NCAA Tournament 2014: Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses for Every Team

Jason King@@JasonKingBRSenior Writer, B/R MagMarch 17, 2014

NCAA Tournament 2014: Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses for Every Team

0 of 68

    Kentucky has the most talented team in the country. But the Wildcats lack chemistry.

    Ohio State gets after teams defensively but can’t score.

    St. Joseph’s is money from the field and atrocious from the foul stripe, while Memphis is deep on the perimeter yet shallow in the paint.

    As much as fans like to brag about their favorite teams, each school in this year’s 68-team field has a flaw or two to temper the enthusiasm. Even if it's just a tad.

    That’s what should make the NCAA tournament fun. In a year defined by parity, there are no elite teams, just a bunch of really good ones.

    Here are the strengths and weaknesses of every squad in the NCAA tournament.


    *Advanced stats according to

Florida (South Region, No. 1 Seed)

1 of 68


    The Gators are one of the hungriest teams in the tournament and will be playing with fire after losing in the Elite Eight the past three seasons.

    Florida starts four seniors (Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather) who take pride in playing defense and sharing the basketball. At (32-2), the Gators are the top team in college basketball.



    Florida played a strong non-conference schedule, but wasn’t really tested while going 18-0 in SEC play. Billy Donovan’s team hasn’t lost since falling to Connecticut on Dec. 2. There are also questions about Florida’s talent—at least as it relates to some of the field’s other highly seeded teams.

    Only one Gator, freshman forward Chris Walker, is projected as a first-round draft pick. And he doesn’t see significant minutes.

Kansas (South Region, No. 2 Seed)

2 of 68


    The Jayhawks are almost unmatched when it comes to talent. Two of the projected top three picks in this summer’s NBA draft (Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid) wear Kansas uniforms.

    Even though Embiid is out indefinitely with a back injury, the Jayhawks have more than enough firepower to make up for his absence with players such as Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, who are also potential first-rounders.



    Kansas usually has one of the top defensive teams in America, but that hasn’t been the case this season. The Jayhawks ended the season ranked fifth in the Big 12 in field-goal-percentage defense and gave up 94 points to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament.

    They’ve been particularly mediocre on the perimeter, where opposing defenders often blow by point guard Naadir Tharpe. Also, perhaps because of its youth, Kansas has battled consistency issues all season. Bill Self’s squad can look like America’s best team one game and absolutely dreadful the next.

Syracuse (South Region, No. 3 Seed)

3 of 68


    It’s incredibly difficult to prepare for Syracuse and its vaunted matchup zone on short notice. That gives the Orange an advantage in a tournament setting. In C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant, Syracuse has a trio of veterans who played a key role in last season’s march to the Final Four.



    Confidence could be an issue. Once 25-0, the Orange appear to be regressing as they enter the NCAA tournament. Jim Boeheim’s squad has lost five of it last seven games. And even before that, it had barely skated by in narrow wins against Pittsburgh (58-56) and North Carolina State (56-55).

UCLA (South Region, No. 4 Seed)

4 of 68


    Not many teams in the country can match the Bruins’ chemistry and efficiency on offense. UCLA ranks fifth in America in assists per game (17.2), is tied for 10th in field-goal percentage (49.0) and is tied for 11th in points (81.8). Bottom line: The Bruins are patient with the ball and take good shots.

    Having players such as forward Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, a potential lottery pick, certainly helps. The duo averages a combined 32.1 points and 14.1 rebounds per game.



    Just when their fans start to believe something special is in the works, the Bruins suffer a head-scratching loss that makes you question their drive and focus. It happened in mid-January when UCLA lost at Utah and again a few weeks later against Pac-12 also-ran Oregon State.

    No result, however, was as inexplicable as the 73-55 hind-kicking that lowly Washington State administered on Steve Alford’s squad only a week ago. There is no excuse for that type of mental lapse. None.

VCU (South Region, No. 5 Seed)

5 of 68


    The Rams' full-court “havoc” defense makes them incredibly difficult to prepare for in a tournament setting. It’s an unorthodox style that is hard to adjust to when you don’t have much time to get ready.

    VCU’s roster is full of long, lanky athletes who make life difficult as soon as the ball is inbounded. Briante Weber leads the nation in steals, with 3.4 per game. Almost every Rams player is capable of scoring from long range.



    VCU shoots a pedestrian 42 percent from the field, which ranks 11th in the Atlantic 10. Shaka Smart’s team also ranks in the bottom half of the league in rebounding margin and rebounding defense. The Rams make just 67.7 percent of their foul shots.

Ohio State (South Region, No. 6 Seed)

6 of 68


    Ohio State’s defensive pressure is exhausting. The Buckeyes won multiple games this season after rallying from double-digit deficits.

    Thad Matta’s squad also returns four starters from the team that advanced to the Elite Eight in 2013. And Aaron Craft started for the Buckeyes in the 2012 Final Four, while Lenzelle Smith Jr. played a significant role off the bench.



    LaQuinton Ross is the Buckeyes’ top offensive player, but he’s had consistency issues all season. An even bigger issue is that Ohio State doesn’t have a reliable secondary option when Ross is struggling. The Buckeyes average just 69.8 points per game.

New Mexico (South Region, No. 7 Seed)

7 of 68


    The Lobos will enter the NCAA tournament on a mission after being upset in by No. 14-seed Harvard in their opening game last season. Even though Craig Neal has replaced Steve Alford on the sideline, the Lobos don’t seem to have missed a beat.

    New Mexico won two out of three games against regular-season Mountain West champion San Diego State and also owns non-conference victories over Cincinnati and Marquette.

