NCAA Tournament 2016: Power Ranking the Entire Field of 68

Bleacher Report College Basketball StaffFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2016

NCAA Tournament 2016: Power Ranking the Entire Field of 68

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    The NCAA tournament field has been set, and we've ranked all 68 teams from bottom to top.

    Whether your favorite team is a blue blood fighting for a national championship or a Cinderella just hoping to find that glass slipper, this is the time of year when thrillers, upsets and madness reign. We’re here to make a little sense of it all by providing an up-to-date ranking of every team in the NCAA tournament.

    There were three big questions to answer during this ranking process:

    • How has the team done this season against other quality opponents?
    • Is it a well-rounded team or one that simply has peak performances against the right opponents?
    • Does the team have a player (or multiple players) who will strike fear into the heart of any opponent it faces?

    The better the team scored in those three categories, the higher it ranked on our list and the better it should do in the tournament.

    But who will ultimately cut down the nets in Houston in three weeks? We'll find out soon enough, beginning on Tuesday with Wichita State vs. Vanderbilt and Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Florida Gulf Coast playing in the First Four games.

     

    Sign up and play Bleacher Report's Bracket Challenge now for a chance to win the Ultimate Sports Trip to four events of your choice.  And click here for B/R's Printable Bracket.

68. Holy Cross

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    James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 14-19, 5-13 in Patriot League

    Why They're Here: There’s always one, isn't there? In 2012, Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt tournament and went dancing with a 15-18 record. Three years ago, Liberty got in at 15-20. Two years ago it was Cal Poly at 13-19. And last year Hampton sneaked in with a 16-17 record. This year, it’s Holy Cross. The Crusaders won just four games in the entire 2016 calendar year prior to winning four in a row to take the Patriot title.

    Reason to Believe: After giving up at least 71 points in each of the final four games of the regular season, Holy Cross buckled down on defense in the Patriot League tournament, holding Army to 38 in the semis and limiting Lehigh to 14 in the first half of the championship game. 

    Reason to Worry: In addition to the 19 losses, Holy Cross did not win a single game against the RPI Top 150 this season. The chances of this team beating a No. 1 seed are…not good.

    March Madness Ceiling: For some bizarre reason, sub-.500 teams have excelled in the First Four format. Three of the aforementioned four teams were able to advance to the round of 64. But they were barely competitive once they got there. Holy Cross could win its inevitable play-in game, but that’s it.

67. Fairleigh Dickinson

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Record: 18-14, 11-7 in NEC 

    Why They're Here: Fairleigh Dickinson will be happy it earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but don't expect much in the tourney from a team that gave up 78.3 points per game this season. 

    Reason to Believe: If the Knights are going to shock the world, it'll be because of their ability to force turnovers. They average 7.5 steals per game and had eight games this season with at least 10 pilfers.

    Reason to Worry: In the one game they played against the caliber of opponent they would face in the round of 64, the Knights lost to Villanova by a 37-point margin. Fairleigh Dickinson also wasn't even the best team in what might be the worst conference in the country.

    March Madness Ceiling: In four tries, FDU has never won an NCAA tournament game, but it will almost certainly get a shot in the First Four. You may not care about those games when filling out your bracket, but they mean the world to these small conference teams that otherwise wouldn't have a shot at winning a game.

66. Southern

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    Samantha Baker/Associated Press

    Record: 22-12, 11-7 in SWAC

    Why They're Here: Southern knocked off top seed Texas Southern in the SWAC tournament on Friday and followed it up with a one-point victory over Jackson State on Saturday in the final. The Jaguars enter the NCAA tournament with wins in four of their last five games. 

    Reason to Believe: The Jaguars aren't the most efficient bunch in the country by any means, but they do have three guys (Adrian Rodgers, Trelun Banks and Shawn Prudhomme) who can stroke it from three. Perhaps if all three are on fire, they can shock the world.

    Reason to Worry: Save for Arkansas-Pine Bluff winning a play-in game in 2010, the SWAC's representative has not won an NCAA tournament game since 1993.

    March Madness Ceiling: Not only did the Jaguars fail to beat an RPI Top 100 opponent this season, they only played one, losing by 14 against just-barely-RPI-Top-100 Grand Canyon. Texas Southern faced a lot of quality nonconference opponents and might have been prepared to pull off a No. 15 over No. 2 upset, but Southern has no shot at toppling a No. 1 seed.

65. Florida Gulf Coast

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    Record: 20-13, 8-6 in Atlantic Sun 

    Why They're Here: Florida Gulf Coast got 15 points or more from four different players in an overtime win over Stetson in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game to sneak into its second NCAA tournament. As Matt Norlander of CBS Sports tweeted, though, this team feels like a No. 18 seed.

    Reason to Believe: Nostalgia is a bad reason to buy stock in a team, but there's recent history in those jerseys. This isn't Dunk City 2.0, but it is a roster full of guys who came to Florida Gulf Coast to create their own lore.

    Reason to Worry: Aside from the high-flying, loose style of play, one of the biggest things that helped 2012-13 FGCU was the early win over a Miami Hurricanes team that eventually climbed to No. 2 in the country. Those Eagles knew they could beat anyone, but these Eagles were blown out by Florida and never had much of a chance against Texas A&M in their other game against a major-conference opponent. 

    March Madness Ceiling: The Eagles might avoid the play-in games, but if they want to win a game in this year's tournament, it would have to come in Dayton in the First Four.

64. Hampton

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    Record: 21-10, 13-3 in MEAC

    Why They're Here: Hampton earned its second consecutive NCAA tournament bid with an 81-69 win Saturday over South Carolina State, following up its first regular-season MEAC title since 2002. The Pirates don't shoot particularly well, but they topped 80 points 12 times this season.

    Reason to Believe: We often talk about veteran experience in the tournament, and Hampton has a ton of that. Its six leading scorers are a junior and five seniors, including Quinton Chievous, who has developed into a minor-conference star after transferring away from Tennessee.

    Reason to Worry: The Pirates lost three nonconference games by a margin of at least 30 points and went just 1-6 against teams in the KenPom Top 225. They also don't have a single player shooting better than 33.5 percent from beyond the arc.

    March Madness Ceiling: Hampton won a play-in game last season and could do the same this March, but this team is too sloppy and doesn't shoot well enough to be the No. 16 seed that makes history by upsetting a No. 1.

63. UNC-Asheville

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    Record: 22-11, 12-6 in Big South

    Why They're Here: Close games were UNC-Asheville's nemesis this season, as it went 2-9 in games decided by five points or fewer. Fortunately, all three of the Bulldogs' Big South tournament games were decided by a margin of at least nine points, which allowed them to turn things around after closing the regular season with six losses in their final 13 games.

    Reason to Believe: UNC-Asheville's perimeter defense was strong for most of the season, but it was legendary in the Big South tournament. The Bulldogs' three opponents committed a combined 50 turnovers while shooting 15-of-82 (18.3 percent) from three-point range. 

    Reason to Worry: They have to be strong on the perimeter because they rarely put anyone taller than 6'6" on the floor. Asheville could be a menace to a three-point-oriented team like Oklahoma, but it would barely even be a nuisance for a two-point attack like North Carolina's. 

    March Madness Ceiling: The Bulldogs won play-in games in 2003 and 2011, but they have never won in the round of 64. Don't expect that to change this year.

62. Weber State

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    Record: 26-8, 15-3 in Big Sky

    Why They're Here: After a disappointing 2014-15 season, Weber State returned to its normal spot atop the Big Sky standings thanks to a senior who absolutely feasts on rebounds.

    Reason to Believe: Joel Bolomboy is a wrecking ball. He has 25 double-doubles in 30 games this season, including three games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. Weber State didn't face any great opponents this season, but Bolomboy did have 11 points and 16 rebounds against Arizona in the 2014 tournament as a sophomore. 

    Reason to Worry: In the three games they played against the KenPom Top 100 (BYU and two against South Dakota State), the Wildcats committed 55 turnovers while forcing just 34. And those teams are average at best in the turnover department. As has been the case for several years, Weber State doesn't do a good job of protecting or pilfering the ball.

    March Madness Ceiling: Bolomboy will be fun to watch, but soak up as much of him as you can, because the Wildcats won't advance beyond the round of 64.

61. Austin Peay

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    Record: 18-17, 7-9 in OVC

    Why They're Here: The No. 8 seed in the Ohio Valley tournament picked one heck of a time to win more than two straight games against D-I opponents for the first time all season. The Governors won four in a row against Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State, Belmont and Tennessee-Martinagainst whom they went 0-5 during the regular season. You have to love March. 

    Reason to Believe: Chris Horton is the best big man that maybe only 2 percent of the country has actually seen play. He's averaging 18.9 points and 12.0 rebounds per game this season. Back in the first week of the season, he went for 17 and 12 with four assists and four blocks against Indiana.

    Reason to Worry: Despite Horton's performance, Austin Peay lost to the Hoosiers by a 26-point margin. Three days before that game, Peay lost to Vanderbilt by 39 points. Among the collection of squads that got hot at the right time to secure auto bids, the Governors were probably the worst regular-season team.

    March Madness Ceiling: Austin Peay was an average shooting team for most of the year, but it hit 16 of 31 shots from three-point range in the OVC tournament championship game. If freshman shooting guard Jared Savage (19-of-34 in March) keeps making it rain, the Governors just might be able to make history.

