NCAA Tournament 2017: B/R's Odds for Every Team to Win the Title
The 2017 NCAA tournament field has been revealed, and we have meticulously calculated each team's odds of winning the national championship.
In almost all cases, these won't come close to matching the odds you will find at your local sportsbook. That's because we did not set odds that sum to roughly 135 percent to ensure a profit. Also, we were not interested in putting any sort of tax on the biggest fanbases. (You can guarantee the odds for blue-blood programs will be considerably shorter than they should be since Vegas bookmakers know people will bet on those teams no matter what.)
Rather, these are our best estimates at the odds each team has of winning it all, and we made sure they added up to somewhere in the range of 99-101 percent.
Villanova is the favorite to win the title and become the first back-to-back national champion since Florida in 2007, but the Wildcats are nothing close to an overwhelming favorite.
Where does your favorite team fall?
Disclaimer: It should be noted that you can't bet on these odds.
Unless, of course, you want to bet on a No. 16 seed to win it all. If that's the case, we're all ears.
No. 16 Seeds
New Orleans (10,000,000-1)
Outside of Michigan surviving that plane incident and Northwestern making the tournament for the first time ever, New Orleans is the feel-good story of the field. The Privateers almost transitioned to Division III a few years ago, but here they are in the Big Dance. It doesn't mean they'll win any games, but it'll be fun to talk about them for a couple of hours.
Mount St. Mary's (8,000,000-1)
The Mount played a ton of early games against something resembling the caliber of opponent they would face in the round of 64. The result was a bunch of blowout losses to the likes of West Virginia, Iowa State, Minnesota, Michigan and Arkansas. At least they'll know how to emotionally handle being down by 20 by halftime?
UC Davis (7,500,000-1)
The Big West wasn't quite the worst conference in the country, but it was the worst one that failed to send its No. 1 seed to the NCAA tournament. For some weird reason, the worst team to get in usually wins its First Four game, but if you're picking the Aggies to win it all, you may want to reconsider.
North Carolina Central (7,000,000-1)
North Carolina is one of the favorites to win the national championship. North Carolina Central won one game this season against the RPI Top 100. Please don't get them confused when filling out your bracket.
Texas Southern (5,000,000-1)
The Tigers might have had a chance when they had Derrick Griffin on the roster. However, the big man who averaged 13.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as a freshman last season decided to leave the program at the end of December to prepare for the NFL draft. They just don't have the horses to shock someone without him.
South Dakota State (4,000,000-1)
It's tempting to type "Mike Daum" 75 times to fill up this space because he's all that matters here. The 6'9" sophomore has averaged 33.8 points and 9.8 rebounds over his last five games, including going for 51 and 15 in a win over Fort Wayne. The Jackrabbits aren't going anywhere, but Daum is a future pro you should get to know.
No. 15 Seeds
It's not the Sun Belt team anyone was expecting to see in the tournament, but this conference has had a knack for upsets lately—Georgia State in 2015, Arkansas-Little Rock in 2016—and the Trojans have some potential. They split their season series with Texas-Arlington and nearly won a road game against USC.
Jacksonville State (6,000,000-1)
The Gamecocks shocked Belmont in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley tournament, but that's the only shocking they'll be doing this March. They aren't nearly efficient enough on either end of the court to hang with a major-conference champion.
North Dakota (5,000,000-1)
Similar to Jimmy Hall at Kent State and Keon Johnson at Winthrop, North Dakota's Quinton Hooker is a senior who can score a ton and is hoping to make an impact in his first and last trip to the NCAA tournament. He has scored at least 28 points in a game six times this season, and the Fighting Hawks have a fighting chance if he does it for a seventh time.
Northern Kentucky (4,000,000-1)
The Norse are going to let it fly from three-point range. If Cole Murray catches fire in the process, they've got a chance to pull off an upset.
No. 14 Seeds
New Mexico State (3,500,000-1)
I got sucked in to buying stock in New Mexico State too many times in years past, when the Aggies had frontcourt studs like Sim Bhullar and Pascal Siakam. They always let me down, so I refuse to do the same this year, even though there's still a Bhullar (Tanveer) on the team and a pretty solid big man in Eli Chuha.