    The Lobos also tout one of the nation’s most improved players in standout post Cameron Bairstow, who is averaging 20.3 points and 7.4 rebounds after contributing 9.7 and 5.9 last season. 

    Guard Kendall Williams (16.4 points) and center Alex Kirk (13.6 points, 8.7 rebounds) are a big part of New Mexico’s success for the second straight year.



    New Mexico makes just 5.8 three-pointers per game. Neal’s team would much rather get the ball inside to players such as Bairstow and Kirk.

Colorado (South Region, No. 8 Seed)

8 of 68


    The Buffaloes are solid inside, where underrated sophomore forward Josh Scott averages a team-high 8.5 rebounds along with 14.1 points.

    Freshman Wesley Gordon is also tenacious on the boards with 6.1 per game, but he only contributes 5.9 points and has reached double figures only twice against Pac-12 opponents.



    Tad Boyle’s squad took a huge hit when guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 12. Dinwiddie was Colorado’s leader in points and assists, making him almost irreplaceable in the backcourt.

    Veteran guard Askia Booker is capable of playing at a high level, but he shoots just 39.2 percent from the field and only 27.6 percent from three-point range.

Pittsburgh (South Region, No. 9 Seed)

9 of 68


    Jamie Dixon’s squad is remarkably unselfish, as the Panthers ranked 20th in the country in assists with 15.6 per game. They also have a pair of premier players in Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, both of whom are battle-tested seniors.

    Patterson is a wing who averages 17.6 points per game, while Zanna, a forward, leads the team in rebounds (8.8 per contest).



    The Panthers have one of the weakest resumes of any team in the tournament. Before beating North Carolina on Saturday, Pittsburgh owned just two victories over squads in this year’s field (Stanford and NC State). Pittsburgh simply hasn’t proven it can beat top-flight competition.

Stanford (South Region, No. 10 Seed)

10 of 68


    Experience. The Cardinal’s entire starting lineup consists of juniors and seniors, all of whom will be out to prove themselves in Stanford’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008.

    Junior point guard Chasson Randle has been particularly effective. He’s averaging 18.7 points while shooting 48.5 percent from the field—both career highs.



    The Cardinal sometimes operate in “hero ball” mode that usually leads to ill-advised shots and turnovers. Stanford is tied for 242nd in the country in assists per game (11.8).

    As good as Johnny Dawkins’ squad has been at times, the Cardinal often have trouble sustaining their success. Stanford’s longest winning streak is four straight games, and that was in November.

Dayton (South Region, No. 11 Seed)

11 of 68


    The Flyers climbed into The Associated Press Top 25 poll in early December after beating Gonzaga and Cal in the Maui Invitational. They also own nonconference wins against Iona, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech.

    Dayton ranks second in the Atlantic 10 in field-goal percentage (46.6) and outrebounds teams by 4.2 boards per game. Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert averages a team-high 12.5 points per game and shoots 43.9 percent from beyond the arc.



    Archie Miller’s squad is the worst in the Atlantic 10 at protecting the rim, averaging a league-low 2.6 blocks per game.

Stephen F. Austin (South Region, No. 12 Seed)

12 of 68


    Former Kansas State and South Carolina assistant Brad Underwood has done a phenomenal job in his first season with the Lumberjacks, who are 31-2 and haven’t lost since Nov. 23.

    Stephen F. Austin ranks eighth in the country in assists with 16.6 per game game—a true sign of on-court chemistry and cohesion. The Lumberjacks, who have won 28 straight, boast five players who average between 9.6 and 14.3 points.



    Stephen F. Austin isn’t battle-tested. Underwood’s squad played just one team in the RPI Top 50 (Texas) and lost. All but two of its games were against squads ranked outside the RPI Top 100. Its most impressive out-of-league win is against Towson.

Tulsa (South Region, No. 13 Seed)

13 of 68


    Second-year head coach Danny Manning has done a remarkable job at Tulsa, where he’s led the Golden Hurricane to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2003.

    Tulsa enters the Big Dance on an 11-game winning streak thanks largely to the play of sophomore guard James Woodard, who is averaging 21.4 points in his last five games.

    Tulsa’s non-conference schedule included games against Wichita State, Creighton, Maryland and Oklahoma. The brutal slate may not have helped the Golden Hurricanes’ record, but the early season tests paid off in conference play. Tulsa ranked second in Conference USA in field-goal-percentage defense.



    The Golden Hurricanes aren’t going to beat many teams with their long-range shooting. Manning’s squad makes just 32.5 percent of its three-point attempts.

Western Michigan (South Region, No 14 Seed)

14 of 68


    The Broncos obviously have a lot of heart. They fought back from an 18-point deficit to defeat Akron in the MAC Tournament semifinals before throttling regular-season co-champion Toledo 98-77 in Saturday’s title game.

    David Brown scored 32 points in the victory, which catapulted Western Michigan into the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. The Broncos shoot a respectable 46.6 percent from the field.



    The Broncos don’t create a ton of havoc on defense that leads to easy points off turnovers. They ranked next-to-last in the MAC in steals with 6.0 per game and had more turnovers this season (451) than assists (364).

Eastern Kentucky (South Region, No. 15 Seed)

15 of 68


    The Colonels shoot 56.2 percent on two-point field goals, which ranks second in the country behind Belmont. Glenn Cosey averages a team-high 18.8 points and shoots 42.5 percent from three-point range, a phenomenal number considering he’s hoisted 259 shots from behind the arc.



    As good as it is offensively, Eastern Kentucky is horrid on defense. Opponents are shooting 56.1 percent against the Colonels, which ranks 346th nationally. Eastern Kentucky has never won an NCAA tournament game. Its last appearance was in 2007.