60. Cal State Bakersfield

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Record: 24-8, 11-3 in WAC

    Why They're Here: After four straight seasons of representing the WAC in the NCAA tournament, Cal St. Bakersfield finally put an end to New Mexico State's reign of terror. NMSU's Pascal Siakam was one of the most unstoppable double-double machines in the country, but the Roadrunners held him in check all three times they faced him.

    Reason to Believe: This team defends extremely well, ranking in the top 20 nationally in two-point field-goal defense, block percentage and steal percentage. Is that a product of playing one of the weakest schedules in the country? Probably, but it's still impressive.

    Reason to Worry: The Roadrunners played just one game this season against a team that was mentioned even once in the past month as a potential at-large team, losing by a 35-point margin to Saint Mary's.

    March Madness Ceiling: It's fun to think that people outside the state of California will actually learn that Cal St. Bakersfield is a D-I school, but it's a shame they'll likely find out by watching the Roadrunners get run out of the gym by a No. 1 seed.

59. Green Bay

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    Record: 23-12, 11-7 in Horizon League

    Why They're Here: It's a crying shame the Phoenix were never able to go dancing with Keifer Sykes, but Carrington Love and Jordan Fouse finally got Green Bay back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996 by upsetting Valparaiso in the Horizon semis before taking care of Wright State in the championship game.

    Reason to Believe: This Green Bay team plays like VCU did two years ago, pushing the tempo, forcing a ton of turnovers and scoring just enough in transition to keep its lackluster half-court offense from being its downfall. Love and Fouse both rank in the top 100 nationally in steal percentage.

    Reason to Worry: Prior to eliminating Valparaiso, the best thing Green Bay did all season was avoid getting blown out in losses to Stanford and Wisconsin. The Phoenix can run, but on possessions where they don't force turnovers, they don't defend well enough to hang with elite teams.

    March Madness Ceiling: It might be the most entertaining game of the tournament if Green Bay gets to play in a track meet against North Carolina, West Virginia or Xavier, but there's little chance of this team actually winning a tournament game.

58. Yale

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    Record: 22-6, 13-1 in Ivy League 

    Why They're Here: Yale is playing in its first NCAA tournament in 54 years, but don't let that drought cloud your judgment of a solid team. The Bulldogs came within two points of ending SMU's quest for an undefeated season before it became a thing.

    Reason to Believe: Would you believe the Bulldogs are the best rebounding team in the country? Led by seniors Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod and Nick Victor, they're the only team to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Coupled with offensive and defensive field-goal percentages that both rank in the top 50 nationally, Yale might be a bigger threat for a deep run than Harvard was in recent years.

    Reason to Worry: It has been a long time since the Bulldogs faced a respectable opponent, and they didn't beat any of those teams. Two games against Princeton are as close as they've come to facing a tournament-caliber opponent in three months, and they barely won the home game against the Tigers before losing the road game by a dozen. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Yale has defended and rebounded well against subpar opponents, but quality foes have had little trouble turning over the Bulldogs and hanging with them on the glass. They are better than they have been in decades, but a Sweet 16 appearance would be a big surprise.

57. UNC-Wilmington

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    Record: 25-7, 14-4 in Colonial

    Why They're Here: The Seahawks eked their way through the CAA tournament, clipping Charleston and Northeastern by one-possession margins before knocking off Hofstra in overtime to win the title. But they didn't get to 25-7 by accident, and they play a physical game that could prove troublesome in the NCAA tournament. 

    Reason to Believe: Chris Flemmings is one heck of a versatile weapon. He scores at all three levels, rebounds, defends and gets to the free-throw line with regularity. For a guy from a minor-conference team, he sure does rank in the top 500 on KenPom in a lot of categories.

    Reason to Worry: Unless you count road games in CAA play, this team hasn't really been tested. At this point, even the road loss to Georgetown doesn't count as much of a learning opportunity. And if we've learned anything about Cinderellas over the years, it's much easier to beat NCAA tournament teams when you've actually seen a few throughout the course of the season.

    March Madness Ceiling: On average, UNC-Wilmington allows almost 30 free-throw attempts per game. Unless they face a team like California, Texas or West Virginia that occasionally shoots itself in the foot from the free-throw line, it's unlikely the Seahawks will get out of the first round.

56. Chattanooga

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    Record: 29-5, 15-3 in Southern

    Why They're Here: At the time of their SoCon championship win, Chattanooga led the nation with 29 wins. The Mocs didn't get a ton of opportunities to validate themselves, but they did go 5-1 against the RPI top 100. 

    Reason to Believe: Among those 29 wins were decent road victories against Georgia and Illinois and a phenomenal road win over Dayton. The Flyers didn't have Dyshawn Pierre for that game, but UD Arena is usually an impossible venue for road teams. Outside of Northern Iowa winning games against North Carolina and Iowa State, that may have been the loudest statement made by a mid-major this season.

    Reason to Worry: Who's the go-to guy on this roster? The Mocs are loaded with veteran role players, but they haven't had one player score more than 16 points in any of their past seven games. It can be done with good defense, but it's tough to play Cinderella without someone popping off for at least 20 points. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Based just on the staggering win count and the victory over Dayton, this is absolutely a team that could make it into the round of 32. Sweet 16 potential might be pushing it, though.

55. Hawaii

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    Record: 27-5, 13-3 in Big West

    Why They're Here: Few people east of the Mississippi stay up late enough to watch Hawaii play, but this team is no joke. In the Diamond Head Classic, the Rainbow Warriors beat both Northern Iowa and Auburn by double-digit margins and came within three points of upsetting Oklahoma on a night where Khadeem Lattin scored a career-high 17 points for the Sooners.

    Reason to Believe: Former Missouri recruit Stefan Jankovic has been outstanding since transferring to the Aloha State. The big man was named the KenPom MVP in nine of Hawaii's 16 conference games, averaging 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds in Big West play. Arizona State transfer Sai Tummala has also been a crucial addition to what is otherwise a poor three-point assault. 

    Reason to Worry: For a team that takes nearly 40 percent of its shots from three-point range, that subpar long-range shooting occasionally rears its ugly head. In their three conference losses, the Warriors shot 26.9 percent while attempting 26 triples per game.

    March Madness Ceiling: Hawaii has a nice blend of physical play and finesse. It attempts and allows a lot of free throws, but the team is also comfortable playing along the perimeter. There isn't a specific style of play that Hawaii is particularly immune or susceptible to, so the Warriors could win a game or two before running into a team that has too much talent.

54. Middle Tennessee

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    Record: 24-9, 13-5 in C-USA

    Why They're Here: Middle Tennessee won the Conference USA title as the No. 2 seed, taking a six-game win streak into its second NCAA tournament appearance in the last four seasons.

    Reason to Believe: Giddy Pottswhat a name!is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. The sophomore shot 50.3 percent from beyond the arc and is also their best free-throw shooter. Although, that second part isn’t much of a compliment, since...

    Reason to Worry: MTSU is just about the worst free-throw shooting team in the country, connecting on 61.7 percent of its freebies57.3 percent in conference play. The Blue Raiders might actually be better off trying to come from behind with threes than trying to preserve a late lead with free throws.

    March Madness Ceiling: They were competitive in losses to VCU and South Dakota State and scored nonconference victories over Belmont, Auburn, UNC-Asheville and Toledo. Not one of those opponents is on par with what they'll be drawing in the round of 64, but it's a good indication that this is a mid-major capable of putting up a major fight. If you're looking for the No. 14 or No. 15 seed that will shock the world, take a gander at Middle Tennessee.

53. Arkansas-Little Rock

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    Record: 29-4, 17-3 in Sun Belt 

    Why They're Here: A 10-0 start with road wins over San Diego State and Tulsa put the Trojans on the fringe of the national radar, and they proceeded to win 85 percent of their games in a tougher-than-advertised Sun Belt Conference. Credit to Chris Beard in his first season as a D-I head coach after 25 years of coaching elsewhere. 

    Reason to Believe: Arkansas-Little Rock will be one of the smallest, most experienced and slowest-paced teams in the tournament. The Trojans also excel on both offense and defense in the three-point and turnover departments. There isn't a household name on the roster, but UALR is a potential matchup disaster for any opponent.

    Reason to Worry: The Trojans prefer to play at a slow pace, but they have been sped up and taken out of their game on several occasions this season. Their lack of size leaves them vulnerable to teams that feed the post.

    March Madness Ceiling: Arkansas-Little Rock deserved far more attention than it got for an impressive regular season, but this doesn't seem to be a squad built for a deep run. The Trojans might be able to catch a first-round opponent napping, though.

52. Temple

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    Record: 21-11, 14-4 in American 

    Why They're Here: The Owls won the AAC regular-season title, but that's about all they did this season, failing to beat any quality opponents in nonconference play and getting knocked out early in the AAC tournament.

    Reason to Believe: Temple doesn't do many things well, but it does defend the arc better than most and avoid turnovers better than every team not named Central Michigan. Those two qualities travel well and make the Owls dangerous on nights when their shots are falling.

    Reason to Worry: The Owls swept bubbly Connecticut (during the regular season) and Cincinnati and ended SMU's perfect season, but they went 0-6 against the RPI top 200 during the nonconference portion of the season. Aside from catching fire from three-point range against the Mustangs, Temple hasn't shown an ability to beat the type of opponent it will face in the tournament.

    March Madness Ceiling: In 11 of their last 12 regular-season games, the Owls shot 42.0 percent or worse from the field, and the one exception was a home game against South Florida. They might be able to piece together one win, but multiple victories is unlikely.

