NCAA Tournament 2019: Power Ranking All 32 Teams in Round 2
That screeching sound you hear is the sound of chalk interrupting your daydreams of an upset-filled opening 48 hours at the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Sure, there were a few, thanks to Liberty and UC Irvine and a couple of others, but major shockers were relatively lacking, at least for the most dramatic tournament this side of the football pitch.
But the favorites, in several cases, did more than just win. They thundered through the field like runaway rhinos. And that's fun too.
As the weekend opens, where do we stand? We're here to rank every team in the round of 32, with the final five standing out as the field's true title contenders.
Regular-season standings and statistics are not unimportant, but we're giving heavy emphasis to how the teams looked in their first game of the dance because, you know, that's more important at this point.
32-27: Liberty Flames—LSU Tigers
32. Liberty Flames
They went wild in Lynchburg, Virginia, when No. 12 Liberty upended No. 5 Mississippi State 80-76.
It was a great showing behind a 12-of-25 (48 percent) effort from deep. Given that the Flames average 36.8 percent from three on the season, it seems unlikely they'll get that kind of help again. It was nice while it lasted.
31. UC Irvine Anteaters
No. 13 UC Irvine gratified bracketology hipsters when the trendy upset pick delivered a 70-64 win over No. 4 Kansas State.
A 12-0 second-half run keyed the Anteaters past the Wildcats, and then they admirably closed things out down the stretch at the free-throw line, where they went 17-of-19 for the contest.
But let's not get too excited. This is not an offensive juggernaut, with only two players averaging double figures and the top scorer, guard Max Hazzard, notching only 12.5 points per contest. UC Irvine's 72.9 points per game ranks 161st nationally, and that doesn't suggest a deep run.
30. Ohio State Buckeyes
No matter what happens from here, No. 11 Ohio State will exit the tournament with a lot more notoriety than when it entered.
With about as little fanfare as a major Ohio State sports team can muster, the Buckeyes toppled No. 6 Iowa State 62-59. The hero for OSU was Kaleb Wesson, who notched 21 points and 12 rebounds.
It was a good thing the Buckeyes could get this done with only 62 points. Only UC Irvine, Washington and Oregon sit below them in KenPom's offensive rankings.
29. Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa pulled a mild upset when it pushed over No. 7 Cincinnati 79-72. Playing in front of a friendly crowd, the Bearcats were cruising early, but the Hawkeyes took over late thanks to some seriously hot shooting from deep (11-of-22).
A team that shot 36.1 percent from three during the season, Iowa probably won't be able to rely on that again. Ditto a non-presence from a team's star like the Bearcats' Jarron Cumberland, who went 2-of-7 from the field in the first half.
28. Florida Gators
Part of this ranking is not so much what the No. 10 Gators did in their 70-61 upset as what No. 7 Nevada didn't do.
At times, the Gators looked like they would run away with it—just a turn of phrase here, given their plodding pace on both sides of the ball. But they let their guard down in the second half and allowed Nevada back in.
The Wolf Pack, who ranked as high as No. 5 in the Associated Press poll this season, finished with 20.8 percent shooting from three and didn't convert a field goal in the final 4:03.
27. LSU Tigers
The No. 3 Tigers survived an unexpected struggle with No. 14 Yale, "clawing" past, if you will, 79-74. But they didn't win any style points.
Plenty of observers counted them out after head coach Will Wade's indefinite suspension, and the Tigers almost obliged. Behind guard Skylar Mays, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half, the Tigers held Yale off.
Against Maryland in the second round, they'll need to do better than shoot 23.5 percent from three.
26-21. Maryland Terrapins—Wofford Terriers
26. Maryland Terrapins
What's this? LSU can take heart because its next opponent, No. 6 Maryland, didn't fare much better. The Terps hung tough to take down an upstart No. 11 Belmont squad, but the 79-77 win wasn't convincing.
Jalen Smith's backboard-endangering dunk in the final minutes covered a multitude of sins, including a nervous start and an absolute egg from top guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who only managed nine points on 3-of-18 shooting.
25. UCF Knights
The University of Central Florida has been excellent all season, finishing third in the American Conference behind fellow tourney teams Houston and Cincinnati.
UCF has a star on and off the court in 7'6" center Tacko Fall, and he shined Friday in a 73-58 win for the No. 9 Knights over No. 8 VCU. The big guy blocked five shots to go with 13 points and 18 rebounds, which shows you he's no novelty.
The Knights shot the ball well at 49 percent from the floor, but this is a post-oriented team that can struggle to shoot and guard shooters themselves. The Knights are in real trouble against a transition team; they're 312th in the nation in KenPom's adjusted tempo rankings.
24. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota is not a three-point-shooting team, converting just 32.5 percent of its chances this season. It wasn't surprising that Louisville gave up open looks, but surprisingly, the Gophers made 11 of them on 27 attempts (40.7 percent).
There is your margin of victory in the No. 10 Gophers' 86-76 defeat of No. 7 Louisville. Here's guessing that doesn't repeat itself Saturday against No. 2 Michigan State.
23. Oregon Ducks
Another hot upset pick, No. 12 Oregon cashed out when it downed No. 5 Wisconsin 72-54.
The Ducks were resurgent at season's end and carried that momentum into the tournament behind guard Payton Pritchard and big man Kenny Wooten.
Wisconsin is a bit thin outside do-it-all big man Ethan Happ, and that showed when all non-Happ Badgers combined for a pitiful 42 points.
22. Florida State Seminoles
This was a buzzsaw game. No. 13 Vermont came out on fire. The Catamounts weren't known as three-point specialists, but they sure looked that way against the 'Noles, hitting 16 of 32.
But FSU regrouped and pushed around the undersized Catamounts. The Seminoles out-rebounded Vermont 39-33, with a 12-7 edge on the offensive glass.
Still, the Seminoles, for all their height and depth, are not an offensive machine. If they can't overpower a team inside, or if they need to shoot threes to get back in the hunt, their 33.4 percent clip from three won't bail them out. And only two players—forward Mfiondu Kabengele and guard Terance Mann—average double-digit scoring.
21. Wofford Terriers
Wofford had its moment Friday. Behind Fletcher Magee, who had 24 points and an NCAA record for made threes (505), the No. 7 Terriers captured national attention in an 84-68 defeat of No. 10 Seton Hall.
It's a gaudy final score, but it was close for much of the contest. They are a talented team but don't appear to have the athleticism to compete with No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.
20-16. Baylor Bears—Murray State Racers
20. Baylor Bears
The No. 9 Bears sliced through and over the zone of No. 8 Syracuse, winning 78-69. It couldn't hurt that Baylor plays a lot of zone too, but when the Bears are facing a more offense-forward team, their zone doesn't seem quite so effective.
Only Liberty, Iowa and Iona rank below the Bears among tournament teams in KenPom's defensive rankings.
19. Auburn Tigers
No. 5 Auburn's 78-77 performance over No. 12 New Mexico State did not inspire confidence. And if New Mexico State hadn't passed up an open bunny and missed two free throws at the last second, it would be even less inspiring.
18. Washington Huskies
The No. 9 Huskies made it look easy against No. 8 Utah State. The Pac 12 regular-season champs won 78-61 behind 20 points and 12 rebounds from Noah Dickerson and 19 points, five rebounds and five assists from Jaylen Nowell.
Washington, though, is a defensive-minded team. The Huskies averaged just a shade under 70 points per game this season. If they fall behind, they could have a hard time getting back.
17. Purdue Boilermakers
If Carsen Edwards broke out of his slump against No. 14 Old Dominion, Purdue is in good shape. If the 26 points he scored in the No. 3 Boilermakers' 61-48 win was an aberration—or because he took 23 shots to get there—then the team may not be sitting so pretty.
16. Murray State Racers
Have you heard? Murray State has a player named Ja Morant? It's true, and his electric triple-double secured what may have been the tournament's least surprising "upset" when the No. 12 Racers topped No. 5 Marquette 83-64.
Morant is a special talent—and this is far from a one-man show, with three other players scoring in double figures Thursday—but sooner or later someone is going to force all the non-Morant players to beat them.
15-11. Buffalo Bulls—Villanova Wildcats
15. Buffalo Bulls
This was some kind of impressive display from No. 6 Buffalo. The Bulls stormed onto the scene as underdogs last season. They are underdogs no more, especially not after whipping No. 11 Arizona State 91-74.
Their high-octane brand of basketball almost literally runs other teams off the court: two Sun Devils fouled out, with a third just one foul away.
14. Oklahoma Sooners
No. 9 Oklahoma may not be a true title contender just yet, but it may well have had the best performance of the round of 64 when it booted No. 8 Mississippi to the curb 95-72. (That was the highest score of the round, by the by.)
Every Sooner seemed to get in on the action, with four guys—Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek, Christian James and Rashard Odomes—reaching double digits. The team also hit 46.2 percent from deep.
Will the Sooners sustain this kind of production? We'll see when they face No. 1 Virginia on Sunday.
13. Virginia Tech Hokies
Let's hear it for the Virginia Tech Hokies! After several years of disappointment in the regular season, on the bubble, and in the tournament proper, the Hokies nabbed a four seed this season and took down the No. 13 Saint Louis Billikens 66-52.
