NCAA Bracket 2017: Odds for Every Sweet 16 Team to Win NCAA Championship

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 20, 2017

NCAA Bracket 2017: Odds for Every Sweet 16 Team to Win NCAA Championship

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    For more than 75 percent of the starting field in the 2017 NCAA tournament, the dream of a national championship is already over. But what are the odds for each of the remaining 16 squads to cut down the nets in Phoenix?

    The first round was light on upsets, but the second round was downright chaotic as a result. Without any sort of Cinderella story in the mix, all 16 remaining teams have a realistic shot at winning it all.

    Based on a combination of what we've seen from each squad thus far and the path each would likely face to win the title, we've set new 2017 national championship odds.

    These odds differ from what you would find in a sportsbook in Las Vegas because they add up to 100 percent and are meant to reflect each team's chance of winning four more games.

    Villanova opened the tournament as our favorite to win it all, but that didn't last long, did it?

    Read on to find out which poor team is next to receive the kiss of death. Teams on the following slides are listed in increasing order of likelihood to win the tournament, beginning with the biggest long shot: Butler.

Butler Bulldogs

1 of 16

    Title Odds: 80-1

    The Road Ahead: For a while there, it looked like Butler might be facing Arkansas in the Sweet 16, but the Bulldogs had no such luck. They'll run into big, bad North Carolina for the opportunity to play either Kentucky or UCLA. Butler hasn't been an underdog story since transitioning to the Big East, but the Bulldogs sure do feel like a David in a region of Goliaths.

    Reason to Buy: Butler was the plucky underdog in years past, but now it's one of the most battle-tested teams in the country. Following wins over Winthrop and Middle Tennessee, Butler has 11 RPI Top 50 and 18 RPI Top 100 victories. In the process, the Bulldogs won six games against opponents that were ranked at the time, including a season sweep of Villanova.

    Aside from an offense that converts at a high rate from two-point range (54.4 percent) and that rarely commits turnovers, there's not much in the statistics to suggest this is one of the best teams in the country. But there was no reason to assume Butler would reach back-to-back title games earlier this decade either. It's lazy analysis, but the Bulldogs just know how to win.

    Reason to Sell: All season, the Bulldogs have let us down right when we were ready to fully invest. They started 8-0 with several quality wins, only to lose to Indiana State. They rallied with wins over Cincinnati, Indiana and Vermont before losing to St. John's. Two games after each win over Villanova, they suffered a disappointing loss. Can they be trusted to win six in a row? (At least they won't run into St. John's again.) 

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... They dig in their heels on defense. In going 4-0 against the RPI Top 25, the most points Butler gave up in any one of those games was 66. The Bulldogs beat Villanova, Arizona and Cincinnati on the defensive end and will need to do the same in the latter stages of this tournament.

Xavier Musketeers

2 of 16

    Title Odds: 65-1

    The Road Ahead: Xavier gets a 2015 regional semifinal rematch with Arizona before a possible battle with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.

    Reason to Buy: No team works harder on the glass than Xavier. Florida State is one of the biggest, most athletic teams in the country, yet the Musketeers finished plus-three in rebounding margin against the Seminoles. It's not just one or two players either. Five guys had at least four rebounds against Florida State. This after six Musketeers recorded at least three rebounds in the win over Maryland.

    Xavier also has a healthy dose of "nobody believed in us" motivation. After the team lost Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL in late January, everyone left it for dead. When the Musketeers lost six in a row late in the regular season, it looked like they didn't even belong in the tournament. But they have rallied behind Trevon Bluiett, putting forth a pair of outstanding team efforts.

    Reason to Sell: They can't possibly keep this up, right? Making 11 three-pointers while committing just nine turnovers against Florida State was like catching lightning in a bottle, and they would need to do it four more times to win it all. It's a fun Cinderella story, but there's a reason this team went more than a month without beating anyone other than DePaul.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Bluiett becomes Kemba Walker 2.0. Xavier's junior wing-forward has averaged 25.0 points thus far in the tournament, and he can do more. He shot 50 percent from downtown against Maryland and 60 percent against Florida State. When he's feeling it like that, the Musketeers should feed the hot hand as much as possible. It's their best chance to keep this dream alive for two more weeks.

