If the GOP race was a March Madness bracket, this is how it would look

Story highlights

  • The GOP nominating contest has unfolded in much the same way as an NCAA tournament
  • We broke down the primary into a Sweet 16 of candidates from four political "regions"

New York (CNN)The 2016 Republican primary has been a dizzying affair, with underdog and Cinderella campaigns emerging as fast as the early favorites disappeared or failed to launch.

Sound familiar?
    Yes, the GOP nominating contest has unfolded in much the same way as an NCAA tournament. It's March Madness, with all the drama and intrigue, but played out over more than six months -- and still going strong.
    We broke down the primary into a Sweet 16 of candidates from four political "regions": The Governors; The Righties, or more conservative types; The Outsiders; and The Establishment. The candidates were seeded based on expectations going into the campaign. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for example, was an early favorite. But he crashed early, one of the first victims of this wild contest.
    Walker, one of our four top seeds going in, was also among the first major candidates to quit the race. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal didn't score too high himself, but he hung around longer than Walker. Meanwhile, John Kasich's Cinderella run to the Final Four meant he had to outlast New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another highly touted hopeful. Christie has since taken up a position on Trump's bench.
    Cruz is the only #1 seed to advance out of his bracket into the Final Four. It's been pretty smooth sailing for the Texan, who, despite facing a tough road ahead, has performed pretty consistently -- none of his fellow deep-red conservatives mounted a significant challenge and is now well-positioned to emerge as the Trump's opponent in a final that could go multiple overtimes on the floor of the Cleveland convention in July.
    Trump entered this tournament with a lot of raw talent but big questions about his X's and O's. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, on the other hand, had the pedigree, the boisterous supporter base and what his team and many analysts described as a creative new Libertarian hybrid pitch that could unite disparate parts of the GOP. But Paul's finesse game was flattened by the steamrolling Trump, who likewise dispatched with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
    Primary Madness has been extremely unkind to this bracket. Many expected Jeb Bush and his more than $100 million super PAC to run roughshod over the field, but he was mediocre across the board -- his campaign can best be described as a series of missed mid-range jump shots. While former New York Gov. George Pataki (who knocked off former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore in a play-in game) and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham flickered out fast, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio hung around and eventually emerged as the establishment standard-bearer. But when it came time to stare down Trump in their Final Four contest, he made the mistake of trying to play the billionaire's brash style. By the time it was over, Rubio had been beaten soundly on his home court.