Albany (South Region, No. 16 Seed)

16 of 68


    The Great Danes are making their second straight NCAA tournament appearance thanks, in large part, to their defense. They allow just 63.8 points per game, which ranks 35th in the country.



    Albany is sloppy with the basketball. It averages nearly 13 turnovers per contest and averages just 66 points, which ranks 287th among Division I teams.

Mount St. Mary's (South Region, No. 16 Seed)

17 of 68


    The Mountaineers went 16-16 in the regular season and tied for fourth in the Northeast Conference. But they got hot at the right time and upset top-seeded Robert Morris to win the league tournament championship and lock up a bid to the NCAA tournament.

    Mount St. Mary’s shoots 35.6 percent from beyond the arc, a solid number for a team that derives 34.9 of its offense from three-pointers.

    The Mountaineers are also a tough matchup because of their full-court, pressing style. That should come as no surprise considering coach Jamion Christian was mentored by VCU coach Shaka Smart.



    Defense is a problem for the Mountaineers, especially inside the arc. Mount St. Mary’s allows opponents to shoot 54.3 percent from two-point range, a mark that ranks 337th nationally.

Arizona (West Region, No. 1 Seed)

18 of 68


    Sean Miller’s squad prides itself on it defense. Arizona opened the season with 21 straight victories mainly because it was tougher—both physically and mentally—than its opponents. The Wildcats have held 19 teams to less than 60 points.

    Arizona showed a ton of resiliency after starting forward Brandon Ashley went down with a season-ending knee injury in a Feb. 1 loss at Cal. Instead of floundering in the face of adversity, Miller’s team has flourished.



    Arizona lacks an elite scorer. Yes, point guard Nick Johnson is averaging 16.2 points and is worthy of All-American honors. But he’s not as good as some of America’s other top guards at getting his own shot when the offense breaks down.

    As the competition gets stiffer, a point may come where Miller needs to tell a player, “Go find a way to get us a basket.” Does he have a player he trusts that can do it?

Wisconsin (West Region, No. 2 Seed)

19 of 68


    All five of the Badgers starters can shoot from long range. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker are tough matchups because they have an arsenal of moves in the paint but can also do damage from long range.

    Wisconsin is also battle-tested. Bo Ryan’s squad is one of two teams to beat Florida and also touts non-conference wins over Virginia and Saint Louis.



    This is one of Ryan’s worst defensive teams. The Badgers struggle to defend athletic guards and they don’t have anyone to protect the rim like Jared Berggren did last season. Wisconsin hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2005, when it made the Elite Eight.

Creighton (West Region, No. 3 Seed)

20 of 68


    Um, duh! Ever heard of Doug McDermott? The likely national player of the year leads the country in scoring with 26.9 points per game.

    But the Bluejays are hardly a one-man show. Ethan Wragge shoots 47.3 percent from beyond the arc and had nine three-pointers in a win against Villanova. Guard Grant Gibbs, a sixth-year senior, is a veteran who wants to advance beyond the tournament’s first weekend for the first time in his career.



    Creighton’s interior defense leaves a lot to be desired. Wragge and McDermott—at 6'7" and 6'8", respectively—have difficult matching up with bigger, stronger opponents.

    The Bluejays could be a bit jittery considering the expectations hovering over the program as Creighton enters the NCAA tournament for the final time with McDermott. Will it flounder under pressure? Or will it flourish?

San Diego State (West Region, No. 4 Seed)

21 of 68


    The Aztecs have an ideal blend of talent and experience. Senior point guard Xavier Thames ranks third in the Mountain West in scoring with 16.8 points per game. He’s a physical guard who can score while absorbing contact, which is one of the reasons he’s rising up NBA draft boards.

    Tulane transfer Josh Davis averages 9.7 rebounds for a team that won 20 straight games during the regular season. One of the victories came against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.



    Don’t be surprised if the Aztecs lose a game from the foul stripe. San Diego State makes just 65.3 percent of its free throws—the worst mark in the Mountain West.

Oklahoma (West Region, No. 5 Seed)

22 of 68


    The Sooners finished second in the nation’s toughest conference primarily because they are well-coached. They don’t beat themselves. Guards Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark are money from long range, and Hield is physical and crafty enough to create his own shot when the offense breaks down.



    Oklahoma lacks the elite-level talent to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. If the Sooners’ shots aren’t falling from the outside, they will struggle to beat almost any team. They are also a poor defensive team. Oklahoma allowed a Big 12-worst 75.9 points per game during the regular season.

Baylor (West Region, No. 6 Seed)

23 of 68


    Not many teams in the country can match the Bears’ frontline of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers. Jefferson has 14 double-doubles and Austin is averaging 4.5 blocks in his last four games.

    Baylor also has a weapon on the perimeter in Brady Heslip, who shoots 47.3 percent from beyond the arc. Heslip is the main reason Baylor shoots a Big 12-best 39 percent from three-point range. Baylor has won 10 of its last 12 games after starting league play 2-8.



    Although it hasn’t been as bad lately, the Bears often appear disjointed on offense and are prone to taking ill-advised shots. They also ranked eighth in the Big 12 in free-throw percentage during the regular season (67.3).

    Scott Drew’s team lacks quality ball-handlers, as Kenny Chery is the one true point guard on the roster. A team such as VCU that likes to press could give Baylor trouble.

Oregon (West Region, No. 7 Seed)

24 of 68


    Before being spanked by UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, the Ducks were one of the hottest teams in college basketball with eight straight wins.

