During March Madness, play a different kind of bracket pool for the NCAA tournament. USA TODAY Sports Brackets allow your bracket to never get busted.
USA TODAY Sports breaks down the NCAA West Regional.
Best first-round matchup: Marquette-Murray State. Marquette and high-scoring junior guard Markus Howard (25.1 points per game) appeared to be headed for the Big East Conference regular-season title, but the Golden Eagles lost their last four regular-season games — including at home against Georgetown and Creighton. They routed NCAA at-large selection St. John’s in the conference tournament, then lost to Seton Hall — and Howard seemed affected by an injured wrist. Marquette now faces the dynamic sophomore guard Ja Morant and a Racers team that has won 11 in a row, including beating NCAA at-large team Belmont in the conference tournament final. Morant averages 24.6 points, 10 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 36.5 minutes per game. Murray State averages 83 points per game, Marquette 78.
Potential upset: After Murray State over Marquette, look to the second round. If Syracuse beats Baylor, it’s exactly the kind of team that can take down Gonzaga – it plays a zone defense that’s tough to prepare for in a short amount of time, and it’s fine playing at a slower pace.
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The sleeper: Buffalo got a taste last year, when it routed fourth-seeded Arizona in the first round before running into Kentucky in the second. If the Bulls get past St. John’s or Arizona State – both intriguing sleepers – they would face a very tough task against Texas Tech, but they have the playing style to push the Red Raiders. Nevada has all of the components to give any team in this bracket a hard time, but if Jordan Caroline’s Achilles’ tendon – which kept him out of the Mountain West semifinals — continues to be a big problem, the Wolf Pack won’t be the same.
NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET: See all 68 March Madness teams
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The winner: The easy choice here is Gonzaga, especially now that Killian Tillie is back from a foot injury. But in addition to a potentially tough second-round matchup, Florida State lurks in the round of 16. The Seminoles eliminated the Bulldogs from the tournament last year, so Gonzaga would have plenty of motivation in a rematch. But Florida State is just like it was last season – tall, athletic and deep. So the pick is Texas Tech.
Michigan is at least as good as it was last season, when it advanced to the championship game. And Michigan State – which has beaten the Wolverines three times — is not in this regional. But with Jordan Culver, the Red Raiders have the kind of singular player who can be the difference-maker. Their loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals notwithstanding, the Red Raiders also just seem to have a certain toughness about them. And after losing to eventual national champion Villanova in the round of eight last year, they know they can take the next step.
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Nickname: Bulldogs. Location: Spokane, Washington.
Record: 30-3, 16-0. Bid: West Coast at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Florida State in Sweet 16.
Coach: Mark Few (28-19 in 19 appearances).
Overview: Notwithstanding a lackluster performance in the WCC tournament finale that saw their 20-game win streak end, the Zags, Sweet 16 fixtures in recent years, are quite capable of a deep run. They defend relentlessly, generate fast-break points and space the floor well. This group gets the bulk of its points from the frontcourt, led by WCC player of the year Rui Hachimura. They have capable perimeter shooters, but they’re more effective when the ball goes inside first.
Projected starters: F Rui Hachimura, 6-8, Jr. (20.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 61.3 FG%); F Brandon Clarke, 6-8, Jr. (16.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.2 bpg, 68.8 FG%); G Zach Norvell Jr., 6-5, So. (15.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 85.6 FT%); G Josh Perkins, 6-3, Sr. (11.0 ppg, 6.6 apg, 82.6 FT%); F Corey Kispert, 6-6, So. (8.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg).
Nickname: Wolverines. Location: Ann Arbor.
Record: 28-6, 15-5. Bid: Big Ten at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Villanova in national championship game.
Coach: John Beilein (24-12 in 12 appearances).
Overview: Carry-overs from last year’s national runners-up and the emergence of freshman Ignas Brazdeikis helped make up for key losses. This team started the season 17-0 but hit some stumbling blocks in a tough Big Ten schedule. Michigan’s defense is top-notch, third nationally in points allowed (58.8), but its offense can fall under cold spells. Still, this is a group that hammered Villanova by 27 and North Carolina by 17.
