NCAA Tournament 2019: Breaking Down Every Team's Chances to Win the Title

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2019

NCAA Tournament 2019: Breaking Down Every Team's Chances to Win the Title

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    Sixty-eight teams have an equal opportunity to win the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament. It's no secret, however, that a select group is most likely to take home the trophy.

    In 1985, the event expanded to 64 teams. Since then, 30 of the 34 national champions owned a No. 3 seed or better.

    March has become especially mad lately, though. Seven of the last eight Final Fours—including six straight—have featured a team seeded seventh or below. Never before have lower-seeded programs enjoyed as much NCAA tournament success.

    But can they overcome the trend of falling short of the national championship? If so, which team?

    We've highlighted all 68 schools in the 2019 March Madness field, picking out favorites and potential sleepers or Cinderellas.

                         

    Note: These are not betting odds. All references to Quadrant 1/2/3/4 competition via WarrenNolan.com.

No. 16 Seeds

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    North Dakota State Bison (7,000,000-1)

    Western Illinois' shocking upset of South Dakota State created an unexpected chance for NSDU to steal the Summit League. The Bison deserve credit for taking advantage of the opportunity, but their upside is low. In three losses to Gonzaga, Iowa State and New Mexico State, NDSU had an average margin of defeat of 27 points.

               

    Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (10,000,000-1)

    The Northeast Conference champions knocked down a scorching 40.3 percent of their three-point attempts this season. That long-range excellence is impressive, but Fairleigh Dickinson didn't top 66 points in any game against Quadrant 1 or 2 competition

                

    Iona Gaels (6,000,000-1)

    Winners of four straight MAAC titles, Iona is no stranger to the NCAA tournament stage. However, the Gaels rank 309th nationally in three-point percentage allowed. Poor perimeter defense is the easiest route to March elimination.

                    

    Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs (5,500,000-1)

    Senior guard David Efianayi highlights an offense that has connected on 39.1 percent of its three-pointers. But Gardner-Webb might need that perimeter prowess simply to keep up, considering only 25 teams have ceded more offensive rebounds this season.

              

    Prairie View A&M Panthers (10,000,000-1)

    Considering no player in the rotation stands taller than 6'7", it's not surprising the Panthers are one of the nation's worst rebounding teams at 326th. They're also 327th in three-point percentage. This tournament adventure will end quickly.

              

    North Carolina Central Eagles (10,000,000-1)

    For the third straight season (and after losses in the first two), North Carolina Central is headed to the First Four. Expectations are extremely low for a team that finished 0-7 against Quadrants 1-3 opponents, but a victory Tuesday would truly be a neat accomplishmentespecially given how turnover-prone this offense is.

No. 15 Seeds

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    Montana Grizzlies (6,000,000-1)

    Last year, Montana put an early scare into eventual national runner-up Michigan. The Grizzlies get another shot in 2019, and they're intriguing because of a small-ball focus that has followed the injury to standout forward Jamar Akoh. They'll play relatively slowly but should take a bunch of threes. Montana should be an entertaining watch, however long it lasts.

             

    Bradley Braves (3,000,000-1)

    One of the first lower-seeded teams with a marquee win, Bradley knocked off Penn State 59-56 in November. The Braves also toppled SMU and Loyola-Chicago twice. Despite playing at a slow tempo, though, they often have trouble protecting the ball. Bradley ranks 240th nationally in turnover rate.

              

    Colgate Raiders (5,000,000-1)

    Overlook the Patriot League champions at your own risk. Colgate plays a methodical pace with a handful of dangerous shooters. All five players who attempt at least 2.9 threes per game connect at a 35.9-plus percent rate, and three are above 41 percent. But as soon as the Raiders go cold, they'll exit March.

               

    Abilene Christian Wildcats (5,000,000-1)

    Joe Golding's club nearly fits the profile of a surprise team. Payten Ricks hoists six three-point attempts with a 40.8 clip, and Jaylen Franklin dishes 4.9 assists per game. They both average double figures behind 13-point scorers Jaren Lewis and Jalone Friday. But ACU has played too many close games against mediocre competition to get overly excited about its potential.