    The offseason acquisitions of Houston transfer Joseph Young and UNLV transfer Mike Moser have paid off big time for Dana Altman, who is getting a combined 32.1 points from the twosome. Oregon is tied for 11th in the nation in scoring at 81.8 points per game.



    Although they’ve improved in recent weeks, the Ducks are tissue-soft on the defensive end of the court. Opponents are shooting 44.2 percent and averaging 74 points against Oregon. Altman’s squad has allowed 12 opponents to score 80 or more points.

Gonzaga (West Region, No. 8 Seed)

25 of 68


    The Zags enters the tournament high on motivation after losing in the third round of last year’s event as a No. 1 seed.

    Several key pieces of that squad return, including point guards Kevin Pangos and David Stockton and forwards Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski. Gonzaga enters the Big Dance on a five-game winning streak.



    The Zags’ frontcourt is salty—but it’s not nearly as strong as the 2012-13 unit that featured lottery pick Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. And while it boasts a handful of talented players, the roster is void of the elite-level talent that has led Gonzaga to greatness in the past.

    Mark Few’s squad went 15-3 in league play, but its best non-conference victories were against West Virginia and Arkansas, neither of whom earned an NCAA tournament bid. The Zags are somewhat unproven entering the NCAA tournament.

Oklahoma State (West Region, No. 9 Seed)

26 of 68


    The Cowboys tout one of the best floor leaders in college basketball in Marcus Smart, who is playing some of the best basketball of his career following a three-game suspension for shoving a fan. But Oklahoma State is hardly a one man show.

    Athletic wing Markel Brown and shooting guard Phil Forte are lethal from long range, and 6’7” forward Le’Bryan Nash is a difficult matchup because of his size and versatility.



    Travis Ford’s squad is grossly undersized in the paint, a situation that be became even worse when forward Michael Cobbins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in January. The Cowboys have to rely on toughness and grit to combat their lack of height and bulk.

BYU (West Region, No. 10 Seed)

27 of 68


    Guard Tyler Haws is one of the top scorers in college basketball. He averages 23.4 points per game and shoots a respectable 46.6 percent from the field, a phenomenal number considering he attempts 16.4 shots per game.

    The Cougars also boast one of the country’s more underrated freshman in forward Eric Mika. BYU averages 84.2 points per contest, a mark that ranks third in the country.



    As good as they are defensively, the Cougars are soft on the defensive end. They are often out-muscled by bigger, stronger forwards and don’t guard very well on the perimeter.

    BYU will also be without one of its top players, as assists leader and second-leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth was lost for the season with a right ACL injury.

Nebraska (West Region, No. 11 Seed)

28 of 68


    Despite losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, Nebraska is one of the nation’s hottest teams. The Cornhuskers have won 11 of their last 15 games and are in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Not bad for a team that was picked to finish last in its league.

    Nebraska is 0-6 all-time in the Big Dance, but that could chance if first-team All-Big Ten pick Terran Petteway plays up to his capabilities.



    Nebraska plays as hard as anyone and has great on-court chemistry. But other than Petteway, Tim Miles’ squad lacks elite-level talent. This team is good enough to get to the Sweet 16 if it gets a favorable draw. But it’s hard to imagine the Huskers advancing further than that.

North Dakota State (West Region, No. 12 Seed)

29 of 68


    The Bison shoot a national-best 50.9 percent from the field and are as balanced as any team in America with four double-digit scorers (Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, Lawrence Alexander and TrayVonn Wright). Braun (18.2) has scored 20 or more points 11 times this season. 



    North Dakota State is prone to giving up the long ball. Division I opponents are shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range against the Bison, which ranks 309th in the nation.

New Mexico State (West Region, No. 13 Seed)

30 of 68


    The Aggies finished second behind Utah State in the regular-season standings but claimed an automatic bid by winning the conference tournament. They’ve won nine of their past 10 games, with the only setback coming in that loss to Utah Valley State that resulted in a court-storming and a near brawl.

    The Aggies, though, have kept their composure ever since and have continued to perform like one of the most disciplined teams in the country. They shoot an astounding 49.1 percent from the field while averaging 77.2 points per game.

    New Mexico State also features college's basketball's largest player in 7'5" sophomore Sim Bhullar, who averages 10.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per contest.



    Marvin Menzies’ squad doesn’t create a ton of havoc. It forces an average of only 4.5 steals per game, and it had more total turnovers this season than its opponents.

Louisiana-Lafayette (West Region, No. 14 Seed)

31 of 68


    One of the top offensive teams in the country, the Rajin’ Cajuns are averaging 81.4 points per game. Even more impressive is that they shoot 46.9 percent from the field.

    Junior guard Elfrid Payton is a 6’3” NBA prospect who averages 19.1 points and 6.0 assists. This is Louisiana-Lafayette’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2005. Its last win in the Big Dance was in 1992.


    The Rajin’ Cajuns score a lot of points—but they give up a bunch too. Opponents average 75.1 points a game against Bob Marlin’s squad, which ranks eighth in the Sun Belt in field-goal-percentage defense (44.3).

American (West Region, No. 15 Seed)

32 of 68


    The Eagles are incredibly efficient from the field. They make 55.7 percent of their two-point attempts. American is also known for its selflessness, as 66 percent of its baskets came on assists.



    American is sloppy with the ball. It averages 14 turnovers per game, a high number for a team that plays at the 10th-slowest pace in college basketball.

Weber State (West Region, No. 16 Seed)

33 of 68


    The Wildcats are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 thanks to a 27-point effort by center Kyle Tresnak in Saturday’s victory over North Dakota in the title game of the Big Sky tournament.

    As good as Tresnak was, the hero for most of the season has been guard Davion Berry, who averages 19.1 points.