Projected starters: G Jordan Poole, 6-5, So. (12.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 81.1 FT%); G Zavier Simpson, 6-0, Jr. (9.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, 5.0 rpg); Jon Teske, 7-1, Jr. (9.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg); F Isaiah Livers, 6-7, So. (8.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg); F Ignas Brazdeikis, 6-7, Fr. (14.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg).
3. Texas Tech
Nickname: Red Raiders. Location: Lubbock.
Record: 26-6, 14-4. Bid: Big 12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Villanova in Elite Eight.
Coach: Chris Beard (4-2 in two appearances).
Overview: After losing the bulk of the team that made a run to the Elite Eight last season, the Red Raiders rebuilt with key transfers and the emergence of sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, Big 12 player of the year. The Red Raiders’ stifling defense – they lead the nation holding opponents to 36.8% shooting and rank second in scoring defense, holding opponents to 58.6 points a game – is the backbone.
Projected starters: G Jarrett Culver, 6-6, So. (17.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.7 apg, 48.7 FG%); G Davide Moretti, 6-2, So. (11.6 ppg, 50.7 FG%, 48.1 3FG%); G Matt Mooney, 6-3, Sr. (10.9 ppg, 3.3 apg); F Tariq Owens, 6-10, Sr. (8.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg); C Norense Odiase, 6-9, Sr. (4.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 56.1 FG%).
4. Florida State
Nickname: Seminoles. Location: Tallahassee.
Record: 27-7, 13-5. Bid: ACC at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Michigan in Elite Eight.
Coach: Leonard Hamilton (10-9 in nine appearances).
Overview: Despite coming up short in the ACC title game, the Seminoles did themselves a world of good in the tournament. Their win against Virginia improved their seed as well as their confidence. Hamilton is not afraid to use his bench; leading scorer Mfiondu Kabengele (12.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg) hasn’t started a game all year. Opponents will have a hard time keying on a particular scoring threat, but on the flipside FSU sometimes struggles to find a take-over guy when the game gets close.
Projected starters: G Terance Mann, 6-7, Sr. (11.2 ppg, 6-4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 78.5 FT%); G Trent Forrest, 6-4, Jr. (9.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg); G M.J. Walker, 6-5, So. (7.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Phil Cofer, 6-8, Sr. (7.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg); C Christ Koumadje, 7-4, Sr. (6.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg).
Nickname: Golden Eagles. Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Record: 24-9, 12-6. Bid: Big East at-large.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to South Carolina in first round.
Coach: Steve Wojciechowski (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: It’s been a breakthrough season in the Steve Wojciechowski era at Marquette. The difference-maker is national player of the year candidate Markus Howard, an explosive guard who had 45 points against Buffalo and Kansas State in December and 53 vs. Creighton in January. But this team saw how too much reliance on Howard can hurt in a four-game losing streak to close the regular season.
Projected starters: G Markus Howard, 5-11, Jr. (25.1 ppg, 4.0 apg, 90.7 FT%); G/F Sam Hauser, 6-8, Jr. (14.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 91.9 FT%); F Joey Hauser, 6-9, Fr. (9.7 ppg 5.3 rpg, 44.4 3FG%, 82.1 FT%); F Theo John, 6-9, So. (5.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 60.9 FG%); G/F Sacar Anim, 6-5, Jr. (8.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
Nickname: Bulls. Location: Buffalo, New York.
Record: 31-3, 16-2. Bid: Mid-American champ.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Kentucky in second round.
Coach: Nate Oats (1-2 in two appearances).
Overview: The tournament is becoming old hat for the Bulls. With four appearances in five seasons, they’re hoping to go farther after upsetting Arizona in the first round last year. This might be their best team in recent history as evidence by road wins at West Virginia and Syracuse. The bench is critical to their success.