No. 14 Seeds

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    Northern Kentucky Norse (3,000,000-1)

    Drew McDonald, who averages 19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, was the Horizon League's Player of the Year. Including the star forward, the rotation is loaded with efficient three-point shooters. The Norse are a real upset contender, but their fouling problem (324th-most in D-I) will prevent a major Cinderella run.

                       

    Old Dominion Monarchs (4,000,000-1)

    Be careful not to overlook this Old Dominion team, which has victories over both Syracuse and VCU. Superb interior defense has braced the Conference USA champs all season long. But once the slow-paced Monarchs are misfiring from the perimeter, it's over. Six of their eight losses occurred with a three-point clip below 34 percent.

             

    Yale Bulldogs (3,500,000-1)

    As long as the Ivy League champs can play at their preferred uptempo style, they're dangerous. The Bulldogs are ninth in the country with a 49.4 field-goal rate, including a three-point clip of 37.0. Yale ordinarily does a terrific job defending the arc and on the glass, but lapses in those categories have been destructive.

             

    Georgia State Panthers (4,500,000-1)

    Prior to Ron Hunter's arrival in 2011, the program had twice qualified for the NCAA tourney. The Panthers are set for their third appearance in five seasons. Five players average double figures for the Sun Belt winners, so their offense is balanced. But with a horrid rebounding rate (340th) and free-throw percentage (323rd), Georgia State's margin for error is thin.

No. 13 Seeds

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    Vermont Catamounts (600,000-1)

    Led by Anthony Lambthe America East Player of the Yearthe Catamounts have a well-rounded group that is most effective when it rebounds well. But the toughest competition (Kansas, Louisville and Lipscomb) won that battle in resounding fashion. Vermont has first-round upset potential but a low ceiling.

                 

    Northeastern Huskies (600,000-1)

    Entering the NCAA tournament on a seven-game winning streak, Northeastern boasts seven players who average eight-plus points. The Huskies rank 16th in the country with a 38.8 three-point percentage, too. Their 3-7 record against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents show a roster built to contend with a higher-seeded team but unlikely to sustain a big run.

                

    UC Irvine Anteaters (750,000-1)

    The Anteaters don't have one player who carries the scoring load. This season, only three players have scored 20 points in a single gameand only a combined eight times. Irvine's 10th-best rebound rate of 55.1 complements the country's best two-point defense, so the Big West champions should be a pesky matchup for one or two games.

            

    Saint Louis Billikens (800,000-1)

    Although they entered the A-10 tournament as the No. 6 seed, the Billikens emerged victorious. But their success is complex. Saint Louis pulls in offensive rebounds at the 13th-highest rate, largely because the offense has no reliable shooters. The Billikens are 300th in two-point percentage and 317th from deep. Just because they create extra chances doesn't mean they capitalize on those possessions.

No. 12 Seeds

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    Murray State Racers (10,000-1)

    The appeal for Murray State is obvious: Ja Morant. The sophomore guard enters the tournament with 24.6 points and 10.0 assists per game. The Racers also boast the fourth-best perimeter defense in the nation. When the offense is inevitably forced to win with outside shootingnot its strengthMurray State will bow out. But first, the Racers might pick off a team or three.

           

    New Mexico State Aggies (400,000-1)

    As usual, New Mexico State is terrific on the glass. Trying to rebound against this roster is an absolute pain, since the Aggies have collected the second-highest rate of all missed shots. But if the offense isn't allowed to thrive in the paint, NMSU doesn't have the perimeter options to overcome it consistently.

                

    Oregon Ducks (100,000-1)

    Despite the season-ending foot injury to Bol Bol, the Ducks earned the Pac-12's autobid. They're entering the tournament on an eight-game winning streak, during which opponents have shot a disastrous 23.1 percent from three. Louis King is the best player, but Oregon's fate hinges on the efficiency of veteran guard Payton Pritchard. If his hot streak continues, the Ducks are a Sweet 16 threat.