Kent State (3,000,000-1)
Jimmy Hall is a scoring and rebounding machine who has been rated by KenPom as a top-five player in the Mid-American Conference in each of the past three years. Every year, there are dozens of sad tales of great seniors who never got the chance to dance. It won't be a long dance, but at least Hall will get to experience one.
Iona knows how to score. The Gaels have averaged 83.6 points over their last 11 games and haven't been held below 72 during that stretch. Now, if only they knew how to defend...
Florida Gulf Coast (20,000-1)
The darlings of the 2013 NCAA tournament could be a force to be reckoned with again. And as Rayjon Tucker showed in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game, there's still a little bit of Dunk City magic left in those jerseys.
Florida Gulf Coast played well early in the season against Florida, Baylor and Michigan State before falling short in each upset bid. Yet the Eagles proved they can play with the big boys.
No. 13 Seeds
Led by junior forward Zach Thomas, the Bison have four players who average in double figures. When all four play well, Bucknell is tough to beat. Vanderbilt and Richmond found that out the hard way. But as soon as even one of them has an off night, the Bison will be sent packing.
East Tennessee State (500,000-1)
If you like old-man basketball, East Tennessee State is for you. The Buccaneers don't have one of those lumbering-yet-dominant big men like Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski, but they have a ton of veterans and play a physical game. This is the type of group that would dominate the court at the local YMCA for hours on end.
Keon Johnson is small but mighty. Winthrop's 5'7" lead guard went over 2,000 career points during the Big South tournament, averaging 22.5 over the course of the season. And he's capable of more. He averaged 29.3 for the Eagles in the Big South tourney and had a four-game stretch earlier this year in which he averaged 33.3. He could catch fire in a Sweet 16 run.
The Catamounts have won 21 consecutive games. They won't get to 27, but 23 isn't a ridiculous proposition. They have really dug in their heels on defense lately, holding five straight opponents to 53 points or fewer. And they have a ton of guys who are capable of getting to the rim.
No. 12 Seeds
Long before the season began, the Tigers were one of my top picks to play Cinderella this March. They got out to a slow start, losing six of their first 10 games, but they haven't been beaten since before Christmas. This is an efficient, turnover-averse team that takes and makes a ton of three-pointers. Don't be surprised if Princeton shoots itself into the Sweet 16.
UNC-Wilmington is one of the smallest teams in the country with a 6'7" center and a pair of 6'5" wings starting as de facto forward, but that hasn't kept it from being lethal from two-point range. Most of it is Devontae Cacok, who's shooting 79.9 percent from the field, but C.J. Bryce (54.8 percent on twos) and Chris Flemmings (58.1 percent) are great in the lane, too. The Seahawks also lead the nation in offensive turnover percentage.
Along with Middle Tennessee, UNC-Wilmington will be one of the most popular Sweet 16 picks among the little guys.
Did you know Nevada won more games against the RPI Top 100 (10) than Syracuse (eight)?
Led by Cameron Oliver, Marcus Marshall, D.J. Fenner and Jordan Caroline, the Wolf Pack have nothing resembling your average minor-conference stable of athletes. These guys are a legitimate threat to reach the Final Four. And they're going to be even better next year, so hop aboard the bandwagon while you can.
Middle Tennessee (1,000-1)
In the span of two weeks early in the season, Middle Tennessee won games against UNC-Wilmington, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. And the Blue Raiders have a lot of the same pieces from the team that upset Michigan State in last year's tournament, plus they added former Arkansas big man Jacorey Williams to their arsenal.
Take it to the bank that MTSU will be one of the most popular Cinderella picks to reach the Sweet 16, and know that it has the potential to go even further than that.
No. 11 Seeds
Xavier is a shell of what it was supposed to be, having lost both Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner for the season. Replacing that backcourt duo with Malcolm Bernard and Quentin Goodin hasn't gone well.
But the Musketeers did beat Butler in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, so maybe there's a chance Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura can carry them to a few victories.
Rhode Island (40,000-1)
Led by the shot-blocking duo of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson, Rhode Island has one of the country's stingier defenses. Were it not for how often they send the opposition to the free-throw line, the Rams might be rivaling Virginia for the most efficient defense in the nation.
