NCAA Tournament 2018: Power Ranking All 68 Teams
It took thousands of games, hundreds of injuries and dozens of FBI-implicated programs and players, but the 2018 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship is finally here.
The field of 68 is set, meticulously selected and seeded by the selection committee over the course of several days of data-driven, ice-cream-bar-fueled debates.
Now that we know the teams, how should they have been ranked?
There's a huge difference between a team's tournament resume and its tournament potential. This year, it sure does feel like there are a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 seeds better than some of the No. 1 seeds. And several teams spent the past two weeks on the bubble but are threats to make deep runs through a tournament to which they almost weren't invited.
A team's seed and draw have nothing to do with where it is ranked on this list. The goal isn't to have the best possible Final Four combination in the top four spots, but rather to let you know who the four best teams are. Same goes for the top eight, top 16, and so on.
If you're just looking for a specific team or teams, there's no table of contents or an index. Let Ctrl+F be your friend. But you'll want to read up on all of these teams to get an idea of what to expect while filling out your bracket(s).
68. North Carolina Central Eagles
Record: 19-15, 9-7 in MEAC
How They Got Here: This has to be the most improbable NCAA tournament team in many moons. North Carolina Central went dancing last year, but seven of the eight leading scorers from that team were seniors. It's no surprise that the Eagles struggled for most of the season while going through a near-total roster overhaul. But they performed when it mattered, winning four games in five days to lock up the MEAC's automatic bid.
Reason to Believe: Moton might be the best coach in this sport that no one talks about. NC Central isn't exactly the Gonzaga of the MEAC, but this is the fifth time in six years that his team has either made the NCAA tournament or won at least 22 games. He'll come up with something to help these guys compete against a superior opponent.
Reason to Worry: The Eagles rank in the bottom 100 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency. They played no Quadrant 1 games, lost their only Quadrant 2 game and went 1-7 in Quadrant 3 games. To put it lightly, if they pulled off the ultimate upset, no one would see it coming.
March Madness Ceiling: Credit to NC Central for getting to this point, given all that it lost from last season. But this team isn't going to be playing in a second-round game.
67. LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
Record: 18-16, 10-8 in Northeast
How They Got Here: It was a rough year for LIU Brooklyn. By mid-February, the Blackbirds were three games below .500 and had suffered more than a dozen losses to opponents outside the KenPom top 200. But they finally strung together a few late wins, including a last-second victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in the NEC semifinals. They sealed the deal with a 10-point road win over Wagner, thanks in part to the Seahawks shooting 6-of-33 from three-point range.
Reason to Believe: The Blackbirds don't have any big wins to boast, but they do have a player who can put up points in a hurry: Joel Hernandez. The senior scored in double figures in every game this season and averaged 27.7 points in three games in the NEC tournament. If they're going to put up any sort of fight to make history, it starts with him.
Reason to Worry: LIU Brooklyn didn't even face a KenPom top-150 team this season, let alone defeat one. Instead, the Blackbirds racked up 16 losses against a dreadful schedule. Facing a No. 1 seed after four months of that dreck will be like trying to go straight from T-ball to hitting a Clayton Kershaw curveball.
March Madness Ceiling: This team isn't going to pull off the ultimate upset, but maybe it will finally get an official NCAA tournament victory in the play-in game.
66. Radford Highlanders
Record: 22-12, 12-6 in Big South
How They Got Here: Freshman Carlik Jones drilled a three-pointer as time expired to break the tie and secure the victory against Liberty in the Big South title game. The buzzer-beater punched Radford's ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 and just the third time in school history.
Reason to Believe: The Highlanders are a well-rounded team that plays at a Virginia-like pace. During their season-ending seven-game winning streak, they held six of those opponents to 53 points or fewer. If they are able to impose their will on the tempo of the game, it could cause problems for the opposition.
Reason to Worry: Radford played four games against KenPom top-100 teams and was beaten by a double-digit margin in each one. This team's best win of the season was an overtime game on a neutral court against UC Davis, which is a far cry from the level of competition it will face in the first round.
March Madness Ceiling: In Radford's previous two trips to the Big Dance, it lost to Duke by 36 points in 1998 and to North Carolina by 43 in 2009. This year's first-round exit should be more competitive than those games were, but it's going to be a first-round exit all the same.
65. Lipscomb Bisons
Record: 23-9, 10-4 in Atlantic Sun
How They Got Here: It took 15 seasons as an eligible D-I program, but Lipscomb has finally broken into the NCAA tournament. The Bisons won 12 of their final 13 games, including a pair of road games against Florida Gulf Coast. In the Atlantic Sun championship, they scored 53 points in the first 15 minutes against the artists formerly known as Dunk City, eventually earning their ticket by a final score of 108-96.
Reason to Believe: Lipscomb plays a physical style at a breakneck pace, averaging better than 82 points and more than 25 free-throw attempts per game. The Bisons also have a dynamite scorer in Garrison Mathews. The junior led the Atlantic Sun in points by a laughable margin, putting up at least 20 on 21 occasions.
Reason to Worry: Lipscomb had four games against major-conference opponents—Purdue, Tennessee, Texas and Alabama. The Bisons lost those games by a combined margin of 87 points. Only the game against the Volunteers was moderately close, and that was still a 10-point loss.
March Madness Ceiling: You might think Lipscomb's fast pace of play could be an advantage, but when has that ever been the case for an underdog? In the past six years, six teams have made the NCAA tournament as a No. 12 seed or worse while ranking in the top 10 in the nation in adjusted tempo. All six were eliminated in the first round by at least a 15-point margin.
64. Texas Southern Tigers
Record: 15-19, 12-6 in SWAC
How They Got Here: Texas Southern always plays a brutal nonconference schedule, both to prepare for the NCAA tournament and to make money for the school. This year, the Tigers started out 0-13, playing every game on the road until January. But they were always the favorites to win the SWAC, despite getting swept by both Grambling and Arkansas-Pine Bluff during the regular season. Texas Southern cruised to three straight wins by at least 14 points in the SWAC tournament.
Reason to Believe: Though the Tigers didn't win any of those road games, they put up a few good fights. Five of the losses were by seven points or fewer, and in one of the exceptions, they had Ohio State on the ropes with seven minutes remaining before a 23-7 run to end the game. It's been months since they faced a high-major opponent, but they didn't look completely out of their league in some of those games.
Reason to Worry: Texas Southern is OK on the offensive end, but they rank outside the top 300 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Kansas dropped 114 points on the Tigers. Gonzaga and Baylor just missed the century mark with 97 and 99 points, respectively.
March Madness Ceiling: Look, if any No. 16 seed is ever going to pull off the miraculous upset, this is the way to do it. Schedule as aggressively as possible in nonconference play, and even if it means losing every game, who cares? The players get plenty of opportunities to face tournament-caliber opponents, and you can still win the auto bid regardless. That said, this particular team's defense is too awful to get the job done.
63. Cal State Fullerton Titans
Record: 20-11, 10-6 in Big West
How They Got Here: For the eighth consecutive year, the Big West Conference has a new, unique recipient of its automatic bid. Cal State Fullerton wasn't the league's best team during the regular season, but it got the job done in the tournament. The Titans didn't exactly cruise in the first two games, beating Long Beach State and UC Davis by one possession each, but they looked good in a 16-point win over UC Irvine late Saturday night.
Reason to Believe: It's rare to find a team seeded this poorly that is the best in the nation at anything, but Cal State Fullerton tops the charts in free-throw rate. To be fair, that's partially because the Titans commit so many turnovers and don't get many offensive rebounds, so the bottom half of that denominator (field-goal attempts) isn't an impressive number. Still, they average 23.5 one-point attempts per game.
Reason to Worry: In addition to the turnover and rebounding issues just mentioned, Cal State Fullerton doesn't shoot that well and is average at best on defense. The 84-42 season-opening loss to USC is a sign of what could lie ahead.
March Madness Ceiling: The Titans are going to try to win by getting under the skin of the opposition. There were several near-fights in the game against UC Irvine. They play a physical game that could cause problems. But a disciplined opponent won't be bothered by it and should knock them out in the first round.
62. UMBC Retrievers
Record: 24-10, 12-4 in America East
How They Got Here: Following seven consecutive seasons with fewer than 10 total wins, UMBC has won 45 games over the last two seasons. But that transformation wasn't complete until the Retrievers beat Vermont in the America East championship. They had lost 23 straight games against the Catamounts and were blown out by 15- and 28-point margins during the regular season. That didn't stop Jairus Lyles from draining the game-winning three with less than a second remaining.
Reason to Believe: That Lyles three-pointer was no fluke. He is one of four players on this roster with more than 50 made three-pointers this season. UMBC shoots 39 percent from downtown as a team and isn't afraid to let it fly, attempting at least 30 triples in nine games.
Reason to Worry: Prior to the win over Vermont, UMBC had played four games against KenPom top-75 teams. The Retrievers went 0-4 in those games and lost by a combined margin of 321-232.
March Madness Ceiling: UMBC has a lot of the characteristics of a Cinderella team. It has several seniors leading the way, it makes a lot of threes, it racks up a ton of assists, and it plays aggressive defense, averaging 7.5 steals per game. That said, an upset is highly unlikely.
61. Iona Gaels
Record: 20-13, 11-7 in MAAC
How They Got Here: The quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament were wild. No. 1 Rider, No. 2 Canisius and No. 3 Niagara all got knocked out in their first games, opening the door for No. 4 Iona to earn the automatic bid for the third straight year. The Gaels lost four of their final six regular-season games, but they finally buckled down on defense when it mattered most.
Reason to Believe: Led by Deyshonee Much and Schadrac Casimir, Iona takes and makes a ton of three-pointers. Six Gaels have made at least 30 triples this season, and four have drained 50 or more. They made at least 10 three-pointers as a team in 14 games, including making 20 in a December win over Holy Cross. These guys can catch fire against anyone.
Reason to Worry: Iona can put points on the board, but its defense was atrocious during the regular season, punctuated by a 110-101 regulation loss in the season finale. The big reason the Gaels make so many three-pointers is because they have minimal interior presence on either end of the floor and need to hope they make enough triples to counterbalance all the deuces they allow.
March Madness Ceiling: It's always tempting to pick Iona to win a game in the NCAA tournament because it's usually an efficient, uptempo offense that could cause some problems. But the Gaels have given up at least 93 points in each of their first-round (blowout) losses in their last three trips to the Big Dance. Expect more of the same this year.
60. Pennsylvania Quakers
Record: 24-8, 12-2 in Ivy League
How They Got Here: It has been a long rebuilding process for Penn. Prior to this year, the Quakers had a sub-.500 record in nine of the last 10 seasons. But Steve Donahue has turned things around. Their two conference losses were to Yale and Harvard, and they avenged both of those Ls in the Ivy League tournament.
Reason to Believe: Penn plays excellent perimeter defense. Opponents almost always struggle from three-point range against the Quakers, and they have one of the lowest defensive assist rates in the country. Penn is also a strong defensive rebounding team. Add it all up and they've held more than their fair share of opponents (14) to 65 points or fewer.
Reason to Worry: Those defensive numbers just mentioned? They go completely out the window sometimes. Brown scored 93 against Penn in the regular-season finale, and Villanova had no problem scoring in a 90-62 win over the Quakers in what was Penn's only game this season against a tournament-caliber opponent.
March Madness Ceiling: The Ivy League has produced some outstanding Cinderella candidates in recent years. In fact, dating back to Cornell in 2010, this conference has won five tournament games and had losses by seven points or fewer against Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State and Notre Dame. This Penn team is probably the weakest during that time. At this point, though, you simply can't write off this league's chance of an upset.