                

    Liberty Flames (450,000)

    The Atlantic Sun champions play a style based heavily on efficiency. According to KenPom, Liberty has the fifth-slowest tempo in the nation. Plus, the Flames rank fourth in two-point percentage and 64th from behind the arc. Their downfall will be an inefficient shooting day, but that might not happen until the second round.

No. 11 Seeds

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    Saint Mary's Gaels (10,000-1)

    If the surprise West Coast Conference champions are forcing contested outside shots, an upset is likely to happen. The Gaels are an unspectacular 149th in two-point defense but 51st on the perimeter. Tethered with a 37.8 three-point rate offensively and super-slow tempo, Saint Mary's has short-term chaos potential.

               

    Ohio State Buckeyes (50,000-1)

    Following a 12-1 start to the campaign, Ohio State lost five straight and 13 of the next 20. The Buckeyes failed to hit the 60-point mark in six of their Big Ten contests.

    So, yeah, can they score enough to survive? Ohio State has Sweet 16 talent but a first-round-exit offense. Trust the Buckeyes at your own bracket's peril.

                

    Temple Owls (200,000-1)

    Boasting the 16th-highest steal rate nationally with a moderately fast tempo, Temple is well-prepared to handle Belmont's up-and-down style. And with a 32.7 opponent three-point percentage, the Owls are equipped to win in the First Four.

    Temple isn't built for a shootout, though. Whether it's Belmont or another school down the line, the Owls can ill afford to fall behind and try to recover from a big deficit. Only one player in the rotation shoots above 36 percent from deep.

             

    Belmont Bruins (200,000-1)

    Rick Byrd's team plays fast, shoots a bunch of threes and has a superstar in Dylan Windler. The senior forward averages 21.4 points with a 43.0 three-point clip at high volume (6.9 3PA), and Grayson Murphy dishes 6.6 assists per game.

    If the Bruins can navigate the First Four against Temple, they have an outstanding chance to frustrate Maryland's slow-paced attack. But if long-range shots aren't falling, Belmont will be in trouble.

              

    Arizona State Sun Devils (150,000-1)

    While only six teams do a better job getting to the free-throw line, Arizona State's percentage at the stripe is 300th. Taking advantage of those opportunities will be crucial to staying in the tourney.

    Additionally, the Sun Devils rank 38th in opponent three-point attempt rate. If they convert free throws and are pesky on the perimeter, they're a sleeper candidate for the Sweet 16.

              

    St. John's Red Storm (200,000-1)

    Over the last 18 games, St. John's only has seven victories. And opposite Q1 competition, the Red Storm are a meager 3-6 on road or neutral courts. The odds are stacked against the Red Storm.

    St. John's has high-end talent in Shamorie Ponds and Mustapha Heron but doesn't have a single healthy bench player who averages more than 2.3 points. Minimal depth will stunt the Storm.

No. 10 Seeds

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    Florida Gators (40,000-1)

    Florida's resume is littered with the delicate mix of "competitive with top teams" and "lots of losses there, too." The Gators have twice toppled LSU but are just 4-12 against Quadrant 1 opponents. They're good enough to win, but it hasn't happened regularly.

    A pesky defense that forces the 24th-highest rate of turnovers merits much of the credit for Florida's competitiveness. But when a torn left ACL sidelined Keith Stone on Jan. 20, the Gators lost their only rotation player shooting above 40 percent from three.

                 

    Iowa Hawkeyes (80,000-1)

    After opening the season 20-5, Fran McCaffery's squad has continually headed in the wrong direction.

    The Hawkeyes enter the NCAA tournament as winners in just two of their last eight contests; an ugly stretch that includes four losses of 14-plus points. Iowa is a disastrous 30.6 percent from three-point range during that span.

    Combine that with abysmal interior defense, and the Hawkeyes are particularly vulnerable in March.

             

    Seton Hall Pirates (100,000-1)

    The Pirates are getting hot at the right time.

    Once conference play started, Seton Hall mustered a 7-9 record that included four- and three-game losing streaks. During the last two weeks, though, the Pirates have toppled Marquette twice, Villanova and Georgetown.

