March Madness 2018: Ryan Fagan's NCAA bracket picks

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If I'm being honest, I like to marinate on my March Madness bracket picks. I like to break down matchups and dig into the numbers a bit before filling out a bracket.

But the powers-that-be here at SN want us to make NCAA Tournament picks right away, so with only a dash of marinating and heaping helpings of gut reactions, here's my rushed-reaction bracket. Yep, I'll probably tweak a few things before I put any bragging rights on the line.

MARCH MADNESS: Printable NCAA Tournament bracket

Let's dive in anyway, shall we? We'll start with this: I will be in Charlotte for the opening weekend and I'll be in Los Angeles for the second weekend. Why is that relevant?, you're probably asking.

I have a bit of history with upsets. Big-time upsets.

Only eight 15 seeds have ever won first-round games, and I was courtside for two of those (Lehigh and Middle Tennessee). I was there when 16 seed Southern almost knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga. I was in Tampa on March 22, 2008, when all four 12 and 13 seeds won their opening games (have a pretty cool feature on that dropping later this week, actually). When Butler made its first run to the national title game (2010), I was there for all six of the Bulldogs' games (randomly, not intentionally) and I got to watch the magic first-hand.

Anyway, what I'm saying is something crazy and/or memorable will happen in either Charlotte or Los Angeles. Maybe Lipscomb upends North Carolina. Maybe Houston or Michigan makes a long run to the Final Four, and I'll be there to chronicle the first four games of journey. Or maybe I get to see Gonzaga earn a spot in the Final Four for the second consecutive season.

NCAA BRACKET BREAKDOWNS:
East | South | Midwest | West

Here are my NCAA Tournament bracket picks and three thoughts for each region.

NCAA Tournament bracket picks

South region

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- That potential Kentucky-Arizona game in the second round will be one of those games NBA fans look back at five years from now and think, "How were two teams with that many pros only seeded fourth and fifth?" So much fun.

- I was all set to pick Virginia to cruise to the Final Four. That defense is suffocating, and Tony Bennett's crew is due. But, Deandre Ayton. I don't know how anyone handles Deandre Ayton. Good luck with that, Cavs.

- I don't have a ton of double-digit seeds making the Sweet 16, but a person can do worse than picking a mid-major that won a regular-season game on the home court of the Florida Gators. Love what they've done this year at Loyola-Chicago, and love the draw for the Ramblers. Miami is hurting, and Tennessee is really good but not exactly tournament-tested. A couple wins are possible.

West region

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- What to do with Mizzou? It's really, really tempting to pick the Tigers to beat Florida State and then upend Xavier to reach the Sweet 16. I mean, Mizzou has Michael Porter Jr., back in the mix. And, yes, the Tigers looked disjointed in his first game back on the court, but that was to be expected. And by the time they tip, they'll have more than a full week of practice to work on smoothing out the issues in that game. But, yeah, Xavier is really good. I am not betting against Trevon Bluiett and Co.

- South Dakota State will be the most popular of the 12/5 upset picks. I will be one of those people telling you to make that pick.

- I know that I just said I've seen two 15 seeds upend 2 seeds in person, but I don't think this will be my third such upset. North Carolina is playing really well, and Lipscomb will need to repeat its first-half shooting performance against Florida-Gulf Coast to have any chance against the Heels. But, it's worth noting, lots of teams have had lots of success scoring from deep against UNC this year, so … yeah, I'm saying there's a chance (a really small one, though).

East region

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- This is the least compelling region, probably. But that's like saying glazed is my least-favorite donut flavor. It's still a donut, and this is still the NCAA Tournament. That's good stuff.

- I could see Florida marching to the Elite Eight, or I could see Florida getting knocked off by the winner of the UCLA/St. Bonaventure First Four game. Doesn't matter who wins that game, I could see them beating the Gators if they have one of those off nights. And those have happened enough that I'm betting even Florida fans don't disagree with me.

- It's still Villanova's world. I'm more tempted to pick Purdue to reach the Final Four than I have been since Glenn Robinson was in West Lafayette, but it's Villanova's world.

MORE: NCAA Tournament Predictor tool

Midwest region

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- This region is stocked with talent in the top three seeds. But we've seen Kansas hiccup a time or two (three losses at home, plus one to Washington in Kansas City). Same thing for Duke (what's up, Boston College?). And, let's be honest, Michigan State is just 2-4 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament, despite all that talent in East Lansing. Any of those three could win the national title, and any of those three could be packing for home during the first weekend.

- There are a couple of teams in this region that have been playing without star players for a while now, and they haven't been as good without them. Clemson, the No. 5 seed, was just 7-6 after Donte Grantham was hurt. TCU, the No. 6 seed, is 8-7 since point guard Jaylen Fisher went out.

- Kansas fans should be wary of that second-round game (and first-rounders against Ivy League teams are always scary). N.C. State has wins this year against North Carolina, Duke and Arizona, so you know the Wolfpack won't be intimidated by the top seed. Also, Seton Hall beat Texas Tech this season, but the Red Raiders, as Jayhawks fans know, won in Lawrence this year.

MORE NCAA BRACKET PICKS:
Bender (Virginia) | Birdsong (Arizona) | DeCourcy (Villanova)

MORE: The 14 most humiliating first-round chokes in Big Dance history

Final Four picks

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