51. Buffalo

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    Record: 20-14, 10-8 in Mid-American

    Why They're Here: Forget why they’re here. How did the Bulls get here? They lost their head coach and all three of their leading scorers from last season, and minor conference teams aren’t supposed to be able to compete immediately after that much turnover. But transfers Willie Conner and Blake Hamilton and freshman C.J. Massinburg each averaged better than 11 points per game in their first season in the black and blue.

    Reason to Believe: Despite the coaching change, Buffalo still plays fast and physical, averaging better than 25 free-throw attempts per game and doing a lot of its scoring in transition. It could lead to a style mismatch.

    Reason to Worry: Given all the aforementioned turnover, it’s no surprise that Buffalo struggled early in the season. Regardless of the excuse, the Bulls lost by more than 20 to Duke, Iowa State and VCU and also lost by double digits to Saint Joseph’s and Old Dominion. All told, they were 0-9 against the RPI Top 100 before toppling Ohio and Akron in the MAC tournament.

    March Madness Ceiling: The Bulls were a trendy Sweet 16 pick in 2015, but Justin Moss and Shannon Evans were a big reason for that. With that duo out of the picture, they're less dangerous, but one tournament win is hardly an unrealistic expectation.

50. Stephen F. Austin

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    Record: 27-5, 18-0 in Southland 

    Why They're Here: The only team in the country to go undefeated in conference play, Stephen F. Austin has made a complete mockery of the Southland under head coach Brad Underwood. Including the conference tournaments, the Lumberjacks are 59-1 against Southland "competition" over the past three seasons.

    Reason to Believe: Led by Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin once again has an efficient offense predicated on ball movement and one of the best ball-hawking defenses in the country. Even Press Virginia is looking up at Stephen F. Austin at No. 1 in the nation in defensive turnover percentage.

    Reason to Worry: It has been a long time since they faced a tournament-caliber opponent, but the Lumberjacks didn't do well against them, losing by double digits to UAB and Northern Iowa after opening the season with a 42-point loss to Baylor.

    March Madness Ceiling: Stephen F. Austin upset VCU two years ago and challenged Utah last year, so this team has plenty of tournament experience in the underdog role. This could be a Sweet 16 team with the right draw, but as demonstrated by Baylor in November, a team that can avoid turnovers and pound the paint can chop the Lumberjacks to pieces.

49. Fresno State

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    Record: 25-9, 13-5 in Mountain West

    Why They're Here: Led by a veteran rotation, Fresno State was a trendy sleeper pick before the season began. But the Bulldogs barely won their first three games, lost in early December to Cal Poly and dropped off the radar in a poor conference. They’re back on the map after finishing the season with nine straight wins to clinch an auto bid.

    Reason to Believe: Marvelle Harris might be the best guard in the country that no one ever talks about. He hit 2,000 career points in the MWC championship game and has averaged 26.5 PPG over his last 11. If San Diego State can’t slow him down, who can?

    Reason to Worry: The Bulldogs commit way too many fouls, anddespite a fantastic scorer in Harrisdon’t shoot very well.

    March Madness Ceiling: Like Wyoming a season ago, this is a dangerous MWC team that would not have made the tournament without the auto bid. Harris is the type of guy who can will a team to at least a win or two.

48. Stony Brook

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    Record: 26-6, 14-2 in America East

    Why They're Here: Stony Brook has come close so many times before, but it finally gets into the NCAA tournament for the first time after knocking off Vermont on Saturday. Now the country gets to see one of the best mid-major post players in the country make some noise.

    Reason to Believe: Jameel Warney is a monster who averaged 19.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, including a career-high 43 points in the America East title game. Chalk it up to poor competition if you want, but those numbers are close to what Tim Duncan did in his last two years at Wake Forest.

    Reason to Worry: In five of Stony Brook's six losses, the opposition shot 46.7 percent or better from three-point range, including losses to Vermont and Albany in the past three weeks. Perimeter-oriented teams can tear the Seawolves to shreds.

    March Madness Ceiling: With other minor-conference favorites biting the dust in their respective tournaments, Stony Brook could end up as high as a No. 13 seed. Asking Warney to take down a No. 1 seed might have been too much, but the Seawolves could break the two-year drought of at least one No. 12/13 seed reaching the Sweet 16.

47. South Dakota State

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    Record: 26-7, 12-4 in Summit League

    Why They're Here: Based on nickname alone, it will be tempting to pick the Jackrabbits to win a game. Based on their talent, that might not be a bad idea.

    Reason to Believe: Scott Nagy hit the jackpot with freshman forward Mike Daum, who averaged 17.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per conference game while playing just 23.1 minutes per contest. Wisconsin transfer George Marshall was the Jackrabbit most had heard of before the season began, but Daum might make a name for himself in the NCAA tournament.

    Reason to Worry: Facing nonconference challenges is one of the biggest keys to becoming a Cinderella, and South Dakota State wasn't challenged by its schedule. The Jackrabbits lost by a double-digit margin to Texas Tech in their only game against the RPI top 50 and split the season series with IPFW in their only other games against the RPI top 90. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Between Daum, Marshall, Deondre Parks and Reed Tellinghuisen, South Dakota State has serious talent. This was a sleeper team a few years ago with Nate Wolters, but it's now a deeper team that could do some tournament damage.

46. Syracuse

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    Record: 19-13, 9-9 in ACC

    Why They're Here: After dropping its first game game of the ACC tournament, Syracuse has now lost five of its last six games. Although the committee cares about the entire body of work, the resume wasn't great to begin with for the Orange.

    Reason to Believe: Syracuse won the Battle 4 Atlantis and toppled Duke and Notre Dame by catching fire from three-point range. When they shoot at least 40 percent from downtown, the Orange are 10-2 this season. 

    Reason to Worry: Take away the road win over a short-handed Duke team playing its third game in six days, and what has Syracuse done since winning the Battle 4 Atlantis? The Orange are 13-13 since the end of November with just two wins against tournament teams and twice as many losses to teams outside the field.

    March Madness Ceiling: In the 20 games when they didn't shoot 40 percent from three-point range, the Orange were brutally mediocre. And in the 11 games where they failed to shoot at least 33.3 percent, they were downright bad. Their success is entirely based on a shot they haven't been able to make for the past few weeks. Syracuse could be a Sweet 16 team, but that doesn't seem like a wise investment.

45. Tulsa

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    Record: 20-11, 12-6 in AAC

    Why They're Here: Tulsa had one quality nonconference win over Wichita State (before it was public knowledge that Fred VanVleet was injured), but it did little else. The Golden Hurricane went 1-1 against each of SMU, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston and Temple, proving little about where they belong in the bubbly AAC hierarchy. A 22-point loss to Memphis on Friday continued their inconsistent play.

    Reason to Believe: Tulsa has all of the experience. Its eight leaders in minutes played consist of seven seniors and one junior. The junior (Pat Birt) transferred in from UIC, but the seven seniors have all been playing together for at least the past three seasons, giving Tulsa unquestionably the most cohesive rotation in the country. 

    Reason to Worry: Most of that experience, however, is in not making many three-pointers. Birt and James Woodard are the only guys who shoot relatively well, and neither one is even connecting at a 38 percent clip. And when those two aren't hitting, things get really ugly. In their 11 losses, the Golden Hurricane shot a combined 27.6 percent from beyond the arc.

    March Madness Ceiling: Based solely on experience and a respectable ability to force turnovers, Tulsa is a legitimate threat to reach the Sweet 16.

44. Texas Tech

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    Record: 19-12, 9-9 in Big 12 

    Why They're Here: Most had Texas Tech pegged for ninth place, if not dead last, in their preseason Big 12 projections, but head coach Tubby Smith turned things around in his third season at the helm. However, we still have doubts about this team. Those doubts arose once again Wednesday night as the Red Raiders lost 67-62 to TCU. 

    Reason to Believe: Texas Tech gets to and converts from the free-throw line better than the vast majority of teams in the tournament field, averaging 18 made free throws per game. That ability to salt the game away is perhaps the biggest reason the Red Raiders went 10-4 in games decided by single digits.

    Reason to Worry: You never want to rely exclusively on one player, but Texas Tech is almost too balanced. Six guys average between 8.7 and 11.2 points per game, but who's the go-to guy? Devaugntah Williams leads the team in field-goal attempts, and he's shooting just 39.1 percent from the field.

    March Madness Ceiling: Credit to the Red Raiders for scheduling aggressively and getting hot for one week in mid-February, but this is not a team built for a deep run. They don't shoot, pass or rebound well, so things could go haywire in a hurry if the refs decide to swallow their whistles. Tech is 4-8 this season when attempting 22 or fewer free throws.

43. USC

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    Record: 21-12, 9-9 in Pac-12 

    Why They're Here: The Trojans have dropped seven of 10 down the stretch, including Thursday's 80-72 loss to Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. However, their overall body of work (five top-50 RPI wins, no sub-105 losses) is indicative of a team that should be a threat in the tournament.

    Reason to Believe: Six different Trojans are averaging at least 10 points per game, and Chimezie Metu (6.5 PPG) might have more potential than anyone on the roster. They have four good three-point shooters, a ton of rebounders, two quality ball-distributing guards and a couple of capable shot-blockers. That works. They've struggled lately, but the 15-3 start was no fluke. This is a good, balanced team.

    Reason to Worry: It's one thing to fall into a bit of a losing skid, but the Trojans look defeated before these games even begin. They routinely fall behind by a double-digit margin in the first 15 minutes.

    March Madness Ceiling: Back in January, this looked like a team that could absolutely win multiple games. Now it feels like USC is liable to get run out of the gym in its first NCAA tournament game since 2011.