But they don't shoot all that well, which means sometimes they lose a home game to Fordham in which they score 43 points. When they play like they did in the last two rounds of the Atlantic 10 tournament against Davidson and VCU, though, they have a glimmer of Final Four potential.
The season-long stats are nothing special, but Providence finished strong. The Friars ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak, including four straight against Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette.
Win or lose, every game this team has played for more than a month has been close. It's just a question of how many times in a row the coin will turn up heads.
USC had a couple of great home wins over SMU and UCLA, but it struggled away from home all season, including in a 22-point loss at Utah and a one-point loss at Arizona State.
If the Trojans are going to do any damage in the tournament, they'll need to start on the defensive end. This athletic bunch—and particularly freshman De'Anthony Melton—is good at blocking shots and creating steals.
Kansas State (12,500-1)
Over its final 14 games of the season, Kansas State only beat one team that made the NCAA tournament. It was Baylor, and the Wildcats beat them twice away from home. Everyone had KSU on the bubble in the week leading up to Selection Sunday, and evidently those two wins were enough for it to get in.
Now that the Wildcats are here, they're a moderate threat to win a few games. They don't have any individual player who's going to carry them through the tournament, but they have a solid primary six-man rotation that consistently puts points on the board. And with freshman Isaiah Maurice making a significant impact over the past five games as a seventh man, they're looking good.
Wake Forest (300-1)
Wake Forest lost 13 games, but not for lack of trying or talent. The Demon Deacons spent most of the year suffering close closes to quality opponents before finally knocking off Louisville and Virginia Tech at the end of the regular season.
In addition to a great inside-outside duo of John Collins and Bryant Crawford, Wake Forest has a trio regulars shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range. The Demon Deacons can score in bunches, but they need to. They gave up an average of 85 points in their final seven games, including allowing at least 95 three times.
No. 10 Seeds
Marquette can make it rain threes like no other. The Golden Eagles shot 43 percent from downtown as a team, led by freshman Markus Howard's 54.9 percent stroke. They made at least 10 three-pointers in 20 of their games.
But even the long ball couldn't save them all the time. They lost seven of the aforementioned 20 games because they do little on the defensive end. Even if they catch fire, wins aren't guaranteed.
It's not nearly the "Havoc" it used to be with Shaka Smart on the sideline and Briante Weber forcing turnovers all the livelong day, but Virginia Commonwealth still has an aggressive defense capable of turning steals into fast-break buckets.
Getting freshman De'Riante Jenkins back from a foot injury that kept him out for two months will help, but don't expect the Rams to do much in the half-court offense. VCU is just an average team when it isn't dominating the turnover battle.
Oklahoma State (200-1)
On a scale of 1-100, Jawun Evans is a 98 talent who gets about a 26 in national media coverage. Oklahoma State's lead guard is a one-man wrecking crew capable of putting together a Kemba Walker-like run through the NCAA tournament.
But that 2011 Connecticut team played excellent defense, and this Cowboys team does not. Evans can get the party started, but Oklahoma State also needs Jeffrey Carroll and Phil Forte to do work in order to score enough points to make up for its lack of D.
Wichita State (75-1)
Wichita State is nothing close to the most tested team in the country, but Ken Pomeroy sure does think it's special. The Shockers have been steadily climbing in his rankings for the past few months and will enter the tournament as the eighth-best team in the nation in the estimation of college basketball's most respected stat geek.
(Before getting into this whole writing thing, I passed two actuarial exams and got a degree in applied mathematics, so it's totally OK for me to call someone a geek. It's a term of endearment.)
Most people probably thought Wichita State was one of the better three-point shooting teams in the country over the past few years with stars like Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Last year, though, it was one of the 100 worst teams from the perimeter. But this year's three-point arsenal blows all the others out of the water. Conner Frankamp and Landry Shamet are cold-blooded assassins who have been especially hot over the past month.
As long as the 11-day layoff between the end of the MVC tournament and the start of the NCAA tournament doesn't cause those guys to cool off, they can shoot the Shockers to the title—with the help of some great team defense and rebounding.
