NCAA Tournament 2019: Power Ranking All 68 Teams
Selection Sunday has finally arrived, and with it the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament field has been set.
After months of arguing about NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, KenPom.com ratings, quadrant-based records, strengths of schedule and the like, none of that junk matters anymore. There will, of course, be a few more hours or days of complaining about who got left out or unfairly seeded, but too bad, so sad. We've got our field, and it's time to move on to the real fun: picking the brackets.
Based on a combination of efficiency ratings, player talent, current roster health, regular-season success, biggest strengths, biggest weaknesses and gut feeling, we have ranked all 68 NCAA tournament teams.
Generally speaking, if you're trying to decide which team to pick in a particular matchup, the higher-ranked team would be our suggestion. There are certainly matchup-based exceptions, but the teams at the top of the list are the ones with the least troubling Achilles' heels. Thus, they are the ones most likely to reach the Final Four.
Before we dive in, a thank you must be extended to Joel Reuter. B/R's MLB power rankings guru was a huge help and contributed to this piece. He now knows more about the Cinderella candidates than 99 percent of the population. So if he tweets out a recommendation on a potential No. 14 over No. 3 upset, you might want to take it seriously.
68. North Carolina Central Eagles
Record: 18-15, 10-6 in MEAC
How They Got Here: As the No. 3 seed in the MEAC tournament, NC Central was able to eke out wins against No. 2 seed North Carolina A&T (65-63) and No. 1 seed Norfolk State (50-47) to steal the automatic bid.
Reason to Believe: The Eagles do a good job guarding the three ball (31.3%, 36th in NCAA), and they out-rebounded opponents by a wide margin (1,223-1,011) this season. Even if those numbers are skewed by a lower caliber of competition, those are still skills that translate. They're also an experienced group with five seniors among their eight-man rotation.
Reason to Worry: Clemson and Cincinnati beat the Eagles by a combined 42 points in their first two games of the season. That should give you an idea of the talent gap they're facing. They went 0-7 in games above Quad 4, which also means they have eight Quad 4 losses. Not good. Not surprisingly, they check in at 293rd in offensive efficiency and 283rd in defensive efficiency in KenPom's rankings.
March Madness Ceiling: The Eagles have been ousted in one of the First Four games each of the past two seasons. A similar fate likely awaits them this year.
67. Prairie View A&M Panthers
Record: 22-12, 17-1 in SWAC
How They Got Here: The Panthers started the season with 12 road games and went 1-11. Despite that inauspicious start, they steamrolled the conference schedule. Their only SWAC loss came on the road against conference tournament No. 2 seed Texas Southern, and it was avenged with a 92-86 victory in the tournament title game.
Reason to Believe: Prairie View showed it can at least hang around with tournament-caliber teams in competitive games against Baylor and UNC Greensboro at the start of the year. The offense is well-balanced with six players averaging at least seven points per game, led by senior guard Gary Blackston (15.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG). There's something to be said for an utterly dominant showing during the conference schedule, even if it's a low-level conference.
Reason to Worry: Forget Quad 1 and Quad 2. A win over sub-150 NET Santa Clara in November is the only Quad 3 win the Panthers have this season. They went 20-1 in Quad 4 games, but that's not exactly something you can hang your hat on. They rank outside the top 200 in KenPom's offensive and defensive efficiency, and they played one of the weakest schedules in the country.
March Madness Ceiling: The Panthers have only been in the tournament one other time, seeded as a No. 16 seed in 1998 when Kansas beat them 110-52. That sounds about right.
66. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Record: 20-13, 12-6 in NEC
How They Got Here: Since a 6-11 start to the season, the Knights have been rolling. They've won 14 of their last 16, capping off the NEC tournament with an 85-76 victory over No. 1 seed St. Francis (PA) to punch their ticket. They last made the NCAA tournament in 2016 when they lost one of the First Four games.
Reason to Believe: The Knights shoot a blistering 40.3 percent from beyond the arc, good for fifth in the nation. Senior guard Darnell Edge (16.4 PPG) leads four players who average in double figures, and sixth man Elyjah Williams chips in 8.1 points per game, so they're well-balanced on offense. On the defensive end, they racked up 253 steals (24th in NCAA) and 485 opponent turnovers (36th in NCAA).
Reason to Worry: The best win on the Knights’ resume is a Quad 3 victory over Princeton with a sub-150 NET. Their other 19 wins are all Quad 4 games. The best team they faced all season was Providence, and they lost by 10. Rutgers beat them by 35. And while that gaudy three-point percentage looks nice on paper, they only take about 19 threes per game, which puts them in the bottom third nationally.
March Madness Ceiling: Can the Knights up their three-point shooting frequency? Regardless, they'll be hard-pressed to advance beyond their opening game.
65. Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs
Record: 23-11, 10-6 in Big South
How They Got Here: The Bulldogs beat No. 1 seed Campbell—led by the nation's leading scorer Chris Clemons—and No. 2 seed Radford on the road to win the Big South tournament. It's the school's first NCAA tournament appearance in 17 years at the D1 level.
Reason to Believe: While they're lacking a Quad 1 win, the Bulldogs have a pair of road wins against ACC teams (Georgia Tech and Wake Forest), and they took a solid Furman squad to overtime back on Nov. 13. Senior guard David Efianayi (18.3 PPG) is a reliable go-to scorer who has knocked down 67 threes at an excellent 41.4 percent clip.
Reason to Worry: There's not much substance to the Bulldogs' resume. The Georgia Tech and Radford wins are their only victories against NET top 150 teams, and they also have sub-200 losses to High Point, Arkansas State and Eastern Illinois. They were completely outmatched in early-season games against Virginia Tech and VCU, losing by a combined 40 points.