42. Michigan

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    Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 22-12, 10-8 in Big Ten

    Why They're Here: The Wolverines were on the bubble for the vast majority of the season, but a Big Ten tournament win over Indiana was the punch they needed to pass both the eye and computer tests. This offense could be lethal in the tournament.

    Reason to Believe: Even without Caris LeVert, Michigan has the horses to put up points in bunches. Duncan Robinson has cooled off considerably in conference play, but he is one of three active Wolverines shooting better than 39 percent from three-point range. And it took one-and-a-half seasons, but Mark Donnal has emerged as Michigan's first legitimate post presence since the end of the 2013-14 season.

    Reason to Worry: A 10-8 Big Ten record is usually a sign of a strong team, but Michigan's only quality wins in conference were narrow home victories over Maryland and Purdue. Xavier, Connecticut and SMU slaughtered the Wolverines in nonconference play. The biggest thing they did this season to potentially earn a bid was avoid bad losses. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Will they play any defense? In nine of their final 10 games, the Wolverines allowed the opposition to score more than 100 points per 100 possessions. Even if they're hitting shots, that type of defensive effort is begging for a first-round exit.

41. Iona

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    Record: 22-10, 16-4 in MAAC

    Why They're Here: The Gaels had some tough losses in the second half of December without A.J. English, but they were difficult to beat at full strength, as exhibited by 12 wins in their final 13 games. Monmouth was the MAAC team everyone was obsessed with throughout the season, but nobody wants to draw Iona in the NCAA tournament. 

    Reason to Believe: In 2008, there was a minor-conference kid who put up ridiculous numbers all season long and took the world by storm in the NCAA tournament. English isn't the next Stephen Curry, but he could be the next player to follow that trajectory. He averaged 22.4 points, 6.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds this season after posting 20.1, 5.1 and 5.1 last year, respectively. Dude can play. 

    Reason to Worry: The Gaels have defended much better over the past six weeks, but defense has historically been optional under head coach Tim Cluess. Iona is plenty capable of scoring 100 points, and it might have to in order to beat a quality opponent.

    March Madness Ceiling: With others dropping like flies in their respective conference tournaments, Iona is quickly emerging as the Cinderella team of the 2016 NCAA tournament. As long as they don't run into a team like Virginia that can force them to play in the mud, the Gaels are a team that could win at least a couple of games.

40. Oregon State

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    Record: 19-12, 9-9 in Pac-12 

    Why They're Here: Oregon State hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1990, when Gary Payton led the Beavers with his dynamic defensive skills. Now it's his son, Gary Payton II, who is carrying them toward a return trip, though the sudden emergence of freshman guard Derrick Bruce during the Pac-12 tourney keeps them from being a one-trick pony.

    Reason to Believe: Payton is the best two-way point guard in the country, and the freshmen surrounding him (Bruce, Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson Jr. and Drew Eubanks) have blossomed into reliable assets.

    Reason to Worry: Like so many other Pac-12 teams, Oregon State struggles away from home. Its best road or neutral win of the season came against Stanford, and most of the losses weren't close.

    March Madness Ceiling: Even with Payton doing incredible things, this is a perfectly average team that doesn't travel well. Maybe the Beavers will win their first tournament game since 1982, but they won't be snapping their 53-year Final Four drought.

39. Colorado

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    Record: 22-11, 10-8 in Pac-12

    Why They're Here: Colorado seemed to spend the entire season just kind of there on the bubble. Bad losses and quality wins were few and far between, but they typically came in quick succession, keeping us from ever getting too impressed or disgusted by the Buffaloes. A win over Arizona in the Pac-12 quarterfinal could have changed that, but their valiant comeback attempt fell just short.

    Reason to Believe: Led by Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon, Colorado owns the glass and protects the paint. Tournament games are often rock fights, and that type of physical affair would seem to favor the Buffaloes.

    Reason to Worry: They have scored quality home wins over Arizona, California and Oregon, but they have struggled mightily away from home, including a disturbing 24-point loss at UCLA in late February. And needless to say, they won't be playing any tournament games at home.

    March Madness Ceiling: Colorado might be able to win its opener, but we've seen nothing this season to suggest this team is capable of winning a neutral-court game against a team on the top four seed lines. The Buffaloes would need some help to reach the Sweet 16.

38. Northern Iowa

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    Record: 22-12, 11-7 in Missouri Valley 

    Why They're Here: The second that Wes Washpun's game-winning jumper in the MVC tournament championship game bounced in, Northern Iowa became the singular team that no No. 4 or No. 5 seed wants to face. It was an up-and-down season for a Panthers team that once had a legitimate at-large resume, but they won 12 of their final 13 games to secure an auto bid. 

    Reason to Believe: Northern Iowa beat North Carolina, Iowa State and Stephen F. Austin during the nonconference portion of the season and proceeded to win five total games against Wichita State and Evansville. Snail-paced defense is the Panthers' forte, but they have a trio of capable three-point shooters. Washpun is one heck of a one-man offense, too.

    Reason to Worry: There are some great wins on this resume, but there were also ugly losses to Colorado State, Richmond, New Mexico, Missouri State and a season sweep at the hands of Loyola-Chicago. There's a reason UNI was nowhere near the bubble. The Panthers are the worst offensive rebounding team in the country, so things can go south in a hurry against any opponent if their threes aren't falling. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Can you really put a ceiling on the team that upset the Tar Heels in November? We can't count the Panthers out against any opponent, but we also probably shouldn't trust them to bring their best for a prolonged period of time. This will be the popular "double-digit seed to the Sweet 16" pick, but don't go too crazy.

37. Pittsburgh

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 21-11, 9-9 in ACC

    Why They're Here: Pittsburgh doesn't play flashy, but the squad does enough to win games, including noteworthy victories over Duke and Notre Dame during the season and a win over Syracuse in the ACC tournament. If Good James Robinson shows up at point guard, this team will be a tough out in the NCAA tournament.

    Reason to Believe: Despite struggles in the second half of the season that we'll mention shortly, Pittsburgh put quite the hurting on Duke in its final game in February. Led by Michael Young and Sheldon Jeter, this is one of the better rebounding teams in the country.

    Reason to Worry: After an impressive 14-1 start to the season, the Panthers lost nine of their final 15 regular-season games, including getting swept on their road trip to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Even more disturbing than the sheer number of losses, they averaged 85.3 points in their first 15 games before putting up just 57.7 in those nine losses.

    March Madness Ceiling: In each of their 10 regular-season losses, the Panthers failed to score more than 64 points. It's a thing of beauty when this offense is clicking, but we rarely get to see that show. Expecting anything more than one win is too optimistic.

36. Dayton

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 25-7, 14-4 in Atlantic 10

    Why They're Here: Head coach Archie Miller has done more with less in recent years. The Flyers struggled early without Dyshawn Pierre and had their issues in conference games played without Kendall Pollard, but when that duo is healthy and eligible alongside Charles Cooke, this is one heck of a formidable opponent. 

    Reason to Believe: In a span of two weekswithout Pierre, no lessthe Flyers won games away from home against Iowa, Vanderbilt and Monmouth. They also held Alabama to 48 points at home. This may be a mid-major, but Dayton has proved capable of hanging with the big boys.

    Reason to Worry: There's limping to the finish line, and then there's the way Dayton finished the regular season. Despite playing just three of its final eight regular-season games against teams with any remote shot of an at-large bid, the Flyers went 5-3 with the five wins coming by a total margin of nine pointstwo of them in overtime. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Dayton has won at least two games in each of the last two NCAA tourneys when we gave this team no chance of doing anything. Now that we're ready to admit the Flyers could be a Sweet 16 team, perhaps that means they're destined for the Final Four?

35. Butler

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    Record: 21-10, 10-8 in Big East

    Why They're Here: Butler started hot, played miserably in January and finished strong. They say it's important to hit your peak at the right time, but the inverse is that it's good to hit your valley early enough to recover from it. In sweeping Georgetown and Seton Hall in the final five weeks of the regular season, Butler has looked like a completely different team than the one that couldn't beat anyone other than DePaul or St. John's for a month. 

    Reason to Believe: Kellen Dunham had an uncharacteristic shooting slump at the end of December, but he shot 52.1 percent from three-point range over his last 17 games. This is wonderful news, because in his four years, Butler is 44-20 when he scores at least 15 points, and not one of those 20 losses was decided by more than a 13-point margin. As long as Dunham's making shots, Butler's in the game.

    Reason to Worry: Lauded for its defense and deliberate pace under former head coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs are only marginally better than average on defense. Take out the four games against DePaul and St. John's, and they went 6-8 in Big East play and allowed 75.9 points per game. They also gave up 85 to Miami and (somehow) 78 to Cincinnati. That puts a lot of pressure on Dunham and Kelan Martin to score in bunches every night.

    March Madness Ceiling: Did you know Butler won at least one game in eight of its last nine NCAA tournament appearances and averaged two wins per appearance during that stretch? That has nothing to do with this year's team, but there's just something about Butler that has staying power. Mark the Bulldogs down for one win, and don't be surprised if they get two or three.

34. VCU

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    Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 24-10, 14-4 in Atlantic 10 

    Why They're Here: It took just one season for head coach Will Wade to accomplish something that former head coach Shaka Smart could not in six years: win a regular-season conference championship. VCU tied for first place in the A-10 with Dayton and St. Bonaventure by playing the same, aggressive defense we grew accustomed to seeing over the past few years. 