No. 9 Seeds
Virginia Tech (2,000-1)
Virginia Tech quietly has one of the most lethal offenses in the country. It shot better than 40 percent from three-point range and nearly 55 percent from inside the arc. If the Hokies weren't one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, they might be in the running for first in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.
But they're barely average on defense, with one of the worst steal rates in the country. Virginia Tech basically hopes it can make enough threes to make up for all the buckets it gives up. That might work for a couple of games, but six?
Vanderbilt has more losses than any other at-large team in NCAA tournament history, but it made the Big Dance by facing the toughest schedule in the nation and winning three games against Florida.
This team shoots a metric tonne of three-pointers. Four Commodores attempted at least 110 triples, including one (Matthew Fisher-Davis) who nearly doubled that figure (218). If they can catch fire like Villanova did for most of its national championship run last year, a handful of wins is a possibility.
Seton Hall (600-1)
For as perimeter-oriented as college basketball has become, Seton Hall's Angel Delgado plays one heck of an old-man game. He finished in a tie with Purdue's Caleb Swanigan for the national lead in double-doubles, averaging 15.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per game.
When Delgado gets help from Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, the Pirates are tough to beat. Their team shooting percentages are abysmal for the season, but it's night and day when that duo shows up.
Michigan State (400-1)
Michigan State has yet to put it all together, but the pieces are there. The freshmen trio of Miles Bridges, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston has been great over the past month, and there are plenty of secondary scorers—like Joshua Langford, Alvin Ellis and Matt McQuaid—who can show up for a dozen or more points on any given night.
If things suddenly click in March—as they so often do for Tom Izzo's teams—this team has serious Final Four potential regardless of its seed.
No. 8 Seeds
In the middle of the season, Arkansas looked like toast. The Razorbacks lost a home game to Mississippi State, got blown out at Oklahoma State and even lost at Missouri. But they've been on fire lately, winning eight of nine to reach the SEC tournament championship game.
They have a deep rotation of guys who can do significant damage on the scoreboard. When they're getting contributions from all over the place, they're a tough team to beat.
Now that Northwestern finally made the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, how far can it go?
The Wildcats looked beyond gassed in their loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten semifinals, but can you blame them after months of playing with that "never been to the tournament" burden? Now playing with house money, look for Northwestern to win a couple of games with defense and turnover-free offense.
With wins over North Carolina, Virginia and Duke, Miami proved it can win games against some of the best teams the nation has to offer. The Hurricanes play at a snail's pace that could cause fits for tournament opponents.
The big question is: Will they do enough on offense? Slow pace or not, averaging 57 points over the last six games is not a promising lead-in to the Big Dance. Eventually, someone is going to make some threes against them, and they need to be able to keep up.
It appeared Wisconsin was following the script Iowa wrote last season: Play great for three months, crash and burn in the final seven games of the regular season, lose in its first game of the Big Ten tournament, miss out on the Sweet 16. The Badgers, however, took a left turn before the start of the conference tournament and suddenly remembered how to win basketball games.
When Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are playing well, Wisconsin looks like the Top 10 team it was in the preseason.
No. 7 Seeds
South Carolina (4,000-1)
South Carolina is a disaster on offense, as evidenced by its 64-53 loss to Alabama in the SEC quarterfinals. Chris Silva is adequate from two-point range, and Sindarius Thornwell can hit some threes, but the team-wide shooting percentages are nauseating.
The Gamecocks made up for it with great defense for most of the season and could make a significant run if they remember how to get after it on that end of the floor. But you have to score to consistently win games.
Dayton won the Atlantic 10 regular-season championship and appeared to be hitting its stride in mid-February after getting to full health for the first time all year. But the Flyers enter the tournament with back-to-back losses to George Washington and Davidson.
Archie Miller has proved he can get it done in the NCAA tournament, leading Dayton to the 2014 Elite Eight, and this team is arguably more talented and capable than that one was. But can the Flyers bounce back from that tough finish?
Saint Mary's (350-1)
What to make of Saint Mary's? It went 28-1 against teams other than Gonzaga, but the Zags were the only good opponent the Gaels faced outside of Nevada and Dayton in the first 10 days of the season.