South Carolina Gamecocks

3 of 16

    Title Odds: 60-1

    The Road Ahead: The East Region is in complete chaos, but South Carolina still has a tough road to go through just to reach the Final Four. Drawing Baylor's zone defense in the Sweet 16 could be a problem, and the Elite Eight opponent will either be a red-hot Wisconsin or SEC rival Florida.

    Reason to Buy: South Carolina's defense is like a straitjacket. Against both Duke and Marquettetwo of the more efficient offenses in the countrythe Gamecocks forced 18 turnovers and kept them from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm. Outside of West Virginia's ball-hawking D, Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier might be the best defensive duo in the nation.

    The scary thing is the Gamecocks are finally scoring. After averaging 66.0 points per game over their final six matches, they have averaged 90.5 in the NCAA tournament. Thornwell is the star, but everyone has been pitching in. Dozier, Rakym Felder, Chris Silva and Duane Notice are each averaging better than 10 points per game.

    Reason to Sell: Prior to knocking off Marquette and Duke, South Carolina had not won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. Playing with a geographical advantage in Greenville, South Carolina, was huge in the first round, but can the Gamecocks bottle that magic for two wins in New York City and two more in Phoenix after struggling away from home for most of the year? Defense always travels, but can the offense continue to thrive without the support of the crowd?

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Thornwell remains the best player in the tournament. With 53 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks, it wouldn't be hard to make the case that he has been the tournament's Most Outstanding Player to this point. People are finally coming to realize what an incredible asset he was on both ends of the court all season long. If he keeps putting up those numbers, anything can happen.

Wisconsin Badgers

4 of 16

    Title Odds: 50-1

    The Road Ahead: The Badgers shook up the balance of power in the East Region, but they still have a brutal path to the title. They would need to get through Florida in the Sweet 16 and likely Baylor in the Elite Eight in order to face Arizona or Gonzaga in the Final Four.

    Reason to Buy: A rough six-game stretch at the end of the regular season made everyone forget, but Wisconsin was one of the top preseason candidates to win the national championship.

    The Badgers won 21 of their first 24 games as Ethan Happ played like a Wooden Award candidate. He's back to playing at that elite level, and it appears seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes saved their best for last. The former drained 11 three-pointers in his first two tourney games, and the latter had a double-double against Virginia Tech (16 points, 10 rebounds) before making the game-winner against Villanova.

    When all three of the leaders are playing well, Wisconsin is one of the toughest teams to beat.

    Reason to Sell: Wisconsin is the worst free-throw-shooting team left in the tournament. It hit just six of 18 attempts in the win over Villanova. The Badgers also have the worst three-point defense among remaining teams, but their first two opponents were unable to exploit that weakness. Eventually, that combination of shooting percentages will probably be a problem.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Role players continue making a significant impact. Khalil Iverson had a great game off the bench against Virginia Tech (11 points, seven rebounds), and Vitto Brown drained three three-pointers against Villanova. Zak Showalter has been phenomenal in that "Josh Gasser" role of providing hard-nosed defense and rare-but-solid shooting. The Big Three are great, but Wisconsin will continue to win as long as the full seven-man rotation is doing its thing.

Michigan Wolverines

5 of 16

    Title Odds: 45-1

    The Road Ahead: Michigan will draw the Pac-12 regular-season champ (Oregon) for the right to face either the Big 12 regular-season champ (Kansas) or the Big Ten regular-season champ (Purdue). Possibly waiting in the Final Four is the ACC regular-season champ (North Carolina) or the SEC regular-season champ (Kentucky). How sure are we about that whole destiny thing?

    Reason to Buy: Do you believe in miracles? Michigan survived its plane's slide off the runway before putting together a 2011 Connecticut-like run to win the Big Ten tournament and reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

    Save for perhaps reserve big man Mark Donnal, every guy on this roster is playing his best basketball of the season. Derrick Walton Jr. has been on fire for the past month. D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner have evolved into a dual matchup nightmare, both playing great defense with size and three-point range. Toss in Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's good shooting, and this is the hottest, most dangerous team in the tournament.