    Reason to Believe: VCU was not much of a three-point-shooting team in Smart's final four seasons, but Melvin Johnson, JeQuan Lewis and Korey Billbury are all shooting at least 39 percent from downtown this year, which gives the Rams a solid half-court offense in addition to their typical, turnover-forcing D.

    Reason to Worry: Only two of their 10 losses came by a margin of more than eight points, including to Saint Joseph's in the A-10 title game, but the Rams made a habit of coming up just short against quality opponents, including finishing the season with an overtime loss to Dayton in which they led for most of the game. It takes talent and confidence to win in March. How much of the latter does VCU have? 

    March Madness Ceiling: VCU's ceiling depends on the turnover battle. When its ratio of turnovers committed to steals forced is 1.6 or lower, VCU is 18-2 with a one-point loss to Wisconsin and an eternally inexplicable loss to George Mason. But as soon as the Rams run into a team that can protect the ball and/or force turnovers, they're doomed.

33. Iowa

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    Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 21-10, 12-6 in Big Ten

    Why They're Here: No team has struggled more than the Iowa Hawkeyes over the last six weeks. The Hawkeyes entered Indianapolis with five losses in their last seven regular-season games. Things got worse for the Hawkeyes on Thursday as they fell to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. Due to their troubling stretch to end the season, it's hard to trust the Hawkeyes. 

    Reason to Believe: In the first four weeks of Big Ten play, Iowa went 4-0 against Michigan State and Purdue. During that time, Jarrod Uthoff emerged from anonymity to one of the top candidates for the Wooden Award. 

    Reason to Worry: In the last four weeks of Big Ten play, Iowa lost five games, including being swept by Indiana and suffering somewhat unforgivable losses to Penn State and Ohio State. Uthoff couldn't buy a bucket in most of those games.

    March Madness Ceiling: We don't know which Hawkeyes are going to show up, but we have to assume it'll be the ones we've seen for the past month, right? If that's the case, simply avoiding a first-round upset would be a minor miracle.

32. Cincinnati

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    Record: 22-10, 12-6 in American

    Why They're Here: A couple of different bounces here or there, and Cincinnati is a 27-win team and a dark horse for the national championship. In addition to losing five games by two-point margins, the Bearcats fell in four overtimes to UConn in the American Athletic tournament on Friday.

    Reason to Believe: Cincinnati doesn't have one elite shot-blocker like it did in years past with Justin Jackson, but it does have six players who have recorded at least a dozen blocks this season. As a result, they rank in the top 10 nationally in block percentage and in the top 15 nationally in two-point field-goal defense for a fourth straight season.

    Reason to Worry: The players come and go, but Cincinnati's offense remains as average as always. Offensive rebounding is the best thing about this offense, and good thing, too, because the Bearcats shoot a lot of bricks. They scored like crazy in the first 10 days of the season (96.3 PPG), but they averaged just 64.8 points in their final eight regular-season games.

    March Madness Ceiling: They say defense wins championships, but ranking in the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency for the past five years only netted head coach Mick Cronin a 4-5 record in those NCAA tournaments. And in four of those losses, the Bearcats held their opponent to fewer than 70 points. These guys just haven't been destined for deep runs, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise if it happened this year.

31. Saint Joseph's

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Record: 27-7, 13-5 in Atlantic 10

    Why They're Here: With 15 wins away from home this season, including Sunday's A-10 title game victory over VCU, Saint Joseph's can play well in any atmosphere. 

    Reason to Believe: There are 32 players averaging at least 17.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, but Saint Joseph's is the only team with two such guys. With three-point range and plus-defense to boot, DeAndre' Bembry and Isaiah Miles make up the most versatile duo in the nation, and they make the Hawks a challenge.

    Reason to Worry: Great as that duo is, it's a steep drop to the team's third-best player. At the end of the regular season, Miles and Bembry combined for 11.1 win shares, while the rest of the roster accounted for just 10.4. A triangle-and-two defense could throw this team for a loop. 

    March Madness Ceiling: They rarely commit turnovers or fouls and defend the three-point arc better than most, so the Hawks are the type of team that could surprisingly string together a few wins.

30. Notre Dame

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Record: 21-11, 11-7 in ACC

    Why They're Here: When they're clicking, the Fighting Irish are lethal. They rarely commit turnovers and have plenty of capable shooters, as evidenced by scoring 95 and 89 points in road wins over Duke and Clemson, respectively. But stinkers are possible, like Friday's 31-point loss to North Carolina in the ACC semifinals.

    Reason to Believe: Despite losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame is still one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Demetrius Jackson has been sensational as the lead guard, and V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson have impressed in their expanded roles.

    Reason to Worry: Notre Dame's defense is also about as efficient as it was last season. The Fighting Irish don't force turnovers, struggle to defend the arc and allow too many second chances on the defensive glass. They can score 80 against anyone, but most teams can score 80 against them, too.

    March Madness Ceiling: The Fighting Irish looked great a few weeks ago, but in a span of 10 days, they scored 62 in a loss to Georgia Tech, 56 in a 21-point loss to Florida State and 50 in an 18-point home loss to Miami, then came the ACC semifinal performance. It's tough to trust a team to win more than one game after back-peddling its way into March.

29. Wichita State

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 24-8, 16-2 in Missouri Valley 

    Why They're Here: Despite just one quality win all season (vs. Utah), Wichita State still has Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and head coach Gregg Marshall, which equates to a ton of tournament experience. 

    Reason to Believe: The Shockers rank No. 1 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, forcing a lot of turnovers, protecting the defensive glass and rarely allowing the opposition to get a clean look at the hoop. They have held 22 consecutive opponents to 68 points or fewer.

    Reason to Worry: The idea to forgive this team's early losses without VanVleet sounded a lot better before the Shockers were held to 53 points or fewer in three losses at full strength. Outstanding defense propelled Wichita State to high marks on KenPom, but every opponent of value has stifled the offense this season.

    March Madness Ceiling: The Shockers made it to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed a few years ago, but that team had considerably more talent than this one does. We'd love to see Baker and VanVleet make one final tournament run, but we're not expecting much.

28. Vanderbilt

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 19-13, 11-7 in SEC 

    Why They're Here: Vanderbilt appeared to have righted its disappointing season with six wins in its final eight regular-season contests, but the Commodores undid a lot of that Thursday as they fell to Tennessee in the SEC tournament. Wade Baldwin almost handed Vanderbilt a lifeline, but he released his potential game-tying layup a second too late. The loss put more doubt in our minds that the Commodores aren't worth trusting in the Big Dance. 

    Reason to Believe: DraftExpress has three teams projected to have multiple players taken in the first 17 picks of this year's NBA draft: Kentucky, California and Vanderbilt. Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones make for an exceptionally talented inside-outside duo. Toss in Jeff Roberson and Matthew Fisher-Davis as lethal scorers and Luke Kornet as college basketball's biggest matchup nightmare, and we can't possibly fathom how this team lost 12 regular-season games. 

    Reason to Worry: We mentioned the 12 losses, right? Also, the Commodores are woefully incapable of forcing turnovers. According to Sports-Reference.com, only once this season did an opponent commit 15 or more turnovers against Vanderbilt.

    March Madness Ceiling: With this much talent, anything is possible. However, the Commodores went just 5-10 away from home this season, and none of those wins came against tournament teams. It feels like they're destined for one final disappointment with the whole world watching on the first or second day of the tournament.

27. Texas

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    Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 20-12, 11-7 in Big 12

    Why They're Here: Recent 30-point home loss to Kansas notwithstanding, Texas has been impressive in head coach Shaka Smart's inaugural season. Despite losing Cameron Ridley 11 games into the season, the Longhorns legitimately run 10 deep without much of a drop in production, as freshmen Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach have blossomed nicely in conference play. The Longhorns could be dangerous during the Big Dance depending on the health of Ridley, who played a few minutes in the loss to Baylor on Thursday.

    Reason to Believe: The Longhorns have a knack for shutting down key players. In sweeping West Virginia, they held Jaysean Paige to four total points. Vanderbilt's Wade Baldwin might be a lottery pick, but he had the worst game of his life against Texas. Even North Carolina's Brice Johnson had a lackluster performance in that December upset. 

    Reason to Worry: Though most of them are forgivable, 12 losses is a lot. In fact, the only team in the past 13 years to enter the NCAA tournament with at least 11 losses and make the Final Four was VCU in 2011. On the plus side, the Longhorns do now have the coach who accomplished that feat.

    March Madness Ceiling: One of the biggest keys to prolonged success in the tournament is being able to avoid a poor shooting night, and the Longhorns shot worse than 33 percent from three-point range 14 times and lost eight of those games. Prince Ibeh is a phenomenal shot-blocker, and Isaiah Taylor is a sensational point guard, but anything more than the Sweet 16 might be a stretch unless they suddenly start draining shots.

26. Gonzaga

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 26-7, 15-3 in WCC

    Why They're Here: Their resume was nothing special, but that just means the Bulldogs will be assuming their old role as a sexy sleeper in the NCAA tournament. They blew the majority of their opportunities this season, but not by much.

    Reason to Believe: Kyle Wiltjer was a preseason first-team All-American on every site under the sun, and Domantas Sabonis might actually be the best player on this roster. The output Gonzaga gets from Josh Perkins and Eric McClellan is inconsistent, to say the least. But as long as either one shows up to help support that dynamic duo, the Zags are difficult to beat.