The metrics love Saint Mary's. It's the best defensive rebounding team in the nation, and the disparity between its effective field-goal percentage (57.9) and what it allows (45.2) is better than every team's except Gonzaga's. But is that a product of the West Coast Conference or an indication the Gaels could win it all?
Five weeks ago, Michigan was barely hanging on to a spot in the projected field. After home wins against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Purdue and a run to the Big Ten title game, however, the Wolverines are viewed as a legitimate contender to reach the Final Four.
The biggest development during this stretch has been their improvement on defense. They were great on that end of the floor early in the season before falling apart in December and January, but they've been great again lately. As long as its poor luck defending the three-pointer (37.7 percent) doesn't become a major factor, Michigan can beat anyone.
No. 6 Seeds
Everyone wrote off Creighton when it lost star point guard Maurice Watson Jr. to a torn ACL, but that might have been a bit premature. The Bluejays certainly struggled without him, but they still have one of the most potent offenses in the country.
And as they demonstrated in the Big East tournament, with wins over Providence and Xavier, they still have what it takes to beat tournament teams. We'll see how things go when they run into a legitimate threat to win the title, but they can at least advance a couple of rounds.
After a 20-2 start to the season, Maryland limped to the finish line by losing six of its last 10 games. It had a similar finish to the 2016 campaign before it reached the Sweet 16, but barely getting by No. 12 South Dakota State and beating No. 13 Hawaii is about as weak as a Sweet 16 appearance gets.
But the Terrapins still have Melo Trimble, and as he proved with 32 points in a road win over Northwestern last month, he can lead them to the promised land. His three-point stroke has been off lately (5-of-29 over the last five games), but he's always a candidate to catch fire.
Cincinnati didn't get much national attention for beating up on the American Athletic Conference for the bulk of the past two months, but it stockpiled a ton of wins with its annual supply of outstanding defense.
The Bearcats have struggled in the NCAA tournament lately, going 4-6 and reaching just one Sweet 16 in the previous six years. But most of those teams didn't have a bona fide go-to scorer. This edition has two of them in Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington. Cincinnati doesn't usually need to score a ton of points to win, but it can.
Some people think SMU is a complete sham and is hiding behind a schedule that is way weaker than the SOS calculations want you to believe. Outside of one home win over Cincinnati, the Mustangs didn't beat a single team in the RPI Top 50. (Somehow, this is OK when it comes to Wichita State.)
But SMU is a great team that didn't get many opportunities to showcase its talent, and the Mustangs are a sleeper to win the national championship.
Led by Semi Ojeleye, Shake Milton and Sterling Brown, SMU is lethal from three-point range. Each member of that trio shoots better than 42 percent, and they've combined for 202 made triples this season. The Mustangs also play solid defense without fouling, dominate the offensive glass and have one of the best assist rates in the country.
They rarely play more than six guys, but they rarely foul, and they play at a slow enough tempo that there's no good reason to be concerned about fatigue. As long as they keep doing what they've been doing for the past three months, they'll be in business.
No. 5 Seeds
Minnesota's turnaround from 8-23 to 24-9 was almost entirely predicated on defense. The Golden Gophers couldn't stop anybody last season, but Illinois State transfer Reggie Lynch has been one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. The big man had five blocks in each close win over Purdue and Michigan State.
When Lynch is doing his thing and junior point guard Nate Mason is putting on a show on offense, Minnesota is a dangerous team.
Despite 10 losses, Virginia remains one of the best defensive units in the nation and a serious threat to make a prolonged NCAA tournament run.
It's a given the Cavaliers will grind out games and frustrate opponents with their pack-line defense, but will their guards show up on offense? Freshman Kyle Guy has been held scoreless in Virginia's last three losses and has averaged 12.8 points in its last five wins. Similarly, London Perrantes was ice-cold in the last two losses. But if those guys are hitting shots, look out.
Notre Dame (120-1)
Indicative of the lack of respect Notre Dame received all season, it somehow became an underdog story in Brooklyn despite earning the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament.
Newsflash: The Fighting Irish are great.
