College basketball expert Ryan Fagan breaks down his 2024 NCAA bracket picks with a little help from our TRACR model.

The NCAA Tournament bracket has been revealed, and there are plenty of questions that will be answered over the next few weeks. The biggest one: Can UConn repeat as college basketball’s national champion? That hasn’t happened since Florida turned the trick in 2006 and 2007. 

The Huskies are certainly good enough to make it happen – they’re the No. 1 overall seed and betting favorites – but there’s a reason they call it March Madness, not March Rationality.
Which teams will make a Cinderella run? Will another 16 seed pull off a shocking upset? How many double-digit seeds will crash the Sweet 16? What college superstars will dramatically improve their NBA Draft stock? All important questions. 

The only thing we can really be sure of is this: Expect the unexpected. The things we think we know will not happen. The things we never would expect will come true. Look back at the 2023 NCAA Tournament, and it’s still rather hard to believe the Final Four was made up of one 4 seed (Connecticut), two 5 seeds (San Diego State and Miami) and one 9 seed (Florida Atlantic).

Seriously, how does that happen? 

Thing is, maybe there were some indications. TRACR, our Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster, loved three of those four teams, ranking them significantly higher than the actual seeds. UConn, for example, was the No. 13 overall seed in the bracket, but No. 4 in the final TRACR rankings heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Florida Atlantic was the No. 33 overall seed, but 18th in TRACR. San Diego State was 18th on the NCAA seed list, but 14th in TRACR. The only outlier was Miami, which was the No. 20 overall seed but 44th in TRACR. 

Hey, nobody’s perfect.  Let’s take a look at what Selection Sunday produced, make some predictions and throw out some guesses. Along the way, we’ll see what teams are undervalued by TRACR. 

Upset Special: This region feels chalky, doesn’t it? Would love to say No. 14 Morehead State but Illinois is a really tough No. 3 seed. Same with 13 Yale, but Auburn is legit at 4. Not hard to see Drake over Washington State in the 10-vs.-7 game, but hard to trumpet that as a true “upset.” 

Dark Horse: No. 4 Auburn. It’s OK if you skipped the intro. You probably just wanted to get straight to the picks. Totally understand. But last year, eventual national champion UConn was a No. 4 seed even though TRACR had the Huskies as the No. 4 overall team in the country. Guess where 4-seed Auburn sits in TRACR rankings? Yep, No. 4. The Tigers are really tough. Explosive. Take a breath and they’ll rattle off a 10-point run in a heartbeat.

Be Wary: No. 1 UConn. I know, I know. Best team in the country and all. Loved by TRACR. But, yikes, the Huskies have a BRUTAL draw considering they’re the No. 1 overall seed. Not saying they’re going to lose, but, yeah, be wary. In the second round, they could have to face Florida Atlantic, a team that reached the Final Four last year, returned just about everybody and was preseason top 10. It’s been an up-and-down season, but the Owls have a talented roster with experience. Then, in the Sweet 16, they could face San Diego State (another Final Four team last year) or Auburn, which is by far the best No. 4 seed in the tournament. Then, in the Elite Eight, they’ll likely have to face either the Big 12 Tournament champion (Iowa State) or another conference tournament champ (Illinois). Sheesh.

The Pick: UConn. The Huskies are brilliant. Be wary, but still pick ’em. They’re that good.

NCAA Tournament Expert Final Four Picks

First Round

No. 1 UConn over No. 16 Stetson
No. 8 Florida Atlantic over No. 9 Northwestern
No. 5 San Diego State over No. 12 UAB
No. 4 Auburn over No. 13 Yale
No. 6 BYU over No. 11 Duquesne
No. 3 Illinois over No. 14 Morehead State
No. 7 Washington State over No. 10 Drake
No. 2 Iowa State over No. 15 South Dakota State

Second Round

No. 1 UConn over No. 8 Florida Atlantic
No. 4 Auburn over No. 5 San Diego State
No. 3 Illinois over No. 6 BYU
No. 2 Iowa State over No. 7 Washington State

Sweet 16

No. 1 UConn over No. 4 Auburn
No. 3 Illinois over No. 2 Iowa State

Elite Eight

No. 1 UConn over No. 3 Illinois

Upset Special: No. 13 Charleston over No. 4 Alabama. The Tide struggled down the stretch, losing four of their final six games. It’s hard to trust teams in March that give up tons of points, whether that’s intentional or not. In four of their final five losses, Alabama gave up at least 99 points, including 117 against Kentucky. And, one of these years, Charleston coach Pat Kelsey is going to lead a team on a deep, deep tournament run. Kelsey’s Cougars have won 12 in a row, and this could be that season. Oh, and go ahead and write No. 11 New Mexico over No. 6 Clemson in the first round in ink. 

Dark Horse: No. 5 Saint Mary’s. We’ll stick with the TRACR for the dark-horse pick. The Gaels are seventh in TRACR. Like, No. 7 overall, in the entire country. Not seventh of the teams on the West Coast or seventh of the teams that have two names. Seventh overall. That’s really impressive. And, the West is full of teams that have shown a propensity for hiccups along the way – UNC, Arizona, Alabama and even Baylor.

Be Wary: No. 9 Michigan State. We’re using “be wary of” to describe teams that could wreck your bracket, good or bad. The Spartans had a sporadic season, but there’s no shortage of talent on that roster, and a couple months ago I’m not sure anyone would have been shocked to see Michigan State knock off North Carolina. A lot can happen in 40 minutes in March that has very little to do with the previous five months.