    Reason to Sell: In the win over Oklahoma State, Michigan took advantage of a team that plays no defense. In the win over Louisville, the Wolverines took advantage of a team with a limited half-court offense, daring the Cardinals to shoot threes. Sooner or later, they will run into a team that's solid on both ends. They'll need more than destiny to make it any further.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... The three W's keep cooking. Walton, Wagner and Wilson have become the best three-headed monster since that Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky trifecta Wisconsin had a couple of years ago. Michigan's defense is nothing special, but its offense is otherworldly when those three show up.

Purdue Boilermakers

6 of 16

    Title Odds: 35-1

    The Road Ahead: Purdue will have to beat a second straight Big 12 opponent in the Sweet 16, as it runs into Kansas next. Get by the Jayhawks, and the Boilermakers will either face an Oregon team rallying behind a devastating injury or a Michigan side they have already lost to twice in the past month.

    Reason to Buy: There were a lot of great candidates for National Player of the Year this season, but in the entire college basketball nation, there is not a singular force of nature as dominant as Purdue's Caleb Swanigan. "Biggie" has 28 double-doubles and has improved drastically from last season as a shooter, rebounder, passer and defender. If there were official awards for the nation's most improved player and best sophomore, he might win both.

    But for as great as Swanigan is, he's got some great running mates. Vincent Edwards scored 21 in each of Purdue's first two tourney wins. Dakota Mathias has 21 points, 12 assists and three turnovers. Isaac Haas is making a major impact off the bench. If and when Ryan Cline starts shooting as well as he did during the regular season, this might be the best offense left in the tournament.

    Reason to Sell: Against the smaller Vermont and Iowa State, Purdue overcame lackluster defense by owning the rebounding battle. But teams like Kansas and whomever the Boilermakers would draw in the Final Four are more capable of competing on the glass and capitalizing on their lack of blocks and steals.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Swanigan continues to rack up double-doubles while flirting with triple-doubles. That isn't to say Purdue is undefeated when Biggie goes for at least 10 and 10. In fact, the Boilermakers lost a home game to Minnesota in which Swanigan had 28 points and 22 rebounds. But as long as everything is running through him, they can keep winning.

Oregon Ducks

7 of 16

    Title Odds: 30-1

    The Road Ahead: For getting to the Sweet 16, Oregon has to contend with the hottest team in the nation (Michigan) and arguably the best team left in the tournament (Kansas) just to reach the Final Four. Does the Pac-12 regular-season champ have enough in the tank to overcome those barriers?

    Reason to Buy: Despite losing Chris Boucher to a torn ACL, Oregon still has the horses to make a serious run. Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey have emerged as two of the most clutch players in the nation, and both have a knack for taking over a game.

    Jordan Bell doesn't do a ton of scoring, but his defense and rebounding are second to none. Wings like Payton Pritchard, Dylan Ennis and Casey Benson are always a threat to hit a couple of threes or record a few steals. Next-man-up Kavell Bigby-Williams was a shot-blocking JUCO sensation last year who is at least serviceable for 10-15 minutes per game. This is still a great seven-man rotation.

    Reason to Sell: Defense was Oregon's biggest asset for most of the season, but it has been a disaster since losing Boucher. Arizona shot 69.7 percent from inside the arc against the Ducks. Rhode Island was almost as good at 64.9 percent. Though Oregon still has rim-protectors in Bell and Bigby-Williams, it just hasn't been the same. Eventually, that's going to be a huge problem.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Brooks and Dorsey continue to dominate. Oregon's defense is a problem, but that dynamic duo keeps putting enough points on the board to make up for it. Brooks wasn't efficient in the win over Rhode Island, but Dorsey sure was, finishing with 27 points on 10 field-goal attempts. When they're impacting the game on both ends of the floor, Oregon can beat anyone.

Baylor Bears

8 of 16

    Title Odds: 26-1

    The Road Ahead: It once looked like a path that would involve going through Duke and Villanova just to reach the Final Four, but things have broken nicely for Baylor, who will now face South Carolina and likely Florida for the right to play either Arizona or Gonzaga for a spot in the national championship.

    Reason to Buy: Despite some recent struggles when playing conference foes for a second time, Baylor knocked off a lot of great opponents this season. The Bears won neutral-court games against VCU, Michigan State and Louisville. They beat Oregon and Xavier, swept Oklahoma State and had victories over Iowa State and West Virginia. There might not be a more battle-tested team in the country.