This is the most fundamentally sound team in the country. It excels at the free-throw line and rarely commits fouls or turnovers. Notre Dame has several outstanding three-point shooters, and even its double-double machine (Bonzie Colson) shoots 40.7 percent from downtown. The Irish don't have the type of big man we're used to seeing in a Notre Dame uniform (i.e., Luke Harangody, Jack Cooley, Zach Auguste), but they're somehow better off on defense than usual without that center.
Iowa State (100-1)
There are few things more important in March than a veteran point guard, and Iowa State has one of the best in Monte Morris. Under his leadership, the Cyclones have one of lowest turnover rates in the nation as well as one of the best three-point assaults.
But can they rebound well enough to make a deep run? In 18 Big 12 regular-season games, their average rebounding margin was minus-10.1, and they gave up a ton of points per game on two-point field goals. They have to rain threes and win the turnover battle just to overcome that problem.
No. 4 Seeds
With Caleb Swanigan in the post and one of the nation's best three-point attacks on the perimeter, Purdue should be one of the favorites to win it all. But after four months of watching the Boilermakers refuse to live up to their potential, even suggesting they could reach the Final Four seems like a stretch.
In an overtime loss to Michigan in the Big Ten quarterfinals, Purdue was even on the boards against a team with a negative rebounding margin for the season. That simply cannot happen, and yet it's the type of thing that seems to happen to the Boilermakers every March. Tread lightly with the Big Ten regular-season champions.
As long as it's not playing Vanderbilt, Florida is typically solid. Since mid-December, the Gators are 17-2 against teams other than the Commodores, yet they lost all three games they played against Luke Kornet and Co.
The bigger concern than Vanderbilt, however, is that Florida lost John Egbunu to a torn ACL in mid-February and hasn't been the same since, particularly on the offensive glass. The Gators have lost three of their last four games and limped into the NCAA tournament.
Butler had head-scratching losses to Indiana State, St. John's and Georgetown that kept it from getting the kind of seed a team with 10 RPI Top 50 wins usually deserves. And it's because we've already witnessed those losses that it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the Bulldogs bounced in the first round.
But Butler also swept Villanova and Xavier (though it lost to the Musketeers in the Big East tournament quarterfinal), won neutral-court games against Vanderbilt and Arizona and scored wins over Cincinnati and Seton Hall. Outside of a couple of ACC programs, there's not a team in the nation with a better collection of quality wins than the Bulldogs have. Butler has a chance to reach its third national championship game in the last eight tournaments.
West Virginia (50-1)
For the third straight year, West Virginia is the wild card of the NCAA tournament.
With the right draw, the Mountaineers could go on a turnover-forcing rampage to the national championship game. Their ability to dominate the offensive glass and frustrate opposing ball-handlers is second to none. In the Big 12 semifinals against Kansas State, they shot a horrendous 16-of-60 from the field yet still managed to win by rebounding 15 of their own misses and never letting the Wildcats experience anything resembling comfort on offense.
With the wrong draw, they could be gone in the first round—like they were last year.
One thing's for certain, though: West Virginia won't be blown out. Its eight losses came by a combined 37 points—and three were in overtime. The Mountaineers' largest defeat of the season was a nine-point loss to Baylor in which the Bears suddenly caught fire and closed the game on a 30-13 run.
No. 3 Seeds
Florida State (125-1)
Winning six consecutive games against NCAA tournament teams is extremely difficult, but Florida State almost won seven in a row earlier this year. The Seminoles beat Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville in a seven-game stretch that included a loss to North Carolina.
Where has that team been lately, though? Outside of sweeping Miami and knocking Virginia Tech out of the ACC tournament, FSU hasn't beaten a tourney team since mid-January. The 'Noles also suffered losses to Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. We know they have the talent to make a deep run. They just have to find it again.
Early in the season, no one could beat Baylor. Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier all tried and failed. Because of the Bears' incredible start against a brutal schedule, Johnathan Motley became one of the early favorites to win the Wooden Award.
But over the past six weeks, Baylor can't seem to beat anyone. The Bears did have a great comeback win over West Virginia near the end of the regular season, but they have lost six of their last 11 games. They were almost single-handedly responsible for keeping Kansas State and Texas Tech on the bubble by handing those teams a combined three wins late in the year.