    Weber State’s other main strength is its defense. Opponents shoot just 42.5 percent against the Wildcats, who also led the Big Sky in three-point field-goal percentage (39.2).



    Weber State can be a bit sloppy with the ball. The Wildcats ranked last in their league in turnover margin.

Virginia (East Region, No. 1 Seed)

34 of 68


    The Cavaliers won the outright ACC title for the first time in 33 years, thanks mainly to their defense. Opponents are shooting 42.2 percent from the field. Akil Mitchell is the top defensive rebounder on a squad that ranks in the top 10 nationally in defensive-rebounding percentage.



    Virginia shoots just 66.4 percent from the free-throw line, which is tied for 282nd nationally. The Cavaliers also play at an incredibly slow pace, which affects their scoring. Tony Bennett’s squad averages just 65.8 points per game.

Villanova (East Region, No. 2 Seed)

35 of 68


    Jay Wright’s squad has excellent spacing on offense, which often leads to quality shots from the perimeter. The Wildcats also boast excellent balance, with three players (JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard II) averaging between 14 and 15 points.



    Villanova’s non-conference resume includes a pair of quality wins against Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis. But the Wildcats weren’t all that tested in a mediocre Big East conference. Villanova dropped two games to Creighton, the league’s other marquee team, by an average of 29.5 points.

    For the most part, it’s been a while since the Wildcats faced the quality of teams they would see in the latter rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Iowa State (East Region, No. 3 Seed)

36 of 68


    Forward Melvin Ejim—who scored a conference-record 48 points against TCU—is the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, although no one would’ve argued if forward DeAndre Kane would’ve taken home the award instead.

    Together they form one of the top 1-2 punches in college basketball. Iowa State made more three-pointers during the regular season (274) than any other Big 12 team.



    Ejim and Dustin Hogue—both of whom are 6’6”—work their tails off in the paint, along with small forward Georges Niang, who is 6’7”. But overall, the Cyclones frontcourt lacks the size, strength and length to match up with some of the nation’s top post players.

    At times, Fred Hoiberg’s squad relies too heavily on the three-pointer, which is one of the reasons it sometimes struggles away from home.

Michigan State (East Region, No. 4 Seed)

37 of 68


    The Spartans are always one of the country’s toughest, most physical teams. But this year's iteration is also one of Tom Izzo’s top squads in terms of talent. For the first time since 2001, Michigan State will likely have two players (Gary Harris and Adreian Payne) selected in the first round of this summer’s NBA draft.

    Harris is one of the top shooting guards in America, and Payne combines with Branden Dawson to form one of the Big Ten’s better frontcourts.



    Until a few weeks ago, Michigan State hasn’t had all of its players healthy at the same time all season, which may explain why the Spartans have looked a bit disjointed on offense. Before the Big Ten tournament, Michigan State hadn’t won back-to-back games since mid-January.

Cincinnati (East Region, No. 5 Seed)

38 of 68


    The Bearcats are one of the top defensive teams in the country. Mick Cronin’s squad has held 20 opponents to fewer than 60 points, mainly because his team plays so hard.

    Forward Justin Jackson averages 2.9 blocks per game. Guard Sean Kilpatrick is one of the nation’s leading scorers, at 20.7 points per game.



    Much like their opponents, the Bearcats struggle to score. Cincinnati averages just 68.7 points per game. They reached the 70-point barrier just six times in 18 regular-season conference games. Kilpatrick is the Bearcats’ only true offensive standout.

North Carolina (East Region, No. 6 Seed)

39 of 68


    Roy Williams’ squad is relentless on the glass, ranking eighth in the country in rebounds with 39.8 per game.

    Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, J.P. Tokoto and James Michael McAdoo all average between 5.8 and 6.7 boards. Point guard Marcus Paige is one of the top playmakers in the country and is excellent from the foul stripe (88 percent).



    The Tar Heels’ confidence may be an issue. They had won 12 straight games before falling to Duke in the regular-season finale. Then they lost 80-75 to Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.

Connecticut (East Region, No. 7 Seed)

40 of 68


    The Huskies are battle-tested. They’re one of just two teams to beat Florida, having accomplished the feat on Shabazz Napier’s buzzer-beater back on Dec. 2.

    And they tied for third in one of the nation’s more underrated conferences. The backcourt of Napier—winner of an NCAA title as a freshman—and Ryan Boatright is one of the best in college basketball.



    Connecticut’s inside game is weak. DeAndre Daniels is more of a small forward, so he’s playing a bit out of position at the 4. It says something when your point guard is your leading rebounder. That’s the case in Storrs, where Napier averages 5.9 boards per game.

Memphis (East Region, No. 8 Seed)

41 of 68


    Not many teams in the country boast a backcourt as talented and experienced as the one at Memphis. Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson are all seniors along with Michael Dixon Jr., who comes off the bench. Forward Shaq Goodwin is one of the most improved players in the AAC.



    Josh Pastner is averaging 26 wins in five seasons at Memphis, but he can only claim one victory in the NCAA tournament. That occurred in last season’s second-round game against Saint Mary’s—and the Tigers were bludgeoned by Michigan State two days later.

    Memphis fans are hoping this is the season Pastner gets over the hump and guides the Tigers to the Sweet 16 or better.

George Washington (East Region, No. 9 Seed)

42 of 68


    The Colonials turned some heads in nonconference play by beating Creighton, Miami, Maryland and Georgia. But they didn’t feel good about their NCAA tournament chances until beating St. Joseph’s and Massachusetts late in the season.