March Madness Ceiling: Gardner-Webb has finally broken the tournament seal. They'll almost certainly have to wait a while longer to score their first tournament victory, though.
64. North Dakota State Bison
Record: 18-15, 9-7 in Summit
How They Got Here: The door swung wide-open in the Summit League when Mike Daum and South Dakota State lost to Western Illinois in the first game of the conference tournament. The Bison seized that opportunity, wrapping up the automatic bid with a 73-63 victory over No. 2 seed Omaha in the championship game.
Reason to Believe: This Bison are not afraid to let it rip from beyond the arc. They've attempted 861 threes on the season—28th in the nation—and hit at a respectable 36.6 percent clip. Their rotation goes nine deep, which should help them keep fresh against a more athletic opponent. On top of all that, they're as battle-tested as any small school in the nation, with games against NET top 50 teams in Gonzaga, Iowa State and New Mexico State on their non-conference schedule.
Reason to Worry: The experience gained in those high-profile games is nice, but it also bears mentioning that they lost all three by a combined 81 points. A home victory against sub-150 UC Santa Barbara is their best win, and they have a total of nine Quad 3 and Quad 4 losses.
March Madness Ceiling: The Bison pulled off an upset of No. 5 Oklahoma in the 2014 tournament. This year's group isn't nearly as talented as that No. 12 seed was, though. A steep uphill battle awaits.
63. Iona Gaels
Record: 17-15, 12-6 in MAAC
How They Got Here: The Gaels closed out the regular season on a seven-game winning streak. After squeaking out a two-point victory over Saint Peter's in the opening round of the MAAC tournament, they steamrolled Siena and Monmouth by a combined 37 points to secure the automatic bid. This marks the fourth straight season Iona has made the field.
Reason to Believe: Since snapping a four-game losing streak, the Gaels are rolling. The three-pronged attack of E.J. Crawford (17.9 PPG, 2nd in MAAC), Rickey McGill (15.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) and Tajuan Agee (13.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG) gives them plenty of balance. Each of their top six scorers is an upperclassman, so they're an experienced group.
Reason to Worry: The Gaels have eight Quad 4 losses and a 2-4 record in Quad 3 games. That's...not great. In fact, a win against Hartford on a neutral court stands as their only top-200 victory. Their only Quad 1 and Quad 2 games came against VCU, Providence and Yale, and they lost those by a combined 56 points.
March Madness Ceiling: The momentum is nice, but Iona has given no indication it is capable of even hanging around with a tournament-caliber team.
62. Abilene Christian Wildcats
Record: 27-6, 14-4 in Southland
How They Got Here: Abilene Christian wasn't even a D-I program until six years ago. After five consecutive seasons playing .500-or-worse basketball, the Wildcats finally broke through with a 27-win season. Even better, they did it during Stephen F. Austin's worst season in more than a decade, so the Southland Conference tournament was there for the taking too.
Reason to Believe: ACU has a dangerous combination of triples and steals. The Wildcats shoot nearly 39 percent from three-point range and average 8.5 steals per game. And in both categories, they have a ton of contributors, making it impossible to just key in on shutting down or avoiding a particular player.
Reason to Worry: Abilene Christian only played one game against a KenPom top-150 team, and it got annihilated by Texas Tech. That also means the Wildcats lost five games to teams outside the top 150. That's less than promising.
March Madness Ceiling: In one of its first years of NCAA tournament eligibility, Florida Gulf Coast shocked the world by dunking its way into the Sweet 16. Could Abilene Christian do something similar in just its second year of postseason eligibility? Probably not. But it's a fun comparison to make if you're looking for a deep sleeper. Despite the poor showing against Texas Tech, the Wildcats' style of play could make things interesting in the first round.
61. Colgate Raiders
Record: 24-10, 13-5 in Patriot League
How They Got Here: Colgate and Bucknell were seemingly on a collision course for the Patriot League automatic bid all year, and as expected they met up in the conference tournament championship game. After splitting the regular season, Colgate punched their ticket with a convincing 94-80 victory over the Bison to win the title.
Reason to Believe: The Raiders haven't lost since Feb. 2 and their 11-game winning streak is tied for the fifth-longest active streak in the nation behind only Wofford (20), New Mexico State (17), UC Irvine (14) and VCU (12). Junior forward Rapolas Ivanauskas (16.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG) won Patriot League POY and he's one of three players who averaged in double figures for an offense that sits at a respectable 60th in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency.
Reason to Worry: Syracuse is the only tournament-bound team the Raiders have faced this season and the Orange blew them out by 21 points. They also lost by 11 to Penn State and by 10 to South Florida—their only other games against top 100 NET teams. All told, the Patriots went 0-4 in Quad 1 and Quad 2 games, while tallying three Quad 4 losses. And while their offense has graded out well, their defense ranks outside KenPom's top 200, which will pose a serious problem against an upper-echelon team.
March Madness Ceiling: The Patriot League has pulled off some notable upsets over the years, most recently when No. 15 Lehigh beat No. 2 Duke in the 2012 tournament. That team had a future NBA player in C.J. McCollum, though. This Raiders squad will likely be one-and-done.
60. Bradley Braves
Record: 20-14, 9-9 in Missouri Valley
How They Got Here: The Braves made it through the Missouri Valley tournament by the slimmest of margins, winning their games against Missouri State, Loyola-Chicago and Northern Iowa by a combined eight points. After an 0-5 start to conference play, they went 9-4 to close out the regular season, hitting their stride at the perfect time to earn the automatic bid.