    Star guard Myles Powell could explode for 30 points on any night, and Quincy McKnight is a tremendous defender. But that talented backcourt duo can only minimize Seton Hall's dreadful three-point efficiency for so many games.

                           

    Minnesota Golden Gophers (100,000-1)

    According to Sports Reference, just 67 players shoot at least six free throws per game. Duke and Minnesota are the only programs with two members in that group. Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy combine for 13.3 attempts per night.

    But that's about all Minnesota does well.

    Not only are the Gophers 346th in three-point attempt rate, but their 32.1 conversion clip is 292nd. They rank 260th in two-point percentage and 277th at the free-throw line. For good measure, they're a meager 302nd in defensive turnover rate.

No. 9 Seeds

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    Oklahoma Sooners (50,000-1)

    Lon Kruger's squad ranks 23rd in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. The Sooners are stingy inside the lane and rarely commit fouls, owning the fifth-best rate of free throws allowed per field-goal attempt.

    But if they're not playing excellently on that end, they're probably losing. Oklahoma is 190th or worse nationally in two-point, three-point or free-throw percentage. The moment the Sooners are cold from the perimeter, they're likely on the way out.

                   

    Washington Huskies (60,000-1)

    Ultimately, teams are judged on wins and losses. This Washington squad has continuously done enough to stay in the win column, owning a 26-8 record heading into the Big Dance.

    Yet is anyone sold on the Dawgs?

    Since the beginning of February, Washington has lost to Arizona State, Cal and Oregon (twice) while managing seven single-digit wins against non-tournament teams. Stout zone defense with an absolute menace in Matisse Thybulle is important, but UW doesn't rebound well and has a mistake-prone offense.

                         

    Central Florida Knights (60,000-1)

    The story of UCF's season is quite simple. When the Knights rebound efficiently, they rarely lose. If not, it's a major problem.

    Johnny Dawkins' team is 18-1 with an advantage on the glass compared to 5-7 otherwise. Even worse, the games in the latter group have almost exclusively been against top competition. UCF would need a minor miracle to avoid such opponents.

             

    Baylor Bears (50,000-1)

    Baylor does an outstanding job on the glass, pulling in the 19th-highest rate of total rebounds. Three players secure at least six boards per game, and that collective effort is a key reason the Bears have the third-best rate of offensive rebounds.

    Now, if only they were better outside.

    Devonte Bandoo is the only rotation member shooting above 36.5 percent from the perimeter. Since five players attempt at least three per game, Baylor has the potential for someone to catch fire. But against a three-point defense that ranks 178th, so do the opponents.

No. 8 Seeds

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    Ole Miss Rebels (25,000-1)

    In a contested finish, Ole Miss holds an important edge. The Rebels have knocked down a scorching 78.3 percent of their free throws, the third-highest mark in Division I. Seven of the eight rotation players shoot 73 percent or better.

    However, poor perimeter defense is a massive weakness. According to Sports Reference, only nine teams have surrendered a three-point clip of 40-plus percent in more games than Ole Miss' 15.

    The Rebels stay close with top-tier competition, but eventually those perimeter issues will catch up to them.

                  

    Utah State Aggies (50,000-1)

    Finding the right shot is imperative against the Aggies because they seldom allow second chances. Utah State boasts the seventh-lowest opponent offensive rebound rate in Division I.

    Knowing that, it should be evident Utah State's losses and tightest wins happen when the team struggles on the glass. But that typical strength combined with great interior defense and an explosive scorer in Sam Merrill makes the Aggies a tough out.

             

    Syracuse Orange (2,000-1)

    At this point, even casual fans might have a solid understanding of Syracuse's signature: zone defense.

    Per KenPom, the Orange are 24th in defensive efficiency. The unit ranks 19th in turnover rate, 43rd in two-point defense and 72nd on the perimeter. Syracuse is an exceptional shot-blocking team relative to its slow pace. That prowess has sparked a surprising deep NCAA run as a double-digit seed in two of the last three seasons.

    However, Jim Boeheim's club is most vulnerable when opponents attack the glass. Syracuse is 13th-worst in offensive rebound rate allowed, and nine of the program's 13 losses happened when it gave up 30-plus percent in that category.