Projected starters: G CJ Massinburg, 6-3, Sr. (18.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 42.2 3FG%, 78.0 FT%); G Jeremy Harris, 6-7, Sr. (12.9 ppg, 6.2 ppg); G Jayvon Graves, 6-3, So. (9.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Davonta Jordan, 6-2, Jr. (6.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.6 spg); F Montell McRae, 6-10, Sr. (6.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 57.4 FG%).
Nickname: Wolf Pack. Location: Reno.
Record: 29-4, 15-3. Bid: Mountain West at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Loyola-Chicago in Sweet 16.
Coach: Eric Musselman (2-2 in two appearances).
Overview: With most of the team back from last year’s deep tourney run and five seniors starting, the Wolf Pack spent much of the season ranked in the top 10. Their late-season slump, however, is concerning. Their ability to come back from big deficits on display last March is still there, but so is the alarming tendency to fall behind. They’re long, athletic and crash the boards well, though their collective shooting range is limited.
Projected starters: G Caleb Martin, 6-7, Sr. (19.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.9 apg); G Jordan Caroline, 6-7, Sr. (17.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.0 apg); G Cody Martin, 6-7, Sr. (11.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.1 apg); F Tre’Shawn Thurman, 6-8, Sr. (7.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Trey Porter, 6-11, Sr. (7.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
Nickname: Orange. Location: Syracuse, New York.
Record: 20-13, 10-8. Bid: ACC at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Duke in the Sweet 16.
Coach: Jim Boeheim (60-32 in 33 appearances).
Overview: With its trademark zone defense, the Orange again will be a tough draw for any opponent that doesn’t play against it on a regular basis. This year’s squad will go as far as its occasionally spotty offense can take it. Top scorer Tyus Battle missed the ACC tournament with a bruised tailbone but should be ready for the opening round.
Projected starters: G Tyus Battle, 6-6, Jr. (17.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.5 apg); F Elijah Hughes, 6-6, Jr. (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg); F Oshae Brissett, 6-8, So. (12.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg); (12.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg); G Frank Howard, 6-5, Sr. (7.9 ppg, 2.9 apg); C Paschal Chukwu, 7-2, Sr. (4.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 71.6 FG%).
Nickname: Bears. Location: Waco, Texas.
Record: 19-13, 10-8. Bid: Big 12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to South Carolina in Sweet 16.
Coach: Scott Drew (10-7 in seven appearances).
Overview: The Bears, who enter on a four-game losing streak, lost big man Tristan Clark in January, forcing a radical shift toward a more guard-oriented attack. Makai Mason, a graduate transfer from Yale, has been the offensive catalyst. A nagging toe injury is a potential debilitating factor, though. If Mason can’t go, Jared Butler would likely start (10.1 ppg).
Projected starters: G Makai Mason, 6-1, Sr. (14.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 35.7 3FG%); G Mario Kegler, 6-7, So. (10.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.2 apg); G Mark Vital, 6-5, So. (5.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg); G King McClure, 6-3, Sr. (8.7 ppg, 5.3 ppg); F Freddie Gillespie, 6-8, Jr. (5.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
Nickname: Gators. Location: Gainesville.
Record: 19-15, 9-9. Bid: SEC at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Texas Tech in second round.
Coach: Mike White (4-2 in four appearances).
Overview: The Gators equaled the record for most losses by an at-large team in the tournament, proving their worthiness with two defeats of SEC regular-season champion LSU. If they are to advance, their defense is going to have be at an elite level. Florida does not shoot well and lacks a go-to scorer.
Projected starters: G KeVaughn Allen, 6-2, Sr. (12.0 ppg, 89.2 FG%); G Andrew Nembhard, 6-5, Fr. (8.1 ppg, 5.3 apg); C Kevarrius Hayes, 6-9, Sr. (8.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 66.2 FG%); G Jalen Hudson, 6-6, Sr. (9.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Keyontae Johnson, 6-5, Fr. (8.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
11. Arizona State
Nickname: Sun Devils. Location: Tempe.
