NCAA tournament bracket cheat sheet: Everything you need to win your pool

Brian Manzullo
Detroit Free Press

It feels so good to be able to write this: March Madness has returned, and the 68-team men's NCAA tournament is all set to begin in just a couple days.

Of course, it's not quite going to be the same as in 2019. We're still dealing with a pandemic, which could bring all kinds of complications, especially if a team (or several) has to withdraw from the tournament. We already saw it in the conference championships, when Duke, Virginia and Kansas all had to withdraw due to positive COVID-19 tests. And with dozens of teams playing dozens of games in different arenas around the Indianapolis area, the risk is even higher. 

As far as competition and brackets are concerned, it's only going to make an already unpredictable NCAA tournament even less predictable. Brackets will be busted, upsets could be more prevalent and the situation is ripe for a Cinderella run none of us will see coming.

Long story short, you need all the help you can get this year if you want to win your office pool. We're here to help.

First: Print your NCAA tournament bracket

Well, you won't get very far without having a bracket. And even if you're not back in the workplace yet, you'll still want a bird's-eye-view of the 68-team field before making your predictions.

>> Tap here for a printable NCAA tournament bracket

Second: Get to know the NCAA tournament teams

USA TODAY's team of experts breaks down each region of the NCAA tournaments and what to watch from each team. 

West Region: It's almost as if the NCAA committee handed Gonzaga a bouquet of roses; the Zags should roll through their region, as they've already beaten the other top four seeds — Iowa, Kansas and Virginia — earlier this season.

East Region: No. 2 seed Alabama and No. 3 seed Texas have a potentially mouth-watering matchup in the Sweet 16 that could determine who comes out of the East. Can Michigan make it to the Final Four without Isaiah Livers (assuming he remains out)?

South Region: Baylor enters the tournament with extra rest and should be poised to make a deep run, but don't sleep on No. 3 seed Arkansas.

Midwest Region: Though No. 2 Houston and No. 3 West Virginia could present issues, top-seeded Illinois has to be seen as the heavy favorites to come out of the Midwest bracket.

Third: NCAA tournament upsets and sleepers to watch

They call it "March Madness" for a reason. Every year, a Cinderella team shocks the world with a big upset win or an unfathomable run to the Elite Eight (or even Final Four!), and it's an even better thrill when you correctly predict it and impress all your friends.

Three upset picks to watch, including a 14-over-3 shocker.

Seven things you need to know before filling out your bracket, such as teams with star guards and deep-run potential, and why some top teams could be susceptible to early exits (we're talking first weekend).

Fourth: An inside look at Michigan, Michigan State

We're in Michigan, so of course all eyes are on the No. 1 seeded Wolverines and the No. 11 seeded Spartans. Surely, a lot of Michiganders will be picking Michigan to win the national championship and/or Michigan State to make a deep Cinderella run. But biases aside, does it make sense for you to make those picks?

Michigan won't have senior Isaiah Livers due to a stress fracture in his right foot. Here's their NCAA tournament plan without him (for subscribers).

Before MSU can make a run, it has to beat UCLA first in a play-in matchup between 11-seeds. We scout and predict the game.

Since Michigan and MSU are both in the East Region, they could meet in the Elite Eight. Here's how they can make that happen.

Fifth: NCAA tournament predictions

At the end of the day, your Final Four and national championship picks will determine if you win your bracket. So let's try to get those right. Here are what our experts think upon careful analysis of the bracket.

Detroit Free Press writers make their picks for the Final Four and the national championship. Do any think Michigan can go all the way?

USA TODAY Sports predictions:Scott Gleeson | Dan Wolken | Keith Jenkins | Gregg Doyel

For The Win picks the 7 teams most likely to win the national championship, with Gonzaga leading the way.