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NCAA Tournament 2013: Predicting the Finish for Each AP Top 25 Team

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystMarch 16, 2013

NCAA Tournament 2013: Predicting the Finish for Each AP Top 25 Team

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    The college basketball season ultimately comes down to building a resume worthy of an invitation to the Big Dance.

    Players across the country walk onto the court for training camp with a primary focus to help their respective program reach the NCAA Tournament, where 68 teams have an opportunity to claim the national title.

    Months of competition and surprises have set the stage for a thrilling postseason run, culminating with the Final Four in Atlanta.

    Rankings become irrelevant once the tourney bracket is released, but at this point the teams listed among the Associated Press Top 25 are surefire bets to continue the 2012-13 campaign as competitors in the field of 68. 

    As squads wrap up conference competition and prepare for the final step toward glory, let's take stock of the nation's top-ranked teams.

    We project how each Top 25 team will meet its fate, from stunning first-round upsets all the way to the award podium. Remember, these predictions were placed before the release of the official NCAA tournament bracket.

25. Virginia Commonwealth

2 of 26

    Signature wins: Butler, 84-52; Memphis, 78-65

    Tough losses: Richmond; 86-74 (overtime); Duke, 67-58

    Shaka Smart has built a perennial tournament program at VCU. Since leading the Rams to a 2010 C.B.I. championship, Smart has propelled this program to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. 

    VCU struggles in the half-court game, but continues to excel in transition and leans on an aggressive, turnover-inducing defensive effort.

    The Rams reached the Final Four in 2011, so the element of surprise is no longer an issue for opponents who encounter VCU in the postseason.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Sweet 16

24. Notre Dame

3 of 26

    Signature wins: Louisville, 104-101; Pittsburgh, 51-42

    Tough losses:  Providence, 71-54; Saint Joseph’s, 79-70

    Coach Mike Brey has built a consistent resume in South Bend. This will be Notre Dame's ninth NCAA tournament appearance during the course of his 13-year tenure.

    Notre Dame has plenty to prove in the postseason. The Fighting Irish have been eliminated in the first or second round in all but one of those appearances. 

    Senior forward Jack Cooley, who is among national double-double leaders, spearheads a veteran-laden lineup. 

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

23. Creighton

4 of 26

    Signature wins: Wisconsin, 84-74; California, 74-64

    Tough losses:  Northern Iowa, 61-54; Drake 74-69

    Creighton cashed in on a strong finish to solidify its second straight NCAA tournament berth. The Blue Jays earned the Missouri Valley's automatic bid by closing out conference play with five consecutive wins. 

    This team figures to land somewhere between a No. 6 and No. 8 seed in the tourney, but it won't last long if it doesn't improve defensively. This is Creighton's second straight NCAA postseason appearance after enduring a five year hiatus between 2007 and 2012.

    Senior forward Doug McDermott ranks among the nation's most versatile scorers, however it remains to be seen whether Creighton can supply him with enough support to embark on a deep run.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

22. Wisconsin

5 of 26

    Signature winsIndiana 64-59, beat Michigan twice

    Tough losses:  Iowa, 70-66;  Purdue, 69-56

    Wisconsin would prefer to win ugly, able to claim victory without scoring 60 points. The Badgers bring veteran frontcourt standouts Jared Berggren and Ben Brust into tournament action.

    Berggren is among the nation's top interior defenders

    Both players provide stout defense inside and can exploit smaller lineups. Wisconsin has reached the NCAA tournament in 15 consecutive seasons, but the Badgers haven't advanced to the Final Four since 2000.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Sweet 16

21. UCLA

6 of 26

    Signature wins: beat Arizona twice; Missouri. 97-94

    Tough losses: USC, 75-71; Cal Poly, 70-68

    The Bruins roll into the NCAA tournament without one of its leading scorers.

    Freshman guard Jordan Adams suffered a broken foot against Arizona in the Pac-12 quarterfinals.

    It's going to be a struggle to pick up the offensive slack. Shabazz Muhammad must shoulder the scoring load if the Bruins hope to break beyond the tournament's early stages.

    UCLA secured the regular-season Pac-12 title. The Bruins haven't advanced to the Sweet 16 since reaching three consecutive Final Fours (2006-2008).

    Postseason prediction: Lose in first round

20. Memphis

7 of 26

    Signature wins: Southern Miss, twice; Tennessee, 85-80

    Tough losses:  Xavier, 64-62,  Minnesota, 84-75

    The Tigers head into tournament play on a tear. Memphis has earned wins in 21 of its past 22 games. 