    Much of George Washington’s success can be attributed to a pair of talented transfers: Former Villanova forward Isaiah Armwood averages 12.5 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds, while ex-Indiana guard Maurice Creek leads the Colonials with 14.3 points.



    Mike Lonegran’s team ranks in the upper half of the conference in nearly every statistical category except foul shooting. The Colonials make just 65.4 percent of their free throws. George Washington went a combined 23-38 in the two seasons prior to this one.

Saint Joseph's (East Region, No. 10 Seed)

43 of 68


    The Hawks are back in the tournament for the first time since 2008 thanks to a late-season surge that saw them win nine of their final 11 games, including a win over VCU for the conference championship.

    Guard Langston Galloway ranks third in the league in scoring with 17.5 points per game and has 1,966 points in his career. He makes 43.9 percent of his three-pointers. As a team, the Hawks lead the Atlantic 10 with a field-goal percentage of 46.8.



    As accurate as they are from the field, the Hawks are dreadful from the foul stripe, where they shoot a league-worst 64.4 percent. Saint Joseph’s also ranks last in steals with only 4.6 per game.

Providence (East Region, No. 11 Seed)

44 of 68


    The Friars have a star in guard Bryce Cotton, who may be the most underrated player in America. Cotton averaged 21.4 points on the season and 23.4 points in Big East play.

    Much like Connecticut’s Kemba Walker did in 2011, Cotton is capable of single-handedly carrying red-hot Providence deep into the tournament. Providence has won six of its last seven games, including Saturday’s victory over Creighton in the Big East tournament championship.



    Providence isn’t very efficient offensively. Ed Cooley’s team shoots just 42.5 percent from the field. Cotton, a volume shooter who attempts 15.5 shots per game, doesn’t do much to help that number, as he connects on just 41.3 percent of his attempts.

Harvard (East Region, No. 12 Seed)

45 of 68


    The Crimson, who are led by former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, have a high-level player in Wesley Saunders. He averages 14 points per game after scoring 16.2 points a year ago. And as a team they shoot 46.7 percent from the field. They’re probably pretty smart, too, being from Harvard and all.



    Harvard lacks size. It’s tallest starter is just 6’7”, which probably explains why the Crimson rank 207th in the country in rebounding. Harvard hasn’t played a big-name team since losing to Connecticut on Jan. 8. 

Delaware (East Region, No. 13 Seed)

46 of 68


    The Blue Hens play at a rapid pace. In fact, they’re the 10th-fastest-playing team in America. So it should come as no surprise that all five starters average double figures.

    Devon Saddler leads the way with 19.7 points per game. Also impressive is that Delaware averages just 9.6 turnovers despite playing at such a fast pace.



    Delaware is not very good defensively. The Blue Hens have allowed opponents to score 70 or more points 13 times since the start of conference play. And they enter the NCAA tournament toting a minus-2.4 rebounding margin.

North Carolina Central (East Region, No. 14 Seed)

47 of 68


    The Eagles enter the NCAA tournament on a 20-game winning streak. Not bad for a team in just its seventh season in Division I. A big reason for NC Central’s success is Jeremy Ingram, one of the nation’s premier scorers at 20.6 points per game.

    Ingram scored 20 or more points 18 times and had five games of 30 or more. The Eagles' nonconference schedule included losses to Wichita State, Cincinnati and Maryland, as well as an overtime win against North Carolina State.



    NC Central ranks in the top half of the MEAC in nearly every statistical category except offensive rebounding and three-pointers made per game. The Eagles connect on just 5.4 treys per contest.

Milwaukee (East Region, No. 15 Seed)

48 of 68


    The Panthers are hot. Rob Jeter’s team has been on a roll since losing four straight games in mid-February. Milwaukee beat reigning Horizon League tournament champion Valparaiso in the quarterfinals of this year’s tournament before topping regular-season champion Green Bay on the road in the semifinals.

    The Panthers went just 7-9 in league play, but that hardly matters now. Senior guard Jordan Aaron is averaging 20.5 points in his last four games.



    Milwaukee doesn’t boast a slew of quality wins. It went 10-3 in nonconference action but lost to DePaul. Its best win came against Davidson. Another lackluster stat: The Panthers shoot just 43.3 percent from the field.

Coastal Carolina (East Region, No. 16 Seed)

49 of 68


    The Chanticleers are coached by Cliff Ellis, who has led four different teams to the NCAA tournament. Coastal Carolina is one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country thanks to the efforts of Michel Enanga and El Hadji Ndieguene.



    Ellis' squad ranks 298th in the nation in turnover percentage and is dreadful from beyond the arc. The Chanticleers shoot just 33.3 percent from three-point range.

Wichita State (Midwest Region, No. 1 Seed)

50 of 68


    No team in the country has better chemistry than the Shockers, who pride themselves on sharing the ball, taking good shots and playing tough defense. There isn’t a selfish player on the team. No one cares who gets the glory.

    Wichita State won’t be intimidated by the big stage and bright lights after reaching the Final Four a year ago, and the Shockers have dealt with pressure all season as the nation’s lone undefeated team. It obviously didn’t rattle them.



    Opponents are shooting 35.3 percent from beyond the arc against the Shockers, which would be their undoing if they face a hot team in the NCAA tournament.

    Also, this isn’t exactly breaking news, but most of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top programs went through transition years in 2013-14 and were relatively young, so it’s been a while since Wichita State has been tested.

Michigan (Midwest Region, No. 2 Seed)

51 of 68


    Wolverines coach John Beilein is regarded as one of the top tacticians in college basketball. Rarely are his teams not prepared.

    Michigan lost two players from last year’s Final Four squad (Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.) to the NBA draft, while a third star (Mitch McGary) had season-ending back surgery in January.