NCAA Tournament Consecutive Appearances

The Pick: Arizona. To be honest, if you’re looking for a region that’s set up to send a high seed to the Final Four – Charleston? New Mexico? Grand Canyon? Michigan State? – it’s the West. But we’ll still go with Arizona here. So much talent.

First Round

No. 1 North Carolina over No. 16 Howard
No. 9 Michigan State over No. 8 Mississippi State
No. 5 Saint Mary’s over No. 12 Grand Canyon
No. 13 Charleston over No. 4 Alabama
No. 11 New Mexico over No. 6 Clemson
No. 3 Baylor over No. 14 Colgate
No. 7 Dayton over No. 10 Nevada
No. 2 Arizona over No. 15 Long Beach State

Second Round

No. 1 UNC over No. 9 Michigan State
No. 5 Saint Mary’s over No. 13 Charleston
No. 3 Baylor over No. 11 New Mexico
No. 2 Arizona over No. 7 Dayton

Sweet 16

No. 1 UNC over No. 5 Saint Mary’s
No. 2 Arizona over No. 3 Baylor

Elite Eight

No. 2 Arizona over No. 1 UNC

Upset Special: No. 12 James Madison AND No. 13 Vermont. Call me a sucker for March Madness craziness, but how much fun is it when two double-digit seeds face off with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line? If that’s going to happen this year, this is the region. Wisconsin looked great in the Big Ten Tournament, no doubt. But how many times do we see teams with a ton of wins in the regular season – hi, James Madison and your 31 Ws – win games in March because they understand how to win? And this isn’t so much an analytical viewpoint (TRACR loves ’em), but I’m not sold on the Duke Blue Devils out of the ACC this year.

NCAA Bracket Picks Mens Basketball Winning Streaks

Dark Horse: No. 6 Texas Tech. If the Red Raiders can stave off an upset attempt by red-hot N.C. State, their likely opponent in the second round would be 3-seed Kentucky. Tech is rated 19th in TRACR and guess where Kentucky is, you guessed it, 20th. After that, an opportunity might be right there because … 

Be Wary: No. 2 Marquette. At times this year, Marquette was going to be my dark-horse pick to win the national championship game. Right now, though, I’m not sure what to do with them. If Tyler Kolek is healthy – reports are that he will be – it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Shaka Smart’s team in the Final Four. If he’s less than 100%, though? Well, be wary.

The Pick: Houston. Expect that embarrassment in the Big 12 Tournament title game to be more than enough motivation for the Cougars to prove that was a fluke.

First Round

No. 1 Houston over No. 16 Longwood
No. 9 Texas A&M over No. 8 Nebraska
No. 12 James Madison over No. 5 Wisconsin
No. 13 Vermont over No. 4 Duke
No. 6 Texas Tech over No. 11 N.C. State
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 14 Oakland
No. 7 Florida over No. 10 Boise State
No. 2 Marquette over No. 15 Western Kentucky

Second Round

No. 1 Houston over No. 9 Texas A&M
No. 12 James Madison over No. 13 Vermont
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 6 Texas Tech
No. 2 Marquette over No. 7 Florida

Sweet 16

No. 1 Houston over No. 12 James Madison
No. 2 Marquette over No. 3 Kentucky

Elite Eight

No. 1 Houston over No. 2 Marquette

Upset Special: McNeese. Truth is, this might be the most-picked 12-over-5 upset of all time, and that’s saying something because everybody loves to pick 12 seeds. Most March Madness bracket predictions had Gonzaga a little lower (7-8 range), and when you combine an “overseeded” team (though TRACR loves the Zags) with a fun mid-major that reached the 30-win plateau, you’ll get a lot of picks. Sometimes, that’s fool’s gold. Sometimes, it’s right on the money.

Midwest Region Upset Special McNeese Gonzaga

Dark Horse: No. 7 Texas. TRACR doesn’t show much in the way of potential dark horses to claim this region’s spot in the Final Four. Texas, the 7 seed, is No. 25 in TRACR. TCU, the No. 9 seed, is No. 39. And that’s too bad, because this region could see a bit of goofiness, with Purdue as the No. 1 seed – and a history of March flops.

Be Wary: No. 4 Kansas. Again, health issues make the Jayhawks a tough team to pick right now. If Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCuller are at full strength, that’s absolutely a team that could roll past Purdue and into the Final Four. If not, though? That’s not a deep Kansas team with a matchup against a fun Samford squad in the opening round. Absent concrete information between now and when brackets have to be turned in, flip a coin, I guess.

The Pick: Creighton. It would be fitting if the Bluejays rolled to the Final Four to join UConn representing the Big East, after the elite conference landed just three tournament bids. 

First Round

No. 1 Purdue over No. 16 Montana State
No. 8 Utah State over No. 9 TCU
No. 12 McNeese over No. 5 Gonzaga
No. 4 Kansas over No. 13 Samford
No. 11 Oregon over No. 6 South Carolina
No. 3 Creighton over No. 14 Akron
No. 10 Colorado State over No. 7 Texas
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 15 Saint Peter’s

Second Round

No. 1 Purdue over No. 8 Utah State
No. 4 Kansas over No. 12 McNeese
No. 3 Creighton over No. 11 Oregon
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 10 Colorado State

Sweet 16

No. 4 Kansas over No. 1 Purdue
No. 3 Creighton over No. 2 Tennessee

Elite Eight

No. 3 Creighton over No. 4 Kansas

Final Four

No. 1 UConn over No. 2 Arizona
No. 1 Houston over No. 3 Creighton

NCAA Tournament Championship Game

No. 1 UConn over No. 1 Houston

The Huskies have been on a mission all season. Don’t see that ending anytime soon. 

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