59. Wright State Raiders
Record: 25-9, 14-4 in Horizon
How They Got Here: Wright State went 1-3 against Milwaukee and Cleveland State during the regular season. But when the Horizon League bracket went haywire, the Raiders drew No. 6 seed Milwaukee in the semifinals before a championship game against eighth-seeded Cleveland State. They avenged the regular-season losses, eking out a win over the Panthers before crushing the Vikings.
Reason to Believe: The Raiders play great defense. Loudon Love is a mountainous presence in the paint who owns the defensive glass, blocks some shots and dissuades many others. They also force turnovers at an above-average rate.
Reason to Worry: This team is anemic on offense. Leading scorer Grant Benzinger makes a few threes per game, but he's an average shooter at 38.2 percent. Similar story for Love in the low post. The big man scores better than a dozen points per game, but he only makes 53.1 percent of his shots. As a result, Wright State frequently suffers through some scoring droughts.
March Madness Ceiling: Outside of road wins over Toledo and Northern Kentucky—neither of which ever had any hope of an at-large bid—Wright State didn't have a single Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 win. That doesn't mean the Raiders are incapable of hanging with a good team, but blowout losses to Murray State, Western Kentucky and Missouri State would seem to suggest this isn't going to be the 2018 Cinderella story.
58. Georgia State Panthers
Record: 24-10, 12-6 in Sun Belt
How They Got Here: Georgia State had a 10-game winning streak early in conference play, knocking off the likes of Louisiana, Texas-Arlington and Georgia Southern. The Panthers sputtered to the finish line with losses in four of their next five games, but they rallied in time to win the Sun Belt championship over Texas-Arlington.
Reason to Believe: Georgia State has three starters who shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range, which opens up space for D'Marcus Simonds to do his thing. Simonds entered the Sun Belt championship averaging 20.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He's not a particularly efficient scorer, but he is one of the best volume scorers in the country.
Reason to Worry: The Panthers routinely get destroyed by the long ball. A total of 14 opponents made at least 10 three-pointers against them this season. This is also one of the worst rebounding teams in the NCAA tournament.
March Madness Ceiling: For the past few years, the Sun Belt champ has always been a threat. This is the same school that upset Baylor in 2015 with the unforgettable moment when Ron Hunter fell off his stool after his son drilled a clutch three-pointer. The following year, Arkansas-Little Rock upset Purdue in the first round. But one win is probably the most that could happen here.
57. UNC Greensboro Spartans
Record: 27-7, 15-3 in Southern
How They Got Here: Wes Miller has spent the past seven seasons gradually molding UNC Greensboro into a legitimate contender in the SoCon, and it finally paid off. The Spartans won 16 of their final 18 games, surviving multiple last-second misses from Wofford in the conference semifinals before cruising to victory over East Tennessee State in the championship.
Reason to Believe: This defense is no joke. UNC Greensboro has given up more than 68 points just eight times, which is also the number of times it has held an opponent to 51 points or fewer. Led by James Dickey, the Spartans own the defensive paint with blocked shots and rebounds. They also rank in the top 30 nationally in steal percentage.
Reason to Worry: The Spartans are average shooters who commit too many turnovers and who rarely get to the free-throw line. In other words, offense can be hard to come by, even though they shoot a ton of threes and do a great job on the offensive glass.
March Madness Ceiling: UNC Greensboro has legitimate first-round upset potential. The Spartans won a road game against NC State back in December and put up a good fight in a 60-48 loss to Virginia in the season opener. They also almost won a road game against Wake Forest, so they clearly weren't intimidated by the ACC. And they have only gotten better since then.
56. College of Charleston Cougars
Record: 26-7, 14-4 in Colonial
How They Got Here: College of Charleston trailed Northeastern by 17 points early in the second half of the CAA championship. The Cougars never gave up, though, and Joe Chealey and Grant Riller brought them all the way back for an overtime victory, beating Northeastern for the third time this season. Chealey had a game-high 32 points and was a perfect 16-of-16 from the free-throw line.
Reason to Believe: The Cougars didn't face many tournament-caliber opponents this season, but they put up one heck of a fight in a road loss to Rhode Island. They led for a good chunk of the second half before the Rams finally put the game away in the final 90 seconds. In addition to that promising showing against the level of opponent that awaits Charleston in the first round, this is one of the most turnover-averse offenses in the country.
Reason to Worry: Charleston is average at best on defense. It gave up 114 points to William & Mary in the regular-season finale and allowed Northeastern to shoot 15-of-27 from three-point range in the CAA championship game. The Cougars are also a subpar team on the glass, especially on the offensive end.
March Madness Ceiling: This team has won 14 of its last 15 games and had an emotional, unlikely comeback in the conference title game. If any minor-conference team is going to carry some serious momentum into the NCAA tournament for a first-round upset, this might be the one. But with no marquee wins this season, any number of tournament wins seems unlikely.
55. Bucknell Bison
Record: 25-9, 16-2 in Patriot
How They Got Here: After a close call against Loyola (Maryland) in the quarterfinals, Bucknell steamrolled Boston and Colgate by a combined margin of 60 points to win the Patriot League championship. The competition hasn't been anything special, but the Bison have won 21 of their last 23 games.
Reason to Believe: Good luck finding a Big Three from a minor conference better than Bucknell's. Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland and Stephen Brown combine for more than 50 points and nearly 20 rebounds per game. Brown is the point guard, Thomas is the stretch 4, and Foulland is the big man who protects the paint. All three are seniors.
Reason to Worry: Bucknell relies heavily upon getting to the free-throw line, averaging just under 25 attempts per game. However, there's no telling whether tournament officials or the opposing team will oblige. And this isn't a good three-point shooting team, so erasing a deficit or padding a lead in a hurry isn't much of an option.
March Madness Ceiling: The Bison are a definite Cinderella candidate. They beat Vermont and almost won road games against Maryland and VCU. They put up a fight at North Carolina. They do a great job of defending the perimeter and also block a good number of shots in the paint. Consider yourself warned that this team could pull off multiple upsets.
54. Montana Grizzlies
Record: 26-7, 16-2 in Big Sky
How They Got Here: The Grizzlies were clearly the best team in the Big Sky during the regular season, but they did not make things easy in the conference tournament. They trailed North Dakota early in the second half before winning by eight. They fell behind Northern Colorado by six with 1:06 remaining before eking out an overtime win. And they were down by 11 at halftime against Eastern Washington before storming back for an 82-65 win. Survive and advance!
Reason to Believe: While Montana isn't a great shooting team, it makes up for it with hustle. On both offense and defense, the Grizzlies are well above the national average in both rebounds and turnovers. In fact, they rank top 50 in the nation in both turnover margin and rebound margin.
Reason to Worry: Montana neither beat any quality opponents nor faced the type of teams it would need to beat in the tournament. The Grizzlies lost to Penn State, Washington and Stanford and had a world of trouble getting on the scoreboard in those games (58.0 PPG).
March Madness Ceiling: It was five years ago under a different head coach, but in Montana's last two trips to the NCAA tournament, it lost by 47 to Syracuse and by 24 to Wisconsin. In both years, the Grizzlies were a No. 13 seed who many thought might be a Cinderella story. And at least those teams were capable of hitting three-pointers. Buyer beware.
53. Buffalo Bulls
Record: 26-8, 15-3 in Mid-American
How They Got Here: Buffalo has quietly been one of the best non-major teams in the country, ranking top 40 in RPI all season long. They are 19-3 dating back to Christmas, and all three of those losses came on the road by a one-possession margin. The wins haven't been nearly as close, and each one in the current six-game winning streak came by a double-digit margin.
Reason to Believe: Buffalo challenged itself in nonconference play, although it has nothing to show for it other than losses. The Bulls came up short against Cincinnati, Texas A&M, Syracuse, St. Bonaventure and South Dakota State. But they put up a good fight in most of those games. That type of experience early in the year could pay dividends in March.
Reason to Worry: The free-throw line is a disaster for Buffalo. The Bulls don't get there very often and convert less than 70 percent of the time. Meanwhile, they foul a ton and have had the misfortune of fouling opponents who shoot well from the charity stripe. As a result, they made 143 fewer free throws than their competition this season.
March Madness Ceiling: The Bulls were a potential Cinderella team in both 2015 and 2016, but they fell just a couple of possessions shy of shocking both of their first opponents in those years. Things could be different this year, though. Their pace of play on offense and willingness to let it fly from three-point range is a good combination for a surprising win. If you pick against them in the first round, prepare to sweat out a close game.
52. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Record: 28-6, 14-4 in Southland
How They Got Here: Stephen F. Austin wasn't as dominant in Southland Conference play as it was from 2014-16, but the Lumberjacks got the wins when they needed them. And they did so after causing all sorts of problems for the SEC. The Jacks won a game at LSU, lost by just one at Missouri and lost by at Mississippi State.
Reason to Believe: Brad Underwood is no longer running the show, but the Lumberjacks still force turnovers as well as ever. In fact, they are No. 1 in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, as they were in 2016 when they upset West Virginia as a No. 14 seed.
Reason to Worry: As great as the Jacks are at forcing turnovers, they give away the ball nearly as often, ranking outside the top 300 nationally in offensive turnover and steal percentage. They're also dead last in the nation in defensive free-throw rate, and by a wide margin. It's an unfortunate side effect of chasing so many steals.
March Madness Ceiling: Stephen F. Austin's ceiling depends entirely on how secure the opposing point guard is feeling and how lenient the officials are with their whistles. If the Lumberjacks are forcing turnovers and allowed to play a little physical, they can beat anyone in the country. If the opposing team is protecting the ball and marching to the free-throw line all night, they can get blown out by anyone. All things being equal, one win would be a significant upset and two would be a truly shocking development.
51. Syracuse Orange
Record: 20-13, 8-10 in ACC
How They Got Here: As is becoming an annual rite of passage, it seems, Syracuse spent the entire season on the bubble. But it picked up a massive win over Clemson in the regular-season finale. The Orange didn't even come close to upsetting North Carolina in the ACC tournament, but that didn't stop the selection committee from considering this to be one of the 36 best at-large options in the nation.
Reason to Believe: The 2-3 zone does occasionally result in a ton of three-pointers allowed, but Syracuse is a problem on defense. Paschal Chukwu blocks a ton of shots, but freshmen Marek Dolezaj, Oshae Brissett and Bourama Sidibe also get a good number of rejections for the team that ranks No. 2 in the nation in block percentage. The Orange are also a top 25 team in steal percentage.
Reason to Worry: Syracuse might be the worst offensive team to ever earn an at-large bid. The Orange have an effective field-goal percentage of 47.2, which ranks well outside the top 300. Then again, we had the same complaint about South Carolina last year, and that team made it to the Final Four.
March Madness Ceiling: This offense is so bad that Syracuse has lost five games this season in which it held an opponent to 60 points or fewer. Maybe the Orange will run into one team on an ice-cold night, but it's unlikely that the defense does enough to make up for the offense on multiple occasions.
50. Florida State Seminoles
Record: 20-11, 9-9 in ACC
How They Got Here: Florida State lost six of its final 10 games, including a bad defeat at the hands of Wake Forest and an immediate thumping by Louisville in the ACC tournament. And several of those losses were downright ugly. The Seminoles rallied from a 26-point deficit to at least make things a little bit interesting against the Cardinals, but they also lost by 20 to NC State and by 15 to a Bonzie Colson-less Notre Dame.
Reason to Believe: Prior to Feb. 10, Florida State at least competed in every game it played. At that point, the Seminoles were 17-7 with all seven losses coming by seven points or fewer. They had gritty, close wins over North Carolina, Miami and Louisville, as well as the 17-point win over Florida that put this team on the national radar in the first place.