    Luckily, shooting guard Nik Stauskas has risen up and become a playmaker. The Big Ten Player of the Year shoots 44.9 percent from three-point range.



    The loss of McGary is hurting Michigan in the paint, especially on defense. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford are serviceable players but hardly elite. Wolverines fans should cross their fingers that Michigan isn’t pitted against a team with a big and talented frontcourt.

Duke (Midwest Region, No. 3 Seed)

52 of 68


    The Blue Devils run one of the more efficient offenses in the country. They averaged 79.8 points in the regular season while shooting 46.5 percent as a team. Much of that is because Duke features a potential top-three draft pick in freshman Jabari Parker and another first-rounder in Rodney Hood. 

    Duke was also tested by one of the most difficult schedules in the country. Its non-league slate included tilts with Kansas, Arizona, Michigan and UCLA. 



    Mike Krzyzewski’s squad lacks size. Amile Jefferson (6.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) is the lone true big man in the starting lineup, and Marshall Plumlee contributes 1.3 points off the bench. Otherwise, Duke is reliant on its guards and small forwards.

    The issue hasn’t been too problematic in a conference that, for the most part, lacks elite big men, but there are plenty of teams in the NCAA tournament field capable of exposing the Blue Devils down low.

Louisville (Midwest Region, No. 4 Seed)

53 of 68


    Three things give the defending NCAA champion Cardinals a strong chance to make their third straight Final Four: experience, defense and coaching.

    Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear all played key roles on last year’s squad, and Pitino is a recent Hall of Fame inductee who preaches toughness. It also doesn’t hurt that Louisville averages 82.1 points per game.



    When perimeter jumpers aren’t falling, it’s hard for Louisville to manufacture points in a half-court offense because it lacks a forward who can create his own shot in the post.

    Harrell, who averages 14.2 points, is an excellent player who has improved tremendously, but he gets a lot of his points on putbacks and in transition—or on easy baskets after Smith penetrates and draws help.

Saint Louis (Midwest Region, No. 5 Seed)

54 of 68


    The Billikens won the A-10 title outright for the second straight season thanks to the country’s sixth-ranked defense. Only six opponents all season have scored more than 70 points against Saint Louis, and two of them needed overtime to do it.



    Jim Crews’ squad is trending downward entering the NCAA tournament. Saint Louis has lost four of its last five games (including a home setback against Duquesne).

    As good as they are defensively, the Billikens turn the ball over way too often and are a poor offensive rebounding team. Their mediocre offense—Saint Louis averages just 70 points per contest—results in a lot of close games.

Massachusetts (Midwest Region, No. 6 Seed)

55 of 68


    The Minutemen were one of the biggest surprises in the country in nonconference play, when they went 12-1 with victories over New Mexico, Nebraska, BYU, LSU, Clemson and Providence.

    Much of their success is because of point guard Chaz Williams, who averages 15.8 points and seven assists per game. Williams enters the tournament boasting 1,966 career points, but he’s shooting just 39.9 percent from the field.



    Considering its hot start, Massachusetts’ 10-6 finish in the Atlantic 10 was a bit of a disappointment. Derek Kellogg’s squad has lost three of its last five games.

    Opponents average 70.8 points against the Minutemen, which ranks 10th in the conference. Massachusetts only makes 5.4 three-pointers per game.

Texas (Midwest Region, No. 7 Seed)

56 of 68


    The Longhorns’ frontcourt is one of the most imposing thanks to 6’9”, 285-pound sophomore Cameron Ridley, who is one of the most improved players in America.

    Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh are excellent rim-protectors, and opposing guards have difficulty matching the speed and quickness of freshman Isaiah Taylor.



    Rick Barnes’ team has been in an offensive funk. The Longhorns failed to eclipse the 70-point barrier in their last five games, which is one of the main reasons Texas enters the NCAA tournament toting losses in five of its last eight contests.

    Most of the key players on Texas' roster are freshmen and sophomores who have never played in the NCAA tournament.

Kentucky (Midwest Region, No. 8 Seed)

57 of 68


    No team in the field is as talented as the Wildcats, who feature seven McDonald’s All-Americans among their top eight players. Kentucky is particularly tough in the paint. Forward Julius Randle averages a double-double, and Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the nation’s top shot-blockers.



    John Calipari’s squad lacks chemistry and cohesion, and it often plays tight, likely because of the mammoth and unrealistic expectations that were placed on the Wildcats’ shoulders before the season ever began.

    Kentucky, which was ranked No. 1 to open the season, boasts just one high-profile win, and that came back in December against Louisville.

Kansas State (Midwest Region, No. 9 Seed)

58 of 68


    The Wildcats are extremely well-coached. Rarely will you see a K-State player out of position or taking an ill-advised shot. The Wildcats feature one of country’s most underrated freshmen in guard Marcus Foster, who is good enough to keep Bruce Weber’s squad in almost any game.



    Other than Foster—who has been a huge surprise—the Wildcats don’t have the type of elite talent to make a deep run in March. They win a lot of games because of strong scouting reports and smart, heady play.

    Still, most times, the teams that advance to Final Four are the ones with top-flight players, and K-State simply doesn’t have them.

Arizona State (Midwest Region, No. 10 Seed)

59 of 68


    The Sun Devils have a huge weapon in Jahii Carson. The sophomore point guard, who averages 18.6 points per game, is a first-team All-Pac-12 member.

    Carson has already decided to declare for the NBA draft, so this will be his last chance to make an impact in an Arizona State jersey, and the big-game player will be looking to make it count.

