highly touted freshman guard Elliot Cadeau has occasionally struggled but could make an impact in the NCAA Tournament.

Five things we love about this tournament

Kentucky’s unpredictability: The Wildcats are the most exciting team in the field. They beat North Carolina. They’ve lost to UNC Wilmington. They could score 100 points. They could give up 100 points. They could lose to Oakland. They could reach the Final Four.

Arizona’s Caleb Love potentially facing North Carolina in the Elite Eight: Caleb Love was a three-year starter for the Tar Heels before entering the transfer portal. The guard has enjoyed a career-best season for Arizona, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year. It would be fun to see him take on North Carolina with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Howard super-senior Seth Towns: The eighth-year senior is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2021. During an injury-plagued career, the former Ivy League Player of the Year has been at three schools (Harvard, Ohio State, Howard) and taken three medical redshirts. He’s the second-leading scorer (14.2) for the Bison. 

Duquesne: The last time the Dukes were in the NCAA Tournament, Jimmy Carter was in his first year as president. What’s even cooler is that this team is coached by retiring Keith Dambrot who is best known for being LeBron James’ high school coach in Akron, Ohio. 

The return of Big Red: Western Kentucky is back for the first time since 2013, which means the best mascot in college sports is back. How could you not love the Hilltoppers’ adorable red blob?

Most likely No. 12 seed to beat a No. 5

There are several viable candidates for the 12-5 upset. You can make a case for James Madison over Wisconsin, Grand Canyon over Saint Mary’s, McNeese State over Gonzaga. We’re going with McNeese State. Gonzaga (25-7) was seeded way too high, and McNeese State (30-3) is entering this game on an 11-game winning streak.

The All-Tournament Name Team

Rocket Watts, G, Oakland

Churchill Bounds, F, Wagner

Dain Dainja, F, Illinois

Tony Toney, G, UAB

Ali Ali, G, Akron

Enoch Cheeks, G, Dayton

Boo Buie, G, Northwestern

Our Final Four picks

UConn, Baylor, Marquette, South Carolina

The National Championship

UConn defeats Marquette

Enjoy the games!

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.