As the college basketball season barrels toward the stretch run, we in pundit land have at least a hazy understanding of each top team and its potential.
By the same token, we've gotten a good hard look at their flaws.
Where each might lead is our topic of conversation in the 25 slides ahead.
One clerical note before we proceed: While the NCAA tournament model allows for great variation in postseason results, I tried to limit best-case scenarios to what I felt fell within the realm of reasonable possibility.
Obviously I realize that every team has at least a small chance of winning a national championship. But to focus on that sliver of hope would defeat the objective of this exercise. We cool with that?
Note: All stats courtesy of kenpom.com unless otherwise noted
Best-Case Stat: 117.9 offensive efficiency rating (9th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: The Fighting Irish ride offensive-rebounding maven Jack Cooley and a bevy of sharp shooters to the second weekend of the tournament.
Worst-Case Stat: 100.5 defensive efficiency rating (180th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: Notre Dame—who still has two games remaining against Louisville—can't overcome its woeful defense and stumbles to below-.500 finish in Big East play. Without a solid non-conference resume to fall back, the Irish (No. 44, RPI) fail to earn a tournament bid.
Best-Case Stat: Six players taking over 20 percent of available shots
Best-Case Scenario: The combination of a deep rotation and patient offense leads Marquette to a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Worst-Case Stat: 29.2-percent shooting from three (312th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: The Golden Eagles fall behind early in their first-round tournament matchup and, unable to shoot their way back, make an early NCAA exit.
Best-Case Stat: 0.9584 Pythagorean winning percentage (6th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Pitt's depth overwhelms foes, proving even more advantageous as the tournament wears on. One of the nation's most balanced squads on offense and defense surges to a Final Four appearance.
Worst-Case Stat: No player over 10.9 points per game (ESPN)
Worst-Case Scenario: Without a go-to player on offense, the Panthers's late-game problems resurface and Jamie Dixon's team falls in a first-round nail-biter.
Best-Case Stat: 86.4 defensive efficiency rating (10th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Freshman sensation Marcus Smart continues to improve as OK State's evolving offense finally catches up to its elite defense. The Cowboys' talented backcourt carries them to an Elite Eight appearance.
Worst-Case Stat: 1.02 average years of experience (326th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: A young team leans too heavy on Smart and fellow underclassman Le'Bryan Nash for offensive production, derailing an otherwise promising unit. Turnovers and late-game letdowns against Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State leave the Cowboys with a dangerously low seed and vulnerable to a first-round exit.
Best-Case Stat: 39.6-percent offensive rebounding percentage (11th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: An injury-ravaged team gets healthy and hot heading into March. Upperclassmen leaders Phil Pressey, Keion Bell and Laurence Bowers draw on their experience to lead Mizzou on an Elite Eight run.
Worst-Case Stat: Defense forces turnovers at a rate that ranks 299th nationally
Worst-Case Scenario: A toothless defense lacks proper time to gel, leaving the Tigers vulnerable to RPI-depleting conference upsets. The tournament committee takes a long look at the SEC's relative weakness, and sends a 20-win Missouri team to the NIT.
Best-Case Stat: 42.7-percent effective field-goal percentage against (13th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Suspended forward Greg Whittington returns and leads an improving Hoyas offense to something resembling tournament-level efficiency, while future lottery pick Otto Porter anchors one of the nation's best defenses. The Hoyas score just enough to land a second-weekend upset.
Worst-Case Stat: 102.7 offensive efficiency rating (126th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: Caught in the morass of John Thompson III's Princeton attack, an athletic team fails to realize its offensive potential and loses to a hot-shooting first-round opponent. Otto Porter declares for the NBA draft in the post-game press conference.
Best-Case Stat: Senior Arsalan Kazemi has the best defensive rebounding percentage in the country
Best-Case Scenario: Injured point guard Dominic Artis makes a full recovery from his foot injury, and the Ducks soar to their first regular-season Pac 12 championship since 2002 and their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2007. Forward Arsalan Kazemi finally gets a national stage to showcase his rebounding prowess.
Worst-Case Stat: 22.6-percent turnover percentage (286th)
Worst-Case Scenario: Artis' injury lingers and Oregon struggles to score points against top competition. Arizona runs away with the conference title, and the Ducks' first NCAA tournament appearance in six years is spoiled by a first-round knockout.
Best-Case Stat: 46.9-percent offensive rebounding percentage (1st overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Hardened by a brutal schedule and buoyed by an athletic front line, the Golden Gophers win their first tournament game since 1997 and ultimately reach the Elite Eight. Senior Trevor Mbakwe finishes as the Big 10's leading rebounder for the second season in a row.
Worst-Case Stat: 21.4-percent turnover percentage (231st overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: A reckless offense leads Minnesota astray in conference play and leaves Tubby Smith's team with a low postseason seed. Matched up against an athletic first-round opponent, Minnesota loses its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament game. In the aftermath, Smith's seat begins to warm.
Best-Case Stat: 17-percent block percentage (7th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: The long, lean Bearcats continue to play superb two-point defense en route to their first Elite Eight appearance since the departure of legendary coach Bob Huggins. In the process, Cincinnati reestablishes itself as a national power and uses that momentum to its advantage in the ongoing conference-realignment circus.