                    

    VCU Rams (15,000-1)

    Ill-timed turnovers doomed the Rams in the Atlantic-10 tournament, but that was typically the case for their opponents this season. What really stings VCU is the knee injury that forced Marcus Evans, the Rams' leader in points, assists and steals, out of the A-10 tourney.

    With the star guard healthy, VCU won the league's regular-season title and forced the 16th-highest rate of turnovers nationally. This defense-driven team is a prime candidate to pull an upset in the second round if he's as active as usual.

    But if Evans is hampered at all, the Rams simply don't have the personnel to withstand his absence for multiple weekends.

No. 7 Seeds

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    Wofford Terriers (1,000-1)

    Can you contain Wofford's shooters?

    The Terriers attempt 43.2 percent of their shots from outside yet connect at the second-highest clip. Led by Fletcher Magee, four players take 2.9-plus triples per game and bury at least 41.4 percent of them. It's a deadly combination for a slow-tempo attack.

    Wofford can struggle to defend the interior, ranking 184th in two-point percentage allowed. The Terriers typically atone for that weakness with a heavy emphasis on securing missed shots, so creating second chances will be pivotal for opponents.

               

    Nevada Wolf Pack (200-1)

    If experience matters most to your bracket, pencil Nevada into the Final Four. This rotation boasts six seniors and a standout junior in Jazz Johnson, the team's sixth man.

    But this upperclassman-heavy roster sure can be frustrating. Despite holding a 29-4 record, the Wolf Pack are a disaster when facing zone defenses. It's a season-long weakness that only briefly found an answer in mid-February.

    Nevada's talent and experience are evident. In the wrong matchup, though, the Pack better have new-and-improved solutions.

                     

    Louisville Cardinals (150-1)

    Defense is the backbone of this roster. Louisville boasts the 17th-best efficiency on that end, according to KenPom.

    But are the Cards good enough offensively? Since the beginning of February, they're shooting a paltry 39.3 percent. And can a program that is 6-9 at road or neutral sites survive Big Dance? Louisville is 2-5 in such games since February started.

    Louisville's defense demands respect, yet there's no doubt the Cards are limping into the NCAA tournament.

                

    Cincinnati Bearcats (400-1)

    Have fun trying to produce in the paint against Cincinnati, which has surrendered the country's 19th-lowest two-point clip. Easy buckets rarely come against this defense.

    But if shots are dropping, the Bearcats had better be succeeding on the glass. Four of their six losses have occurred when they failed to grab at least 50 percent of all rebounds, and three of Cincinnati's four victories when it's failed to win on the boards came by four points or fewer.

    The Bearcats must win the interior battles to stay alive in March.

No. 6 Seeds

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    Villanova Wildcats (75-1)

    Because of a couple of early losses and a late slide, the defending national champions flew under the national radar in 2018-19. Nevertheless, Villanova won the Big East regular-season title and tourney.

    The Wildcats still attempt three-pointers at a furious ratethird-highest in the countrybut their tempo is a little slower. That's a calculated effort to protect a younger-than-usual rotation, but it trims the sample size and leads to higher variance.

    And when losing the battle on the boards, Villanova is just 5-8. Hot shooting can only carry the Wildcats so far, especiall since their efficiency from outside isn't consistently great.

                          

    Iowa State Cyclones (100-1)

    When they're rolling, the Cyclones can pick apart the competition. They rank 35th in two-point percentage and 76th from beyond the arc, boasting KenPom's ninth-most efficient offense.

    The concerns are numerous, though.

    Iowa State is 0-7 when ceding a three-point clip of 40-plus percent, and five of those contests happened in February or March. Plus, per Hoop-Math.com, opponents shoot 65.7 percent at the rim―327th nationally. That's in no small part because the Cyclones allow 30 percent of available offensive rebounds.

    Reaching the Sweet 16 is doable thanks to the offense, but it's improbable Iowa State will sustain a deep run.