    Reason to Worry: Prior to beating Saint Mary's in the WCC championship game, Gonzaga went 0-5 against the RPI top 50. All seven of its losses came by a single-digit margin, but the Zags made quite the habit of playing just poorly enough to lose.

    March Madness Ceiling: If you think this team has a ceiling, you haven't seen them on a night when Wiltjer and Sabonis are both playing well. On nights when each member of that duo scores in double figures, Gonzaga is 24-2, including 19 straight.

25. Connecticut

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Record: 24-10, 11-7 in American

    Why They're Here: Connecticut could be the start of another March run like the Huskies went on to win national titles in 2011 and 2014, this time coming off an AAC title victory over Memphis two days after outlasting Cincinnati in a four-overtime game.

    Reason to Believe: Three of the biggest similarities between their last two title teams are a top-20 rank in block percentage, two-point field-goal defense and free-throw percentage. With Amida Brimah anchoring the defense and Sterling Gibbs, Daniel Hamilton and Shonn Miller all shooting lights-out from the line, the Huskies are top 20 nationally in those three categories once again. 

    Reason to Worry: Consistent production has been a major problem for the Huskies. Gibbs oscillates between hot and cold like a room fan, Hamilton is painfully unreliable for a guy with triple-double talent and Rodney Purvis hasn't been the same player he was for the first eight weeks of the season. They have the pieces to be great, but they can't seem to put them together consistently.

    March Madness Ceiling: Based on the past two decades, Connecticut has no ceiling. Based on the past two months, Connecticut would be lucky to survive the first weekend.

24. Providence

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 23-10, 10-8 in Big East

    Why They're Here: The Friars fell apart in February, but they still have a lottery pick in the backcourt and the nation's most improved player in the frontcourt. And they still have wins away from home against Arizona and Villanova that say they have the talent to beat anyone.

    Reason to Believe: There is not a better guard-forward duo in college basketball than Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. And with Jalen Lindsey finally emerging late in the season (19.0 points per game in last three regular-season games), the Friars just might have enough weapons to make it to Houston. 

    Reason to Worry: Bentil has been rock-solid and arguably one of the 10 best players in the country, but Dunn has had his fair share of hiccups this season. When both guys record an O-rating of 100 or better, Providence is 9-1and the one loss was on the road in double overtime. However, that means there were 21 games in which one member of the duo wasn't excelling.

    March Madness Ceiling: Providence has perhaps the widest range of expectations in the tournament field. There's enough talent to win it all, and there's enough inconsistency to get blown out in the first round. The ability to correctly predict when Providence bows out is what will separate the contenders from the pretenders in bracket pools.

23. Wisconsin

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    Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

    Record: 20-12, 12-6 in Big Ten 

    Why They're Here: Wisconsin is here because head coach Greg Gard deserves to be the national coach of the year. No other team has come as far since November as the Badgers, as they are officially the most dangerous team to ever open its season with a home loss to Western Illinois. Losing to Nebraska in the Big Ten second round wasn't a great look, but this team will still be a dangerous out in the NCAA tourney.

    Reason to Believe: They may have lost a ton of guys from last year, but the Badgers still have several players with multiple years of Final Four experience. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are the stars most fans know, but Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter were on those rosters, too. And Ethan Happ has quietly emerged as a legitimate candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

    Reason to Worry: Annually one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country, Wisconsin has been painfully average in that department this season. An aggressive frontcourt like the ones at West Virginia, Baylor or North Carolina could create a tough mismatch.

    March Madness Ceiling: We've been counting this team out all year long, but it's beyond time to accept that the Badgers belong on the list of teams that could reach the Final Four.

22. Baylor

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Record: 22-11, 10-8 in Big 12

    Why They're Here: The Bears played some of their best basketball toward the end of the regular season, comfortably winning at Texas before falling just short of marquee wins over both Kansas and Oklahoma. A microcosm of their entire season, they struggled early in the Big 12 semifinal against Kansas before storming back to make things interesting.

    Reason to Believe: Thanks to the outstanding offensive rebounding of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley and the quality ball distribution of Lester Medford, Baylor has one of the most efficient offenses in the country. As evidenced by the recent 26-point comeback against Oklahoma, no lead is safe against this team. 

    Reason to Worry: Baylor does not excel on the defensive end. Medford can force turnovers, and Motley can block shots, but balls that reach the rim go in at an alarming rate. Among projected at-large teams, Baylor has the worst defensive effective field-goal percentage.

    March Madness Ceiling: The Bears don't have any bad losses this season, but they went 0-9 against teams projected for a spot on the top four seed lines. They aren't likely to get bounced in the first round, but they could be in serious trouble as early as the second round.

21. Iowa State

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    Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 21-11, 10-8 in Big 12

    Why They're Here: After opening the season ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25, Iowa State has gradually fallen out of our good graces due to a combination of injuries and a propensity for coming up just short in close games. Since the miraculous 20-point comeback against Iowa in early December, Iowa State is 3-8 in games decided either by fewer than six points or in overtime, including falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

    Reason to Believe: Led by the nation's most under-appreciated point guard (Monte Morris), Iowa State has one of the most efficient and uptempo offenses. Their defense isn't much to boast about, but the Cyclones can outscore the opposition on most nights. 

    Reason to Worry: Much has been made in the past three months about Duke's lack of depth, but Iowa State is in the same sinking boat. The Cyclones do a fantastic job of avoiding foul trouble, but in recent games against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, TCU and West Virginia, they were running on fumes for the final 10 minutes. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Georges Niang didn't come back for one final season just to experience another brutal exit from the NCAA tournament. Iowa State's star broke his foot in the round of 64 in 2014 and played miserably in last year's first-round loss to UAB. But because of the lack of depth, it would be a real surprise to see this team reach the Final Four.

20. California

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Record: 23-10, 12-6 in Pac-12

    Why They're Here: It took a few months, but California is finally looking the part of a team that can make a deep run. Outside of an overtime loss to Utah in the Pac-12 semifinal and a three-point loss at Arizona in which they held an eight-point lead in the final two minutes, the Golden Bears haven't lost since January.

    Reason to Believe: Ivan Rabb has been even better than advertised in anchoring one of the nation's best field-goal-percentage defenses. They rarely force turnovers, but they don't need to since they patrol the defensive glass and hold opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the field. 

    Reason to Worry: Too much of what the Golden Bears do is dependent upon Jaylen Brown and Tyrone Wallacea duo that puts the F's in efficiency. Rabb, Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird all have O-ratings of 116 or better, but Brown (98.5) and Wallace (103.6) take most of the team's shots and commit most of its turnovers. 

    March Madness Ceiling: In blowing that lead against Arizona, the Golden Bears fell to 2-9 away from home against the RPI top 150and didn't even look good in the two wins (at Washington and Arizona State). They might win a couple of games, but there's no evidence to suggest they can string together a bunch of neutral-court wins against quality opponents.

19. Seton Hall

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    Record: 25-8, 12-6 in Big East

    Why They're Here: With a young rotation that has been hot for the past six weeks, Seton Hall has emerged from "Possible Cinderella" to "Legitimate Contender." Beating Xavier and Villanova in the Big East tournament made sure of that.

    Reason to Believe: Isaiah Whitehead has turnover issues and was an inefficient scorer for the bulk of his first 1.6 years at Seton Hall, but he has emerged as a bona fide superstar since late January. Over his final 11 games of the regular season, Whitehead shot 41-of-81 (50.6 percent) from three-point range and averaged 1.50 points per field-goal attempt. 

    Reason to Worry: Even with Whitehead's recent surge, Seton Hall is not a good shooting team. The Pirates defend well and crash the offensive glass with fervor, but there are nights where they struggle to put the ball in the hoop. 

    March Madness Ceiling: 2014-15 was supposed to be the year that Seton Hall finally broke through, but better late than never, right? Led in scoring by six sophomores and a graduate transfer, the Pirates are good and still improving. Their ceiling depends on when they run into a red-hot shooting squad that can force a game to be played in the high 70s or low 80s, at which point Seton Hall's shooting woes would be a problem.

18. Duke

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    Record: 23-10, 11-7 in ACC 

    Why They're Here: Duke kicked off its postseason with a narrow victory over North Carolina State in the ACC tournament, but it failed to advance further at the Verizon Center after it blew a 16-point lead against Notre Dame. Depth remains an issue for the Blue Devils entering the Big Dance, but they will have a chance to rest their legs thanks to the loss in the ACC tournament quarterfinal. 

    Reason to Believe: There might not be a more unstoppable duo than Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, and Duke is 15-1 when they combine for at least 40 points. Freshman Luke Kennard has also been a huge asset after a slow start to the season.

    Reason to Worry: Depth is going to be a major problem. Fatigue in the second leg of the Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday schedule is one thing, but the Blue Devils will be in serious trouble if they get a crew with a happy whistle. As much as they can help it, they only play a six-man rotation, so a few early fouls could be a death knell. Interior defense could also haunt them with Amile Jefferson out for the season.

    March Madness Ceiling: They should survive the first weekend, but having enough gas in the tank to beat a Sweet 16 opponent and an Elite Eight opponent in the span of 48 hours might be too much to ask. Duke has Final Four talent, but it barely has Sweet 16 depth.

17. Purdue

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Record: 26-8, 12-6 in Big Ten

    Why They're Here: Few teams have a big man who can single-handedly change the outcome of a game like Purdue's A.J. Hammons, and he isn't trying to graduate without winning a single NCAA tournament game.