Worst-Case Stat: Eleven straight games decided by ten points or less
Worst-Case Scenario: After two straight years in the Sweet Sixteen, an offensively challenged Cincinnati team plays one close game too many and fails to advance past the first round.
Best-Case Stat: 61.1-percent effective field-goal percentage (1st overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Creighton wins the Missouri Valley Conference with ease, impressing the selection committee in the process. With the help of a favorable seed, POY candidate Doug McDermott goes on an all-time tournament tear and leads the Bluejays to their first-ever regional final.
Worst-Case Stat: 8.5 percent steal percentage (280th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: A loss in the MVC semis leaves Creighton with a low seed and a tough first-round matchup. As it was in their early-season loss to Boise State, the Bluejays' defense can't stand up to a high-functioning attack and a potentially historic season ends in early-exit ignominy.
Best-Case Stat: 46.9-percent free-throw rate (3rd overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Steve Alford's Lobos (No. 5, RPI) win the Mountain West crown and earn a top-four seed. In the tournament, the combination of New Mexico's clamp-down defense and foul-drawing prowess sparks an Elite Eight run.
Worst-Case Stat: 47.5-percent effective field-goal percentage (212th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: New Mexico gets caught in the Mountain West meat grinder and comes up short in the conference tournament. Burdened by a tough draw, the Lobos' offensive inefficiencies lead to a second-straight first-weekend exit.
Best-Case Stat: 110.7-offensive efficiency rating (26th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Butler's big-game experience yields dividends as Brad Stevens patches up a leaky D and rides sharpshooter Rotnei Clark into the tournament's second weekend. There, the Bulldogs get a dream rematch against in-state rival Indiana, bringing even more national attention to his already charmed program.
Worst-Case Stat: 6.0-percent block percentage (307th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: The Bulldogs continue to struggle away from home in the A-10 and finish just 10-6 in conference play. As a nine-seed, Butler finds itself against a long, athletic first-round opponent and doesn't have the interior defense needed to keep pace. A barrage of free throws sinks the Bulldogs.
Best-Case Stat: 89.4 defensive efficiency rating (29th)
Best-Case Scenario: Kansas State recaptures the formula that led it to victory over Florida earlier this year—namely good three-point defense and an attacking offense—and winds up in the Big 12 championship game. With a top-four seed as their guide, the Wildcats sprint to the Elite Eight.
Worst-Case Stat: 31.4-percent free-throw rate (274th)
Worst-Case Scenario: Hamstrung by a passive offense that relies too heavily on the three-ball, Kansas State limps to a seven seed. In the tournament, Bruce Weber's normally effective man defense is undone by a lack of size, and the Wildcats lose their opening-round game for the first time since 1996. Meanwhile, the Kansas Jayhawks dance off with another national championship.
Best-Case Stat: 12.8-percent steal percentage (23rd overall)
Best-Case Scenario: A young team led by freshman standout Gary Harris continues to mature through the regular season, highlighted by a home win over rival Michigan on February 12. Tom Izzo then turns on the postseason magic, relying on his team's defense, rebounding and relative depth to key yet another Final Four run.
Worst-Case Stat: 21.3-percent turnover rate (230th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: Harris gets crowded out by the less-efficient Keith Appling and turnover-prone Branden Dawson as Tom Izzo's team struggles to notch 10 conference wins. Suffering from a lack of confidence, the Spartans suffer a rare first-weekend exit.
Best-Case Stat: 16.6-percent steal percentage (2nd overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Perimeter pest Russ Smith and lane-clogger Gorgui Dieng spearhead an elite Louisville defense that results in a second consecutive Big East tourney win and a National Championship appearance.
Worst-Case Stat: Russ Smith takes 35.5 percent of available shots (8th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: An imbalanced offense revolving around Smith's hot-n'-cold tendencies leave Louisville shivering in the frosty aftermath of a second-round defeat.
Best-Case Stat: 43.2-percent effective field-goal percentage against (15th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Ohio State's Big-10-tested defense stymies tournament foes while do-everything junior Deshaun Thomas drags the rest of his offensively challenged teammates to the Final Four. Unsure of his draft prospects, Thomas opts to exercise his final year of college eligibility.
Worst-Case Stat: 35.5-percent free-throw rate (181st overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: Thomas fatigues as the season wears on and Ohio State can't find a quality secondary scoring option to pick up the slack. The Buckeyes huff, puff and fall...in the second round.
Best-Case Stat: 20.7-percent block percentage (1st overall)
Best-Case Scenario: James Southerland returns, easing the burden on point guard Michael Carter-Williams and complementing an already efficient offense. Rakeem Christmas continues to wreak havoc in the paint and Syracuse breezes to a Big East title and eventually the Final Four.
Worst-Case Stat: Michael Carter Williams, 11-for-46 shooting in Syracuse's three losses
Worst-Case Scenario: Southerland doesn't return in time to regain his sea legs and Carter-Williams tries to account for Southerland's ineffectiveness with a preponderance of jump shots and forced passes. Jim Boeheim's team falls to Louisville in the Big East race and exits the tournament in Round 2.