Record: 22-10, 12-6. Bid: Pac-12 at-large.
Last appearance: 2018, lost to Syracuse in First Four.
Coach: Bobby Hurley (0-2 in two appearances).
Overview: Talented but enigmatic, the Sun Devils own non-conference victories against Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State, but also lost to Vanderbilt (which lost 20 consecutive games to end the season). Guard Luguentz Dort is Pac-12 freshman of the year. Sun Devils average 77.7 points and hold opponents to 41.1 percent shooting. At their best, they’re fierce on the boards, outrebounding opponents by 4.8 a game and playing smothering defense.
Projected starters: G Remy Martin, 6-0, So. (13.4 ppg, 5.1 apg); G Luguentz Dort, 6-4, Fr. (16.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg); F Zylan Cheatham, 6-8, Sr. (11.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg); F Romello White, 6-8, So. (8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg); G Rob Edwards, 6-4, Jr. (11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 81.3 FT%).
11. St. John’s
Nickname: Red Storm. Location: New York City.
Record: 21-12, 8-10. Bid: Big East at-large.
Last appearance: 2015, lost to San Diego State in first round.
Coach: Chris Mullin (first appearance).
Overview: St. John’s seemed to be cruising into the NCAAs as the third-best team in the Big East before dropping three consecutive games to end the regular season and then suffering a 32-point loss to Marquette in the Big East tournament. This team doesn’t usually have any issue scoring, averaging more than 78 points a game thanks to Shamorie Ponds’ playmaking and an offense that features all starters averaging double figures. The downside to the Red Storm is teams with size can capitalize and the bench is short.
Projected starters: G Shamorie Ponds, 6-1, Jr. (19.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.2 apg, 2.6 spg, 84.1 FT%); G Mustapha Heron, 6-5, Jr. (14.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 42.1 3FG%); G/F LJ Figueroa, 6-6, So. (14.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 51.3 FG%); F Marvin Clark II, 6-7, Sr. (10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg); G Justin Simon, 6-5, Jr. (10.4 pp, 3.2 apg).
12. Murray State
Nickname: Racers. Location: Murray, Kentucky.
Record: 27-4, 16-2. Bid: Ohio Valley champ.
Coach: Matt McMahon (0-1 in one appearance).
Last appearance: 2018, lost to West Virginia in first round.
Overview: The Racers have one of the top offenses in the country, ranking in the top 15 in scoring, assists and field-goal percentage. Ja Morant, projected as a high NBA draft pick, had 36 points in the Ohio Valley tournament title game. The Racers are no stranger to the NCAA field. This is their 17th appearance.
Projected Starters: G Ja Morant, 6-3, So. (24.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg,10.0 apg, 50.3 FG%); G Shaq Buchanan, 6-3, Sr. (13.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.8 spg); G Tevin Brown, 6-5, Fr. (11.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 80.0 FT%); F Darnell Cowart, 6-8, Jr. (10.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 56.9 FG%); F KJ Williams, 6-9, Fr. (7.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 69.6 FG%).
Nickname: Catamounts. Location: Burlington.
Record: 27-6, 14-2. Bid: America East champ.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to Purdue in first round.
Coach: John Becker (1-2 in two appearances).
Overview: Vermont has benefited from the ascent of Anthony Lamb, 21.1 ppg and 7.8 rpg in his junior year. The Catamounts have more than held their own on defense as well, leading the conference in points allowed per game (63.1). Sharpshooting Ernie Duncan can catch fire at the flip of a switch.
Projected starters: F Anthony Lamb, 6-6, Jr. (21.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 52.1 FG%, 2.0 bpg); G Stef Smith, 6-1, So. (12.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 81.3 FT%); G Ernie Duncan, 6-3, Sr. (13.8 ppg, 42.5 3FG%, 83.2 FT%); G Ben Shungu, 6-2, So. (4.0 ppg, 50.0 FG%, 50.0 3FG%); F Samuel Dingba, 6-5, Sr. (2.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg).