Reason to Believe: Bradley won the one Quad 1 game it played this season with a 59-56 victory over Penn State at the Cancun Challenge back on Nov. 21. The defensive-minded Braves rank 34th nationally in points allowed per game (65.0) and 47th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (41.6%). And while they're not a high-scoring team, they do knock down threes at a respectable 36.6 percent clip.
Reason to Worry: While that Quad 1 win is nice, the Braves also have a whopping 11 losses in Quad 3 and Quad 4 games, including a home loss to a sub-300 NET team in Eastern Illinois. The defense is solid, but they rank 246th in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency, and they lack a true go-to scorer, which will make it awfully hard to play catch-up if they fall behind early.
March Madness Ceiling: This is the school that reached the Sweet 16 in 2006 as a No. 13 seed, so anything can happen. The lack of offensive firepower makes the Braves a tough pick to win even one game this time around, though.
59. Montana Grizzlies
Record: 26-8, 16-4 in Big Sky
How They Got Here: The Grizzlies won 26 games and nabbed a No. 14 seed last year, so they're no stranger to March Madness. They seized control of the Big Sky with a 10-game winning streak in the middle of the league schedule and never looked back, beating Eastern Washington 68-62 in the conference tournament title game.
Reason to Believe: With the top four scorers from the team that lost to Michigan by 14 points in the first round last year all returning, this roster has postseason experience. The Grizzlies shoot an efficient 49.7 percent (seventh in NCAA) and hit at 38.2 percent from beyond the arc (25th in NCAA) with four players who average double figures. As for results, the Grizzlies beat a good South Dakota State team by 11 points and went 5-1 against Quad 3 opponents.
Reason to Worry: The 6-2 record in Quad 2 and 3 games is respectable. The four Quad 4 losses are a little cringy, though. Defensively, they're not capable of slowing a tournament-caliber team. The best opponent they played all year was Creighton, and the Blue Jays hung 98 points on them on 60.4 percent shooting. If they fall behind early, which seems likely, their slow tempo doesn't bode well for clawing back into a contest.
March Madness Ceiling: The Grizzlies have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2006 when they upset Nevada as a No. 12 seed. The drought will continue.
58. Northern Kentucky Norse
Record: 26-8, 13-5 in Horizon League
How They Got Here: The Norse squeaked out a one-point victory over Oakland in the Horizon tournament semifinals before beating No. 1 seed Wright State by 11 in the championship game. They gave Kentucky a game as a No. 15 seed last time they were in the NCAA tournament in 2017, losing by just nine to the Wildcats.
Reason to Believe: Horizon League POY Drew McDonald is one of the better mid-major players in this year's NCAA tournament. The 6'8" senior averaged 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest while knocking down 67 threes at a 40.9 percent rate. And he doesn't have to do it alone, with Tyler Sharpe (14.1 PPG, 86 threes) and Jalen Tate (14.0 PPG, 4.1 APG) also capable of doing damage. In fact, they rank a respectable 75th in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency.
Reason to Worry: Their only games against Quad 1 and Quad 2 team were losses to UCF and Cincinnati. That means they have six bad losses on the resume, including a pair of Quad 4 losses to sub-250 NET teams in Eastern Kentucky and Cleveland State. Also, Northern Illinois is a pretty uninspiring signature win. And as good as McDonald has been, Cincinnati keyed in on him defensively, and he was held to just eight points on 3-of-15 shooting.
March Madness Ceiling: Northern Kentucky feels like one of those mid-major teams where you look up and they're beating a No. 3 seed by five points at halftime. Then they end up losing by 12. Their offense shouldn't be taken lightly, though.
57. Old Dominion Monarchs
Record: 26-8, 13-5 in C-USA
How They Got Here: After impressive nonconference wins over VCU and Syracuse, Old Dominion won both the Conference USA regular-season and tournament titles. The Monarchs played three great games against Western Kentucky, winning all three by a slim margin, including Saturday's championship game.
Reason to Believe: Old Dominion is excellent on the glass on both ends, and 7'0" sophomore Dajour Dickens anchors a shot-blocking defense. A lot of teams from one-bid leagues are liable to be overwhelmed by the physicality of their major-conference opponents, but the Monarchs might outwork the favorites.
Reason to Worry: At 44.6 percent, this is one of the worst two-point shooting teams to make the NCAA tournament in the past decade. And it is a teamwide epidemic. Not one of the seven leaders in minutes shoots better than 49 percent inside the arc. Not surprisingly, this team is also awful from the free-throw line, though at least the Monarchs have B.J. Stith (84.5 percent) if they need someone to salt the game away at the charity stripe.
March Madness Ceiling: ODU has an electric backcourt duo of seniors in Stith and Ahmad Caver, and the duo might be the driving force of this year's Cinderella story. The aforementioned nonconference wins are proof of what this defense is capable of against tournament-caliber opponents, and these two guards are likely to combine for close to 40 points. That could be a Sweet 16 combo.
56. Vermont Catamounts
Record: 27-6, 12-4 in America East
How They Got Here: It took Vermont three tries, but they finally beat UMBC. After losing to the Retrievers twice during the regular season for their only two conference losses, the Catamounts cruised to a 66-49 victory in the America East title game to secure the automatic bid.
Reason to Believe: Junior forward Anthony Lamb is one of the best mid-major players in the nation. The conference POY poured in 28 points in the title game against UMBC, and he had a 42-point game earlier this season against St. Bonaventure on his way to averaging 21.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest. The Catamounts don't have a signature win, but they did hang around with Louisville in an 86-78 loss.
Reason to Worry: The Catamounts rank 286th in KenPom's adjusted tempo. There's a reason they were able to hang around with Louisville (194th) but were blown out by Lipscomb (14th) and Kansas (64th). They won't be able to dictate the pace against more talented opponents in the tournament, so they'll be at the mercy of the matchup.