Reason to Worry: Among all teams to reach the NCAA tournament, Florida State might have the least positive momentum. And even at its peak, this wasn't a great defense, nor a top-notch three-point shooting team. The 'Noles might bounce back to their pre-schneid form, but that team was never a title contender. And the one we've seen over the course of the past month is barely even a candidate to win a first-round game.
March Madness Ceiling: Which Terance Mann is going to show up? Early in the season, the junior was great. He posted an O-rating of at least 100 in 19 of his first 20 games, scoring 20 or more points seven times. But since then, he's had a sub-100 O-rating in six of 10 games and hasn't scored more than 13 in any of those. If the Mann who went for 25 points and eight rebounds against Florida resurfaces in the tournament, FSU could reach the Sweet 16.
49. Murray State Racers
Record: 26-5, 16-2 in Ohio Valley
How They Got Here: Murray State enters the NCAA tournament on a 13-game winning streak. The only losses the Racers have suffered since mid-December were close road battles with Jacksonville State and Belmont. They avenged both of those losses, eliminating the Gamecocks in the OVC semifinals before a 68-51 beating of the Bruins in the conference championship game.
Reason to Believe: Murray State plays excellent perimeter defense. Opposing teams shoot just 30.6 percent on three-point attempts and record an assist on 41.7 percent of made buckets. In both categories, the Racers rank in the top 15 in the nation. They have held nine consecutive opponents to 66 points or fewer.
Reason to Worry: Though the Racers came close to scoring huge home wins over Middle Tennessee and Auburn, in the end, they didn't win a single game this season against an at-large caliber opponent. As far as RPI and its quadrants are concerned, Murray State's best win of the year was a road game against 18-15 Illinois State. Based solely on previous outcomes, there's no good reason to assume this team will win back-to-back games against a No. 4 and a No. 5 seed.
March Madness Ceiling: Jonathan Stark is a one-man wrecking crew. At the end of February, Stark was at No. 11 on our list of players with the potential to take over in the NCAA tournament, and that might have been a little low. The senior lead guard has averaged 24.5 points over his last 22 games, scoring at least 21 points in 18 of those contests. He could single-handedly carry this team to a win—maybe two.
48. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Record: 28-5, 15-3 in Missouri Valley
How They Got Here: The Ramblers might be the hottest team in the country. They have won 10 in a row and 17 of the past 18 games. If they had fallen short in the MVC tournament, it would have been a tough at-large call for the selection committee to make. Instead, Loyola-Chicago took care of business and will now be a tough out in the NCAA tournament.
Reason to Believe: Loyola-Chicago is one of the best shooting teams. Led by junior Clayton Custer, the Ramblers make 39.8 percent of their three-point attempts and 56.8 percent of their shots from inside the arc. As a result, they have an effective field-goal percentage that ranks in the top 10 in the nation, per KenPom. They also won a road game against Florida this season, showing what they're capable of doing against a quality foe.
Reason to Worry: Lack of size is a serious concern for this potential bracket-buster. At 6'9", freshman Cameron Krutwig is the only regular contributor taller than 6'6". Because of this, the Ramblers are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, don't block many shots and give up a lot of points in the paint.
March Madness Ceiling: Height problems or not, Loyola-Chicago is a serious threat to reach the Sweet 16. Five Ramblers average at least 10 points per game, and five of the six primary scorers are upperclassmen. They start not one but two veteran point guards: Custer and senior Ben Richardson, both of whom hail from Overland Park, Kansas. And they had that great win over Florida in December. Long story short, the Ramblers check all of the boxes that we look for from a Cinderella candidate.
47. Davidson Wildcats
Record: 21-11, 13-5 in Atlantic 10
How They Got Here: Davidson was a last-minute bid thief, upsetting St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island in back-to-back games to eliminate one poor team from the bubble. The Wildcats also beat Rhode Island in the regular-season finale and took the Bonnies to three overtimes in the game before that, so they're feeling it.
Reason to Believe: I saw Davidson in person against North Carolina earlier this season (an 85-75 loss), and this eye test can tell you the Wildcats are for real. They whip the ball around the perimeter and fire up three-pointers so efficiently that it takes a herculean defensive effort to slow them down. And their zone defense could cause problems for the 75 percent of teams that seem to forget how to play offense when facing a zone.
Reason to Worry: Don't be fooled by the 58-57 score in the A-10 championship. Davidson's defense is bad. The Wildcats don't block shots or force turnovers. They are entirely dependent on whether the opposing team is making its long-range shots because they give up a ton of them.
March Madness Ceiling: A 2008 Stephen Curry-esque run to the Elite Eight probably isn't going to happen, but Davidson absolutely has the potential to pull off a couple of upsets. Not only did they win two games each against Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure, but they were closer in that North Carolina game than the margin late in the second half would have you believe. This offense is going to be a problem for opponents.
46. Texas Longhorns
Record: 19-14, 8-10 in Big 12
How They Got Here: In addition to the rigors of the Big 12 schedule, Texas played nonconference games against Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, Butler and Alabama. So, yeah, the Longhorns suffered 14 losses, but it was the late wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia that kept them in the field. Avoiding an upset by Iowa State in the first round of the Big 12 tournament sealed the deal.
Reason to Believe: Mohamed Bamba is the biggest game-changer in the country. The 6'11" freshman is an elite shot-blocker who dominates on the glass and scores efficiently on the offensive end. He is single-handedly the reason that Texas has one of the most efficient defenses.
Reason to Worry: Texas is a disaster on offense. Excluding Andrew Jones, who has been out with leukemia since December, no one on the roster shoots even 35 percent from three-point range. The Longhorns are also one of the worst free-throw shooting teams, and their assist rate is downright dreadful. Among all teams seeded No. 14 or higher, their offense is probably the hardest to watch in the entire tournament.
March Madness Ceiling: Every single Texas game seems like a coin flip. This team has played in seven overtime games and another nine that were decided by six points or fewer in regulation. UT went 8-8 in those games. It might win a game. Maybe even two. But the last time it won three or more in a row was in mid-December. The Sweet 16 is a hard cap here.
45. Butler Bulldogs
Record: 20-13, 9-9 in Big East
How They Got Here: Butler's finish to the season wasn't the worst among tournament teams, but it sure as heck wasn't the best, either. The Bulldogs lost five of their final seven regular-season games, including a home loss to Georgetown and a road loss to St. John's. They needed to beat Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals to feel safe about getting in, and they eked out a comeback, one-point victory.
Reason to Believe: Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin aren't the most efficient scorers in the world, but that is one heck of a one-two punch running this offense. Martin had 35 in the regular-season finale against Seton Hall, and Baldwin put up 32 against the Pirates five days later.
Reason to Worry: Butler's defense is dreadful. This team plays at an average tempo, but it has given up at least 82 points 11 times—including all five games against Villanova and Xavier. Basically, if you're a competent offense, there's a great chance you're going to score at least 75 points against Butler.
March Madness Ceiling: Every year that Butler makes the tournament, it seems to win at least one more game than you think it should. So, I'm going to tell you that the Bulldogs probably won't make it out of the first round because of their defensive issues, and you should interpret that as a near-guarantee that they will win one game and at least put up one heck of a fight in the second one. I won't pick them to reach the Sweet 16, but I also won't be shocked if they get there for the sixth time in 16 years.
44. New Mexico State Aggies
Record: 28-5, 12-2 in WAC
How They Got Here: If need be, New Mexico State might have been in the running for an at-large bid. The Aggies won nonconference games against Miami, Davidson and Illinois and swept both New Mexico and Grand Canyon for good measure. That's seven KenPom top-125 wins, which you typically don't see from the WAC champion. But rather than giving the selection committee anything to think about, they rolled to a 72-58 victory over GCU in the conference championship game.
Reason to Believe: NMSU plays excellent defense. It held 26 opponents to 70 points or fewer and went 25-1 in those contests. This is also one of the better rebounding teams in the country. And we mentioned the win over Miami, right? The Aggies held the Hurricanes to just 54 points in a neutral-court game.
Reason to Worry: Save for Zach Lofton, the Aggies simply don't have any shooters. This is a bad three-point shooting team and an even worse free-throw shooting team. They scored a lot of points in WAC play in spite of it, but better competition could shut this team down.
March Madness Ceiling: With 28 total wins and several quality ones, there's a great chance this team could win at least one more. Heck, winning a nonconference game against Miami and somehow managing to score a lot of points without having any great shooters is basically a carbon copy of what Florida Gulf Coast did in 2013. New Mexico State won't need to attempt it as a No. 15 seed, but this team is special enough to reach the Sweet 16.
43. Marshall Thundering Herd
Record: 24-10, 12-6 in Conference USA
How They Got Here: Marshall got some help from upsets in other games in the Conference USA tournament, but the Thundering Herd took care of their own business, beating UTSA and Southern Miss to set up a showdown with Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers swept Marshall during the regular season, winning both games by a double-digit margin. But in the one that mattered, the Thundering Herd eked out a 67-66 victory—their lowest-scoring game of the season.
Reason to Believe: For starters, Marshall has a terrific trio. Jon Elmore averages 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game. C.J. Burks also puts up more than 20 per game. And Ajdin Penava is a stat-sheet stuffer at 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.1 blocks. Granted, the Thundering Herd play at one of the fastest tempos in the country, so the numbers are inflated a bit. They're a serious threat, though. They swept Middle Tennessee and darn near won a road game against Xavier (81-77).
Reason to Worry: Marshall is just plain awful on the glass. Per KenPom, this team ranks in the bottom 25 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and in the bottom 75 in defensive rebounding. It's largely because the Thundering Herd were minus-15 on the glass that they were unable to upset the Musketeers.
March Madness Ceiling: Whether it was Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Old Dominion or Marshall, the C-USA auto bid was going to be a terrifying opponent for some poor No. 4 and/or No. 5 seed to face. But the Thundering Herd might be the scariest of all. They have three serious weapons, and they're going to push the pace whether you like it or not. Definite Sweet 16 potential here.
42. South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Record: 28-6, 13-1 in Summit League
How They Got Here: For the third straight year, South Dakota State faced a stiff challenge in the Summit League tournament, but the Jackrabbits prevailed once again. With the exception of a late-January road loss to South Dakota, Mike Daum and Co. are undefeated since mid-December. The Jacks have won 11 in a row and 19 of the last 20.
Reason to Believe: Daum is the superstar that everyone will want to talk about, but the real reason to buy stock in South Dakota State this year is freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. The Jackrabbits are now 24-1 when he scores at least 11 points in a game, and Colorado needed two overtimes at home to provide the one exception to that rule. Daum has been great for several years now, but Jenkins is the reliable sidekick Daum had been lacking.
Reason to Worry: Though the Jackrabbits are much better on defense than they were last year, they still have major issues preventing opposing buckets. Including the Summit League championship game against South Dakota, SDSU has given up at least 87 points in eight games this season. The Jackrabbits are well outside the top 300 nationally in both block percentage and steal percentage, per KenPom.
March Madness Ceiling: This is finally the year South Dakota State breaks through for a tournament win. This program had some exciting teams during Nate Wolters' final two seasons earlier in the decade, and the Jackrabbits almost upset Melo Trimble and Maryland two years ago. But they have been unable to get a W. As long as Jenkins and Daum both show up, that drought ends, and they might even reach the Sweet 16.
41. TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 21-11, 9-9 in Big 12
How They Got Here: TCU started out 12-0 before embarking on the brutal gauntlet that is Big 12 conference play. So many Horned Frogs games came right down to the wire, so it only seemed appropriate that they were eliminated from the Big 12 quarterfinals in a game that went to overtime because of a buzzer-beater.
Reason to Believe: Before Jamie Dixon arrived, TCU's offense was embarrassing on an annual basis. But now, the Horned Frogs have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. They shoot well, they relentlessly pound the glass, and they share the rock about as well as any team. They scored at least 81 points in 21 games—a mark they only reached four times in 2015-16.