    Reason to Believe: The Boilermakers have the best frontcourt in the country. They ranked second in rebounding margin in the regular season and were plus-three on the glass when they faced No. 1 on that list. When he's at his best, Hammons is both unstoppable and impenetrable. Caleb Swanigan and Vince Edwards aren't too shabby, either. 

    Reason to Worry: Turnover margin and free-throw disparity tend to be a problem in a backcourt lacking playmakers. In their eight losses, the Boilermakers are minus-38 in the turnover battle and have attempted 14 fewer free throws (113) than their opponents have made (127). 

    March Madness Ceiling: Purdue lost to Butler on a night when Kellen Dunham missed all 12 of his field-goal attempts and lost by double digits to Maryland while Melo Trimble and Jake Layman shot a combined 2-of-15 from the field. This team has the size and talent to overpower most opponents, but it often fails to use that advantage. The Boilermakers haven't been to the Elite Eight since 2000. Don't bet your mortgage on that changing.

16. Maryland

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Record: 25-8, 12-6 in Big Ten 

    Why They're Here: Despite recent disappointing losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota, Maryland isn't playing as poorly as some seem to want you to believe. Everyone in the starting five ranks in the top 500 nationally in O-rating for what was one of the preseason favorites to win the national championship.

    Reason to Believe: After a dreadful first three weeks of February, Melo Trimble is slowly but surely rediscovering his game (until going 2-of-15 against Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals). If he's fully back to his usual self, there's no weak link in this lineup.

    Reason to Worry: Turnovers have plagued the Terrapins throughout the seasonboth a propensity for committing them and an inability to force them. They have committed 55 more than they have forced, and you cannot afford to give away possessions in the NCAA tournament.

    March Madness Ceiling: The regular season didn't go according to plan, but Maryland has avoided injury and has gotten great play out of newcomers Rasheed Sulaimon, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone. The Terrapins have the talent to win it all, but it also wouldn't be a surprise to see them doomed by a slow, turnover-plagued start in the early rounds.

15. Xavier

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Record: 27-5, 14-4 in Big East 

    Why They're Here: The Musketeers are perhaps the biggest surprise success story of the season, but a home game against Villanova in which they gave up 83 points is their only particularly impressive win. We haven't had many opportunities to see them face top-20 teams, and losing to Seton Hall in the Big East semifinals kept them from getting the rubber match with 'Nova.

    Reason to Believe: They've been solid for most of the season, and they're just now beginning to tap into their potential. James Farr, J.P. Macura and Edmond Sumner have each shown significant improvement in the past six weeks. 

    Reason to Worry: The X-Men have had their problems on the defensive end, allowing at least 81 points in eight Big East games. They were much better during the nonconference portion of the season when they routinely dominated the opposition on the glass.

    March Madness Ceiling: Erratic performers riddle Xavier's starting lineup. Remy Abell is no more than a glue guy in 90 percent of contests, Myles Davis was held scoreless two games before his triple-double, Jalen Reynolds was held to five or fewer rebounds nine times in Big East play and Sumner is good for at least one dud in every four or five games. This team has the talent to reach the Final Four, but does it have the consistency?

14. Arizona

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    Record: 25-8, 12-6 in Pac-12

    Why They're Here: The Wildcats aren't quite the candidate to win it all that they were for each of the past two tournaments, but they're on the fringe of that conversation. Their eight losses were by a combined 33 points, none by more than eight.

    Reason to Believe: Arizona almost always dominates the free-throw and rebounding departments, attempting 261 more free throws and corralling 300 more rebounds than its opposition. If the Wildcats could just be a bit more consistent in winning the turnover battle, they'd be nearly unbeatable. 

    Reason to Worry: Despite a pair of 7-footers and a 6'9" power forward, Arizona doesn't protect the paint extremely well. Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski are excellent defensive rebounders, but they don't do much to keep opponents from attempting close-range shots.

    March Madness Ceiling: There are a number of teams with computer resumes that will result in seeds that aren't indicative of how well they can play, and Arizona might be the biggest offender. Multiple injuries and a dreadful nonconference SOS kept the Wildcats from even approaching their ceiling, but this is a Final Four-caliber team when fully healthy.

13. Texas A&M

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    Record: 26-8, 13-5 in SEC

    Why They're Here: In late January, Texas A&M was looking like one of the legitimate candidates to win the national championship. The Aggies went through quite the swoon after climbing to No. 5 in the AP poll, but they righted the ship to share the SEC regular-season title with Kentucky. An overtime loss to the Wildcats in the conference final doesn't slow that momentum.

    Reason to Believe: With a pair of point guards (Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins) ranking in the top four on the team in minutes played, the Aggies share the rock as well as any team in the country. And when either Tyler Davis or Tonny Trocha-Morelos is playing well, there are too many weapons on this offense to slow down.

    Reason to Worry: Just about every team in the country went through a rough patch this season, but none of the elite teams had one as long as Texas A&M's. The Aggies lost five of six in the middle of the SEC season, and turnovers were a massive problem in four of those losses.

    March Madness Ceiling: Neither Jalen Jones nor Danuel House is an efficient scorer, but either one is capable of going for at least 20 on any given night. The Aggies are almost unbeatable when they both show up, but they can hang with any team as long as one of the two has a solid game.

12. West Virginia

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Record: 26-8, 13-5 in Big 12 

    Why They're Here: This was one of the most dangerous and unpredictable teams heading into last year's tournament, and West Virginia has even more talent than it did in 2015. The Mountaineers have the ability to beat anyone, but they could also lose to a vastly inferior opponent that values the ball more than life itself.

    Reason to Believe: The Mountaineers are the best offensive rebounding team in the country and one of the best turnover-forcing defenses, and there are going to be an awful lot of fouls called in every game they play. Teams that haven't faced Press Virginia aren't prepared to face Press Virginia. Even Virginia was caught off guard by WVU's intense style for the first 17 minutes of their December showdown.

    Reason to Worry: West Virginia does not shoot well at all from the free-throw line (67 percent) or the three-point line (32.9 percent). Things can get out of hand in a hurry on nights when the Mountaineers aren't forcing a ton of turnovers.

    March Madness Ceiling: The Mountaineers are the ultimate wild card. They could get blown out by a team like Butler, Michigan, Saint Joseph's or Wichita State that avoids turnovers and protects the defensive glass, or they could slaughter a quality team like Indiana, Maryland or Texas A&M that doesn't do those two things very well. More so than any other team in the country, West Virginia's ceiling depends upon the type of opponent it faces along the way.

11. Indiana

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    Record: 25-7, 15-3 in Big Ten 

    Why They're Here: Unbalanced schedule or not, it's remarkable that Indiana was able to win an outright Big Ten title, given how poorly its season began. And Yogi Ferrell has more than enough talent to go down in tournament lore as one of those do-it-all guards who carried his team to the promised land. 

    Reason to Believe: When this offense is clicking, the other team might as well just go home. In nearly two-thirds of their games, the Hoosiers have shot better than 40 percent from three-point range and have scored at least 74 points in all but two of those contestseven though their pace of play is almost exactly the national average.

    Reason to Worry: Though they've defended better in conference play, this is still the same team that gave up 94 points to Duke in December. Even in the past month, Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue combined to average 119.2 points per 100 possessions against Indiana. 

    March Madness Ceiling: West Virginia is the biggest wild card, but the Hoosiers are a close second. In the past seven years, only two tournament teams shot better than 40 percent from three-point range while attempting at least 40 percent of its shots from that distance: Creighton and Michigan in 2014. Creighton lost by 30 in the round of 32, and Michigan was an Aaron Harrison dagger away from reaching the Final Four. Which route will Indiana take?

10. Miami (FL)

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    Record: 25-7, 13-5 in ACC 

    Why They're Here: For a team that nearly won the ACC regular-season title, Miami sure did fly beneath the radar for most of the year. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes have an experienced, guard-oriented team that can score with the best of them.

    Reason to Believe: Do you like experience? Then you're going to love Miami. The starting five consists of two fifth-year seniors, a traditional senior, a fourth-year junior and a traditional junior. If we count the seasons that Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Kamari Murphy had to redshirt after transferring, that's an average of 4.2 years of experience per starter. Good luck topping that. 

    Reason to Worry: The Hurricanes have struggled to take away star players. Cat Barber had 30 points in Miami's 16-point loss to NC State, and Brice Johnson had 16 points and 15 rebounds in the late February 25-point loss at UNC. Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame scored 25, and Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon averaged 24 in three games, including Friday's ACC semifinal loss. Even in the infamous November loss to Northeastern, the Huskies' dynamic duo of Quincy Ford and David Walker combined for 45 points. 

    March Madness Ceiling: Miami's ceiling boils down to whether it gets Good Angel Rodriguez or Bad Angel Rodriguez. He doesn't need to score 15 points per game, but when Rodriguez is defending and distributing well, Miami is Final Four good.

9. Utah

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Record: 26-8, 13-5 in Pac-12

    Why They're Here: Jakob Poeltl alone gives Utah a shot at a deep run, but his supporting cast isn't too shabby, either. Jordan Loveridge has been for Utah what Kris Jenkins has been for Villanova, and Kyle Kuzma averaging 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game is not something we expected before the season began. 

    Reason to Believe: Brandon Taylor was the weak link for the first half of the season, but the senior guard has been shooting, defending and passing much better over the past six weeks. As a result, Utah has been surging since mid-January with one of the most complete starting fives in the country.

    Reason to Worry: The Utes don't have much quality depth, and their defense is spottyat best. They have recorded three or fewer steals in eight games this season and lost six of them. They also struggle to protect the three-point arc, where opponents are shooting 36.6 percent on the year. 