                

    Buffalo Bulls (150-1)

    Buffalo is difficult to handle if the scoring attack gets to the rim. Not only do the Bulls play at the ninth-fastest tempo, per KenPom, but they also rank 20th nationally in two-point percentage. That helps mitigate an unspectacular three-point clip of 33.6.

    However, defense kick-starts this offense. With at least 15 takeaways, Buffalo is 19-1 and has 14 double-digit wins. Below the mark, the Bulls are 11-2 with seven single-digit victories.

    Protecting the ball limits turnovers, which limits Buffalo's transition opportunities. If the Bulls can't run, they're vulnerable.

                     

    Maryland Terrapins (150-1)

    Rebounding is an essential part of winning, but the battle of the boards is dramatically tied to Maryland's identity this season.

    On the positive side, the Terps rank sixth nationally with a 56.1 rate. When surpassing that average, they're a sturdy 14-3. Below the mark, however, Maryland is a meager 9-7which includes losses to Michigan twice and Michigan State once.

    That strength means Maryland can dominate in the early rounds. It also suggests a tightly contested finish if Jalen Smith isn't controlling the glass with Bruno Fernando.

No. 5 Seeds

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    Auburn Tigers (75-1)

    The undeniable strength of this Auburn squad is a propensity for creating misses. Bruce Pearl's team leads the nation in defensive turnover rate and ranks fifth in block rate.

    Preventing second-chance opportunities is the Tigers' primary issue. Only two NCAA tourney qualifiers allow a higher percentage of available offensive rebounds. Six of Auburn's nine losses happened when ceding 30-plus percent of such boards.

    Havoc is important. A high-volume, high-efficiency three-point barrage is useful. But the Tigers must also win on the glass.

                              

    Marquette Golden Eagles (150-1)

    Steve Wojciechowski's team is trending the wrong direction.

    After a 23-4 start, Marquette has dropped five of its last six contests. All were single-digit losses, but it's a troubling trend for a roster prone to defensive lapses.

    Besides, the Golden Eagles will only advance as far as Markus Howard takes them. The explosive guard has 10 games of 30-plus points, but Marquette has a problematic 4-5 record when he's healthy and fails to reach 20 points.

                    

    Wisconsin Badgers (100-1)

    Ethan Happ is an All-American talent who creates opportunities at both ends. He enters the Big Dance averaging 17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals. Happ's ability to facilitate is rare for a big man, and he's a major contributor to a defense ranked third by KenPom.

    But this offense can be maddening to watch.

    According to Hoop-Math.com, the Badgers have made 203 two-point jumpers. Only 35 of them (17.2 percent) are assisted. If they're not hitting threes, Wisconsin can't lean on a playmaker to take over. D'Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison are the only backcourt players averaging at least one assist.

    A tenacious defense will be valuable. A lifeless offense will be the reason Wisconsin loses.

                              

    Mississippi State Bulldogs (150-1)

    The Bulldogs have a similar profile to those of several other NCAA tournament qualifiers. They're efficient from three-point range offensively (36th) but can struggle to defend the perimeter (234th).

    So, unsurprisingly, Mississippi State is 8-7 when failing to shoot 35-plus percent from beyond the arc yet 15-3 otherwise.

    Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter compose a dangerous backcourt, but a cold shooting day can crush an offense that prefers a methodical tempo.

No. 4 Seeds

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    Kansas Jayhawks (70-1)

    Few college basketball fans feel badly for Kansas, which had a 14-year streak of Big 12 regular-season titles snapped. It's understandable. But wow, did this roster encounter some bad luck.

    The Jayhawks lost starting center Udoka Azubuike to a hand injury, key reserve Silvio De Sousa to eligibility concerns and No. 2 scorer Lagerald Vick for personal reasons. The personnel difficulty led Bill Self to play Ochai Agbaji, who was supposed to redshirt.

    Kansas has an All-American in Dedric Lawson and solid interior defense, but a young rotation has a thin margin for errorparticularly when the opponent has an efficient day from the perimeter.