The best shot-blocking team in the nation isn't too shabby on offense, either.
Oregon struggled to score early in the season without Dillon Brooks, but the Ducks have been soaring since the beginning of February, while he's averaged 20.5 points per game.
Brooks is the team's leader, and everyone knows Oregon wants him to take any crunch-time shots, but every piece of this rotation is a threat to score a ton. Casey Benson is the seventh-best option in the offense, and he shoots better than 41 percent from three-point range. It's a nightmare to try to score against the Ducks, but it's even harder to keep them from scoring.
For its first 31 games, UCLA had one of the most prolific offenses of the past quarter century. Led by freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, the Bruins scored at will for 17 consecutive weeks. They were lights out from both two- and three-point range and recorded assists on nearly two out of every three made buckets.
Just a few days ago, UCLA would have been in the top five on this list—maybe even in the top three.
But the Bruins didn't show us much of anything in the Pac-12 tournament, struggling with USC before getting soundly beaten by Arizona in the semifinals. Moreover, Ball appeared to jam his left thumb in the loss and ended up having arguably the worst game of his career.
Coupled with the ankle injury TJ Leaf suffered in the next-to-last game of the regular season and the fact that Bryce Alford has struggled to find his stroke over the last three games (5-of-25 from three), there are some red flags. We were already concerned about the UCLA defense, so if its offense isn't firing on all cylinders, it can forget about winning the title.
No. 2 Seeds
Louisville is one of the legitimate title contenders, but I've had doubts about the Cardinals ever since they let a 22-point lead over Baylor slip away in the Battle 4 Atlantis back in November.
Save for a couple of blowout wins at Pittsburgh and Boston College, this offense has struggled away from home. As Duke showed in the ACC tournament—and as Virginia has for the past several years—if you pack in a zone and dare the Cardinals to beat you with three-pointers, they can't.
Louisville isn't a terrible three-point shooting team, and it's actually 22-0 this season when it shoots 28 percent or better from beyond the arc. But that leaves 10 games in which it shot worse than 28 percent—and it went 2-8 in those contests with the lone wins over Evansville and Southern Illinois. Maybe the Cardinals won't lose in the first weekend of the tournament, but you have to think their collective three-point stroke will eventually be their downfall.
Arizona was good before Allonzo Trier took to the court. With him, the Wildcats are just plain scary.
After a cold stretch in February, 7'0" freshman Lauri Markkanen rediscovered his shooting stroke in the Pac-12 tournament. In the semifinals against UCLA, he even had a couple of sensational post moves and highlight-reel dunks. Given his size and skill set, it's hard to believe he isn't in the conversation to be drafted No. 1 overall in June.
As long as he and Trier (22.1 points per game over his last seven contests) keep putting points on the board, Arizona will continue adding to its win column. Sean Miller has gotten a Gonzaga-like reputation for never reaching the Final Four in his career, but he has never had a one-two punch quite like this.
Throw in Dusan Ristic, who's blossoming into a bona fide stud of a center, and a plethora of slashing guards like Rawle Alkins, Kadeem Allen and Kobi Simmons, and this is one heck of an athletic, versatile team that can win a war against any team in the country.
Two words: Malik Monk.
If the freshman shooting guard catches fire like he has so many times this season, Kentucky can beat anyone.
Lately, though, the Wildcats have been winning games without him. Monk scored just six points against Texas A&M and two points against Georgia in the team's first two games in March, so De'Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe picked up the slack and carried the offense.
Granted, Kentucky wasn't nearly as efficient as it is when Monk gets hot and actually won those games with defense, but it proved it can tread water in between his spurts of automaticity.
So, is Duke back yet?
Similar to Kentucky in 2013-14, it took longer than anyone expected for the Blue Devils to hit their stride. We saw glimpses of it early in the season, like when Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum each scored more than 20 points in a win over Florida. We got an extended view in the middle of ACC play, when Duke reeled off seven wins in a row with Kennard, Tatum and Grayson Allen leading the way.
