Must-watch player: Corey Kispert
The hometown kid, Jalen Suggs, runs the show for Gonzaga, but Kispert is an All-America for a reason, too. He leads the highest-scoring team in college basketball at 19.2 points per game and is one of the nation's top three-point shooters at 44.4%.
Must-watch matchup: Iowa vs. Kansas
The Hawkeyes are a top-10 scoring offense and especially dangerous when they get hot from three-point range because that creates more room inside for Luka Garza. This is not a typically dominant Kansas team, and COVID knocked it out of the Big 12 tournament, so it's unclear how that might affect its roster. But Bill Self's squad showed improvement down the stretch. This would be a fun Sweet 16 matchup.
Calling it now: Gonzaga
People complain about their weak conference schedule, but have you seen the Bulldogs' talent? Suggs and Kispert will be lottery picks. As a team, they average 92 points per game and have defeated Kansas, Virginia and Iowa by double digits. I will be shocked if they don't make the Final Four.
Must-watch player: Jared Butler, Baylor
Butler is an All-America guard and one of the most versatile players in college basketball. Baylor's toughness as a team starts with Butler, who leads the team in scoring (17.1), shoots 43% from three-point range and is tenacious on defense.
Must-watch matchup: Arkansas vs. Colgate
No, seriously. This is not your usual No. 3 vs. No. 14 matchup. This promises to be a high-scoring, run-and-gun track meet. Like offense? Here you go. Colgate ranks second nationally in scoring — behind only Gonzaga — at 86.4 points per game. Arkansas is No. 7 at 82.4. Let's just say, first team to 90 wins.
Calling it now: Baylor
The Bears looked primed to join Gonzaga as the only undefeated teams until a COVID pause disrupted their season late. A lengthy layoff left some rust, and Baylor lost once in the regular season and again in the conference tournament. The Bears are a tough as nails, though. They will earn a spot in the Final Four after surviving a slugfest with Ohio State in the region final.
Must-watch player: Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
This 7-1 freshman center led a balanced Michigan team in scoring, rebounding and blocks despite averaging only 25 minutes per game. He's a punishing force in the post, but he has to avoid foul trouble for the Wolverines to be at their best.
Must-watch matchup: Texas vs. Alabama
A traditional powerhouse matchup in football, right? Pfft. These guys can hoop, too. We're projecting this as a Sweet 16 matchup. Texas comes in with tons of confidence after winning the Big 12 tournament title for the first time. Alabama proved that it's not just a football school by winning both the SEC regular-season and tournament titles. Herbert Jones was the SEC's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Calling it now: Michigan
Losing senior guard Isaiah Livers to a foot injury is a significant blow, but the Wolverines are a tough, resilient group. Florida State will be standing in their way in the Sweet 16. Expect that one to be decided in the final seconds, or possibly overtime, but Michigan advances to the Final Four out of this region.
Must-watch player: Cade Cunningham
Want to see a No. 1 overall NBA draft pick? This is the guy, Oklahoma State's uber-talented freshman guard. The 6-8 Cunningham can score, rebound, shoot from the perimeter. He does it all as the headliner in a star-studded class of freshmen.
Must-watch matchup: Illinois vs. Loyola Chicago
Howdy, neighbor. This will be a cool second-round matchup if Loyola can get past Georgia Tech in the opener. The darlings of the 2018 tournament, the Ramblers, inspired by Sister Jean, made a miracle run to the Final Four. Don't expect a repeat, but Loyola ranks No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to 55 points per game. They haven't seen an opponent like Illinois, however.
Calling it now: Illinois
The Illini are my clear favorites in this region. They have everything needed. Ayo Dosunmu is a magnificent guard who is at his best in clutch moments. He's one of college basketball's premier talents. Kofi Cockburn is a powerful presence inside. Their supporting cast is rock-solid. The Illini are well-coached, battle-tested and good enough to win the whole thing.