It was the program's first tourney win in 12 years. Point guard Justin Robinson hit the floor for the first time in about a month and shook off some injury rust with nine points.
The real stars, though, were Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear, who combined for 35 points, nine rebounds and four steals.
Up next: No. 12 Liberty, whose campus sits just a few hours' drive from Blacksburg.
12. Houston Cougars
The No. 3 Cougars took care of business big time in one of the most lopsided wins of the first 48 hours: an 84-55 victory over No. 14 Georgia State.
They played well on both sides of the ball, as they tend to do despite being known for their defense. Perhaps the most eye-popping statistic was total rebounds, where Houston grabbed 51 to Georgia State's 27. That will happen when no one on the opposing roster is taller than 6'9".
11. Villanova Wildcats
The defending champs had their hands full with No. 11 Saint Mary's, which grabbed national headlines for vanquishing Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tourney final.
The grinding Gaels held Gonzaga to a measly 48 field-goal attempts—their season average is 60—of which the Bulldogs converted only 18. They nearly did it to Villanova too, holding the Wildcats to 49 attempts.
But the Wildcats shook off the lethargy in the second half behind Jermaine Samuels and Eric Paschall, who combined for 26 points and 13 rebounds.
That said, the 61-57 edging reminded everyone of the void Villanova's seniors left when they, you know, left.
10. Virginia Cavaliers
Did they get the monkey off their backs? Sure they did.
Did No. 1 Virginia show grit when it came back from a six-point deficit at halftime to defeat No. 16 Gardner-Webb and its own demons from last season? I mean, yes.
But do you trust the Cavaliers to go any further after they were 20 minutes away from joining Scott Norwood, Jean Van de Velde and Fred Merkle as the most infamous losers in sports history?
You can trust them. I'm not going to trust them.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Everyone sleeps on the Red Raiders, but they are awfully good, sitting atop the KenPom defensive rankings, among other distinctions.
At the same time, they bring it on themselves a bit, including with that Big 12 tournament shocker loss to West Virginia.
No. 3 Texas Tech bodied the smaller No. 14 Northern Kentucky 72-57, but there are still questions when an opponent (like the Mountaineers) can body the team back.
8. Michigan State Spartans
Don't pencil in Michigan State for a deep tourney run. Mark it in ink.
Few programs have had as much success as the Spartans, particularly without an endless supply of blue-chippers. But the No. 2 Spartans didn't look invincible, shaking off early troubles to move past No. 15 Bradley 76-65.
Cassius Winston pulled it out as the minutes ticked down. But this can't feel good in East Lansing, and that's before you factor in coach Tom Izzo's on-court outburst, even if his players backed him up.
7. Tennessee Volunteers
The No. 2 Vols were making title noise as the tournament got rolling, but the noise died down after a tight battle with No. 15 Colgate.
Sure, Tennessee won 77-70, but not after Colgate closed an early deficit and took a 49-48 lead with 12 minutes to play.
Admiral Schofield was the day's top performer with 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Grant Williams, Tennessee's best player, finished with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting as the Raiders made every effort to deny him the ball. For the most part, it worked, and it was a good thing Schofield, Jordan Bone and others were there to pick up the slack.
Fans should just hope the team can stay balanced Sunday against a less forgiving Iowa team.
6. Kentucky Wildcats
After a beating like the one it just laid on poor Abilene Christian, there's only one thing keeping No. 2 Kentucky off the list of true contenders: that thing on PJ Washington's leg.
Unfortunately for Wildcats fans, their team's 79-44 win Thursday over the No. 15 "Not the Kentucky Kind" Wildcats came with a side of sadness. Their best player came to the arena wearing a hard cast on his left leg, and it looks like he won't be playing anytime soon.
Kentucky had more than enough for Abilene Christian, with Keldon Johnson leading the way with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Still, Washington's per-game averages of 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds are going to be tough to replace.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
Why They'll Win It All
Kansas is one of those teams you assume won its first tournament game by around 25 points unless your phone starts vibrating off the coffee table. So it went this year, as the No. 4 Jayhawks spanked No. 13 Northeastern 87-53. My word, that is a butt-kicking.
But as fans know, this isn't one of coach Bill Self's elite teams, at least by Kansas standards. Most fans will recall all of Kansas' troubles this year, including the loss of three key players—Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike and LaGerald Vick—for a potpourri of reasons.
And yes, the Jayhawks lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament, plus a couple more before that. But now remember this: all three of those teams were tourney-bound, and the other two losses came to teams—Texas Tech and Oklahoma—that just had rock-solid showings of their own.