March Madness Ceiling: If Vermont can draw a team that plays at a similar pace, and if Lamb can go off for 30-plus points, the Catamounts just might have a shot. Those are big ifs, though, and they could just as easily be run out of the gym in the first game.
55. Georgia State Panthers
Record: 24-9, 13-5 in Sun Belt
How They Got Here: It was a hot-and-cold kind of year for Georgia State. In the span of five games early in the season, the Panthers lost to Creighton and Liberty by a combined margin of 51 points, blew out Georgia and upset Alabama. They were a little less erratic in Sun Belt play, though, and they have won eight of their last nine games.
Reason to Believe: D'Marcus Simonds is the stat-sheet stuffer that a lot of fans might remember from last year's tournament team, but he is just one of five Panthers averaging more than 11 points per game. This team is lethal from three-point range, and it thrives on turning blocks and steals into easy buckets. Georgia State is a minor-conference version of Auburn in that regard.
Reason to Worry: The Panthers are downright awful on the glass, ranking in the bottom 50 on both ends of the court, per KenPom, and their three-point defense leaves a lot to be desired. Such is life when you primarily play zone defense and don't put a ton of emphasis on crashing the offensive boards, though. Teams who can stroke it from distance can handle Georgia State with relative ease.
March Madness Ceiling: Georgia State broke brackets around the world in 2015 when it upset Baylor in the first round. Perhaps another Ron-Hunter-falls-off-his-stool moment is coming again this year? The rebounding numbers are terrifying, but there are so many scoring options that the Panthers could put up 70 points without a single offensive rebound. We'll see if the slipper still fits on this Cinderella.
54. Yale Bulldogs
Record: 22-7, 10-4 in Ivy
How They Got Here: Yale started out 18-4 with a couple of close road losses to Memphis and Vermont, an understandably not-so-close loss at Duke and a nice win over Miami. The Bulldogs struggled late in the year, losing three of their final five regular-season games. But in Sunday's championship game, they snapped a four-game losing streak to Harvard with a 97-85 bid-sealing victory.
Reason to Believe: As was the case when Yale upset Baylor in 2016—producing one of the greatest postgame interview soundbites in college basketball history—this team is strong in the paint. Led by Jordan Bruner, the Bulldogs own the defensive glass. They also shoot 56 percent from inside the arc while holding opponents to 47 percent, and they have a legitimate pro prospect in Miye Oni who can take over a game.
Reason to Worry: Yale's turnover margin is ugly, and it was a huge problem in the losses to Memphis and Duke. The Bulldogs coughed up the ball 47 times between those two games, and they rarely force turnovers.
March Madness Ceiling: The Ivy League's representative is always a Cinderella candidate, and this team is no different. Even No. 16 seed Penn gave Kansas a fight for about 29 minutes in last year's dance. That the Bulldogs’ 91-58 blowout loss to Duke is their only game against a title contender is obvious cause for concern, but they will not be an easy out. Sweet 16 is a fringe possibility here.
53. UC Irvine Anteaters
Record: 30-5, 15-1 in Big West
How They Got Here: UC Irvine had early road wins over Saint Mary's and Texas A&M and also faced Utah State, Butler and Toledo. The Anteaters then laid waste to the Big West, winning the conference tournament in blowout fashion to put the finishing touches on a 16-game winning streak. They have barely even been challenged in the past month.
Reason to Believe: The Anteaters lead the nation in two-point field-goal defense. But they also have one of the lowest defensive three-point rates, meaning they are great at baiting opponents into trying to score against that great interior defense. They do a great job of extending defense to the arc while still having a rim protector down low, leaving openings for low-percentage, mid-range jumpers.
Reason to Worry: Irvine's perimeter game on offense is weak, both in terms of shooting and passing. The Anteaters faced little resistance in the Big West and still put up mediocre shooting percentages and a subpar assist rate. While the win over Saint Mary's was encouraging, they were shut down on offense in the losses to Utah State, Butler and Toledo.
March Madness Ceiling: UCI's defensive approach will throw off opponents unprepared for it. Everyone is all about layups and threes in today's game, but the way to beat this team is with pull-ups from the elbows. Once the Anteaters run into a team that can capitalize on that, they'll get ousted. That might take a couple of rounds, though.
52. Northeastern Huskies
Record: 23-10, 14-4 in CAA
How They Got Here: Northeastern challenged itself early and often, facing Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Alabama, Vermont and Davidson in nonconference play. Almost all of those games were losses, but the Huskies learned a lot about themselves in those six weeks and became a force against Colonial competition. The last time they lost a game decided in regulation by a margin of more than five points was on Dec. 4.
Reason to Believe: Northeastern shoots better than almost every other team in the field. Vasa Pusica is the biggest star, but there are four Huskies who shoot at least 40 percent from three-point range, 54 percent from inside the arc and 74 percent from the free-throw line. In the CAA championship win over Hofstra, they drained 14 triples.
Reason to Worry: Defense is a fleeting concept for Northeastern. The Huskies do a great job on the defensive glass, but that's about it. They don't block shots, they don't force turnovers and they barely even make it difficult for opponents to score in the paint. The slow pace of play (and the high-efficiency offense) obscures this problem a bit, but Virginia Tech and Syracuse scored at will against Northeastern.
March Madness Ceiling: Teams that shoot this well are always capable of a win or two. And the CAA's representative has been oh-so-close to tournament upsets in each of the past four years. This might be the one that finally gets the job done.
