Rating the region: Second toughest of the four regions. In Virginia, the South has the undisputed overall No. 1 seed. Second seed Cincinnati is a 30-win team that also won both its conference regular-season and tournament titles and is the nation’s No. 4 team in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Third seed Tennessee has some warts, but No. 4 Arizona and No. 5 Kentucky both have multiple future first-round draft picks. The region also has tourney-savvy coaches in Jim Larranaga of Miami (2006 Final Four at George Mason), Shaka Smart of Texas (2011 Final Four at VCU) and Bob McKillop of Davidson (2008 regional final). And there is dangerous underdog Loyola Chicago, a 28-win team.
Contenders to cut down the nets: Three of them in the top half of the bracket alone: Virginia, Arizona and Kentucky. Cincinnati and Tennessee shouldn’t be overlooked, either, though both will have to shoot better than their season averages.
Pretenders who’ll be bounced early despite high seeds: Sixth seed Miami is vulnerable against a Loyola Chicago team that hasn’t lost since January. The Hurricanes haven’t been as good since losing sophomore guard Bruce Brown to injury. Tennessee could also have trouble with both No. 14 seed Wright State in the opener and possibly the 11th-seeded Ramblers in the round of 32.
Cinderellas: Loyola can put four dangerous perimeter shooters and savvy passers on the floor around 260-pound wide body Cameron Krutwig, making the Ramblers hard to guard. But they might be a better defensive team, forcing turnovers and limiting open shots. If Loyola avoids NCAA stage fright, it could make a Sweet Sixteen run. As a No. 12 seed, Davidson is an exceptional offensive team that Kentucky must respect — the question is whether the athletically challenged team can match up on the defensive end.
Team that doesn’t belong: Texas, which never won consecutive Big 12 games, was a close call for the selection committee. The Longhorns likely deserved their bid, but a team that shoots just 31.5 percent from 3-point range and 66.8 percent from the foul line isn’t likely to last long — even with potential top-five pick Mo Bamba.
Chances of a 1-16 upset: UMBC guard Jairus Lyles is an instant legend at the school after his bomb beat Vermont and put the Retrievers in the Dance, but Virginia will supply a swift reality check in Charlotte on Friday. Zero chance.
Best potential round-of-32 game: Arizona-Kentucky is the kind of matchup you’d hope to see in a regional final, not the second round. Potential No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier against Kentucky young guns Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox & Co. will have NBA scouts flocking to Boise.
Best potential Sweet 16 game: The winner of Arizona-Kentucky taking on Virginia. Ideal matchup would be Arizona, with its recently acquired outlaw image, against straight-and-narrow Tony Bennett. Would the Wildcats have the discipline to grind against the defensive threshing machine that is Virginia?
Best potential regional final game: In terms of flow and offensive artistry, Virginia-Cincinnati would be hard to watch. First one to 40 wins. But if you are into defensive savagery and two teams that won’t let each other take a single uncontested breath, here you go.
Best coach: The only coach in the region with a national championship ring is John Calipari. His four* Final Fours (*two others were vacated) equal the total of the rest of the region combined (one each for Bruce Weber, Larranaga, Rick Barnes and Smart).
Underrated coach: Over the past seven years, Scott Nagy has averaged 23.7 victories per season at a couple of places where success is hardly automatic — first South Dakota State, now Wright State. Four of those seven seasons have ended with NCAA tournament bids.
Best player: Arizona colossus Deandre Ayton is viewed as the next Joel Embiid by a lot of NBA personnel. The 7-foot-1, 260-pound Bahamian can shoot the 3 (36.4 percent) and snatch rebounds in bulk (11.5 per game). And he’s elevated his play late in the season.
Best player you haven’t heard of: Nevada junior Jordan Caroline is averaging 17.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the regular-season Mountain West champions, and he’s recorded five straight games scoring 20-plus. Nevada will test Texas’ defensive vigilance in a first-round 7-10 matchup.
X-Factor: Can Jarred Vanderbilt return for Kentucky? The hyper-athletic, 6-foot-9 freshman missed the SEC tournament last week after spraining an ankle in practice — and while the Wildcats got by just fine in that tourney without him, the challenge will be different in this one. Vanderbilt is a fierce offensive rebounder and sharp passer who is still working on his shooting stroke, but he was a key part of Kentucky’s late-season resurgence.
Welcome March sight: McKillop is the epitome of a gentleman, in a sport that could use more of them. He’s always impeccably dressed, hair perfect, composed, dignified and above the muck where many of his colleagues operate. And his Davidson teams are fun to watch, passing and shooting like they’re making an instructional video.
Best part of this bracket: The selection committee has issued quite a challenge to the most aggressive of all fan bases: How many Kentucky fans can get to Boise? Big Blue traditionally takes over every NCAA venue, but Idaho is a much closer commute for Arizona’s fans than Kentucky’s.
Pat’s pick: Arizona.
More NCAA tournament on Yahoo Sports:
•Printable bracket: Start making your picks
•Selection Sunday winners and losers: Kentucky, Duke get rough roads
•Five biggest tournament snubs
•Everything you need to know before filling out a bracket
•Non-traditional ways to spice up your bracket pool