14. Northern Kentucky
Nickname: Norse. Location: Highland Heights.
Record: 26-8, 13-5. Bid: Horizon champ.
Last appearance: 2017, lost to Kentucky in first round.
Coach: John Brannen (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: Horizon player of the year Drew McDonald is the catalyst for the offense but gets help from three other double-figure scorers. Free-throw shooting is a major concern. The Norse make just 66.5% of their attempts, 312th in Division I.
Projected starters: F/C Drew McDonald, 6-8, Sr. (19.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 40.9 3FG%); G Tyler Sharpe, 6-1, Jr. (14.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G/F Jalen Tate, 6-6, So. (14.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.1 apg, 55.5 FG%, 42.1 3FG%); F Dantez Walton, 6-7, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg); G Trevon Faulkner, 6-4, Fr. (4.9 ppg, 59.1 FG%).
Nickname: Grizzlies. Location: Missoula.
Record: 26-8, 16-4. Bid: Big Sky champ.
Last appearance: 2018, lost in first round to Michigan.
Coach: Travis DeCuire (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: Montana repeated as regular-season and conference champs, despite senior stalwart Jamar Akoh being limited to just 15 games. He has not played Feb. 7. The team gets by with great shooting: The Grizzlies have knocked down 49.6 percent of their shots, among the top 10 in the nation. That extends to three-point shooting: Montana hits 38 percent beyond the arc, around 30th in the nation.
Projected starters: G Timmy Falls, 6-2, So. (4.5 ppg); G Bobby Moorehead, 6-7, Sr. (5.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg); G Michael Oguine, 6-2, Sr. (13.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 50.3 FG%); G Sayeed Pridgett, 6-5, Jr. (14.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 61 FG%, 47.4 3FG%); G Ahmaad Rorie, 6-1, Sr. (15.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4 apg, 80 FT%).
16. Fairleigh Dickinson
Nickname: Knights. Location: Madison, New Jersey.
Record: 18-13, 12-6. Bid: Northeast champ.
Last appearance: 2016, lost to Florida Gulf Coast in First Four.
Coach: Greg Herenda (0-1 in one appearance).
Overview: The Knights head to the tournament confident on all sides. Despite a turnover rate of 13.4 per game in their conference, they led the Northeast in steals and ranked among the top 30 in the country. One thing to look for as the tournament begins is how often the Knights shoot from the three-point line. They lead their conference with a 40.3% shooting from beyond the arc.
Projected starters: G Darnell Edge, 6-2, Sr. (16.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 46.9 3FG%, 89.3 FT%); G Jahlil Jenkins, 5-10, So. (13.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.5 apg, 87.4 FT%); F Mike Holloway Jr., 6-8, Sr. (12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 51.5 FG%); F Kaleb Bishop, 6-8, Jr. (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 43.9 3FG%); F Elyjah Williams, 6-7, Soph. (8.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 52.9 3FG%).
16. Prairie View A&M
Nickname: Panthers. Location: Prairie View, Texas.
Record: 22-12, 17-1. Bid: Southwestern Athletic champ.
Last appearance: 1998, lost to Kansas in first round.
Coach: Byron Smith (first appearance).
Overview: Prairie View on Jan. 2 was 1-11, thanks in part to a brutal non-conference slate that didn’t see the team play at home until the New Year. The Panthers have lost just once since. Their biggest skill is they maintain a top-five turnover margin, with a ratio over five.
Projected starters: G Gerard Andrus, 6-5, Jr. (10 ppg, 5.7 rpg); G Gary Blackston, 6-2, Sr. (15.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 spg); F Iwin Ellis, 6-7, Sr. (3.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 75.0 FG%, 42.9 FT%); G Dennis Jones, 6-1, Sr. (8.6 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.1 spg); F Devonte Patterson, 6-7, Jr. (13.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 17.9 3FG%).
Contributing: Jace Evans, Ben Soffer, Jay Cannon, Gabriella Novello, Erick Smith, Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Scott Gleeson, Eddie Timanus.