Reason to Worry: Despite all that scoring, the Horned Frogs lost four of those games because this defense is rather awful. TCU has been gutted by opposing three-point shooters on many occasions, and it doesn't force many turnovers. In fact, the only defensive category where TCU is a top-100 team on KenPom is rebounding, and even that isn't an area of particular dominance.
March Madness Ceiling: Kudos to TCU for reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in two decades, but don't expect a long stay. Outside of a home win over West Virginia, the Horned Frogs didn't win a single game against an opponent that entered championship week as a stone-cold lock for the NCAA tournament. They weren't blown out in those other games against contenders, but the fact remains that they haven't won much against the caliber of opponent that awaits in the Sweet 16—if they can even get there.
40. Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 18-13, 8-10 in Big 12
How They Got Here: As you may have heard a few thousand times, Oklahoma didn't finish the season on much of a high note. After starting out 14-2, the Sooners lost 11 of their final 15 games, including an immediate loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. They did enough in the first two months to secure their spot in the field, but they spent the last two months proving they shouldn't be trusted to win any games.
Reason to Believe: For as much as you certainly heard about Trae Young's struggles over the past two months, the dude still averaged 27.4 points and 8.0 assists in 18 Big 12 games. The shooting percentages were down and the turnover numbers went up, but this is still a star who can completely take over at a moment's notice.
Reason to Worry: Oklahoma's defense is atrocious, and Sooners not named Young have been either inconsistent or downright ineffective throughout the season. If either Christian James or Brady Manek no-shows in a tournament game, Young won't be enough to carry the team to victory.
March Madness Ceiling: It's going to be tempting to pick Oklahoma to reach the Final Four, but don't fall into the trap. Defense is too important in the NCAA tournament, and Oklahoma's offense only averaged 74.3 points away from home over the final two months of the regular season. In particular, Young couldn't buy a bucket in most of those games, shooting 23.5 percent from three-point range. The odds of him and the rest of this team suddenly catching fire on a neutral court are slim. Maybe the Sooners can reach the Sweet 16, but even that feels like a stretch.
39. Nevada Wolf Pack
Record: 27-7, 15-3 in Mountain West
How They Got Here: Nevada had early wins over Rhode Island and Davidson and a pair of close calls away from home against Texas Tech and TCU. The Wolf Pack entered March as the clear top candidate for a deep run among mid-majors. But they lost the season finale to San Diego State, barely beat UNLV in the MWC quarters and got blown out by SDSU in the semifinal. Suddenly, things aren't looking so good.
Reason to Believe: This is the furthest thing from your average mid-major team. In fact, Nevada's entire starting five began its college careers elsewhere. Four of whom did so at major-conference programs. And the top four guys for the Wolf Pack—Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline, Cody Martin and Kendall Stephens—each averages better than 13 points per game.
Reason to Worry: The reason Nevada is starting five former transfers is because would-be starting point guard Lindsey Drew (8.1 PPG, 4.3 APG) suffered a season-ending Achilles injury a few weeks ago. His replacement (Hallice Cooke) recorded a total of three assists in 77 minutes in the final three regular-season games. Cooke was effectively a no-show in the first loss to San Diego State.
March Madness Ceiling: Prior to Drew's injury, Nevada's ceiling might have been a national championship. At the very least, the Wolf Pack had Final Four potential. Now that he's out, though, anything more than the Sweet 16 would be a surprise. They don't have a true point guard or a true center, which seems like it will be a problem against major-conference competition. But a trip to the second weekend would still be an incredible feat for a program with just four wins in NCAA tournament history.
38. San Diego State Aztecs
Record: 22-10, 11-7 in Mountain West
How They Got Here: Despite a shocking December win over Gonzaga, it was a rough first three months for San Diego State. The Aztecs suffered nonconference losses to Washington State and California before dropping to 5-7 in MWC play. By the time they lost back-to-back February games to Fresno State and Nevada by a combined 43 points, the season appeared to be over. But, out of nowhere, they won nine in a row, including two wins over Nevada to claim the MWC auto bid.
Reason to Believe: Without question, this team is playing its best basketball of the season right now. After some serious issues earlier in the year, the Aztecs appear to have figured things out on defense—which was always their calling card under Steve Fisher. From Feb. 17 through March 8, they held four of six opponents to 59 points or fewer.
Reason to Worry: There's not an obvious area where San Diego State struggles, and there's legitimate talent on this roster. But one area for concern is that the Aztecs play a lot of zone defense and have been beat up by three-point shooting in the past.
March Madness Ceiling: You want a No. 12 or No. 13 seed who could win two games and challenge a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16? You're looking at one. After all, the Aztecs did upset Gonzaga. This team is a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, but that's better than having a couple of strengths and a few obvious weaknesses for a superior team to exploit. And if Trey Kell keeps playing like he did in the MWC tournament, San Diego State has a chance to beat anyone.
37. Creighton Bluejays
Record: 21-11, 10-8 in Big East
How They Got Here: Creighton started the year 14-3, with wins over Butler, UCLA, Providence and Nebraska, but the Bluejays struggled down the stretch. In their final 10 games, they were swept by Marquette and blown out on the road by both Butler and Villanova. They did eke out a huge overtime win at home against Villanova, but that's their only win since the end of January against a team other than DePaul or Bemidji State.
Reason to Believe: If there's one thing we've learned in the past decade or so, it's that backcourts with dual combo guards tend to fare well in March. We won't list them here, but just think back to recent national champions and how many of them had two guards more than capable of both running the point and draining triples. Well, Creighton has one of the best such backcourts in the nation in Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas.
Reason to Worry: Creighton's frontcourt situation has been a mess since it lost Martin Krampelj to a knee injury in mid-January. Tournament-caliber opponents have destroyed Creighton with two-point buckets and rebounds over the past two months. In the final regular-season game, the Bluejays started a 6'5" guard (Mitchell Ballock) at the 4 and a stretch-4 (Toby Hegner) at center. They got outrebounded by a Marquette team that basically just plays guards.
March Madness Ceiling: The backcourt situation is tantalizing, but the frontcourt ineptitude is terrifying. Foster and Thomas could shoot Creighton to a shocking upset to reach the Sweet 16, but this team has too many red flags to reach the Final Four.
36. Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 20-11, 8-10 in Pac-12
How They Got Here: Quite the tale of two seasons for Arizona State. After starting 12-0, the Sun Devils looked like a potential No. 1 seed. They proceeded to lose 11 of their final 19 games, including five of the last six. Save for the 12-point loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament, they were all losses by single-digit margins. But still, hard to recall a team ever backing into the tournament quite like this.
Reason to Believe: When things were going well, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II were the best backcourt duo in the nation. Through the first nine games, Holder averaged 21.6 points, 5.2 assists and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 47.3 percent from three. Evans wasn't far behind at 19.0, 5.2, 3.6 and 44.6, respectively. It seriously felt like we were watching Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for a month.
Reason to Worry: In addition to Holder and Evans finally coming back to earth, awful defense finally caught up with the Sun Devils in Pac-12 play. They allowed nearly 78 points per game in the final 19 and went 0-6 when allowing at least 80 points during that stretch.
March Madness Ceiling: Despite just barely sneaking in, Arizona State is a dangerous team. Even though the Sun Devils aren't anywhere near as hot as they were in November and December, they still went 17-3 this season when scoring at least 80 points, hitting that mark in each of their final three games. If that's the start of their return to nonconference form, you cannot rule out a run to the Final Four.
35. Virginia Tech Hokies
Record: 21-11, 10-8 in ACC
How They Got Here: We'll touch on this more momentarily, but Virginia Tech's second-round exit from the ACC tournament was a shining example of how tantalizing and unreliable this team can be. The Hokies jumped out to a huge lead over a Notre Dame team that appeared to be completely gassed from a tough game against Pittsburgh the previous day, but the Hokies gave a 21-point edge in the second half. It was their third loss in the last four games.
Reason to Believe: Though Virginia Tech did next to nothing for the first 10 weeks, it finished the regular season with a flourish of quality wins. The Hokies won home games against Duke, North Carolina and Clemson, as well as a road game against Virginia, each of which was a huge resume booster. By winning one game against each of the ACC's top four teams, Virginia Tech proved on multiple occasions that it can hang with anyone.
Reason to Worry: Virginia Tech's defense is nothing special, particularly along the perimeter. This team doesn't force many turnovers, and it gives up a ton of open looks at three-pointers. In fact, 10 opponents made at least 10 three-pointers while shooting better than 40 percent from distance against the Hokies. And they were 2-8 in games where the opposition shot at least 42 percent from downtown.
March Madness Ceiling: The Hokies are wildly inconsistent. There was one loss in between each of the aforementioned great wins, and Virginia Tech looked awful in a couple of them. It only had one winning streak of more than two games dating back to early December, and even that "hot" stretch was just three consecutive wins. In other words, the Hokies may have the talent to beat anyone, but trusting them to reach the Elite Eight would be foolish.
34. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Record: 21-11, 11-7 in ACC
How They Got Here: North Carolina State appeared to be safely in the NCAA tournament field at the end of February. However, the Wolfpack went back on the bubble after a loss to Georgia Tech in the penultimate game of the regular season and then a loss to Boston College in the second round of the ACC tournament. It also raised serious questions about how good they actually are. Had they won both of those games, they might have been a No. 6 seed and a trendy Elite Eight pick.
Reason to Believe: N.C. State's four best wins—at North Carolina, Arizona in the Battle 4 Atlantis, vs. Duke, vs. Clemson—are about as good a collection of four wins as any team can boast. The Wolfpack didn't always click on offense, but they reached at least 90 points in three of those wins, and they put up 78 against a stingy Clemson defense in the other. Hard to believe any team can completely shut them down, given those results.
Reason to Worry: Interior defense is a massive red flag for the Wolfpack. They don't protect the defensive glass, and they allow way too many buckets on two-point attempts. Omer Yurtseven is a solid rim protector on most nights, but if he's neutralized by ball screens or gets into early foul trouble, N.C. State's defense basically devolves into a layup line.
March Madness Ceiling: This program is no stranger to major upsets in the tournament. Just in the past six years, the Wolfpack made it to the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed one year and knocked off No. 1 Villanova in a second-round game in another NCAA tournament. And, of course, there was the miraculous national championship back in 1983. This team isn't going that far, but a big upset to reach the Sweet 16 is definitely possible.
33. Kansas State Wildcats
Record: 22-11, 10-8 in Big 12
How They Got Here: Despite a winning record in the nation's toughest conference, Kansas State entered the Big 12 tournament squarely on the bubble. A loss to TCU might have left the Wildcats on the outside looking in. But they eked out an overtime victory to lock up a bid.
Reason to Believe: If there's one thing Kansas State has done well over the past three seasons, it's creating steals. That gets overlooked because the Wildcats share a conference with Press Virginia, but they are actually ahead of the Mountaineers in steal percentage this season. Even big man Dean Wade does a great job in this department, averaging 1.5 steals per game as the center.
Reason to Worry: Kansas State is just an average three-point shooting team, and it gets out-rebounded in almost every game. The Wildcats also did not win a single game against a KenPom top 20 team. They fared well against the likes of Baylor, Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State, but they didn't beat anyone in nonconference play and went 0-7 against Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech.
March Madness Ceiling: Every year, there's one team that reaches the Sweet 16, even though hardly anyone outside of its own campus thinks it will win in the first round. Kansas State might be that team. The Wildcats aren't sexy and they're probably the most forgotten about team in the Big 12, but they've got some dudes in Wade, Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed. A win over a top-four seed would be their first of the season, but much stranger things have happened.
32. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Record: 25-7, 14-4 in Atlantic 10
How They Got Here: When St. Bonaventure lost four out of five games in January, I wrote, "The Bonnies might need to win every remaining regular-season game to get back into position for an at-large bid." It was a straightforward but difficult demand, and they got the job done. Prior to a tough loss to Davidson in the A-10 semifinals, the Bonnies won 13 consecutive games, including a desperately needed home game against Rhode Island.
Reason to Believe: The Bonnies have a pair of ridiculously talented guards in Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. The former scored 40 and 44 in back-to-back games in early February. The latter scored at least 24 in 13 games, including 29 on just 14 shots against Richmond in the A-10 quarterfinals. And Courtney Stockard has become one heck of a third option, scoring in double figures in 12 of 13 games in the aforementioned winning streak.
Reason to Worry: The Bonnies give up a lot of three-pointers. In three games against Davidson, the Wildcats shot 46-of-102 from downtown. Granted, that's one of the most trigger-happy teams in the country, but it was more than just those three contests that put St. Bonaventure outside the top 300 in defensive three-point rate.
March Madness Ceiling: With this Big Three, St. Bonaventure has a chance to pull off a couple of upsets to reach the Sweet 16. Lack of high-major talent, limited height and poor three-point defense will knock out the Bonnies sooner than later, but they could absolutely win at least one NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1970.
31. Texas A&M Aggies
Record: 20-12, 9-9 in SEC
How They Got Here: It was a year of hots and colds for Texas A&M. The Aggies started 11-1 before losing seven of their next nine. After that, they won four in a row, lost three straight and then won three more. In the end, they lost on a Collin Sexton buzzer-beater in the second round of the SEC tournament. There were injuries and suspensions to blame for those swings, but this was quite the zigzag journey to the tourney.
Reason to Believe: For the most part, Texas A&M plays great defense. Robert Williams is the star shot-blocker, but Tyler Davis, Tonny Trocha-Morelos and DJ Hogg get a good number of rejections, too. Plenty of teams have had a world of trouble trying to score in the paint against the Aggies. They also have a solid three-point defense, though we have seen several opponents get hot from distance against this zone.
Reason to Worry: The Aggies simply don't have good shooters. Hogg and Admon Gilder are the only guys who make three-pointers with any sort of regularity, and neither junior is all that impressive from the perimeter. This is a dreadful free-throw shooting team, too. Good thing they are so tenacious on the offensive glass, because there are a lot of rebounds to be had when the Aggies are shooting.
March Madness Ceiling: There is just no telling what we're going to get from this team. If November or early February A&M shows up—the one that won games away from home against West Virginia, Auburn, USC, Oklahoma State and Penn State and beat up on Kentucky at home—it can absolutely reach the Final Four. But if the Texas A&M that got swept by LSU and looked atrocious against Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi State comes to play, it'll get laughed out of the first round. Proceed with caution.
30. Arkansas Razorbacks
Record: 23-11, 10-8 in SEC
How They Got Here: Arkansas picked up three of its four best wins of the season in its final six games. The Razorbacks won at Alabama and knocked off Auburn three days later. They also picked up a key win over Florida in the SEC quarterfinals.
Reason to Believe: Though the Razorbacks struggle from the free-throw line as a team, this is one of the best shooting groups we've ever seen at Arkansas. Both Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford have made at least 75 triples and shoot well above 40 percent from beyond the arc. C.J. Jones has also been known to get warm from downtown.
Reason to Worry: As seems to be the case every season under Mike Anderson, Arkansas has struggled away from home. The Hogs did score a nice neutral-court win over Oklahoma back in November, but they went 3-6 on the road in SEC play, including bad losses to Mississippi State and LSU. They were also blown out by Houston and North Carolina in nonconference play.
March Madness Ceiling: Arkansas has five seniors among its six leaders in minutes played. So if you're big on veteran leadership and the sense of urgency that comes from guys not wanting to lose their final collegiate game, here's a team that should get a little boost from those factors. But Arkansas is not a great defensive team, and it relies almost exclusively on three guys—Macon, Barford and Daniel Gafford—to shoulder the load on offense. Coupled with well-documented problems playing outside Bud Walton Arena, that tightrope walk will likely result in a loss before the end of the first weekend.
29. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 24-8, 15-3 in Big Ten
How They Got Here: Ohio State suffered three losses in its final five games, including an immediate exit from the Big Ten tournament at the hands of Penn State. The two exceptions were a home game against Rutgers and a double-overtime game against Indiana. To put it lightly, the Buckeyes aren't exactly surging into the NCAA tournament. But this is still one of the biggest surprise success stories of the 2017-18 season, as they won 24 games in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Reason to Believe: Keita Bates-Diop is one of the most valuable and versatile players in the tournament. And it doesn't much matter who he's facing. He lit up North Carolina for 26 points just two weeks before dropping 32 on Michigan State. KBD has scored at least 17 points in 25 of 32 games, and he should be trusted to at least give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in any game.
Reason to Worry: For starters, Ohio State lost not one, not two, but three games against Penn State in the past two months. The Buckeyes don't have any terrible losses; however, they went just 3-8 against the KenPom top 40, which isn't a ringing endorsement for a deep run. Their best nonconference win was a neutral-court game against Stanford when the Cardinal were at their worst.
March Madness Ceiling: Ohio State is one of many teams that could at least reach the second weekend on the shoulders of its star player, but it doesn't appear to have enough for a trip to the Final Four. The big question is the supporting cast for Bates-Diop. Jae'Sean Tate, C.J. Jackson and Kam Williams should be veteran leaders, but they each struggled in most of Ohio State's "Tier A" games on KenPom. But the Buckeyes might reach the Sweet 16 before that bites them.
28. Providence Friars
Record: 21-13, 10-8 in Big East
How They Got Here: Heading into the Big East tournament, Providence was one of the bubbliest teams in the entire country. The Friars had two great wins, three terrible losses and a just-OK 19-12 record. But they won an overtime game against Creighton on Thursday, won an overtime game against Xavier on Friday and fell just short in OT against Villanova on Saturday. It wasn't quite Kemba Walker and UConn winning five straight at Madison Square Garden in 2011, but it'll be some time before anyone forgets what Kyron Cartwright and Co. did this week.
Reason to Believe: Statistically, there's no great reason to buy stock in this team. The only areas where the Friars are considerably above the national average are free-throw rate and three-point field-goal defense. But Ed Cooley is no stranger to turning water into wine, taking an average team to the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight year. Plus, the Friars won a home game against Villanova and two games against Xavier, so they're clearly doing something right.
Reason to Worry: There are valid excuses for all three of their awful losses, but the fact remains that the Friars dropped games against Minnesota, Massachusetts and DePaul. They also got blown out in road games against Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall and Butler. It's hard to trust this team away from the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
March Madness Ceiling: Before the season, I was practically driving the Providence bandwagon, even looking seriously at this team's odds to win the national championship. But that was before we knew Emmitt Holt was going to miss the season with an abdominal injury, and back when everyone thought Makai Ashton-Langford was going to be a major contributor as a freshman. Given the current state of the team, anything more than two wins in the tournament would have to be considered a Cinderella story.
27. Miami Hurricanes
Record: 22-9, 11-7 in ACC
How They Got Here: The Hurricanes opened the season 10-0, but it wasn't until Christmas that they finally started beating quality opponents. They eventually defeated North Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Louisville, Florida State and N.C. State and swept Virginia Tech prior to getting smoked by the Tar Heels in the ACC quarterfinals.
Reason to Believe: No team has been preparing for the nail-biting atmosphere of the NCAA tournament quite like Miami. In the final 16 games of the regular season, Miami played in 15 decided by a single-digit margin, going 9-6 in those contests. The Hurricanes went 10-1 in games decided by six points or fewer, including four consecutive one-possession wins heading into the ACC tournament.
Reason to Worry: At times, this offense is just plain awful—and that was true long before Miami lost Bruce Brown to a foot injury. Lonnie Walker IV and Chris Lykes have been shouldering the scoring load for a couple of months, but there's no one on this team who you can just hand the ball and say, "Here, go get us some points." And that lack of a go-to guy could be Miami's undoing.
March Madness Ceiling: Tough call here, since Miami is competitive in every game it plays. This is the type of team that could absolutely upset a No. 1 seed on a buzzer-beater, but it's also a team that could fall flat on its face in the first round. I'll put the ceiling at Elite Eight, because it's unlikely the Hurricanes knock off both a No. 1 and No. 2 seed to reach the Final Four. One big upset is possible, though.
26. UCLA Bruins
Record: 21-11, 11-7 in Pac-12
How They Got Here: UCLA got swept by Colorado and had less-than-ideal road losses to Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Utah. But the Bruins also swept USC and won games away from home against Arizona and Kentucky. They weren't quite able to get a second win over Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament, falling to the Wildcats in overtime. But at least they got to that game with a win over Stanford, securing their spot in the NCAA tournament field.
Reason to Believe: Aaron Holiday is on the short list of guys who could single-handedly will his team to multiple victories. The junior combo guard scored at least 17 points in 11 consecutive games from late January through early March, including back-to-back 34-point performances in the season finale and the Pac-12 quarterfinal. And he's no one-man show. Thomas Welsh is a double-double machine, and both Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands have averaged better than 10 points per game as freshmen.
Reason to Worry: UCLA's perimeter defense is problematic. The Bruins only play three guys shorter than 6'8", and none of them has good defensive metrics. UCLA is among the worst in the nation in turnover percentage, and it allows a lot of open looks at three-pointers. That's a combination that has resulted in 10 games with at least 80 points allowed, including three that got into triple digits.
March Madness Ceiling: The Bruins don't look like a Final Four team, but are you prepared to say they can't get there? There were some ugly losses along the way, but they won at Arizona and almost beat the Wildcats a second time. They did beat Kentucky. They forced overtime in a road loss against Michigan. This team has held its own against the type of opposition it'll face in the second weekend. UCLA probably isn't consistent enough to win four in a row, but it does have the talent.
25. Auburn Tigers
Record: 25-7, 13-5 in SEC
How They Got Here: Though the final few weeks were disappointing, what an incredible season for a team that was forced to play without both Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy for the entire year. Auburn was a sleeper team during the offseason, but the Tigers dropped to near the bottom of the projected SEC standings when we found out those two starters were out indefinitely. Nevertheless, they won more than 24 games for the first time since 1998-99.
Reason to Believe: The Tigers thrive in physical games, getting to and converting from the free-throw line at a high rate. Mustapha Heron, Jared Harper and DeSean Murray each shoots better than 80 percent and has gotten to the charity stripe more than 110 times. Auburn is also an above-average three-point shooting team. Eight of the nine primary players averages at least one three-point attempt per game and makes better than 30 percent of them.
Reason to Worry: Auburn sputtered to the finish line, losing to South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and Alabama in its final six games. And the reason those games are important is because defensive star and arguably most valuable player, Anfernee McLemore, suffered a season-ending ankle injury during the South Carolina game. Horace Spencer has been OK in his stead, but losing that shot-blocking presence has had an obvious impact on Auburn's defense.
March Madness Ceiling: Even when the Tigers were 21-2 and in the running for a No. 1 seed, it didn't seem like anyone was taking them seriously as a title contender. There was plenty of amazement at what they were accomplishing, but all that praise came with at least a hint of skepticism that it would last. And after dropping four games in February, it feels like the ceiling on Auburn's tournament has also fallen. Despite a strong seed, if the Tigers were to reach the Final Four, it would be almost as improbable as South Carolina's run last year.