Best-Case Stat: +3.9 effective height (9th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: The combination of Miami's outstanding guard play and hulking interior presence lead the Hurricanes to an ACC title and the program's first-ever Final Four appearance. Point guard Shane Larkin earns ACC POY honors in the process.
Worst-Case Stat: 34.1-percent three-point shooting (145th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: In their rematch against Duke, the Hurricanes try to shoot their way out of an early hole and lose by more than a dozen. Smarting from the loss, a Miami team short on March experience experiences a similar setback in the ACC tournament before losing a first-round shocker in the NCAAs.
Best-Case Stat: Five players 6'6" or higher in the regular rotation
Best-Case Scenario: Point guard Mark Lyons learns to trust his bigs, and a young, evolving and highly touted frontcourt leads Arizona to a Pac-12 title. That same trend carries into the tournament, where the Wildcats reach their first Final Four of the post-Lute Olson era.
Worst-Case Stat: 34.9-percent three-point percentage against (243rd overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: Lyons' ball-dominating tendencies stifle the growth of freshmen trio Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett. Arizona loses the Pac-12 title to UCLA or Oregon and then falls victim to a hot-shooting second-round foe in the NCAA tournament. Tarczewski tries to cash in on his upside and declares for the draft at season's end.
Best-Case Stat: 55.6-percent two-point field-goal percentage (7th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Gonzaga's powerful frontcourt tramples over its WCC foes en route to an effortless conference championship. In the tournament, Kelly Olynyk makes good on his heavy use and carries the Bulldogs to their first Final Four of the Mark Few era.
Worst-Case Stat: 46.3-percent effective field-goal percentage against (96th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: As has happened in recent NCAA tournament trips (and in their earlier season game against Illinois), the Bulldogs don't have the defensive bite to slow down quality offensive teams. Up against a rangy Power Six school, Gonzaga falls in its second tournament game for the third time in as many years.
Best-Case Stat: 37.8-percent two-point field-goal percentage (1st overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Jeff Withey locks down the painted area, freshman sensation Ben McLemore continues his ascent and Bill Self's team captures its ninth consecutive regular-season Big 12 title. In the tournament, McLemore cements his case for POY and the Jayhawks take home a national championship.
Worst-Case Stat: 19.7-percent turnover percentage (142nd)
Worst-Case Scenario: Between Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe, Kansas doesn't have the guard play necessary to get McLemore the ball in his preferred shooting spots. The Jayhawks suffer three more conference losses and the stink carries into March, where Kansas loses in the second round to a team, like Oklahoma State, able to match its perimeter athleticism.
Best-Case Stat: 118.1 offensive efficiency rating (6th overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Freshman Amile Jefferson becomes a reliable rotation player, joining fellow newcomer Rasheed Sulaimon on a much-improved defense. Duke continues to share the ball well in its three-guard rotation and Mason Plumlee anchors the Blue Devils inside en route to a national championship.
Worst-Case Stat: 21.7-percent three-point shooting in both losses combined
Worst-Case Scenario: Injured forward Ryan Kelly doesn't return from his foot injury, and the Blue Devils fail to find a suitable replacement for his interior defense and floor-spacing ability. Mason Plumlee regresses at the free-throw line and Duke loses an early tournament game thanks to poor three-point shooting.
Best-Case Stat: 124.7 offensive efficiency rating (1st overall)
Best-Case Scenario: The nation's best offense and the nation's best player (Trey Burke) stay the course, avenging a loss to Indiana and capturing the Big Ten regular-season crown on the regular season's last day. By March, John Beilein has his crew playing inspired defense and the Wolverines capture their first national championship since 1989.
Worst-Case Stat: 0.82 years average experience (339th overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: Young, small and lacking depth, Michigan struggles to maintain its high level of play through the belly of the Big Ten schedule. In the NCAA tournament, a fatigued starting five bows out in the Sweet Sixteen.
Best-Case Stat: .9882 Pythagorean winning percentage (1st overall)
Best-Case Scenario: Florida romps through the SEC and secures a No. 1 seed. Once in the tournament, America's most balanced team out-muscles its younger competitors and runs away with an NCAA title.
Worst-Case Stat: 0-2 in games decided by 10 points or less
Worst-Case Scenario: Without an in-conference rival to push them, the Gators enter March untested and lacking in end-of-game go-to option. Florida cruises to the Round of 16, whereupon it loses the first close game it has played in months.
Best-Case Stat: Seven players over 109.0 in individual offensive efficiency, including four in the national top 60
Best-Case Scenario: Indiana's offensive balance flummoxes Big Ten and tournament foes alike. The Hoosiers win a national championship, Cody Zeller takes home POY and the Hoosier State elects Victor Oladipo to public office.
Worst-Case Stat: 9.3-percent block percentage (171st overall)
Worst-Case Scenario: The preseason and reigning No. 1 grows complacent, and a relatively suspect defense leads Indiana to a shootout loss in the Round of 16.