    Although the team struggles with turnovers—approximately 15 per game—Memphis can contend thanks to a veteran group of scorers.

    Junior guard Joe Jackson is among a group of perimeter sharpshooters who can mow down opponents when ball movement is at a high level.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in first round

19. Syracuse

8 of 26

    Signature wins:  Louisville, 70-68; Georgetown, 58-55

    Tough losses:  Temple, 83-79; Connecticut 66-58

    Syracuse suffered four losses in the final five games of the regular season, but finally seems to be hitting its stride. The Orange avenged two regular-season losses to Georgetown with a Big East conference semifinal victory Friday night.

    Syracuse is suddenly back in the mix for a top three seed in the NCAA tournament.

    Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams is a premier point guard, but he isn't efficient enough from outside to lead this team alone. 

    C.J. Fair and James Southerland key the Orange offensive attack, as the main recipients of a Carter-Williams' elite ball distribution.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

18. Arizona

9 of 26

    Signature wins:  Florida, 65-64; Miami, 69-50

    Tough losses:  Oregon, 70-66, Cal, 77-69

    Arizona has suffered five defeats since the start of February, so this team isn't exactly peaking at the right time. The Wildcats, led by senior Mark Lyons, field a talented and veteran lineup that can be sporadic.

    Arizona has reached the Elite Eight three times since 2003. Legendary Wildcats coach Lute Olson is long retired, but this program remains a routine member of the NCAA title chase.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

17. Pittsburgh

10 of 26

    Signature wins: Georgetown, 73-45; Syracuse 65-55

    Tough losses:  Rutgers, 67-62; Cincinnati 70-61

    Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon led the team to a C.B.I. championship last season, but his program rejoins the NCAA tourney fray this spring. Pittsburgh qualified for the tourney in each of Dixon's first eight seasons on the sidelines. 

    The Panthers have forged a reputation as a team that refuses to make the crucial mistake at this point in the year and are led by savvy guard play.

    Pittsburgh has lost in the first round just once under Dixon's watch (2005).

    Although the Panthers lack a true go-to guy, this squad is well-rounded enough to spread the wealth and wear teams down with depth.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

16. St. Louis

11 of 26

    Signature wins:  Butler, 65-61; New Mexico, 60-46

    Tough losses:  Rhode Island, 82-80; Santa Clara 74-62

    The Billikens rounded out the regular season with a strong finish, winning 16 of the final 19 contests.

    Senior guard Kwamain Mitchell has been the main offensive option during the charge and continues to improve months after returning from foot surgery that cost him early stages of the 2012-13 campaign.

    St. Louis is a middle-of-the-pack offensive squad but can secure the paint and perimeter on defense when playing its best basketball. The Bililkens must be able to lean on a strong defensive effort in the tournament in order to live up to expectations as one of the nation's elite mid-major teams.

    Some think St. Louis is destined for a first-round knockout. Others believe they could pull off a Final Four run like VCU did in 2011. We'll settle somewhere in the middle.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Elite Eight

15. New Mexico

12 of 26

    Signature wins:  UNLV, 65-60; Boise State 79-74

    Tough losses:  South Dakota State, 70-65; Saint Louis, 60-46

    A strong season in the Mountain West puts New Mexico in position to enter the NCAA tournament with a seed of clout. It's hard not to love the Lobos' defensive tenacity, but an inconsistent offensive game is cause for concern.

    New Mexico ranks 222nd in the nation in total field goal percentage (42 percent). Leading scorer Kendall Williams, a junior, is frustratingly hit-or-miss.

    Since torching Colorado St. for 46 points in late February, the 6'4" playmaker has managed just one game of more than 10 points.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in first round

14. Oklahoma State

13 of 26

    Signature wins:  Kansas, 85-80; N.C. State, 76-56

    Tough losses:  Virginia Tech, 81-71; Iowa State, 87-76

    The loss to lowly Virginia Tech is an ugly blemish on an otherwise sterling postseason resume. Oklahoma State handled itself well in Big 12 play—including victories over Kansas and Kansas State—and should earn a top-five seed in the NCAA tournament. 

    Marcus Smart and Markel Brown spearhead a strong offensive attack, as each player has proven adept at leading Oklahoma State when supplemental players sputter.

    The Cowboys need big performances from unheralded players to make up for a slightly thin rotation.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

13. Florida

14 of 26

    Signature wins:  Missouri, 83-52Marquette, 82-49

    Tough losses:  Arkansas, 80-69; Tennessee, 64-58

    Florida returns to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season under Billy Donovan. The Gators aim to build off back-to-back Elite Eight appearance after an inconsistent final stretch of the regular season. 