24. Rhode Island Rams
Record: 25-7, 15-3 in Atlantic 10
How They Got Here: After starting the season 21-3 and showing up as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in most brackets, Rhode Island struggled mightily down the stretch. The Rams got destroyed at home by Saint Joseph's, lost once to St. Bonaventure and lost twice to Davidson en route to a 4-4 finish.
Reason to Believe: Rhode Island has one of the best turnover margins in the nation. That pressure along the perimeter has resulted in stingy three-point defense. In fact, the Rams have not yet allowed an opponent to make 10 or more three-pointers in a game this season. It pays to have senior guards like E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Jarvis Garrett and Stanford Robinson.
Reason to Worry: The Rams might be the shortest team in the NCAA tournament. Robinson is the de facto power forward, even though he's just 6'4". Andre Berry and Cyril Langevine share the center duties but are both 6'8". It hasn't been a major problem yet, but Rhode Island also has not faced an opponent like Arizona, Duke, Michigan State, Purdue, etc. who have big men that could just destroy this poor excuse for a frontcourt.
March Madness Ceiling: Rhode Island came one possession from reaching the Sweet 16 last year, and this veteran-laden team is at least as good as that one was, if not better. The Rams have definite second-weekend potential, but lack of frontcourt prowess will likely keep them from reaching the Final Four.
23. Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 19-15, 8-10 in SEC
How They Got Here: Alabama finished the regular season on a five-game losing streak and entered the SEC tournament needing at least one win to remain in the field. After a hard-fought victory over Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide went out and spanked Auburn 81-63 to remove all doubt. It was just the third time since Thanksgiving that they won consecutive games.
Reason to Believe: Avery Johnson has these guys playing excellent defense. Alabama doesn't force many turnovers, but this is a long, athletic bunch that can close out and contest a shot in a heartbeat. Even the shots that aren't blocked are often altered or forced.
Reason to Worry: Collin Sexton is probably going to be a lottery pick. You'd think the offense that point guard is leading would be considerably above average. But Alabama is a mess on offense. John Petty is the only somewhat reliable three-point shooter, and even he is well below 40 percent. And with the exception of Donta Hall (72 percent), none of the primary players for the Crimson Tide shoots better than 52 percent on two-point attempts. The free-throw line is also an adventure for basically the entire team. Add it all up, and you have a team that has been held to 66 points or fewer nine times (all losses).
March Madness Ceiling: There are an awful lot of inconsistent teams in the tournament, but Alabama takes the cake. The Crimson Tide won at Florida by 18 and beat Tennessee and Texas A&M at home by a combined margin of 50 points. They also lost games to UCF, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, got blown out by Georgia and damn near lost to both Mercer and UT Arlington. Alabama might dominate in the first round, but because of its season-long inconsistency, the ceiling is probably the round of 32.
22. Seton Hall Pirates
Record: 21-11, 10-8 in Big East
How They Got Here: Despite a pair of wins over Butler during the regular season, the Bulldogs were Seton Hall's downfall in the Big East quarterfinals. But thanks to early wins over Texas Tech, Louisville and Creighton, the Pirates didn't need to prove anything at Madison Square Garden to belong in the NCAA tournament.
Reason to Believe: Though this wasn't anything close to the type of great season a lot of people were expecting from Seton Hall, there's still a ton of veteran talent on this roster that can compete with anyone. Angel Delgado remains a double-double machine, and he's only the fourth-leading scorer for the Pirates. When he, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell are all playing average or better, the Hall is almost unbeatable.
Reason to Worry: There's nothing this team does particularly well. It's just kind of average across the board. And with both Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo battling ankle injuries, we're talking about an average team that might not even be at 100 percent. Moreover, there was a stretch of 10 games earlier this season in which Seton Hall went 3-7 at full strength.
March Madness Ceiling: Despite the aforementioned injuries and midseason struggles, Seton Hall finished strong, winning four of its final five regular-season games, with an overtime game against Villanova serving as the lone loss. If the Pirates can get healthy and carry that momentum into the Big Dance, there's more than enough skill and experience here for this team to reach the Elite Eight.
21. Missouri Tigers
Record: 20-12, 10-8 in SEC
How They Got Here: Missouri didn't do much in nonconference play, nor did it do much away from home (aside from a win over Alabama), but the Tigers protected home court for quality wins over Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Three of those four wins have occurred since the start of February, so there's a case to be made that—despite the loss to Georgia in the second round of the SEC tournament—they are playing their best basketball right now.
Reason to Believe: Led by Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett, the Tigers are an excellent three-point shooting team. They hit 38.5 percent of their attempts, making 9.3 triples per game, including 10 in 20 games. And now that Michael Porter Jr. is playing games, they have yet another perimeter weapon.
Reason to Worry: Missouri's turnover margin is awful. This team committed 100 more turnovers than it forced this season. Good things happen when the Tigers are aggressive on defense, as they are 17-3 when forcing at least 10 turnovers. It just doesn't happen nearly enough.
March Madness Ceiling: Insert "shrug emoji" here. Porter played just two minutes during the regular season before finally making a legitimate debut in the SEC tournament. But because of the immediate loss to Georgia, we only got to see him in action for 23 minutes. The return of the sure-fire lottery pick might be the biggest X-factor in NCAA tournament history. If he starts playing up to his immense potential right away, Missouri could be a Final Four team. If his return screws up their chemistry or he struggles, the Tigers could get blasted in the first round.
20. Florida Gators
Record: 20-12, 11-7 in SEC
How They Got Here: Though the Gators were immediately knocked out of the SEC tournament by Arkansas, they finished the season on a high note, winning three straight against Auburn, (at) Alabama and Kentucky. They oscillated between red-hot and ice-cold throughout the season, but that was a much-needed hot streak to secure a strong seed in the NCAA tournament.
Reason to Believe: We spent a ton of time talking about Quadrant 1 wins in the past few months, and Florida accumulated more of them than just about any other team. Quite a few were borderline, but neutral-court wins over Gonzaga and Cincinnati and a season sweep of Kentucky tell the story of a team that can beat anyone. The Gators also came within one possession of marquee wins over Duke and Clemson, for what it's worth.
Reason to Worry: As good as Florida can be, it also went through some brutal cold spells. The home loss to Loyola-Chicago doesn't look so bad now, but it's still a game the Gators should have won. They were also swept by Georgia and suffered losses to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and South Carolina.
March Madness Ceiling: This is arguably the most Jekyll & Hyde team in the country. Florida is usually solid on defense, but there's no telling what you'll get from this offense. One day, KeVaughn Allen looks like a lottery pick, Chris Chiozza plays like an All-American point guard and both Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov can't miss a three-point attempt. The next day, they look hopelessly lost as a team. Florida has the talent to reach the Final Four, but the unlikelihood of the "Good Gators" showing up for more than two straight games probably puts their ceiling at the Sweet 16.
19. Clemson Tigers
Record: 23-9, 11-7 in ACC
How They Got Here: Clemson started strong with wins over Ohio State, Florida and NC State while streaking to a 14-1 record. But it has been a different story for the past month. The Tigers lost five of their final eight games and have only won one game against a tournament team (vs. Florida State) since the beginning of February.
Reason to Believe: Losing Donte Grantham to a season-ending knee injury had an unavoidable negative effect on this team, but Clemson still has one of the stingiest defenses in the country. Anchored by Elijah Thomas in the paint, the Tigers block a ton of shots and almost never allow open looks at the rim. Their final five regular-season opponents shot a combined 61-of-174 (35.1 percent) from inside the arc.
Reason to Worry: Despite that great defense, Clemson lost three of those five games because it failed to score 60 points in those losses. Shelton Mitchell missed two of those games and was held scoreless for 40 minutes in the third. Gabe DeVoe combined for 15 points in those three losses. There isn't enough offense on this roster to survive a poor performance from any of its four main scorers, let alone more than one of them.
March Madness Ceiling: Clemson isn't a "Just happy to be there" team, but regardless of what happens, the Tigers have to be proud of a season that almost certainly saved Brad Brownell's job as head coach. If they're able to add a win or two in the NCAA tournament, even better. But save for one emotional win over North Carolina—in which they shot 15-of-30 from three-point range—they have not been the same without Grantham. The ceiling is probably the Sweet 16, and a first-round upset loss wouldn't be that surprising.
18. Wichita State Shockers
Record: 25-7, 14-4 in American
How They Got Here: If you were worried about Wichita State taking a step backward during its transition from the MVC to the AAC, no need to fear. The Shockers finished in second place in their first AAC season, which included a road win over Cincinnati. But they did stumble a bit down the stretch, losing at home to Cincinnati in the regular-season finale before scraping by against Temple and losing to Houston in the conference tournament.
Reason to Believe: Wichita State ranks top-five in the nation in rebound margin, and if this were a statistic, it would have to be top 10 in assist margin, too. Per KenPom, the Shockers register an assist on 63.7 percent of made buckets while allowing an assist on just 44.2 percent of opposing field goals. Faring so well in those "other" categories allows them to win the points battle more often than not, too.
Reason to Worry: Perimeter defense is a major red flag for Wichita State. Opponents shoot better than 36 percent from downtown and take more than 40 percent of their shots from three-point range. In both regards, Wichita State is well below the national average. The Shockers also have one of the worst steal rates in the country, so it's not like they're giving up open looks because they're too aggressive in trying to jump passing lanes. They just can't stay with guards on defense.
March Madness Ceiling: Wichita State never goes quietly into the night. This team is 10-5 in the last five NCAA tournaments. Three of the losses were by four points or fewer. Four of the losses were to teams that received a No. 3 seed or better, and the one exception was the eighth-seeded Kentucky team that made the national championship in 2014.
Good luck putting a ceiling on what this team can accomplish, but a trip to the Final Four seems unlikely at best. The Shockers never quite lived up to the lofty preseason expectations.
17. Houston Cougars
Record: 26-7, 14-4 in American
How They Got Here: Houston suffered a horrendous loss to Drexel in its second game of the season. It's probably the worst loss suffered by any at-large team. But the Cougars rallied in a big way, knocking off Cincinnati, Arkansas and Wichita State (twice) en route to its first 26-win season since reaching the 1984 national championship. They fell just short of winning the AAC tournament, but the Cougars opened up a lot of eyes just by getting to the championship game.
Reason to Believe: Rob Gray Jr. has had a mercurial season but is one heck of a lead guard for a squad with four double-digit scorers. The senior leads the team in both points and assists. He is surrounded by a pair of great three-point shooters in Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks and a strong low-post option in Devin Davis. Houston hasn't had a group this talented in many moons.
Reason to Worry: Prior to the AAC tournament, Houston did not play well away from home this season, suffering losses to LSU, Tulane, Memphis and Drexel with little more than a neutral-court win over Providence to show for their troubles. The Cougars went 15-0 at home, but some lot of good that will do them in the tournament.
March Madness Ceiling: Despite the struggles when playing outside of Houston, this team has Elite Eight potential. The Cougars are undersized, but they crash the glass well and defend the paint about as well as any team in the country. And I can't be the only one who thinks Gray is going to capitalize on this opportunity to finally play in the national spotlight.
16. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Record: 24-9, 11-7 in Big 12
How They Got Here: Injuries have been the story of Texas Tech's season. The Red Raiders dropped three of their first four games after losing Zach Smith for a while in January. They then lost four straight games at the end of February while Keenan Evans battled a toe injury. As a result, they have lost five of their last seven, but they still feel like a team that can make a deep run at full strength.
Reason to Believe: Texas Tech is elite on defense. The Red Raiders aren't quite on the same level as a Virginia or Cincinnati, but they're best among the rest. They also have one of the best bucket-getters in the nation in Evans. He's almost unguardable when he's healthy.
Reason to Worry: Though Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith have been pleasant surprises as freshmen, Texas Tech's offense is Evans or bust. Dating back to the start of Big 12 play, the Red Raiders were 0-7 when he was held to 14 points or fewer, and they averaged just 63.9 points in those games—compared to a 13-1 record and 75.4 points per game when Evans reaches 15 points.
