The NCAA tournament isn't just about breakout stars and bracket-busters (college basketball's version of last-lap crashes), but it's also about community. From 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, when Michigan State and Valparaiso tip off in Auburn Hills, Mich., until the April 8 final in Atlanta, more than 100 million people will tune in to the stunning twists and turns of what amounts to a three-week soap opera. And that's not counting the women's tournament, which may have more familiar protagonists (see Baylor, UConn, Notre Dame and Stanford) but is just as capable of yielding the unexpected.
On Sunday, when the men's field was announced, there was much talk of parity. But when SI senior writer Kelli Anderson sat down to fill in her brackets, her choice of the champion was obvious. To see which four teams you can expect to be at the Georgia Dome, as well as the rest of her picks,
16 N.C. A&T/LIBERTY
Montrezl Harrell is still too hot for any No. 16 seed to handle.
8 COLORADO STATE
Senior-stocked Rams win this battle of the boards.
5 OKLAHOMA STATE
Ducks' first Big Dance since 2008 is just a quick spin.
4 SAINT LOUIS
13 NEW MEXICO STATE
Aggies have superior size, but Billikens are just superior.
11 M. TENN./ST. MARY'S
Perfect in C-USA play, Tigers finally get—and pass—a test.
3 MICHIGAN STATE
Unless Bryce Drew suits up, Crusaders' journey ends here.
Jays boast the nation's most efficient half-court offense.
These Great Danes don't like to run, which doesn't bode well.
The 'Ville's Gorgui Dieng contains Colton Iverson in this battle of the bigs.
Cowboys struggle to score against Billikens' physical half-court D.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo has made 10 of the last 15 Sweet 16s; add one more.
Devils guard Seth Curry outguns Doug McDermott in old-fashioned shootout.
The spirit of former coach Rick Majerus is not enough to carry Saint Louis past the Cardinals' swarming 22 press.
Blue Devils' offense is better on paper, but their defense gets shredded by 6'9" Derrick Nix and point guard Keith Appling.
It's time to get Russdiculous—in the best possible way. The 6'1" guard slashes and shoots his team to a second consecutive Final Four.
Jags were 4--26 two years ago; just making it here is a win.
9 WICHITA STATE
Despite free throw woes, Panthers survive low-scoring grind.
Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson has nothing more to say.
4 KANSAS STATE
13 BOISE ST./LA SALLE
Former Illinois coach Bruce Weber gets first NCAA win with 'Cats.
A top three-point shooter— Ian Clark—wins it for Bruins.
3 NEW MEXICO
Crimson's first NCAA victory will have to wait another year.
7 NOTRE DAME
10 IOWA STATE
Cyclones get distracted by Irish's Shamrock Shake look.
2 OHIO STATE
Gaels point guard MoMo Jones shines, but only briefly.
Kelly Olynyk trumps Steven Adams in battle of 7-foot foreigners.
How does a Badger beat a Wildcat? With the nation's No. 3 ranked D.
Belmont has no answer for Lobos' attack inside or outside.
15 FLA. GULF COAST
Eagles' first NCAA trip is almost over before it starts.
7 SAN DIEGO STATE
Jamaal Franklin makes sure Aztecs avoid early upset.
14 NORTHWESTERN ST.
Demons lead the nation in scoring—but they won't score enough.
Bruins can't advance without injured Jordan Adams.
13 SOUTH DAKOTA ST.
Nate Wolters makes his last stand with Jackrabbits.
Zips don't keep calm or move on when faced with Havoc.
8 NORTH CAROLINA
The four-guard offense is still clicking for the Tar Heels.
16 WESTERN KY.
Jayhawks' star Ben McLemore is too much for Hilltoppers.
Short bench dooms Aztecs as Hoyas reach first Sweet 16 since '07.
Gators win on strength of the SEC's best three-point offense and D.
Rams lock up Michigan guard Trey Burke; teammates can't compensate.
Jeff Withey (3.79 blocks per game) makes Heels pay for entering the paint.
Like their unfinished November game on the USS Bataan, this one will be close, but Hoyas' stingy D stifles Gators' long-range game.
Sloppy Jayhawks (13.7 turnovers per game) meet their biggest nightmare: Rams' 8.0 turnover margin is the nation's best.
Two problems for VCU: Hoyas are better at imposing their defensive will and Rams have no answer for versatile forward Otto Porter (16.3 points per game).
Pacific's Bob Thomason wants to retire; 'Canes allow him to.
6'7" Andre Roberson fuels talented but inconsistent Buffs.
Big East tri-champs get physical with Wildcats, avoid upset.
Bulldogs guard Rotnei Clarke delivers in his NCAA debut.
After losing Mathias Ward to injury, Grizzlies lose to Orange.
Even in San Jose, Rebels are too much for Bears to bear.
8 N.C. STATE
A-10 POY Khalif Wyatt gets one more game with Owls.
Hoosiers are hungry after Big Ten tournament loss.
The ACC's top defensive player, Durand Scott, locks down Buffaloes.
Golden Eagles inability to shoot threes catches up with them.
Rebels star Anthony Bennett busts 'Cuse's 2--3 zone from the high post.
Cody Zeller (57.3%) and Victor Oladipo (59.9%) don't miss many shots.
Bulldogs can't bang with Hurricanes' trio of bigs: 6'11" Kenny Kadji, 6'10" Julian Gamble and 6'10" Reggie Johnson.
In the D.C. subregional, young Rebels are no match for Hoosiers, who have a deep bench to go with the country's best starting five.
Indiana's bid to make its first Final Four since '02 is thwarted by 'Canes, whose coach, Jim Larranaga, knows about unlikely tournament runs.
Coach Rick Pitino (six Final Four appearances) and the Cards have been here before; Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his crew have not. An onslaught of withering full-court pressure shows that Zags still have more dues to pay.
Hoyas can't slow down Hurricanes or rein in speedy sophomore guard Shane Larkin (14.6 points, 4.4 assists, 2.0 steals), one of the most accomplished players in the ACC and the breakout star of the tournament.
It's true: Defense wins championships. The Cardinals' path won't be easy, but guard Peyton Siva & Co. make it look like so much fun.
DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (4); GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (4); AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (2); BILL FRAKES/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; ANDY HAYT/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; ERICK W. RASCO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; PORTER BINKS FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED; AP (5); CAL SPORT MEDIA; GETTY IMAGES; USA TODAY SPORTS
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