But it wasn't until Frank Jackson started consistently scoring in double figures in late February that it felt like Duke had something special brewing. And then when Harry Giles finally showed up with six points, seven rebounds, four blocks and a few highlight-reel plays in the ACC tournament semifinals against North Carolina, we knew the Blue Devils had arrived.
They didn't suffer anywhere near as many (or as bad) losses as the Wildcats did three years ago, so they get to enter the tournament as one of the favorites instead of a No. 8 seed.
No. 1 Seeds
What's funny about Gonzaga's stigma in the annual bracket-picking process is that if Richie Frahm, Matt Santangelo and Casey Calvary had better performances in its 1999 Elite Eight game against Connecticut, no one would have a problem picking this year's team to win it all. But because the Bulldogs have never been to a Final Four, people keep insisting they never will.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski and the rest of this outstanding eight-man rotation couldn't care less about what previous iterations of the program did in March. Though it fell short of going undefeated, this year's team had one of the most impressive regular seasons in college basketball history.
Feel free to pick the Zags to lose early just because they did so as a No. 1 seed in 2013; wild things always happen in the NCAA tournament. Just don't be mad when you get smoked in your bracket pool by someone who used the equally sound logic of advancing Gonzaga and Villanova to the Final Four because they're fun words to say.
We can argue whether Frank Mason III deserves to win the Wooden Award, but there's simply no debating that Kansas has the best duo in the nation in Mason and freshman Josh Jackson.
In a season-opening loss to Indiana, Jackson wasn't quite ready to be a star and got into foul trouble. And he was suspended for the Jayhawks' loss to TCU in the Big 12 tournament. In between, they lost at West Virginia when Mason had a rare bad game and in overtime to Iowa State when the Cyclones drained an absurd 18 three-pointers.
Other than that, Kansas is undefeated and looks almost unbeatable when Mason and Jackson show up. It's a luxury that it also has studs in Devonte' Graham, Landen Lucas and Svi Mykhailiuk.
As long as we don't focus on this program's struggles in the tournament over the past 15 years, the only concern is free-throw shooting. But both Mason and Graham shoot better than 78 percent, so the Jayhawks should be able to salt away late leads as long as they can repeatedly get the ball to one of those two guys.
North Carolina (7-1)
Villanova and North Carolina met in the national championship game one year ago, and if the odds play to form—pause for raucous laughter—they will do so again this April.
No team in the country has a better combination of talent and experience than the Tar Heels. Three years ago, current starting shooting guard Justin Jackson was Scout's No. 10 overall recruit, starting small forward Theo Pinson was No. 19 and starting point guard Joel Berry II was No. 33. The year before that, current starting power forward Isaiah Hicks was No. 18 and now-four-year starter Kennedy Meeks was No. 68.
In this era of college basketball, it's almost impossible to fathom getting a combined 17 years of service out of a starting five replete with McDonald's All-American talent, but Roy Williams found a way. With all those weapons at their disposal, the Tar Heels won the best conference in the country by two games.
As long as Hicks can play more than 10 minutes without getting into foul trouble, and as long as Carolina remembers to feed its big men over and over again, this team has no clear weakness.
If you feel like Villanova's quest to repeat as national champion flew way too far below the national radar, you're not alone. The Wildcats spent the entire season ranked in the Fop Four of the AP Top 25 before earning the No. 1 overall seed, but the regular season is typically reserved for obsessing over freshman phenoms, breakout stars, surprisingly successful teams and whatever drama may come (see: Allen, Grayson; Ball, LaVar).
Villanova doesn't have any of those things. The Wildcats quietly took care of business with Josh Hart doing exactly what everyone expected him to do when he opted to return for his senior season.
Truth be told, this team is even better than the one that won the title last season. Much of Villanova's run in 2016 can be attributed to Kris Jenkins turning into Steph Curry from three-point range for about two months. This time around, the Wildcats are getting great contributions out of everyone in their seven-man rotation. It's absurd their starting five is so good they have to bring Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo off the bench.
But—as is always the case with Villanova—it's going to come down to three-point shooting and whether the Wildcats can do enough on defense if and when they have a cold night. As long as they don't run into Butler for a third time, though, we like the chances of a 'Nova repeat.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.