Whether your favorite team is a blue blood fighting for a No. 1 seed or a Cinderella just hoping to find that glass slipper, this is the time of year when thrillers, upsets and madness reign. We’re here to make a little sense of it all by providing an up-to-date ranking of every team in contention to make the NCAA Tournament.
How has the team done this season against other quality teams? Is it a well-rounded team or one that simply has “peak performances” against the right opponents? And does the team have a player (or multiple players) who will strike fear into the heart of any opponent it faces?
The better the team scored in those three categories, the higher it ranks on our list.
We will be live-updating this tracker right up until the bracket is released on Sunday. We started with 81 teams—68 tournament squads plus more than a few bubble teams—but we’ll whittle it down as the action continues.
Here is our ranking entering Wednesday’s games. Be sure to follow along for the ride.
Record: 19-14, 12-6 NEC
Why They’re Here: Robert Morris lost at home by 27 points to the next team on this list, so it’s not hard to argue that this is the least impressive team in the entire tournament.
Reason to Believe: The Colonials force a ton of turnovers, as exhibited by their 13 steals in the NEC championship game against St. Francis (NY).
Reason to Worry: The Colonials give up an absurd number of offensive rebounds, as exhibited by the 23 offensive rebounds St. Francis (NY) grabbed in the NEC championship game.
March Madness Ceiling: Robert Morris will be a headache, but hardly a migraine for the No. 1 seed that inevitably sends them packing—if Robert Morris is even able to win the play-in game to get that far.
Record: 19-12, 9-9 Patriot
Why They’re Here: Even before knowing who would represent the Patriot League in the NCAA tournament, it was all but destined to be one of the bottom five teams on our list.
Reason to Believe: We rated Lafayette as the 11th-best three-point shooting team before the season began, but the Leopards actually exceeded expectations, shooting 41.1 percent as a team, good for second in the nation.
Reason to Worry: The Leopards played just two games against teams projected to make the tournament, losing by 27 points to Kansas and losing by 27 points to West Virginia.
March Madness Ceiling: One of these years, a No. 16 seed is going to beat a No. 1 seed, but it won’t be this No. 16 seed.
Record: 19-13, 13-7 MAAC
Why They’re Here: After nearly 20 weeks, the Jaspers finally won a game against the RPI Top 150 at the most opportune time, upsetting Iona to win the MAAC auto bid.
Reason to Believe: Steve Masiello’s guys know how to defend and they play a very aggressive game that often results in a ton of free-throw attempts—hardly the style of play that most top teams are accustomed to facing.
Reason to Worry: Get past their aggressive style and the Jaspers are just another No. 16 seed that can’t rebound, doesn’t typically shoot very well and turns the ball over far too often.
March Madness Ceiling: Manhattan was a trendy sleeper pick last season, but this year’s team isn’t nearly that good after losing the three leading scorers from 2013-14. Unless the Jaspers get sent to a play-in game, they won’t be winning any tournament games.
Record: 22-10, 11-5 Ohio Valley Conference
Why They’re Here: Taylor Barnette’s late three-pointer in the OVC championship game lifted Belmont into the tournament over Murray State, but the Bruins are a No. 15 at best and are 0-6 in the last nine tournaments.
Reason to Believe: This team is quite talented on offense, scoring at least 88 points in four of its last five games.
Reason to Worry: That offense tends to disappear against better-than-average teams, as the Bruins scored just 51 against VCU and 56 against Butler in their only games against the RPI Top 50.
March Madness Ceiling: They’ve been close to a tournament upset in years past, but this isn’t even remotely the best roster Belmont has sent to the dance, so we’d be surprised if the Bruins win a single game.
Record: 24-9, 12-6 Big South
Why They’re Here: The Big South has produced a No. 16 seed in six consecutive years, and this year will be no different.
Reason to Believe: The Chanticleers haven’t really played anyone this season, but they win by a landslide when compared against the KenPom profiles of any other No. 16 seed, and they still have all five of the leading scorers from the team that nearly messed around and upset Virginia last season.