               

    Florida State Seminoles (65-1)

    Considering the size of FSU's rotation, it's no surprise Leonard Hamilton's club ranks 37th in two-point defense. Other than 6'1" David Nichols, no guard is shorter than 6'4". Plus, Christ Koumadje is 7'4", and Mfiondu Kabengele is 6'10".

    Handling that length is a difficult task, but Florida State has two clear weaknesses. While the roster is filled with capable shooters, the Noles are 225th in three-point percentage. And they commit a whole bunch of fouls.

    To overcome FSU, it's imperative to take of advantage of open looks and trips to the free-throw line.

                

    Kansas State Wildcats (75-1)

    Great defense, mediocre offense. That's the story of K-State's campaign, which has featured a regular-season Big 12 championship and three losses in which the Wildcats failed to reach 50 points.

    Yes, 50.

    Kansas State plays at the nation's 12th-slowest tempo, per KenPom. We've said it before, but that variance comes with the territory. The problem is the Wildcats rank 243rd in two-point percentage and 223rd on the outside.

    That sort of offensive inefficiency is difficult to overcome in March, no matter how tremendous the defense is.

             

    Virginia Tech Hokies (40-1)

    Virginia Tech plays a slow tempo337th, per KenPombut is lethal in transition. The Hokies are third in the nation in effective field-goal percentage on the break, according to Hoop-Math.com.

    The impending return of Justin Robinson is vital, and his effectiveness will determine Tech's upside. With the senior in the lineup, the Hokies buried 42.6 percent of their long-range attempts. Since he injured his foot Jan. 30, however, they're at just 33.9.

    Given that Virginia Tech forces its opponents to attempt the second-highest rate of three-pointers in the country, it's only accurate to say the Hokies live and die by the three.

No. 3 Seeds

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    Texas Tech Red Raiders (20-1)

    Throw out games against Quadrant 4 competition, and Texas Techwhich is tied with Michigan for KenPom's top-ranked defenseowns a reputable 19-6 record. In those 25 games, three-point efficiency tells the story.

    When shooting above 33.3 percent from outside, the Red Raiders are 12-0 with a 17.4-point average margin of victory. At or below the mark, they're just 7-6 with three wins of six points or fewer.

    Davide Moreti has buried a scorching 52.6 percent of his three-point attempts in this calendar year. He's a terrific complement to star guard Jarrett Culver. But the Red Raiders need that long-range impact in order to match their Final Four upside.

             

    Purdue Boilermakers (50-1)

    How far will Carsen Edwards carry them?

    Inefficient shooting has plagued the junior throughout the last month, but the Boilers' ability to limit turnovers and rebound their own misses has atoned for some of Edwards' issues. And when he's rolling, Purdue is exceptionally difficult to stop.

    The biggest problem is the Boilers are 15-0 at home but 8-9 outside of West Lafayette. Navigating a six-game stretch of neutral-site contests will be tricky.

             

    LSU Tigers (40-1)

    The SEC's regular-season champions have toed a precarious line all year. While the Tigers are 26-6, their seven overtimes games and five overtime wins are most in the country, per Sports Reference. They have nine other single-digit wins.

    In short: LSU fans are used to holding their collective breath.

    A superb eight-man rotation grabs a ton of offensive rebounds and forces turnovers at a commendable rate. Still, porous three-point efficiency and a penchant for close games can be an unpleasant combination during March Madness.

            

    Houston Cougars (40-1)

    What Houston has accomplished in 2018-19 is nothing short of remarkable. The Cougars lost several key pieces from last year's sixth-seeded team, and expectations were low. They've turned in a 31-3 campaign with an AAC regular-season title.

    Defense has carried Kelvin Sampson's team. Houston ranks second nationally in three-point percentage allowed and fifth inside the arc. It's a winning strategy as long as veteran guards Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks are producing.

    But when the competition level rises and that opponent has a stronger rebounding presence, can that trio propel the Cougars to a win?

No. 2 Seeds

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    Michigan State Spartans (8-1)

    The return of Nick Ward should provide a much-needed jolt to Michigan State's frontcourt, but Cassius Winston is the undisputed star of this show. He and Matt McQuaid both shoot above 40 percent from long range while attempting five-plus triples per game.