    The team is also known for its defensive aggression—the Sun Devils are tied for No. 10 in the nation in defensive rebounds (27.2) and No. 18 in the nation in blocks per game (5.66).



    Arizona State is limping into the NCAA tournament on a three-game losing streak. The Sun Devils have been plagued by slow starts throughout that stretch, and their offense simply does not have the strength to rally from far behind.

    The team as a whole struggles with its field-goal percentage, and, unlike on defense, the Sun Devils aren't effective at getting offensive rebounds.

Iowa (Midwest Region, No. 11 Seed)

60 of 68


    The Hawkeyes start two seniors (Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe) and a junior (Aaron White), so this could definitely be considered a veteran team.

    Fran McCaffery is regarded as one of the better game tacticians in college basketball. He deserves praise for guiding Iowa to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.



    Not many schools in the 68-team field are trending downward quite like the Hawkeyes, who enter the tournament toting losses in six of their last seven games.

    Included in that stretch is Friday’s 67-62 loss to Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. At this point, it’s natural to think Iowa could be mentally fragile.

Tennessee (Midwest Region, No. 11 Seed)

61 of 68


    The Volunteers closed the season on a high note by winning five of their final six games. Cuonzo Martin’s squad has to be feeling good about itself entering the postseason.

    Tennessee boasts one of the toughest, most physical frontcourts in the country with Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, who combined to average 18.5 rebounds. And senior Jordan McRae (18.6 points) is an elite wing scorer.



    The Volunteers have lacked consistent point guard play since point guard Trae Golden was kicked off the team during the offseason. Memphis transfer Antonio Barton has been solid at times, but he’s averaging just 7.5 points and 2.1 assists per game.

NC State (Midwest Region, No. 12 Seed)

62 of 68


    The Wolfpack were a surprise addition to the NCAA tournament, but their strong win over Syracuse in the ACC tournament proves that they belong.

    Of course, it helps that they have T.J. Warren, the ACC Player of the Year and one of the leading scorers in the nation. When NC State can figure out ways to get the ball to Warren, they have the offensive firepower to beat anyone. 



    One man cannot do it all in college basketball, and the problem with the Wolfpack is that Warren often gets run down and the rest of the team simply isn't able to pull its weight as a supporting cast. The young team is known for its inconsistency and frequent second-half struggles. 

Xavier (Midwest Region, No. 12 Seed)

63 of 68


    After a one-year hiatus, the Musketeers are back in the NCAA tournament. Postseason success is nothing new for this program, which has been to two Elite Eights and three Sweet 16s since 2004.

    It would be surprising if this squad produced a similar run, although it has a star in potential first-round draft pick Semaj Christon (17.1 points, 4.2 assists), who could put his teammates on his back and carry them to the second weekend.

    As a team, Xavier ranks second in the Big East in field-goal percentage (47.1 percent).



    Xavier has struggled with consistency for nearly three months. Chris Mack’s squad hasn’t won three games in a row since early January and probably wouldn’t be in the tournament if not for a nonconference win against Cincinnati and a March 1 win over Creighton.

Manhattan (Midwest Region, No. 13 Seed)

64 of 68


    The Jaspers score a lot of points from the free-throw line, partly because they play at a fast pace. They average 31 free-throw attempts per game. 



    Manhattan is prone to turnovers, averaging 14.2 per game. It also allows 28.8 free throws per contest. When you watch the Jaspers, be prepared for a slow game because of foul shots. 

Mercer (Midwest Region, No. 14 Seed)

65 of 68


    The Bears can light it up from the outside. They have three players who have attempted more than 100 three-pointers. That includes leading scorer Langston Hall, who has made 82 of 209 shots from beyond the arc. Mercer, which hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1985, starts five seniors.



    Mercer’s strength of schedule ranks No. 233 in the country. The best team it played was Oklahoma. The Bears have not played a top-150 team since beating Ole Miss on Dec. 22.

Wofford (Midwest Region, No. 15 Seed)

66 of 68


    The Terriers average 10.7 turnovers compared to 12.9 for their opponents, an important stat for a team that plays at the 339th-slowest pace in the country.



    Interior defense is a problem. Opponents shoot 49.6 percent from two-point range, and the Terriers didn’t exactly play a tough schedule. Wofford averages just 1.7 blocks per game.

Cal Poly (Midwest Region, No. 16 Seed)

67 of 68


    The Mustangs are in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history despite going 13-19 overall and only 6-10 in the Big West. A three-pointer by reserve guard Ridge Shipley with 13 seconds remaining was the difference-maker in Cal Poly’s 61-59 win over Cal State Northridge on Saturday night.

    The Mustangs' nonconference schedule included losses to Arizona, Nevada, Fresno State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Delaware. It’s doubtful they’ll be overwhelmed by whomever they face in the Big Dance.



    Cal Poly had lost nine of its previous 11 games before catching fire in its conference tournament. The Mustangs rank 327th in the country in points per game (63.2) and shoot just 41 percent from the field.

Texas Southern (Midwest Region, No. 16 Seed)

68 of 68


    Coach Mike Davis led Indiana to the 2002 NCAA title game, so it’s no surprise he’s found success with the Tigers. Texas Southern may be one of the more talented No. 16 seeds in recent memory thanks to players such as Aaric Murray.

    The transfer from West Virginia averages 21.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. A 6’10” senior, Murray scored 48 points against Temple on Dec. 18, when he made 20 of his 28 field-goal attempts.



    Other than Temple, which is down this season, the Tigers haven’t proven they can beat a good team. They lost decisively in nonconference play to Texas Tech, Miami, Stanford, Tulsa and TCU, and they also fell to Lehigh and Cal-State Fullerton.


    Your Bracket Essentials