Reason to Worry: It has been a full calendar year since they faced anything close to the caliber of opponent they’ll get in the tournament.
March Madness Ceiling: They should be able to win the “play-in” game if sent to it, but let’s just say this won’t be the team that ends Kentucky’s perfect season.
Record: 21-10, 13-1 Western Athletic Conference
Why They’re Here: The Aggies have a handful of talented players in Daniel Mullings, Remi Barry and Pascal Siakam, but this is not a team built to be the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed.
Reason to Believe: The Aggies are one of the best offensive-rebounding teams in the country, and they rarely have their shots blocked.
Reason to Worry: The WAC doesn’t have any other teams in the RPI Top 275, so facing an RPI Top 10 team in the first game could be one heck of a rude awakening.
March Madness Ceiling: New Mexico State’s only hope for a tournament win is if it’s sent to Dayton to compete in the first round.
Record: 23-8, 15-1 America East
Why They’re Here: Since opening the season 2-6, the Great Danes have suffered just two losses, rapidly evolving into a very deep sleeper.
Reason to Believe: In each of the last two NCAA tournaments, Albany played very tough against a No. 1 seed (Florida) and a No. 2 seed (Duke); perhaps this is the year Sam Rowley and Peter Hooley finally break into the tournament win column.
Reason to Worry: There’s a near-zero chance of the America East producing anything other than a No. 15 or No. 16 seed, so the Great Danes and their abysmal three-point defense will be facing one heck of a good team.
March Madness Ceiling: We certainly aren’t expecting the Great Danes to win a game, but it would surprise us less than if just about any other No. 15 or No. 16 seed pulled off a massive upset.
Record: 23-9, 12-4 Summit
Why They’re Here: Something of a minor-conference version of Wisconsin, the Bison rarely commit turnovers, dominate the defensive glass and shoot it well from three-point range—all while playing at a very slow pace.
Reason to Believe: They won a tournament game last season, and when Lawrence Alexander is feeling it, there’s not much of anything that anyone can do to slow him down.
Reason to Worry: The Bison only played two quality opponents this season: a 35-point loss to Texas and a 31-point loss to Iowa, both back in November.
March Madness Ceiling: Lesser teams have pulled off bigger tournament surprises, but we don’t suspect the Bison quite have what it takes to knock off one of the eight best teams in the country.
Record: 23-11, 12-2 Atlantic Sun
Why They’re Here: Save for a pair of losses to USC Upstate, the Ospreys haven’t lost a game in more than two months.
Reason to Believe: Unlike most other teams we’ve encountered to this point, North Florida does have an RPI Top 100 road win over Purdue and has been efficient on offense, averaging 78.9 points per game during regular-season Atlantic Sun play.
Reason to Worry: Five losses to teams outside the RPI Top 200 likely make the Ospreys a No. 16 seed, which is the closest thing to a death sentence that the selection committee can enforce.
March Madness Ceiling: The Atlantic Sun produced a Sweet 16 team a few years ago in Florida Gulf Coast, but that conference won’t be winning any games this year.
Record: 24-5, 14-2 Big West
Why They’re Here: Once thought to be a battle between UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, the Big West regular season ended up belonging to UC Davis.
Reason to Believe: Led by Corey Hawkins (50 percent), the Aggies are the best three-point shooting team in the country.
Reason to Worry: UC Davis has one of the worst strengths of schedule in the nation and even managed to lose three of the 19 games it played against teams outside the RPI Top 150.
March Madness Ceiling: You can never truly rule out a team that can and will make at least 10 three-point field goals in a game, but this year’s UC Davis team has not seen anything close to what it is going to face in its first game of the tournament.
Record: 23-11, 12-6 Colonial
Why They’re Here: In addition to winning the Colonial auto bid, Northeastern had road wins over Richmond and Florida State earlier this season that could be signs of trouble for an unsuspecting foe.