    Baylor also has one of the best frontcourts. Led by Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., the Bears do a ton of offensive rebounding and shot-blocking. When they're also doing a good job of defending the perimeter, they're one of the nation's premier teams.

    Reason to Sell: Turnover margin is a major issue for this team. Baylor rarely records steals, and it coughs the ball up at an alarming rate. The Bears aren't great at shooting three-pointers or free throws either, so it's hardly uncommon to see them go through spurts in which they struggle to put points on the board.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... They control the tempo and win with defense. Baylor has been sped up out of its comfort zone in each of the first two games, and its defense suffered for it. The Bears want to play games in the 60s instead of the 80s and have a better chance to win it all at that pace.

Florida Gators

9 of 16

    Title Odds: 25-1

    The Road Ahead: The Gators no longer need to get through either Villanova or Duke to reach the Final Four, but they're still going to get one heck of a Sweet 16 battle with Wisconsin before potentially drawing Baylor in the Elite Eight.

    Reason to Buy: Florida stumbled to the finish line, losing three of its final four games prior to Selection Sunday, but it was arguably the most impressive team on opening weekend. The Gators handled East Tennessee State's pressure and athleticism with relative ease before beating the living daylights out of Virginia in the second round.

    As has been the case all season, defense was the key to their success. Neither the Buccaneers nor the Cavaliers had an easy offensive possession in the process of averaging 52 points against the Gators. Kevarrius Hayes has been a one-man defensive wrecking crew for a few months, and he had six steals and two blocks just against ETSU. And when Florida is forcing live-ball turnovers, it's tough to beat.

    Reason to Sell: Does Florida have enough offense to get the job done? The Gators have been held to 66 points or fewer in four of their last eight games since losing John Egbunu to a torn ACL. Only two players scored more than seven points against Virginia, and just three did so against ETSU. Banking entirely on defense and Devin Robinson is a bold strategy, to say the least.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Veteran point guards Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill are assets rather than detriments. Both guys are solid on defense and record a good number of assists, but they both have turnover issues and shoot poorly from the field—especially Hill (40.7 percent). A little efficiency could go a long way.

West Virginia Mountaineers

10 of 16

    Title Odds: 18-1

    The Road Ahead: West Virginia gets Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 before a potential battle with Arizona to represent the West Region in the Final Four.

    Reason to Buy: Now in the third year of "Press Virginia," the Mountaineers have just about perfected the art of applying 40 minutes' worth of full-court hell. In previous seasons, they committed too many fouls and were too easy to score against if the pressure was broken. But both their defensive free-throw rate and block percentage are drastically better than the last two years.

    Now consider that West Virginia's offensive turnover percentage and three-point shooting are much better than last year too, and you've got a team that has evolved from a gimmicky matchup nightmare to a legitimate threat to win the national championship.

    Reason to Sell: West Virginia is better on offense than previous years, but it's still inconsistent. Not two weeks ago in the Big 12 tournament, the Mountaineers shot 7-of-32 from two-point range in the process of scoring 51 points against Kansas State. They shot below 37.5 percent from the field in three of their final six games before the NCAA tournament began.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... They keep shooting like they did against Notre Dame. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. scored a combined 42 points on just 23 field-goal attempts as the entire team set the nets ablaze. Opponents use up so much of their energy trying to break West Virginia's press that they don't have much left to try to stop the Mountaineers offense.

UCLA Bruins

11 of 16

    Title Odds: 13-1

    The Road Ahead: It's a shame we can't reseed or shake up the matchups at this point, because one of the best teams left in the tournament has one of the most impossible draws just to reach the Final Four. UCLA has to go through Kentucky and probably North Carolina to get to the national semifinals. Throw in the likely matchups with Kansas and Gonzaga at that point, and the odds aren't great.

    Reason to Buy: Offense, offense and more offense. Some were worried the Bruins would have trouble with Cincinnati, which is annually one of the best defenses in the nation. Instead, UCLA shot 50 percent from the field, drained a shade under 40 percent from three-point range and amassed 21 assists against just three turnovers.

    Defense was the story against the Bearcats, but it was UCLA's defense that made the difference. The Bruins shut down both Kyle Washington and Troy Caupain, won the turnover battle and blocked five shots. The Bruins didn't show any passion on defense in the opener against Kent State, but the defense they played against Cincinnati is more than enough to win them a title.