51. Liberty Flames
Record: 28-6, 14-2 in Atlantic Sun
How They Got Here: In their first season in the Atlantic Sun Conference after coming over from the Big South, the Flames punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013 and just the fourth time in school history. They've won 10 of their last 11, including a 74-68 win on the road against a good Lipscomb team in the title game.
Reason to Believe: Two road wins over Lipscomb and a 15-point victory over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion headline the Flames’ resume. Offensive efficiency and balance is their calling card. The Flames shoot 49.1 percent from the floor, good for 13th in the nation, and they can spread the defense with five different players averaging at least one three-pointer per game. They also don't have a truly awful loss on their resume, with an 18-0 record in Quad 4 games.
Reason to Worry: This is a solid Liberty team based on the games they've played. The trouble is, they haven't been tested. Three meetings with Lipscomb and a nine-point loss to Alabama are their only games against teams with a NET inside the top 75. Their offensive balance can also be a double-edged sword, as they lack a true go-to scorer. And while they held opponents to 60.8 points per game, that was more a result of a slow tempo and poor opponents than a high-quality defense.
March Madness Ceiling: The Flames’ first-round opponent—whoever it is—will be the best team they've played all season. That's scary. They're better than your run-of-the-mill automatic bid small school and should at least be able to make things interesting, but they'll still be facing long odds.
50. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 19-14, 8-12 in Big Ten
How They Got Here: There's night and day, and then there's Ohio State's schedule. The Buckeyes started out 12-1 and were (controversially) the No. 1 team in the first-ever NET rankings in late November. But when the calendar flipped to 2019, everything changed. Ohio State went 7-13 the rest of the way, and even the best of those wins—at Indiana, probably—wasn't that great. Factor in losses to Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern and it's a small miracle this team made the tourney.
Reason to Believe: Recent 86-51 loss to Purdue notwithstanding, Ohio State has been solid on defense all season. Not great, but solid. The Buckeyes protect the defensive glass at an above-average level, and they don't allow many uncontested looks at the rim from anywhere within 25 feet.
Reason to Worry: Ohio State's offense has not been solid. Far from it, actually. The Buckeyes have been held to 67 points or fewer on 15 occasions, going 3-12 in those contests. And this isn't an issue that's improving. They were limited to 56 points or fewer in six of their last 14 games.
March Madness Ceiling: Since winning the season opener at Cincinnati, Ohio State hasn't beaten a quality opponent. And most of its losses were by a double-digit margin. Getting Kaleb Wesson back from a three-game suspension helped a little in the Big Ten tournament, but this team was a mess long before temporarily losing its star player. The Buckeyes are less likely to reach the Sweet 16 than most of the No. 13 seeds.
49. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 21-13, 9-11 in Big Ten
How They Got Here: Like so many other Big Ten teams, Minnesota got out to a great start during the nonconference portion of the season before racking up losses in league play. The Golden Gophers knocked off Washington, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Nebraska and Wisconsin en route to a 12-2 record. But they lost nine of the next 14 games and only kept their at-large hopes alive because of a pair of wins over Purdue in March.
Reason to Believe: Between Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu, Minnesota has a pair of rebounding machines. That duo and Amir Coffey draw a ton of fouls for a team that gets to the free-throw line about as well as any.
Reason to Worry: Minnesota can't shoot. Threes, twos, free throws, doesn't matter. The Gophers rank well outside the top 200 nationally in all three categories. They also struggle to force turnovers, so they can't even count on the occasional fast-break bucket to break a shooting drought.
March Madness Ceiling: The Gophers had a few quality wins during the regular season, but they all had extenuating circumstances, like Purdue shooting 32.7 percent on twos, Wisconsin having its worst first half in years or Minnesota hitting 12 threes while Indiana shot 2-of-17. Maybe that could happen for one tournament game, but any sort of sustained run by this team would be an unlikely underdog story.
48. Saint Louis Billikens
Record: 23-12, 10-8 in A-10
How They Got Here: Saint Louis won 14 of its first 18 games, including knocking off three major-conference foes (Seton Hall, Butler and Oregon State). The Billikens also almost won games away from home against Houston and Pittsburgh. But they racked up a bunch of losses over the second half of the season before righting the ship during the A-10 tournament, winning as the No. 6 seed.
Reason to Believe: Saint Louis is a great rebounding team that also digs in its heels on defense. In 11 games this season against teams in the KenPom top 90, the Billikens allowed 61.8 points, including shutting down Dayton and Davidson in the A-10 tournament. This can be a frustrating opponent to deal with.
Reason to Worry: This team is a disaster on offense. At less than 60 percent, Saint Louis is almost the worst free-throw shooting team in the nation, and it ranks in the bottom 75 in two-point and three-point percentage. The unfortunate thing is the Billikens get to the free-throw line a ton. They just can't do much with those opportunities.
March Madness Ceiling: Saint Louis feels like the team that is going to reach the Sweet 16, even though hardly anybody will pick it to win a single game. There's always one, isn't there? And with six wins over KenPom top-100 opponents this season, the Billikens will at least have faith in themselves to pull off a couple of upsets.
47. Oregon Ducks
Record: 23-12, 10-8 in Pac-12
How They Got Here: Oregon was supposed to be a contender thanks to stud freshmen Bol Bol and Louis King, but the Ducks didn't get King until a couple of weeks into the season and lost Bol for the year a few games later. Big man Kenny Wooten also missed a few games with a broken jaw. It took the Ducks a long time to come together, but they enter the tournament on an eight-game winning streak, twice beating both Washington and Arizona State en route to the Pac-12 tournament title—which they would not have gotten into the Big Dance without.