    March Madness Ceiling: With Taylor playing this well, Utah might not have a ceiling. As long as Poeltl stays out of foul trouble, this team can compete with anyone.

8. Villanova

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    Record: 29-5, 16-2 in Big East

    Why They're Here: The NCAA tournament has not been kind to Villanova in recent years, but you don't win three consecutive outright Big East regular-season championships unless you're pretty doggone good. The Wildcats only lost one game during the regular season against a team outside the RPI top 10. 

    Reason to Believe: We really weren't sure what to expect out of Kris Jenkins this season, but he has quietly emerged as a lethal weapon. Though the first half of the year didn't go too well for the perimeter forward, he averaged 16.0 points while shooting 44-of-101 (43.6 percent) from three over his final 15 regular-season games. 

    Reason to Worry: The Wildcats went just 1-3 against the caliber of opponent they're likely to run into in the Elite Eight and beyond, including getting absolutely slaughtered by Oklahoma back in December. Villanova doesn't defend the three exceptionally well, and there isn't much of a plan B when its long-range shots aren't falling. 

    March Madness Ceiling: The Wildcats' ceiling really depends on how far Josh Hart is willing to take them. If he consistently scores 18 points on 11 shots with 10 rebounds, they could win the title. But Villanova could fail to reach the Sweet 16 for a seventh straight year if Hart has one of those games where he gets into early foul trouble or struggles to find his stroke and lets it impact his tenacity on the glass.

7. Kentucky

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    Record: 26-8, 13-5 in SEC

    Why They're Here: On name power and coaching prowess alone, Kentucky is typically a threat to win it all. The Wildcats also have some outstanding guard play this year, and they're getting hot when it matters most.

    Reason to Believe: With all due respect to LSU's Ben Simmons and Duke's Brandon Ingram, Jamal Murray has been the nation's best freshman for the past month, and Tyler Ulis is an even better player than Murray. Contrary to last season when Kentucky's starting backcourt was its biggest weakness, this duo is the biggest reason the Wildcats could win it all.

    Reason to Worry: Even if Derek Willis is healthy and playing as well as he did in the middle of the SEC season, the rest of the frontcourt has either been inconsistent or downright disappointing. And according to their game log on Sports-Reference.com, the Wildcats are 3-7 this season when they lose the rebounding battle.

    March Madness Ceiling: Kentucky hasn't had a winning streak of more than four games since November, and those brief winning streaks were usually broken by opponents that won't make the NCAA tournament. Of course, this was also true in 2014 before they won four straight against teams in the KenPom Top 10 en route to the title game.

6. Oklahoma

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Record: 25-7, 12-6 in Big 12

    Why They're Here: With three seniors and a junior who have started nearly every single game together for three consecutive years, Oklahoma is one of the most cohesive and experienced teams in the country. The Sooners have also quietly been one of the best defensive teams in each of the past two seasons.

    Reason to Believe: They struggled to find their collective three-point stroke in February, but if there's one team that can get hot from downtown for six straight games, it's the one that shot 46.8 percent from three-point range through its first 20 games. And if there's one guard who's going to have a Kemba Walker or Stephen Curry type of run through the tournament, it's Buddy Hield. 

    Reason to Worry: Perhaps they'll survive the tournament without running into one, but the Sooners have struggled this season against teams committed to pounding the paint. They are 5-3 against teams that attempted 20 or fewer three-pointers, and only one of those wins (vs. Central Arkansas) came by a margin of more than four points. Khadeem Lattin is a solid shot-blocker, but he isn't exactly a defensive stopper.

    March Madness Ceiling: As I wrote after their recent up-and-down performance against Baylor, the Sooners are just as likely to win it all as they are to lose in the first round. They are completely reliant on the aspect of the game that is most unreliable in a neutral-court environment—particularly in NRG Stadium, where the Final Four will be held, and which Ken Pomeroy documented last March as the arena where three-point shots go to die.

5. Virginia

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    Record: 26-7, 13-5 in ACC

    Why They're Here: It took a couple of months for the Cavaliers to figure out their optimal rotation and to make their usual impact on the defensive end, but they are frighteningly good now that they're doing their thing. 

    Reason to Believe: You need a great backcourt duo to go deep into the NCAA tournament, and Virginia has one of the best in the nation in Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes. They shoot extremely well, rarely commit turnovers, defend like their lives depend on it and know how to force the game to be played at their preferred snail-like pace.

    Reason to Worry: Brogdon does a fair amount of scoring in the paint, but with Mike Tobey vanishing over the final five weeks of the regular season, Anthony Gill has been Virginia's only true frontcourt presence on offenseand he's not exactly Ralph Sampson 2.0. If an opposing team really commits to taking away Gill and his offensive rebounding, Virginia becomes a little less formidable.

    March Madness Ceiling: The Cavaliers have only been to one Sweet 16 in the past 20 years, but they have the talent and the unique style of play to be the team still on the court for "One Shining Moment."

4. Oregon

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Record: 28-6, 14-4 in Pac-12

    Why They're Here: While the East Coast slept, Oregon took care of business for the majority of the past four months and clearly emerged as the best team in a well-rounded conference (of champions). The Ducks finished off their conference campaign with an emphatic 88-57 victory over Utah in the Pac-12 tournament final. 

    Reason to Believe: What a team is able to bring in off the bench is a strong indication of just how deep and talented its rotation is, and Jordan Bell and Dwayne Benjamin make up one heck of a bench duo. This team is loaded with frontcourt studs, most of whom shoot better than 30 percent from three-point range and aren't afraid to stretch the defense with that part of their games.

    Reason to Worry: Though they have plenty of capable shooters, the Ducks don't have many particularly good ones. Tyler Dorsey is the only one shooting better than 36.7 percent and the only one who has made at least 45 triples. Moreover, their perimeter defense is so porous that their opponents are shooting better from three-point range (36.0 percent) than the Ducks are (34.4 percent).

    March Madness Ceiling: That three-point disparity is slightly alarming, but this is a great shot-blocking team that rarely commits turnovers. They almost certainly won't be a popular pick, but the Ducks have the balance, depth and talent to win it all.

3. North Carolina

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Record: 28-6, 14-4 in ACC 

    Why They're Here: They've had their hiccups, but the Tar Heels have not been soundly beaten this season—their six losses came by a total margin of 22 points. You could choose to interpret that as a team that struggles to win close games, but we choose to interpret it as a well-rounded team that doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. (Aside from the one we'll mention shortly.)

    Reason to Believe: The Tar Heels have the best frontcourt player in the country (Brice Johnson) and a dadgum fine supporting cast around him. Theo Pinson is either the seventh- or eighth-most valuable player on this roster, and he would be a star at about 340 other schools. This team has options aplenty. 

    Reason to Worry: North Carolina is a dreadful three-point-shooting team and doesn't defend the arc too well, either. The Tar Heels rarely dig themselves a deep hole, but this is not a team built to storm back from deficits. An opponent that is red-hot for the first 10 minutes of a game could open up a lead and keep UNC from making a comeback.

    March Madness Ceiling: North Carolina is absolutely one of the top candidates to win the 2016 national championship. If Marcus Paige is able to finish out his career on a high note after really struggling through most of ACC play, UNC's ceiling might even be matching its 2009 title run, when it won those six games by an average margin of 20.2 points.

2. Michigan State

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    Record: 29-5, 13-5 in Big Ten

    Why They're Here: Michigan State struggled early in Big Ten play while Denzel Valentine recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his knee, but this team has been scorching-hot since the head-scratching home loss to Nebraska in mid-January.

    Reason to Believe: With all due respect to Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, Valentine has been the best player in the country when healthy. He hasn't had a triple-double since November, but he got close in the majority of his final 11 regular-season games.

    Reason to Worry: Bryn Forbes has been phenomenal in about 85 percent of games this season, but the sharpshooter really struggled in Michigan State's five losses, shooting 16.0 percent from three-point range as compared to 52.5 percent in wins. If he has an off night, that's one fewer way Michigan State can beat you.

    March Madness Ceiling: The Spartans are already one of the best, and head coach Tom Izzo's teams have a tendency to find yet another, higher gear in March. No team can ever be considered a stone-cold lock for the national semifinals, but you're probably asking for trouble if you don't have the Spartans in the Final Four of your bracket.

1. Kansas

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Record: 30-4, 15-3 in Big 12

    Why They're Here: Save for a Denzel Valentine triple-double in the Champions Classic and a brief rough patch in mid-January in the weeks following the epic three-overtime win over Oklahoma, Kansas has been the best team in the nation for this entire season. 

    Reason to Believe: The Jayhawks take a 14-game win streak into the NCAA tournament, despite getting next to nothing out of Wayne Selden for the vast majority of their final 11 regular-season games. Even without playing their best basketball, they've been the best team, so imagine how good they'll be if Selden actually shows up in the tournament.

    Reason to Worry: Every once in a while, Devonte' Graham has an off night. He averaged 7.0 points and an 88.5 O-rating in their four regular-season losses. If he has a dud like that in the tournament, the Jayhawks might be vulnerable.

    March Madness Ceiling: Their ceiling is obviously a national championship, but their floor might be the Elite Eight. With how consistently well Frank Mason, Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas have been playing for the past six weeks, the Jayhawks are as close as it gets to a team that is immune to a dreadful team-wide performance. They'll eventually face some great teams, but Kansas won't be the reason that Kansas loses.

     

    Advanced stats courtesy of KenPom.com and Sports-Reference.com.