    Reason to Sell: Sooner or later, every hot-shooting team has a cold night. Granted, for UCLA, cold probably means shooting 43 percent from the field instead of 58 percent, but can the Bruins survive when that happens? They shot a combined 20-of-76 (26.3 percent) from three-point range in their last three losses and haven't strung together three straight games of shooting at least 40 percent from downtown since early December.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... At least five of the six players continue to show up. Six Bruins averaged at least 10 points per game this season, and five of them have scored in double figures in each game so far. It would help if Lonzo Ball or TJ Leaf puts on a show, but the Bruins need to avoid getting a dud from multiple guys. Sprinkle in a little bit of effort on defense and enjoy the show.

Kentucky Wildcats

12 of 16

    Title Odds: 12-1

    The Road Ahead: Congratulations to the Wildcats for winning a difficult second-round draw with Wichita State. Their reward? A rematch with UCLA before another possible rematch with North Carolina. If those games are anything like the first ones, we're in for a treat. But it's not an easy road for Kentucky.

    Reason to Buy: Bam Adebayo has finally tapped into his potential as the most dominant double-double machine in the world, averaging 15.2 points and 11.1 rebounds over his last nine games. Both De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe are making jumpers and impacting the game with drives. Malik Monk hasn't been shooting well lately, but he's making an impact as a passer and defender. And if Derek Willis is the "worst" guy in the starting lineup, it isn't showing with his 8.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 assists in the NCAA tournament.

    With the possible exception of Duke, Kentucky has more talent than any team in the country. And the Wildcats are fully invested on defense, which is when they have been most terrifying under head coach John Calipari.

    Reason to Sell: It's hard to trust a team that relies so heavily on a freshman shooting guard. Monk did hit a dagger late in the win over Wichita State, but he's shooting just 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from three-point range in March. Kentucky has gotten by thus far with defense, but it might need Monk to flip the switch and average at least 25 points the rest of the way.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Talent reigns supreme. When Fox started hitting three-pointers in the final few weeks of the regular season, it was the missing link that transformed Kentucky from a good, fun team into a serious title contender. At this point, the Wildcats have too many weapons, even if Monk isn't playing up to his full potential. As long as they stay healthy and engaged on defense, Calipari could at least be headed to his fifth Final Four in seven years.

North Carolina Tar Heels

13 of 16

    Title Odds: 17-2

    The Road Ahead: The Tar Heels have a Sweet 16 matchup against what is probably the best Butler team ever. They better not take that game for granted while mentally preparing for a potential rematch with Kentucky or a showdown with Kansas in the Final Four.

    Reason to Buy: As North Carolina proved in its too-close-for-comfort win over Arkansas, hitting the glass can go a long way. The Tar Heels only shot 38.1 percent from the field, but they were able to survive by grabbing 16 offensive rebounds. They are the best team in the nation in that regard and will remain a serious threat to win it all for as long as guys like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks are patrolling the paint.

    UNC also has a better combination of talent and experience than any team in the country. All five starters are juniors or seniors who were highly touted out of high school and who are likely to at least have a cup of coffee in the NBA. The Tar Heels might eventually lose a game, but it's hard to see them ever being overmatched as guys like Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson lead the way.

    Reason to Sell: That near-loss to Arkansas was a major red flag, right? North Carolina shot poorly, committed far too many turnovers and only won the game because it attempted 17 more free throws than the Razorbacks. Berry played through an ankle injury and didn't look right. With any UNC luck, he'll be in better shape for the next game. But it was wild to see how quickly it all came unraveled for one of the most experienced teams in the tournament.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Everyone stays healthy and out of foul trouble. With Theo Pinson back in the mix, North Carolina was looking great late in the season. But one rolled ankle (as we found out with Berry) or a few whistles on Hicks can make everything go sideways in a hurry. When they're able to play up to their full potential, though, the Tar Heels are the best team.

Kansas Jayhawks

14 of 16

    Title Odds: 13-2

    The Road AheadKansas is headed for a great battle with Purdue in the Sweet 16 and might have a third consecutive Big Ten team waiting in the Elite Eight in the form of Michigan. If the Jayhawks can continue beating up on the B1G, it could set up an incredible Final Four clash with North Carolina or Kentucky.