Reason to Believe: There were nights throughout the season when Oregon's defense looked like a boat with 15 holes it couldn't plug, but the D has been impeccable during this winning streak. The Ducks' last eight opponents have averaged 54.3 points, and only one of them eclipsed 61. The combination of Wooten's rim protection and Ehab Amin's ball hunting is lethal.
Reason to Worry: Oregon is somewhere between inconsistent and just plain not good on offense, especially away from home. Just in the past 10 weeks, the Ducks were held to 66 points or fewer eight times. Part of that is due to their slow pace, but it's mostly because they don't have reliable shooters and are average in terms of turnovers and rebounding.
March Madness Ceiling: Depending on the draw, Oregon could be a nuisance. Its zone defense allows a ton of looks at three-pointers, so it could get buried by halftime against a hot opponent. But teams that need to score in the paint will have trouble doing so against the Ducks. They didn't belong in this tournament until Saturday night, but they could sneak into the second weekend.
46. Temple Owls
Record: 23-9, 13-5 in AAC
How They Got Here: After starting the league slate 5-3 with an interspersed nonconference loss to Penn, the Owls closed out the regular season by winning eight of 10. That momentum halted with an opening-round loss to Wichita State in the AAC tournament, which left them squarely on the bubble.
Reason to Believe: Home victories against Houston and UCF highlight a resume that includes eight Quadrant 1 and 2 wins, and even with its early exit from the conference tournament, this team seemed to hit its stride down the stretch. Senior point guard Shizz Alston Jr. (19.7 ppg, 5.0 apg) does a great job running the offense and protecting the ball, while the defense ranked 17th in the nation with 277 steals.
Reason to Worry: A bad loss to sub-100 NET Penn and a 2-6 record in Quadrant 1 games is exactly what you'd expect the resume to look like for one of the last teams to grab an at-large bid. Even more troubling than the Penn loss was an 18-point shellacking by Tulsa on February 9. The Owls also rank outside KenPom's top 75 in offensive and defensive efficiency, as there's not any one thing they do well.
March Madness Ceiling: Maybe Temple can regain that late-season momentum and win its first-round game. Or maybe the Owls will head home before the weekend.
45. Arizona State Sun Devils
Record: 22-10, 12-6 in Pac-12
How They Got Here: Seven weeks into the season, Arizona State looked great. The Sun Devils had one iffy loss to Vanderbilt, but they made up for it with wins over Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State, as well as a hard-fought loss to Nevada. Since then, though, they've added bad home losses to Princeton, Utah and Washington State without adding any more Quadrant 1 wins. Had this team been left out, no one would have been shocked.
Reason to Believe: This is a physical bunch, similar to the one Bobby Hurley had at Buffalo a few years ago. Arizona State works hard on the glass and both draws and commits a lot of fouls. This style can frustrate a finesse team to no end.
Reason to Worry: Arizona State lost nine games to teams that weren't close to the at-large conversation. The Sun Devils get to the free-throw line a ton, but they struggle to make shots from it. In fact, aside from De'Quon Lake's dunks and layups, they don't shoot well from anywhere on the floor. And they give up a lot of three-pointers, in part because their physicality implores teams to score from the perimeter.
March Madness Ceiling: At no point since the late-December win over Kansas could you turn on an Arizona State game and think, I can't wait to pick that team to win multiple games in the tournament. Maybe the Sun Devils can pull off one upset against a cold-shooting foe, but a prolonged stay in the Big Dance is far from likely.
44. Florida Gators
Record: 19-15, 9-9 in SEC
How They Got Here: Outside of a trio of great games against LSU, Florida never seemed like much of a contender this year. The Gators blew countless opportunities for key wins and suffered bad home losses to Georgia and South Carolina. They had a five-game winning streak—bookended by games against Vanderbilt—in mid-February, and that's about it. Many bracketologists did not think this team belonged in the field prior to its victory over LSU in the SEC quarters.
Reason to Believe: The Gators are stout on defense. Kevarrius Hayes has been a great lane-clogger for three years now, and they have five players with at least 20 steals each. If they were better at ending possessions with defensive rebounds, they would probably have one of the five most efficient defenses in the country.
Reason to Worry: This offense is an adventure, and not a fun one. The Gators have been held to 62 points or fewer on 13 occasions, and they lost 11 of those games. All three leading scorers (KeVaughn Allen, Noah Locke and Jalen Hudson) shoot worse than 40 percent from the field.
March Madness Ceiling: At the start of the SEC tournament, the Gators were 1-10 against KenPom top 40 teams, and they had four more losses outside of that group. They may have changed the narrative a bit with a nice showing this week, but it still would be a little shocking if Florida reaches the Sweet 16.
43. Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 22-11, 10-10 in Big Ten
How They Got Here: Aside from a home win over Iowa State in December and a home win over Michigan on Feb. 1, Iowa didn't do much this season. But the Hawkeyes were in great shape for a top six seed until they crashed and burned at the finish line, losing six of their final eight games—including a dreadful 14-point home loss to Rutgers.
Reason to Believe: Iowa's offense has been inconsistent and noticeably absent for almost two months, but the Hawkeyes can put up points in bunches. They are 18-2 when scoring at least 73 points, and with four solid three-point shooters on the roster, you have to wonder why they don't get to that total more often.
Reason to Worry: This is nothing new in the past three years, but Iowa's defense is somewhere between a train wreck and a dumpster fire. And three of the Hawkeyes' six worst defensive performances came in the final two weeks of the regular season—against teams that aren't even that good on offense.
March Madness Ceiling: One month ago, you probably could've talked me into Iowa as an Elite Eight candidate. But now, even one win is pushing it. The same thing happened in 2016, albeit with an entirely different roster. The Hawkeyes looked great until mid-February and then lost six of their final eight before Selection Sunday to limp into the tournament. They barely won the opener in overtime before getting smashed by a quality opponent in the second round. A repeat of that wouldn't surprise anyone.