    But the Spartans' top concern is consistent defense. For some stretches, they're an impenetrable nightmare. However, they force turnovers at the third-lowest rate in the country and are a paltry 4-5 when the opponent shoots 37.5-plus percent from outside.

    MSU does have a challenging draw with Duke as the No. 1 seed, but that's a hugely appealing potential matchup.

               

    Kentucky Wildcats (25-1)

    Three-point percentage, rebound rate and defensive turnover rate have the greatest impact on Kentucky's results.

    Eleven of UK's 33 games have included a sub-30 percent clip from three, and the 'Cats are 6-5 in such cases. They have 12 games with a total rebound rate of 54 percent or worse and 6-6 record. And four of their six losses ended with a takeaway rate below 10 percent.

    It's a very specific combination for a 27-6 squad, but it's the blueprint to edging John Calipari's club.

                

    Michigan Wolverines (25-1)

    At the beginning of February, few teams looked better than the Wolverines. They held a 20-1 record with victories of 17-plus points over each of Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue. Things have gotten much, much tougher as the season wore on.

    During those 21 games, Michigan shot 45.6 percent while holding opponents to 39.2 percent. In the next 12 outings, the numbers changed to 44.3 and 41.1.

    The Wolverines are ordinarily terrific on defense, but the recent penchant for stagnant offense is a serious concern.

             

    Tennessee Volunteers (25-1)

    Good: Tennessee has consistently dispatched lesser competition, putting up a 19-0 record in non-Quadrant 1 games. That's a promising sign for the Vols during the opening weekend.

    Bad: Tennessee has regularly struggled in Q1 games. Kansas, Kentucky, LSU and Auburn (twice) all bested the Vols, who have capable three-point shooters but aren't a perimeter-oriented team. Any major deficit will be especially hard to overcome.

    Rick Barnes' squad is a relatively safe bet to advance early but ultimately fall short in the Big Dance, barring a surge of excellence from beyond the arc.

No. 1 Seeds

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    Duke Blue Devils (4-1)

    Zion Williamson is healthy. That's what you need to know.

    After a six-game absence to a sprained knee, the likely No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft put together a dominant return. He averaged 27 points on 76.7 percent shooting with 10 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game in the ACC tourney.

    Duke is a horrible three-point shooting team, but only 14 teams attempt more shots in transition, per Hoop-Math.com. If the Blue Devils are running, matching them is exceptionally difficult.

                

    Gonzaga Bulldogs (9-1)

    Remember when people said after the West Coast Conference that Saint Mary's "found the blueprint" to beating Gonzaga? If limiting an offense that hadn't posted an effective field-goal percentage below 49.1 all season to 39.6 is the blueprint, well, nailed it!

    The objective is clear: Hold a lethally efficient offense to its worst performance of the season. Should be easy.

    That's the long version of saying Gonzaga will be a remarkably tough team to beat. But early on, the Syracuse zone could frustrate the Zags, while Baylor's great rebounding demands respect.

             

    Virginia Cavaliers (10-1)

    Stylistically, this is the same old Virginia team. Slow tempo, exhausting defense, efficient offense. So, the narrative is the same. The Wahoos have enough defense to beat anyone, but a torrid shooting day from an opponent or uneven offensive performance can ruin UVA.

    The high-variance potential is a significant reason Virginia has only appeared in one Elite Eight under Tony Bennett.

    Unlike past teams, however, the Cavs boast a likely NBA lottery pick (De'Andre Hunter) and multiple high-efficiency three-point weapons (Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy). Their margin for error offensively is slightly greater than usual. This is the most Final Four-worthy roster of Bennett's tenure.

              

    North Carolina Tar Heels (8-1)

    Grab the rebound, push the pace, attack the rim.

    No tournament team does a better job turning defense into offense than North Carolina, which attempts 40.5 percent of its initial field goals while in transition, per Hoop-Math.com. Opponents grab the 14th-lowest rate of offensive rebounds, too.

    Slowing the rapid pace is a tall task, but the Tar Heels are most vulnerable when unable to control the tempo.