Reason to Believe: Northeastern shoots well, owns the defensive glass and draws fouls substantially more often than it commits them, all of which should make the Huskies a tough team to send packing.
Reason to Worry: The Huskies turn the ball over far more often than they force turnovers, and they have been dominated in the paint by teams willing and able to bake their bread in the lane.
March Madness Ceiling: This one all comes down to the draw. Assuming the Huskies are a No. 15 seed, they would get eaten alive by Arizona, Wisconsin or Gonzaga…but match them up with Kansas and we could have a bit of a Cinderella story on our hands
Record: 19-12, 16-2 Southwestern Athletic Conference
Why They’re Here: Typically the SWAC’s representative would be slotted in dead last, but the Tigers won games against Michigan State and Kansas State and might actually be a sexy sleeper team if their RPI—awful because they had to play 18 games against SWAC teams—wasn’t likely dooming them to a No. 16 seed.
Reason to Believe: Good luck finding a more battle-tested minor conference team, as Texas Southern played nine true road games against nonconference opponents in the RPI Top 100.
Reason to Worry: Two losses and another three overtime games in SWAC play are far from promising.
March Madness Ceiling: The high-ranking team that draws Texas Southern is going to have its hands full, but we simply can’t see the Tigers beating one of the 10 best teams in the country.
Record: 24-6, 16-0 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Why They’re Here: One of just three teams to go undefeated in conference play this season, North Carolina Central has been more impressive than you probably think.
Reason to Believe: We don’t typically think of teams from the MEAC as candidates to pull off an upset, but the Eagles played pretty well in losses to Cincinnati, Maryland and North Carolina earlier this season.
Reason to Worry: Though they were competitive against the aforementioned schools, the Eagles haven’t actually beaten an RPI Top 150 team this season.
March Madness Ceiling: If there’s a No. 15 seed out there capable of knocking off a No. 2 seed, this might be the one.
Record: 28-6, 16-2 Southern
Why They’re Here: The one-point win over North Carolina State was nice, but the blowout losses at the hands of West Virginia and Duke are more in line with realistic expectations.
Reason to Believe: This is a substantially better team than the one that earned a No. 15 seed last season and held Michigan’s potent offense to just 57 points.
Reason to Worry: This is a team without many scoring options and without the size to keep opponents away from the rim—Stanford’s Stefan Nastic scored a (still) career-high 26 points in the season opener against Wofford.
March Madness Ceiling: Everything depends on the draw, but don’t plan on watching Wofford play multiple tournament games.
Record: 17-14, 4-14 Big 12
Why They’re Here: We’re really scraping the bottom of the bubble barrel here, but TCU did go undefeated during the nonconference portion of the season with a road win over Ole Miss and has wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State in Big 12 play.
Reason to Believe: TCU’s style of play—which would probably best be described as brute force with no concern for foul trouble or three-point attempts—could create serious problems for a finesse type of team that isn’t used to playing in the trenches.
Reason to Worry: While TCU is among the best in the country at getting to the free-throw line, the Horned Frogs are among the worst at converting on those opportunities, shooting 61.0 percent as a team and leaving more than 10 points per game at the line on average.
March Madness Ceiling: They have been competitive in most of their Big 12 losses and could conceivably win a pair of games against a No. 4 and No. 5 seed that aren’t accustomed to this style of play—but it is highly unlikely the Horned Frogs even make the tournament in the first place.
Record: 24-8, 12-4 Horizon
Why They’re Here: The Phoenix aren’t even projected to win their conference tournament, but if they are able to earn the Horizon League auto bid, this has long been considered a strong candidate for a Cinderella story.
Reason to Believe: Green Bay is more than just Keifer Sykes, but he has been incredible for it in reaching 2,000 career points and could well make enough of an individual impact for an upset or two.
Reason to Worry: The Phoenix are pretty solid in the paint, but they are downright dreadful from three-point range and the free-throw line.
March Madness Ceiling: If they get in, the Phoenix should be one of the more popular double-digit seeds picked to reach the Sweet 16.