March Madness Ceiling: Even if Evans doesn't completely transform into Kemba Walker, Texas Tech has legitimate Final Four potential. That defense will travel, and this physical style of play should translate into a lot of free-throw attempts courtesy of opponents that aren't used to dealing with the Red Raiders. Health will be the key, though. If Evans is 100 percent and Zach Smith is anywhere close to it, watch out.
15. West Virginia Mountaineers
Record: 24-10, 11-7 in Big 12
How They Got Here: For the first two months, West Virginia was one of the best teams in the country. The Mountaineers dropped the opener in Germany against Texas A&M before reeling off 15 straight wins on U.S. soil. They faltered a bit in Big 12 play, but who didn't struggle with that gauntlet? They looked good late, winning five of their last seven games and reaching the Big 12 championship game.
Reason to Believe: Press Virginia is about as fierce as it has ever been. Led by Sagaba Konate and Jevon Carter, the Mountaineers rank top 10 in the nation in both block percentage and steal percentage. They are 18-1 when they record at least eight steals and are a perfect 18-0 when holding opponents to 70 points or fewer. Big 12 teams have somewhat figured out how to deal with this defense, but it should be a major problem for nonconference opponents who are unaccustomed to it.
Reason to Worry: West Virginia's overall offensive efficiency looks good because it gets a lot of offensive rebounds and does a nice job of avoiding turnovers. But this team is below the national average when it comes to shooting. The Mountaineers have a couple of solid shooters, but there have been long stretches of games in which they cannot buy a bucket. And when things start going bad, they make it worse by playing hero ball.
March Madness Ceiling: This is always the toughest team to figure out when declaring tournament ceilings. With the right draw, West Virginia could reach the Final Four because of its defense. But face one team that isn't flustered by the full-court press, and the Mountaineers could be going home early. Because they struggle on offense, though, it would be a surprise if they make it any further than the Elite Eight.
14. Cincinnati Bearcats
Record: 30-4, 16-2 in American
How They Got Here: Outside of back-to-back hiccups against Houston and Wichita State in mid-February, Cincinnati has not lost since early December. And most of those 23 wins were in blowout fashion. In the AAC tournament, the Bearcats fought back from early deficits in all three games, ultimately knocking off Houston 56-55 in the final.
Reason to Believe: Defense, defense and more defense. Cincinnati has made life miserable for opposing teams, holding more than half of them to 55 points or fewer. The Bearcats are 26-0 when allowing 65 points or fewer. They rank top-10 in a bunch of defensive categories on KenPom, including block percentage, two-point field percentage and adjusted defensive efficiency.
Reason to Worry: Those defensive numbers are great, but whom have they beaten? Cincinnati eked out one-point victories over Wichita State and Houston, however, it also suffered a loss to each of those teams. And in nonconference play, the Bearcats lost to Xavier and Florida in their lone chances to prove something against a contender. Moreover, aside from rebounding, the Bearcats are just OK on offense.
March Madness Ceiling: Cincinnati profiles as the type of team that's good enough on defense to avoid an early letdown but not proven enough or good enough on offense to reach the Final Four, unless the bracket really opens up for it. Assuming the Bearcats would need to go through a pair of top-16 teams in the second weekend, the Elite Eight is probably the furthest they'll get.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
Record: 25-8, 13-5 in SEC
How They Got Here: Tennessee shocked the world early with wins over Purdue and North Carolina State and a near-win over Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Volunteers never slowed down from there, finishing in a tie with Auburn for the SEC regular-season title. They weren't able to finish off Kentucky in the conference championship game, but who would have guessed four months ago the Vols would even be in that game?
Reason to Believe: There were a few major hiccups along the way, but for the most part, Tennessee has had one of the best defenses in the nation. The Vols don't have an elite shot-blocker, nor do they have a guy who is going to rack up six steals in a game. What they do have is active hands from everyone who steps on the court and a mandate to contest any shot the opposition attempts. In their final 15 regular-season games, they held 12 opponents to 65 points or fewer and won 12 of those games.
Reason to Worry: Tennessee does not score efficiently in the paint. In a loss to Alabama on Feb. 10, the Volunteers were just 12-of-41 (29.3 percent) from inside the arc. Several regulars make 40 percent of their two-point attempts or worse. Kyle Alexander (67.6 percent) is the only one comfortably above 50 percent, but the Volunteers rarely run offense for him. His main job is to be big, grab rebounds and block shots. If Grant Williams and/or Admiral Schofield has an off night, Tennessee struggles to score.
March Madness Ceiling: Four months ago, our March Madness ceiling for Tennessee would have been going to Nashville to watch some first- and second-round games because this team wasn't supposed to be any good. Lo and behold, the Volunteers are probably the SEC's best chance for reaching the Final Four. They beat Purdue. They swept Kentucky during the regular season. They put up great fights against North Carolina and Villanova. And they won 14 of their final 17 regular-season games.
Unlike most of the SEC, which has gone through serious peaks and valleys throughout the season, Tennessee has been solid all year long—save for that aforementioned no-show against Alabama. Between preseason expectations and head coach Rick Barnes' stigma as a guy who chokes in the tournament, most national experts will probably circle Tennessee as their pick to suffer a big upset loss in the first round. But if this team reaches the Elite Eight, it wouldn't be surprising.
12. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Record: 30-4, 17-1 in West Coast
How They Got Here: Following a home loss to Saint Mary's, Gonzaga finished the season on a 14-game winning streak, including making mincemeat of San Francisco and BYU in the final two rounds of the WCC tournament. The Zags are 20-1 overall since Christmas, although they went just 1-1 in games against tournament-caliber competition (Saint Mary's) during that run.
Reason to Believe: Gonzaga is ridiculously efficient in the paint. Seven of the nine regulars shoot better than 60 percent from inside the arc. Its average rebound margin ranks top 10 in the nation. And opponents make just 43.3 percent of their two-point attempts against the Bulldogs, even though Gonzaga is just an average shot-blocking team. And those numbers aren't inflated by West Coast Conference play. The Zags more than held their own early in the season against major-conference foes, too.
Reason to Worry: Though they haven't suffered any horrendous losses this season, the Zags have had a few concerning duds. They needed overtime to win a home game against North Dakota, and they had relatively close calls in all four regular-season games against San Diego and San Francisco. Moreover, they have struggled to defend the three-point arc, which was one of their biggest strengths of the past two seasons.
March Madness Ceiling: For most of the campaign, this felt like a bit of a down year for Gonzaga, at least when compared to last year's team, which made the national championship game. But the Bulldogs have really turned a corner since that loss to the Gaels in mid-January. If Killian Tillie can stay even half as hot as he has been lately—22-of-26 (84.6 percent) from three-point range over his last seven games—Gonzaga could be headed back to another Final Four.
11. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 28-6, 15-3 in Big Ten
How They Got Here: Purdue won 23 of its first 25 games and spent a good chunk of the season as a projected No. 1 seed. Had the Boilermakers beaten Michigan in the Big Ten championship game, they could have landed on that top line. Instead, they'll have to settle for being one of the favorites to make the Final Four among the non-No. 1 seeds.
Reason to Believe: This offense is ridiculously good. Purdue shoots 42.0 percent from three-point range as a team and has five guys shooting at least 39 percent and making more than one triple per game. Everyone shares the rock and does so without committing turnovers. Even though the Boilermakers play at a below-average pace, they have scored at least 80 points in 18 games. They're so smooth and fun to watch.
Reason to Worry: It's not often that a team seeded this well is trending in the wrong direction, but would you believe Purdue has not beaten a NCAA tournament team since January, and its last such win over a team other than Michigan came back in mid-December (Butler)? The Boilermakers entered February as the hottest team in the nation, but they sputtered to the finish line, going 5-4 in their last nine games, including a bad loss to Wisconsin. The extra week off could serve them well.
March Madness Ceiling: During a 19-game winning streak in the middle of the season, Purdue often looked unbeatable. From Dec. 7 through Jan. 20, the Boilermakers won 11 games by an average margin of 25.5 points, shooting 46.0 percent from three-point range while holding opponents to just 37.3 percent from the field. It's been a while since "Dominant Purdue" showed up, but this team looked like a title favorite for a quite a while. If that team resurfaces after this respite, the sky's the limit.
10. Michigan Wolverines
Record: 28-7, 13-5 in Big Ten
How They Got Here: One month ago, Michigan was smack dab on the bubble. The Wolverines were 19-7—with bad losses to LSU, Nebraska and Northwestern—and had little on the resume beyond the road win over Michigan State. But John Beilein's guys finished the year on a nine-game winning streak, including back-to-back victories over Michigan State and Purdue to win the Big Ten tournament. Not since Kemba Walker and Connecticut in 2011 has a team transformed from a bubble dweller to a title contender this rapidly.
Reason to Believe: Michigan always seems to have an efficient, turnover-averse offense, and that's no different this year. What makes this team scary, though, is its defense. The Wolverines had not ranked in the top 35 in adjusted defensive efficiency since 2004, but they are a top 10 team on defense for a change. In the final three games of the Big Ten tournament, Michigan's opponents shot 15-of-57 (26.3 percent) from three-point range with an anemic 34.3 percent assist rate.
Reason to Worry: Michigan is one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country. This makes no sense, since this is a guard-heavy team on which the six leading scorers all shoot better than 30 percent from three-point range and attempt more than two triples per game. Yet, with Zavier Simpson (51.9 percent), Charles Matthews (56.1) and Jon Teske (55.1) weighing them down, the Wolverines can't be trusted at the charity stripe.
March Madness Ceiling: Beyond the free-throw woes, there are plenty of reasons to not buy stock in Michigan. No one on the team shoots better than 40 percent from three-point range. The starting point guard (Simpson) is a sophomore who has posted an O-rating of 120 or better just once in his last 12 games. The de facto power forward (Duncan Robinson) averages 2.6 rebounds per game.
But based on what we've seen the past few weeks, there's no ceiling on what this team could do in the NCAA tournament. How deep the Wolverines go will depend on Moritz Wagner and how well the stretch 5 can carry the team. If he's able to dominate the way Mitch McGary did a few years ago, these Wolverines could win the title they should have won in 2013.
9. Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 24-10, 10-8 in SEC
How They Got Here: It was a bumpy road for the Wildcats, including the first four-game losing streak of the John Calipari era. But evidently that was just the jolt this team needed. Kentucky responded by winning seven of its final eight games, including the SEC championship. The other major-conference tournament winners this week (Virginia, Kansas, Villanova and Arizona) were already cemented as title candidates. Kentucky proved itself to be a real national championship contender by winning the SEC tournament.
Reason to Believe: An invested Kentucky is almost impossible to beat. The Wildcats are athletically superior to virtually every opponent they face, so they tend to dominate the hustle categories—offensive rebounds, free-throw attempts, three-point defense and blocked shots—when they want to dominate them. They also appeared to figure out things on offense late in the season, averaging 87.8 points during a four-game winning streak at the end of February.
Reason to Worry: Kentucky is just an average shooting team, and it doesn't have that cold-blooded, go-to guy it has had in recent years. When push comes to shove, either Kevin Knox or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has to try to be that clutch performer, but it hasn't often worked.
March Madness Ceiling: As far as Calipari's teams go, this one is reminiscent of 2013-14. That team was painfully young, clearly had talent and was dominant in the same hustle categories as this one, but it didn't shoot well and never seemed to completely come together until March. And even at that, it never would have made it to the Sweet 16—let alone the national championship game—if Aaron Harrison hadn't suddenly emerged as the most clutch shooter in tournament history.