    Reason to Buy: When Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson both play well, Kansas cannot be beaten. Those two guys aren't the whole team, of course. The Jayhawks need contributions from Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Landen Lucas and Lagerald Vick too. But we're talking about the likely Wooden Award winner in Mason and the likely national Freshman of the Year in Jackson. They're kind of important.

    Both of those guys played well on opening weekend, and Kansas blew out both UC Davis and Michigan State. The duo has averaged 41 of Kansas' 95 points per game through two contests and will only grow more responsible for the team's success as the tournament continues.

    Reason to SellEvery now and then, Kansas takes the night off on defense. It has allowed at least 80 points in regulation eight times, including giving up at least 85 points in each of its four losses. The Jayhawks also have a worrisome habit of falling behind early before storming back. If they dig a hole too deep against a team too good, it'll be curtains.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... They're protecting the perimeter. The reason Kansas gave up so many points in its four losses is because those teams averaged 11.8 made three-pointers per game while shooting 46.5 percent. When the Jayhawks defend the arc like they did against UC Davis and Michigan State (combined 27.9 percent), it's almost impossible for opponents to keep pace with their offense.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

15 of 16

    Title Odds: 5-1

    The Road Ahead: The going is about to get tough for Gonzaga, as it faces West Virginia in the Sweet 16 to set up a possible rematch with Arizona in the Elite Eight.

    Reason to Buy: Gonzaga might have the best eight-man rotation in the country. It's just plain silly that Zach Collins, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson come off the bench for a team from the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs owned the regular season, finishing at No. 1 on KenPom.com without a close runner-up.

    Whereas most of the top teams are either great on offense or defense and serviceable with the other, Gonzaga excels on both ends. The Bulldogs haven't put their best foot forward yet in the NCAA tournament, but maybe they needed those close games in the first weekend to take this second weekend more seriously.

    Reason to Sell: After finishing a season that included nearly three months without a game decided by single digits, Gonzaga looks...rusty. The talent is still there, as it proved by jumping out to an 18-point halftime lead against Northwestern. But that ceiling was quickly replaced by the floor of giving up 53 points in the second half of that closer-than-it-should-have-been win.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... It snaps out of this cold start and realizes its potential. In the span of nine days this year, Gonzaga won neutral-court games against Florida, Iowa State and Arizona. We know the Zags have the talent to win it all, but do they remember that? Or, worse, have they bought into their own hype?

Arizona Wildcats

16 of 16

    Title Odds: 19-4

    The Road Ahead: With No. 3 Florida State's loss in the second round, the road isn't nearly as arduous as it could have been for the Wildcats. Still, they'll face a stiff challenge from Xavier in the Sweet 16 to get to a likely West Coast showdown with Gonzaga to go to the Final Four.

    Reason to Buy: Save for one loss in which Oregon shot 16-of-25 from three-point range, Arizona has looked like the best team in the country since getting Allonzo Trier back on the floor Jan. 21. The star shooting guard of the Wildcats was suspended (performance-enhancing drugs) for the first 19 games of the season, but he didn't acquire any rust during that time. Prior to scoring 14 in the second round against Saint Mary's, he had put up at least 18 points in eight consecutive games.

    The big key to their success, though, is Lauri Markkanen. He carried this team in Trier's absence and has rebounded from a brief February funk to put up impressive numbers again. Over his last five games, the Finn is averaging 19.2 points and has become a legitimate force on the defensive end. This might be the year we finally get to stop talking about head coach Sean Miller's inability to reach the Final Four.

    Reason to Sell: Prior to holding Saint Mary's to 60 points, defense had been a struggle for Arizona. Its previous four opponents averaged 78.8 points and just 8.3 turnovers per game. Regular-season contests against UCLA and Oregon were equally taxing on the D. The Wildcats can score in bunches, but they need to do a better job of making sure the opposition doesn't do the same.

    Will Cut Down the Nets If... Shots keep falling. Led by Markkanen, Arizona has five regulars who shoot at least 37.9 percent from three-point range. When those triples are going in, they open up what Arizona really wants to do: dribble-drive. For athletic guards like Trier, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons and Kadeem Allen who want to penetrate, life is a lot easier when opponents have to respect the pull-up and kick-out jumpers.