Record: 21-9, 14-4 American
Why They’re Here: Tulsa is 0-5 against teams projected to make the field and even lost a home game to a Division II school.
Reason to Believe: The Golden Hurricane are pretty strong on defense, boasting a seven-game stretch in the middle of the season in which they held each opponent to 58 points or less.
Reason to Worry: You did read the part about them losing a home game to a D-II school, right? Just checking.
March Madness Ceiling: Until the Golden Hurricane show an ability to beat a tournament team, we’re unwilling to believe that they can.
Record: 19-13, 8-10 ACC
Why They’re Here: Recent wins over North Carolina and Notre Dame could be signs of a team finally hitting its stride provided you’re able to overlook the recent losses to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
Reason to Believe: Led by James Robinson, Pittsburgh has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the entire country—even better than such efficient offenses as Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Gonzaga.
Reason to Worry: Pittsburgh’s defense has been abysmal all season long, routinely allowing opponents to score at least 70 points despite playing at one of the slowest tempos in the nation.
March Madness Ceiling: Simply making it to the tournament is probably the best the Panthers can hope for.
Record: 17-14, 6-12 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: It has been a disappointing season for Minnesota, but the reigning NIT champs have some experience in single-elimination formats and enough talent on the roster to be a serious threat on good nights.
Reason to Believe: One of the most aggressive defenses in the country, Richard Pitino’s club ranks third in the nation in steal percentage.
Reason to Worry: Stealing the ball is about the only thing the Golden Gophers do particularly well, and they have struggled pretty consistently on defensive possessions that don’t result in turnovers.
March Madness Ceiling: Minnesota is quite unlikely to make the tournament, but should the Golden Gophers sneak into the dance, they do have wins away from home against Iowa, Michigan State and Georgia that could be indicative of a potential tournament win.
Record: 20-10, 11-7 SEC
Why They’re Here: Outside of sweeping LSU in a pair of very close games, the Aggies don’t have a single win over a team even remotely under consideration for an at-large bid.
Reason to Believe: Despite the lack of quality wins, Texas A&M is a good-looking team with transfers Jalen Jones and Danuel House leading the way.
Reason to Worry: The Aggies have recently gotten into a habit of falling behind by an insurmountable deficit before finally deciding to try to win—they trailed Florida by 16 in the second half and were down by 25 to Arkansas.
March Madness Ceiling: This team has the talent to win at least one game, but an 0-6 record against the RPI Top 50 might keep it from even believing in itself.
Record: 19-12, 11-7 Pac-12
Why They’re Here: If the Bruins didn’t have that one home win over Utah, it would be laughable to suggest that they even deserve to be one of the primary candidates to win the NIT.
Reason to Believe: Tony Parker has been playing pretty well as of late, and there aren’t a ton of teams in the tournament with the size to handle the duo of Parker and Kevon Looney (both 6’9″).
Reason to Worry: Do you remember how terrible this team looked in getting blown out by Kentucky, North Carolina and Utah, losing by double digits to Gonzaga and Oklahoma and even losing to Alabama and Colorado in the first two months of the season?
March Madness Ceiling: If Parker is playing well and Isaac Hamilton is hitting shots, the Bruins might be able to make a run to the Sweet 16, though a 3-11 record away from home makes it an unlikely proposition.
Record: 22-9, 13-5 American
Why They’re Here: That 25-point win over Kansas back in late December was incredible. But take away that one game, and the Owls have done absolutely nothing to impress us.
Reason to Believe: Outside of a few duds, Temple’s defense has been remarkable this season, routinely holding opponents to less than 60 points despite playing at a tempo slightly above the national average.
Reason to Worry: With an effective field-goal percentage that ranks among the worst in the nation, this is probably the least efficient offense that was ever even remotely considered for an at-large bid this season.
March Madness Ceiling: The win over Kansas proves the Owls could be capable of at least one win, but a 6-8 record against the RPI Top 150 keeps us from putting too much stock in that possibility.