If Knox, Gilgeous-Alexander or someone else can be that prime-time performer, then, sure, Kentucky could win the national championship. But if this remains the team that we saw for the past four months—one that went 1-6 against KenPom top 25 teams during the regular season and needed a miraculous comeback against West Virginia to get that one win—anything more than the Sweet 16 would be a surprise.
8. Arizona Wildcats
Record: 27-7, 14-4 in Pac-12
How They Got Here: Arizona fought through just about every off-the-court distraction imaginable to win eight of its final nine games, including the Pac-12 regular-season and conference championships. And in the final game against USC, Deandre Ayton (32 points, 18 rebounds) and Co. just looked completely unstoppable.
Reason to Believe: Save for maybe a trio from Duke or Michigan State, there's not a better Big Three in the country than Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins. Both Ayton and Trier are high-efficiency scorers, and Alkins is the do-it-all guy who brings intensity to the defense and allows the offense to flow smoothly. Dusan Ristic has been a darn fine asset as well, averaging around 12 points and seven rebounds per game.
Reason to Worry: Arizona's bench is almost unplayable. Dylan Smith can hit some threes and Keanu Pinder can give the Wildcats a brief boost with his hustle, but guys like Emmanuel Akot, Ira Lee and Brandon Randolph are nowhere near the valuable pieces they were supposed to be. But at some point, the reserves are going to need to play important minutes, for better or worse.
March Madness Ceiling: Your perception of Arizona's ceiling will depend on whether you view the FBI/Sean Miller fiasco as a distraction that will hurt the team or as an "Us against the world" motivating factor. If it's the latter, this team has the talent to win it all—though there are legitimate concerns about how far the Wildcats can go with Parker Jackson-Cartwright manning the most important position.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Record: 25-10, 11-7 in ACC
How They Got Here: All season long with the Tar Heels, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. Once a win cemented them as a title contender, they would get blown out by Michigan State. Or lose to Wofford. Or get annihilated with three-pointers in three straight losses. But they finished strong, winning nine of their final 12 games, including two against Duke.
Reason to Believe: If nothing else, the Tar Heels have recent history on their side. Joel Berry II has guided them to back-to-back national championship games, and he'll get one more chance. Beyond that, UNC loaded up on Quadrant 1 wins, including impressive victories over Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, Clemson and Ohio State. There were a few head-scratching losses along the way, but the Tar Heels proved they can beat just about anyone.
Reason to Worry: North Carolina has almost no depth whatsoever. In the final two games of the regular season, Garrison Brooks scored six points, Sterling Manley scored one and the usual starters took care of the other 145. Each of the five starters averaged at least 10 points per game in ACC play, but the rest of the roster combined for just 11.2. If just one Tar Heel has an off night, there won't be anyone rising up to fill in that gap.
March Madness Ceiling: UNC's has title potential, but its ceiling will be determined by Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson. They don't need to be the leaders. Those roles fall to Luke Maye and Berry. But when Williams is hitting threes and Johnson is both crashing the glass and getting on the scoreboard, North Carolina's small-ball lineup is lethal. But the Heels are liable to lose to just about anyone when Williams and Johnson aren't giving them much.
6. Xavier Musketeers
Record: 28-5, 15-3 in Big East
How They Got Here: Xavier ended Villanova's streak of Big East regular-season championships at four years, despite getting blown out in both of its games against the Wildcats. The Musketeers entered the Big East tournament as one of the favorites to win the NCAA tournament, but a semifinal loss to Providence leaves them with a sour taste in their mouths.
Reason to Believe: I would just type "Trevon Bluiett" a few dozen times, but you're probably looking for more than that. How about the fact that J.P. Macura, Kerem Kanter and Quentin Goodin each averaged at least 10 points per game in Big East play, providing Bluiett with more offense from his supporting cast than in years past? Or how about Xavier ranking top 20 in the nation in two-point percentage, free-throw percentage and defensive rebounding? Those seem like good reasons to buy stock in a team with six tournament wins over the last three years.
Reason to Worry: For a team that ranked in the Top 10 of the AP poll for most of the season, Xavier is nothing special on defense. The Musketeers protect the defensive glass and don't commit many fouls, but they rarely force turnovers and they allow an awful lot of three-point attempts. Villanova destroyed them twice because of this, but it was more than just the Wildcats. Xavier allowed at least 10 made three-pointers in 14 regular-season games.
March Madness Ceiling: Despite seven trips to the Sweet 16 in the past 14 years, Xavier has never been to the Final Four. This could be the year, as the Musketeers are on the short list of teams that could win the national championship. They just need to make sure they're not having a cold night on offense when they inevitably run into a team that can shred their defense. They have given up at least 82 points eight times, but they're so talented on offense that they still won five of those games.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
Record: 27-7, 13-5 in Big 12
How They Got Here: There were about four different points in the season where everyone tried to convince you that this is the year the Big 12 streak comes to an end for Kansas. Even in mid-February, they said it was over. Not only did the Jayhawks win the regular-season title for the 14th straight year, but they went ahead and won the conference tournament, too, finishing the season with wins in eight of nine games.
Reason to Believe: Devonte' Graham probably won't win the Wooden Award, but he might be the most valuable player in the country. His perimeter shooting, passing and defending are at the forefront of everything Kansas does. And he's just one piece of an excellent four-man backcourt. Svi Mykhailiuk makes it rain from downtown, and one can almost always count on either Lagerald Vick or Malik Newman to show up in a big way for the Jayhawks.
Reason to Worry: Frontcourt depth remains a potential disaster for Kansas. Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike have been better than expected. However, they both frequently get into foul trouble. Silvio De Sousa had a great run in the Big 12 tournament with Azubuike out, but can he keep it up? A couple of early whistles or an opponent that can dominate in the paint could be the death of the Jayhawks.
March Madness Ceiling: Depends on which Kansas shows up. The one that swept West Virginia and TCU could win a national championship. The one that got swept by Oklahoma State, was blown out by Baylor, lost to Washington and nearly lost to Nebraska wouldn't even reach the Sweet 16. So, the ceiling is a championship, but a realistic expectation is probably the Final Four.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 29-4, 16-2 in Big Ten
How They Got Here: Say what you will about the strength of schedule and relative lack of Quadrant 1 wins, but Michigan State took care of business this year. The four losses were a neutral-court game against Duke on the fifth day of the season, a road loss to Ohio State when the Buckeyes were at their hottest and a pair of bad matchups with Michigan. Nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to suggest this isn't a title contender.
Reason to Believe: In spite of the one issue we'll address shortly, Michigan State is the best all-around team in the country. The Spartans rank top 10 in effective field-goal percentage on both offense and defense, block percentage, three-point percentage, assist rate, offensive rebound percentage and both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency. There are just so many different ways they can beat you.
Reason to Worry: We've been beating this dead horse for months, but Michigan State has a serious turnover problem—both committing too many and not forcing enough. Per NCAA.com, the Spartans have an average turnover margin of negative-3.2, which ranks well outside the top 300 nationally. In the four losses, they had a total turnover margin of negative-23.
March Madness Ceiling: There's no ceiling for Michigan State. This is clearly one of the favorites to win the national championship. It's just a question of how long this team can go before getting tripped up by its Achilles' heel. An opponent like West Virginia, Cincinnati, Texas Tech or Rhode Island would be a major problem for the Spartans. But a matchup with one of those turnover-forcing defenses wouldn't necessarily be a death knell.
3. Duke Blue Devils
Record: 26-7, 13-5 in ACC
How They Got Here: Per usual, it was a bit of a rocky road for Duke. After a hot start in the Champions Classic and PK80, the Blue Devils suffered losses to Boston College and North Carolina State which led many to question whether this team could defend well enough to win a title. But they turned things back around and finished strong, despite the loss to North Carolina in the ACC semifinal.
Reason to Believe: No team in the country has as much talent as Duke, and it's all clicking now that it matters. It's that simple. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. have become monsters in the paint, combining for about 35 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks per game. Gary Trent Jr. struggled a bit down the stretch, but he's one of the best perimeter shooters in the country. And Grayson Allen is one hell of a fourth-most valuable player to have.
Reason to Worry: Some will inevitably try to warn you about trusting Duke because it doesn't have much depth, but good luck finding a team with a better Nos. 6-8 than Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden and Alex O'Connell. Rather, the biggest cause for concern with Duke is turnovers. The Blue Devils are forcing a lot more since switching to the zone, but they're also committing more with Allen assuming more of a lead guard role.
March Madness Ceiling: Before the season even began, everyone knew that Duke would be the team to beat if it ever figured out how to get all the talent to work together as one unit. For the first few months, it didn't look like that was going to happen. But the Blue Devils finally started playing zone full time in mid-February and have been sensational since then. Not only is their ceiling a national championship, but it would be a bit of a disappointment if they fail to reach the Final Four.
2. Virginia Cavaliers
Record: 31-2, 17-1 in ACC
How They Got Here: An overtime loss to Virginia Tech is the only thing standing between Virginia and an active 24-game winning streak. The Cavaliers haven't been nearly as dominant as, say, Kentucky in 2012 or 2015, but it has been a long time since there was any question about who the best team in the country is this year.
Reason to Believe: Virginia has the most efficient defense in the KenPom era. The Cavaliers have held 13 opponents to 50 points or fewer and have not allowed a single team to score more than 68 points. And while some of the slow-paced, defensive-minded teams can be sped up out of their comfort level, it's almost impossible to force Virginia to run. Even Savannah State—the fastest-paced team in the country—only managed to play a 68-possession game against the Wahoos.
Reason to Worry: At some point in the tournament, Virginia is going to need a bucket in the closing seconds of a tight game. Virginia's offense is better than most people realize, but the Cavaliers don't have much of a go-to scorer. Where Michigan State has Miles Bridges, Kansas has Devonte' Graham and Duke has Marvin Bagley III, Virginia has...Kyle Guy? He's a good player, but he's hardly an ice-veined killer. Heck, he scored a grand total of just 21 points in his final four regular-season games.
March Madness Ceiling: Defense wins championships, and Virginia can do just that. The ceiling will depend upon if and when the Cavaliers run into a team that gets hot from three-point range. The pack-line defense is built on forcing contested perimeter shots, but a team like Villanova, Kansas or Purdue that is content with taking and making a ton of three-pointers could be the end of the line.
1. Villanova Wildcats
Record: 30-4, 14-4 in Big East
How They Got Here: There were some hiccups late in the regular season in games that Phil Booth and/or Eric Paschall missed, but Villanova reminded everyone how dangerous it can be in the end. The Wildcats put up 97 in the season finale against Georgetown before dropping 94 on Marquette and 87 on Butler in the Big East tournament. They had to grind out an overtime win over Providence in the championship game, but hey, that was just a reminder that they can play defense when they need to, too.
Reason to Believe: Villanova has the most efficient offense in the nation, and it's not particularly close. The Wildcats take and make a ton of three-pointers, they're even more lethal inside the arc, and they rarely commit turnovers. Of course, it's easy to look good when you have two legitimate National Player of the Year candidates in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. But even benchwarmers Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree are ridiculously efficient when they get on the floor.
Reason to Worry: The main reason to worry about Villanova hasn't changed in the past five years—three-point dependency. As great as the Wildcats shoot as a team, anyone can go cold at least once during what would be a six-game run to the national championship. And they have already been cold lately, shooting worse than 31 percent from three-point range four times in the month of February—resulting in three losses and an overtime win.
March Madness Ceiling: Villanova has no ceiling. It's just a question of how long the Wildcats can go without having a bad shooting night, and whether that happens to coincide with a subpar defensive effort. When they won the title in 2016, they only had one poor performance from the perimeter, but they defended like mad to beat Kansas in that game. There's no reason they couldn't do it again.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.