42. Belmont Bruins
Record: 26-5, 16-2 in Ohio Valley
How They Got Here: Belmont was on a 14-game winning streak before losing primary frontcourt weapon Nick Muszynski to an ankle injury in the OVC semifinals, and his presence in the paint and on the glass was sorely missed in the 77-65 loss to Murray State in the championship game. But thanks to a pair of wins over Lipscomb, road wins over UCLA and Murray State, and a solid nonconference strength of schedule, the Bruins were deemed worthy of an at-large bid after a nerve-wracking week of rooting against other bubble teams.
Reason to Believe: Per usual, Belmont is one of the best shooting teams. The Bruins have ranked top three nationally in two-point percentage in seven consecutive seasons, and they are in the top 85 in three-point percentage for the eighth time in nine years. Dylan Windler, a 6'8" senior, is a legitimate NBA prospect averaging better than 21 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Reason to Worry: Belmont's defensive effort leaves much to be desired, and it may be even worse than usual if Muszynski—the only rim-protector on the roster—is at less than full strength with that ankle. Even far-from-elite offenses like Illinois State, Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky and Samford had little trouble scoring against the Bruins.
March Madness Ceiling: A first-round upset is conceivable. A sustained run probably is not. Belmont always shoots well during the regular season, but it always gets bounced immediately. In seven trips to the NCAA tournament since 2006, the Bruins are 0-7 and were beaten by a double-digit margin in six of those games. It's easy to hit jumpers against the Ohio Valley and Atlantic Sun, but that offense never seems to translate against the powerhouses.
41. Baylor Bears
Record: 19-13, 10-8 in Big 12
How They Got Here: Six weeks into the regular season, Baylor had terrible home losses against Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin, a bad road loss to Wichita State and nothing more than a road win over Arizona on the good side of the ledger. The Bears were so far out of the NCAA tournament picture that they didn't even bear mentioning. But they rallied in a huge way to finish fourth in the Big 12.
Reason to Believe: Led by Mark Vital and Freddie Gillespie, Baylor is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. It's a nice luxury for a squad that shoots a lot of three-pointers, knowing an off night from the perimeter isn't necessarily the end of the world. This is also an above-average team on defense, though the Bears have been much more hit-or-miss on that end since losing big man Tristan Clark to a knee injury in January.
Reason to Worry: Baylor lost seven of its final 11 regular-season games, struggling to put the ball in the hoop in spite of all those offensive rebounds. Leading scorer Makai Mason has been dealing with a bruised toe throughout that entire stretch, and it's impossible to say whether he'll be feeling close to 100 percent for the tournament. The fact that he sat out the season finale against Kansas doesn't bode well, though.
March Madness Ceiling: With Mason's health in question, Baylor is probably a one-and-done team. Even if he plays, multiple wins might be a pipe dream. All of the Bears' best wins (vs. Texas Tech, at Iowa State, at Oklahoma) seemed to come at the exact moment when each of those teams was playing its worst basketball of the season. And you can't very well catch a team at its low point during the NCAA tournament.
40. VCU Rams
Record: 25-7, 16-2 in A-10
How They Got Here: VCU had a couple of nice wins away from home against Temple and Texas in the first month of the season, but it also suffered some questionable losses to Old Dominion, Rhode Island and College of Charleston. The Rams buckled down late in the season, though, entering the A-10 tournament on a 12-game winning streak. Even the immediate loss to Rhode Island in the quarterfinals wasn't enough to keep VCU out.
Reason to Believe: VCU's defense is menacing. The Rams rank top 10 on KenPom in three-point percentage, two-point percentage, effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage and adjusted defensive efficiency. They also wear out opponents by forcing them to play long possessions all game. Rhode Island is the only team to put up at least 70 points against VCU in the past two months.
Reason to Worry: This offense is about as bad as its defense is good. The Rams are terrible from three-point range, and they frequently have issues with turnovers. Between the three bad losses noted above, VCU shot 14-of-59 (23.7 percent) from downtown and coughed up the ball 48 times (16 per game).
March Madness Ceiling: VCU always feels like a threat to make some sort of a tournament run, but it is just 3-6 in the Big Dance with no Sweet 16 appearances since that memorable trip to the 2011 Final Four. And its offense is usually a lot better than this. It's hard/foolish to count out this defense, but this doesn't seem like a second-weekend team.
39. UCF Knights
Record: 23-8, 13-5 in AAC
How They Got Here: The Knights entered the AP poll for the first and only time on the final week of the regular season by knocking off No. 8 Houston and No. 20 Cincinnati in succession to kick off the month of March. However, they were ousted from the conference tournament in their first game with a 24-point loss to Memphis.
Reason to Believe: This is the best team in UCF history. B.J. Taylor (16.0 PPG) and Aubrey Dawkins (15.2 PPG) form a consistent scoring tandem, 7'6" center Tacko Fall (73 blocks) changes the way teams operate offensively, and sophomore Collin Smith can be a difference-maker—he went off for 21 points in the win against Houston. Their defense will be what carries them. They hold opponents to just 39.5 percent shooting and rank 35th in KenPom's defensive efficiency.
Reason to Worry: Entering the tournament on the heels of a 24-point throttling is less than ideal. Taylor, Dawkins and Smith were held to 25 points combined on a brutal 8-of-29 shooting in that game, and the defense was unable to keep things close. The road win on their resume against Houston is great, but a 2-5 record in Quad 1 and an 8-7 record overall in Quad 1 and 2 games paints them as a good-not-great team.