Kansas has an advantage that is worth its weight in March Madness gold: a solid point guard. Not a superstar, just a steady floor leader who knows how to run the offense and facilitate for Dedric Lawson and Co.
Devon Dotson is a needed contributor, and he had 18 points and two assists against Northeastern. This is a team that may be coming into its own at exactly the right moment.
Why They'll Get Knocked Out
Well, that was Northeastern, after all. The team shot 28 percent from the field.
Also, you could take everything I just said about the lost players and the Iowa State defeat and say, "You're not correct and shouldn't spin it that way."
4. Michigan Wolverines
Why They'll Win It All
This is another team that didn't look amazing coming into the field but is looking a lot better now.
For Michigan, there is a tangible reason for that. Charles Matthews notched a double-double (22 points and 10 rebounds) to lead No. 2 Michigan past No. 15 Montana 74-55.
That has wider implications for the Maize and Blue, as this was Matthews' best showing by far since he injured his ankle in the final stages of the regular season. His presence brings a much-needed scoring punch behind Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis, who themselves went for a combined 24 against the Grizzlies.
The defensive side of the ball is automatic. The Wolverines finished the regular season just a shade behind Texas Tech on KenPom's defensive rankings and held opponents to 58.6 points per game, second in the country behind Virginia.
Why They'll Get Knocked Out
Michigan is an outsider in this inner circle, and its 35 percent three-point shooting this season is enough to keep believers away.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels
Why They'll Win It All
The No. 1 Tar Heels survived a semi-scare in the Midwest Region, falling behind 38-33 to No. 16 Iona at the half before outscoring the Gaels 55-35 the rest of the way. Is it time to jump ship on North Carolina? Of course not.
The Tar Heels showed veteran poise in the second half as Iona's three-point attempts—there were 42 in all, geez—started to go begging.
UNC leaders Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye turned it up in the second half. That was the difference, as star Coby White had an off night with 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting.
A winnable game against Washington is next.
Why They'll Get Knocked Out
White should rebound, but if he doesn't, that could be a problem. That's not rocket science given his 16.3 points and team-leading 4.2 assists per game, but he has been known to underperform just a tad at times.
2. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Why They'll Win It All
Saint Mary's is out of the tourney, so what's to stop the Bulldogs now?
Ah, I'm a funny guy. But there was nothing funny about the way Gonzaga smeared poor No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson over the court like marmalade on a toasted English muffin. The 38-point margin of victory in the 87-49 final was the first round's largest.
The Zags are now winners in 22 of their last 23. That's not too bad. Rui Hachimura and the Bulldogs made certain there was no drama in this game, leading 53-17 at the half. Their star big man finished with 21 points (8-of-15 shooting) with eight rebounds in just 24 minutes. It reminded everyone why Gonzaga finished the season atop the KenPom.com offensive rankings.
With Baylor next and then the winner between Florida State and Murray State, Gonzaga has a relatively easy path through the West Region to the Elite Eight and, if chalk holds, a tough matchup with Michigan.
Why They'll Get Knocked Out
Kudos to the Zags for holding a hot-shooting Fairleigh Dickinson squad to 30 percent from the field. It will get tougher.
That may be especially true now that the country has the book on how to beat them, courtesy of Saint Mary's: grind them out and limit possessions. The Gaels held Gonzaga to just 48 field-goal attempts; their season average is 60.
Gonzaga did its part in that game by hitting a dismal 11.8 percent of its threes en route to 47 points overall, easily its lowest output of the season.
1. Duke Blue Devils
Why They'll Win It All
You can hear their footsteps. They are coming.
Duke hasn't looked like this kind of juggernaut in quite a while, and that's saying something.
In No. 1 Duke's 85-62 drubbing of No. 16 North Dakota State (it wasn't even that close), Zion Williamson showed why he's the best player in college basketball. And he's terrifying.
"Wow," Williamson said. "I'm really here."
Yes, you are. He announced that arrival with a dominant 25 points, with teammates Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett—wait, he has teammates?—combining for 38 of their own. Alone, they outscored North Dakota State.
Why They'll Get Knocked Out
If chalk prevails, the Blue Devils will have a tough test against Michigan State, a notoriously difficult tournament out, even if the Spartans didn't look like world-beaters in the round of 64.
Buried in the box score is Duke's familiar bugaboo on the season: the three-point shot. Yes, the team shot 42.1 percent from deep, but it took only 19 attempts to NDSU's 29.
It's not much to cling to, but if you could somehow contain the Blue Devils' Big Three, the three-pointer might just be a weakness. But you can tell them that. I don't want to.