    Florida has suffered four losses since February arrived. Each defeat occurred on the road, but the Gators still sit in position to capture at least a No. 4 seed. 

    The squad's struggles away from home are worrisome. However, Donovan's track record indicates he'll have this team ready to roll when the tournament begins.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Sweet 16

12. Marquette

15 of 26

    Signature wins:  Georgetown, 49-48; Syracuse, 74-71

    Tough losses:  Green Bay, 49-47; Villanova 60-56

    Vander Blue, a junior guard, turned heads in the Big East this season as one of the conference's most improved performers. He teams up with dynamic forward Davante Gardner, another veteran, to give Marquette a solid tandem at the top of its rotation.

    There are some red flags that stand out immediately when you look over the Eagles' body of work. Each player averages fewer than five rebounds per game and the team ranks 13th in the Big East with a 30 percent shooting mark from beyond the three-point arc.

    Marquette won't last long without a substantial improvement on the offensive glass.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

11. Kansas State

16 of 26

    Signature wins:  Florida, 67-61; Oklahoma State, 73-67

    Tough losses:  Iowa State, 73-67; Gonzaga, 68-52

    When the Wildcats struggle, there's s a common thread. Kansas State has lost the rebounding battle in each of its losses this season, so the team is vulnerable on the boards and can be exploited down low at times.

    Senior guard Rodney McGruder makes 44 percent of his shots from the floor and he's a high-volume producer, tallying more than 20 points in three consecutive contests. 

    The Wildcats have lost just once since Feb. 11.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Sweet 16

10. Ohio State

17 of 26

    Signature wins:  Indiana, 67-58; Michigan State. 68-60

    Tough losses:  Wisconsin, 71-49; Illinois, 74-55

    Ohio State is currently riding a six-game win streak and the Buckeyes have battered Big Ten squads down the stretch. The team won 10 games by a margin of nine points or more during the course of its conference schedule.

    Junior Deshaun Thomas has emerged as a model of consistency. The 6'7" forward averages 19 points per game, the exact scoring total he tallied in three of the Buckeyes' last four games.

    Ohio State has reached the Sweet 16 in three straight seasons. Expect a similar run this season.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Sweet 16

9. Miami

18 of 26

    Signature wins:  Duke, 90-63; Michigan State, 67-59

    Tough losses:  Wake Forest, 80-65; Florida Gulf Coast, 63-51

    Miami looked mighty weeks ago, but things have gone downhill in a hurry for the Hurricanes.

    The team survived an upset bid by Boston College in the ACC quarterfinals, improving to 3-3 in the last six games.

    Miami started the season 22-3 but seems to have lost a sizable amount of momentum since losing three times in a two-week span (versus Wake Forest, Duke and Georgia Tech).

    The Hurricanes' roster is among the oldest we've seen in recent memory, and the group of vets play with plenty of passion.

    But you wonder if a team that lacks a superstar is growing fatigued at the worst possible portion of the year. Whether it's Shane Larkin or Kenny Kadji, someone must step up and carry the Canes' offense on a consistent basis in order to cap a memorable season with a trip to the Final Four.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

8. Michigan State

19 of 26

    Signature wins:  Michigan, 75-52; Ohio State, 59-56

    Tough losses:  Minnesota, 76-63; Connecticut, 66-62

    Coach Tom Izzo leads his team into the NCAA tournament for the 16th straight season.

    Michigan State has maintained an aura of success in postseason play, courtesy of four visits to at least the Sweet 16 in the last five years. 

    The Spartans lost three consecutive games to nationally ranked Big Ten opponents late in the regular season, but have rebounded to win three straight. Per usual, Michigan State relies on a strong effort inside on the glass. 

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Elite Eight

7. Kansas

20 of 26

    Signature wins:  Ohio State, 74-66; Kansas State, 59-55

    Tough losses:  TCU, 62-55; Oklahoma, 72-66

    The Jayhawks journeyed to the national championship game last season before falling short against Kentucky in the title bout. It was the second run to a championship matchup during Bill Self's 10-year tenure.

    Kansas lost three straight conference clashes in February but has since righted the ship. The Jayhawks have won nine of 10 games and the last four victories came courtesy of double-digit margins. 

    Guard Ben McLemore has caught fire lately. The freshman is 16-of-31 from three-point territory in Kansas' last five games.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Final Four

6. Michigan

21 of 26

    Signature wins:  Michigan State, 58-57; Ohio State, 76-74

    Tough losses:  Penn State, 84-78; Wisconsin twice

    Michigan has been unable to sustain a terrific start and enters the NCAA tournament trending downward. The Wolverines are just 6-6 since surging out to a 20-1 record.

    Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. headline a strong backcourt, but Michigan's ability to clamp down in the paint on both sides of the court is questionable and has cost the team before.

    The Wolverines can't afford to be beaten up on the boards during games in which shots aren't falling from outside.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in second round

5. Georgetown

22 of 26

    Signature wins:  Louisville, 53-51; Syracuse twice

    Tough losses:  South Florida, 61-58; Villanova 67-57

    The Hoyas caught fire early in conference play, winning 11 consecutive games en route to the top seed in Big East tournament play. Georgetown was unable to defeat Syracuse for the third-straight time this season, falling to the Orange in semifinal action,

    In all likelihood, that loss eliminates the Hoyas from contention for a No. 1 seed.

    Led by lengthy defenders, Coach John Thompson's team plays some of the best defense in the land.

    The Hoyas' offensive efficiency is a glaring shortcoming at times, as the team ranks 238th nationally in points per game.

    Sophomore forward Otto Porter, the unrivaled Big East Player of the Year, is a complete small forward. Georgetown is at its best when he is filling up every facet of the stat sheet rather than hoisting up a high volume of shots.

    The Hoyas' supplemental players are pivotal in the NCAA tournament.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Elite Eight

4. Louisville

23 of 26

    Signature wins:  Syracuse, 58-53; Memphis 87-78

    Tough losses:  Villanova, 73-64; Notre Dame 104-101

    The Cardinals are headed to a seventh straight NCAA tournament and typically hang around for a while.

    Louisville has advanced to at least the Elite Eight three times since 2007, including a trip to the Final Four last April.

    The Cardinals were selected No.1  in the Big East Preseason Coaches' Poll, collecting 14 of 15 first-place votes. Louisville looked lackadaisical at times this season, particularly during a three-game losing streak in late January, but is back to its old tricks with nine consecutive wins.

    Guard Russ Smith has an opportunity to elevate himself in Louisville's hoops legacy and open the eyes of NBA scouts with a strong postseason run. Teammate Peyton Siva failed to meet heightened expectations this year, but he's once again elevated his effort on both ends of the court here in the postseason.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in National Championship

3. Indiana

24 of 26

    Signature wins:  Michigan State, 72-68; Michigan, 72-71

    Tough losses:  Butler, 88-86; Illinois, 74-72

    Indiana has dealt with national title talk since the season commenced and, despite an arduous Big Ten season, the Hoosiers still have the look of a championship-caliber bunch.

    Coach Tom Crean's team is 7-1 against nationally ranked opponents, and a pair of legitimate stars—Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller—are at the forefront.

    Indiana has been the most consistent member of America's deepest conference this season.

    The key for the Hoosiers is to avoid being caught up in a track meet against smaller lineups early in the tourney. It's a surefire way to disrupt the team's excellent half-court offense.

    Postseason prediction: Win National Championship

2. Duke

25 of 26

    Signature wins:  Miami, 79-76; Louisville, 76-71

    Tough losses:  Virginia, 73-68; Maryland, 83-81

    Duke is an entirely different offensive force with 7'0" sharpshooter Ryan Kelly back in action. He joins fellow seniors Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry as the core of a potent lineup. 

    Mike Krzyzewski can reach his 12th Final Four if his veteran squad continues to click and clamps down a bit more on defense.

    Sophomore Quinn Cook and freshman upstart Rasheed Sulaimon round out a balanced rotation (five Blue Devils average double-digit scoring).

    Duke can get into trouble when forced out of its comfort zone. The Blue Devils thrive in the half-court set but simply aren't athletic enough to keep up with quicker opponents when the pace is pushed with authority.

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Final Four

1. Gonzaga

26 of 26

    Signature wins:  Kansas State, 68-52; Oklahoma, 72-47

    Tough losses:  Illinois, 85-74; Butler 64-63

    It's been a proud year for the Gonzaga basketball program, which suddenly settles in as an NCAA tournament Goliath instead of the underdog role its embraced during so many years in the past.

    The Bulldogs have won 14 straight games and are the nation's top-ranked team for the first time.

    Gonzaga likely wrapped up a No. 1 seed in the national tourney after running the gauntlet in West Coast Conference postseason competition. The Bulldogs are built around offensive efficiency and shoot better than 50 percent from the floor.

    The defense is susceptible, particularly on the perimeter. Defending the nation's premier backcourts will be a major test for Gonzaga, who lost its only two matchups against nationally ranked opponents. 

    Postseason prediction: Lose in Elite Eight

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