March Madness Ceiling: The Knights are more than capable of winning their opening game, but given their likely seeding, they'll face a tough test against an elite team in the second round. If the offense is firing, a Sweet 16 appearance is possible, but they'll have their hands full surviving the weekend.
38. Ole Miss Rebels
Record: 20-12, 10-8 in SEC
How They Got Here: Ole Miss is the one SEC team that seems to have missed the memo about scheduling more aggressively in nonconference play. But in the Rebels' defense, they were supposed to be the worst team in the conference this year. To the surprise of many, they started out 10-2 and then opened SEC play with three more wins over Vanderbilt, Auburn and Mississippi State. They've only picked up one impressive win since then (at Auburn), but they gave both Kentucky and Tennessee a run for their money in recent weeks.
Reason to Believe: Kermit Davis knows a thing or two about the NCAA tournament from his days with Middle Tennessee. He orchestrated the colossal upset of second-seeded Michigan State as No. 15 seed in 2016 and pulled off a 12-over-5 upset the following year. This team is also lethal from the free-throw line.
Reason to Worry: Three-point defense is a major Achilles' heel for Ole Miss. During one eight-game stretch from Jan. 26 to Feb. 19, seven opponents shot better than 42 percent from downtown against the Rebels. It's also concerning that they lost 10 of their final 17 games, including losses to South Carolina, Alabama (twice) and Arkansas.
March Madness Ceiling: Ole Miss has won exactly one game in each of its last two trips to the NCAA tournament. So has Davis (with MTSU). That trend may continue. This team is unlikely to pull off multiple upsets, but one is feasible.
37. Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 19-13, 7-11 in Big 12
How They Got Here: Just like last year, Oklahoma got out to a great start before gradually throwing it all away during Big 12 play. The Sooners were 11-1 against an excellent strength of schedule when the calendar flipped to 2019, but they lost nine of their next 13 games to slide onto the bubble. Late home wins over Texas and Kansas kept them in the field, but it's another year of wondering what could have been.
Reason to Believe: Oklahoma is much better on the defensive end than it has been in recent years. The Sooners have yet to allow more than 80 points in a game, despite playing at an above-average tempo. This is predominantly an older team with five seniors in the main eight-man rotation, but freshman point guard Jamal Bieniemy has been an excellent first line of defense, averaging 2.3 steals per 40 minutes.
Reason to Worry: Who can be counted on to score big buckets? Christian James seemed to be that guy early in the season, but he has been held to 11 points or fewer in nine of the last 14 games. Kristian Doolittle has stepped up in James' stead, but the Sooners still have frequent no-shows on offense.
March Madness Ceiling: Oklahoma might win a game. However, this team has had a lot of trouble stringing together consecutive quality performances. After three of the Sooners' four best Big 12 wins, they turned around and immediately lost the next game by at least 13 points.
36. St. John's Red Storm
Record: 21-12, 8-10 in Big East
How They Got Here: St. John's started out 12-0 against a painfully weak nonconference schedule. (Even with the February blowout loss at Duke, the Red Storm still have an NCSOS outside the top 200.) They proceeded to put together a sub-.500 conference record. Normally, that would be a massive no-no. But they swept Marquette and Creighton during the regular season and won a home game against Villanova. And in the Big East, where no one was terrible this year, that's a solid 8-10 record.
Reason to Believe: In terms of raw talent, this is one of the best starting fives in the country. Shamorie Ponds, Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron and Arizona transfer Justin Simon were all top-50 recruits who are now upperclassmen. LJ Figueroa was a JUCO All-American. And Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark is no slouch. Consistency has been a major issue all year, but there's a lot of potential here.
Reason to Worry: St. John's has talent, but it doesn't have height. This team routinely gets destroyed in rebounding margin. In each of their 12 losses, the Red Storm lost the battle on the boards. And we're not talking about a difference of one or two. The average difference in those games was 12.7 rebounds. Also, aside from a strong turnover rate, this team is bad on defense.
March Madness Ceiling: The Johnnies will lose as soon as they run into a team capable of dominating them in the paint, which shouldn't take long. They got those key wins over Creighton, Marquette and Villanova because those are perimeter-oriented teams who didn't, or couldn't, capitalize on the Red Storm's fatal flaw. Best of luck winning more than one game with that problem.
35. Utah State Aggies
Record: 28-6, 15-3 in MWC
How They Got Here: Early wins over Saint Mary's and UC Irvine—as well as close calls against Arizona State and Houston—got Utah State onto the fringe of the at-large conversation. But it was winning 14 of the final 15 regular-season games that had the Aggies effectively locked into a bid before they won the Mountain West tournament. Craig Smith deserves national coach of the year consideration for how quickly he turned this program around.
Reason to Believe: Utah State's interior defense is outstanding. Freshman Neemias Queta is like a giant eraser in the paint, blocking better than two shots per game for a team that ranks top five nationally in both defensive rebound percentage and two-point field-goal defense. And on the other end of the floor, the Aggies have a pressure-cooker scorer in Sam Merrill.
Reason to Worry: Playing away from home has been a struggle for Utah State. The Aggies handled lowly Wyoming, San Jose State and Air Force without much trouble. Those were the exceptions to the rule, though. Since Dec. 5, Utah State has lost four road games and had four others decided either by one possession or overtime. And only two of those eight opponents (Nevada and Houston) are tournament teams.
March Madness Ceiling: Overshadowed in a season where Buffalo, Wofford and Furman each made appearances in the AP Top 25, Utah State might be the mid-major that rises up and makes a Cinderella run. That Merrill/Queta combo is special, and those two guys are surrounded by players who fill their roles perfectly. I won't have the guts to bet my bracket on it, but this could be an Elite Eight team.