Record: 20-11, 11-7 SEC
Why They’re Here: The Rebels have a lot of talent, but a nasty habit of playing either up or down to the level of the competition is rarely a promising trait for tournament play.
Reason to Believe: Ole Miss is an efficient offensive team that rarely commits turnovers and is one of the best in the country in the free-throw department (77.7 percent as a team).
Reason to Worry: Early-season troubles were expected for a team relying pretty heavily on new transfers, but home losses to Charleston Southern, TCU and Western Kentucky are hard to ignore.
March Madness Ceiling: Pushing Kentucky to overtime in Rupp Arena puts their ceiling at no worse than the Sweet 16.
Record: 24-7, 15-3 Conference USA
Why They’re Here: An uptempo team with a handful of excellent mid-major players, Louisiana Tech has already proved on multiple occasions this season that it’s nearly as talented as several major conference teams.
Reason to Believe: Kenneth “Speedy” Smith might be the best true point guard in all the land, and the Bulldogs nearly had road wins over Temple, Syracuse and North Carolina State this year.
Reason to Worry: Even with 6’10” block machine Michale Kyser in the paint, this is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country—in the aforementioned close losses, it had a combined rebounding margin of minus-30.
March Madness Ceiling: Louisiana Tech has been one of our sleeper teams in each of the past three regular seasons. But the Bulldogs continually failed to even reach the NCAA tournament, so trust them to win even one game at your own risk.
Record: 28-5, 13-3 Horizon
Why They’re Here: It would just be wrong to not at least consider the merits of a team that whipped Murray State by a 35-point margin earlier this season.
Reason to Believe: Alec Peters is a bona fide stud and a 6’9″ three-point assassin—and he’s only a sophomore, so we’ve got two more years to watch him do his Adam Morrison impersonation.
Reason to Worry: The Crusaders didn’t play a single game this season against a team worthy of an at-large bid and occasionally displayed a frightening inability to score against some of those weak opponents.
March Madness Ceiling: We’re not betting on a Valparaiso upset, but we’re not betting against one either.
Record: 23-7, 13-5 Atlantic 10
Why They’re Here: The job that Archie Miller has done with this roster since Dayton dismissed Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott from the team has been impeccable, but there’s a fine line between beating A-10 teams without a real frontcourt and beating Power Five conferences without one.
Reason to Believe: The Flyers have the experience from making it to the 2014 Elite Eight, and the play of Jordan Sibert, Dyshawn Pierre and Kendall Pollard has been great.
Reason to Worry: Without those big men, this has been a terrible offensive rebounding team that has struggled to keep opposing teams from getting to the rim at will.
March Madness Ceiling: For a team that lost by double digits to both Connecticut and Arkansas back when it actually had a full roster, anything more than one win against tournament teams is probably out of the question—though, we probably would have said the exact same thing last season.
Record: 21-9, 12-6 Mid-American
Why They’re Here: Holding a halftime lead at both Kentucky and Wisconsin does nothing for Buffalo’s computer resume, but it gives us hope that the Bulls could be a tournament sleeper.
Reason to Believe: Bobby Hurley’s club plays aggressive defense and has an outstanding power forward in Justin Moss who has 14 double-doubles this season, including a 14-point, 12-rebound game against Wisconsin’s incredible front line.
Reason to Worry: This is a very good hustling team but not a good shooting team, as it has been held below 39 percent shooting nine times this season.
March Madness Ceiling: It’s hard to forecast a deep run for a school that has never been to the NCAA tournament before, but Buffalo could absolutely topple an unsuspecting No. 4 seed.
Record: 18-12, 9-9 Pac-12
Why They’re Here: The Cardinal simply haven’t looked good since late January, losing games they should win and barely even showing up for games they could win.
Reason to Believe: Never underestimate the willpower of a senior guard with at least 2,200 career points. Regardless of how poorly they’ve played lately, Chasson Randle should be counted on for a Herculean final tournament appearance.
Reason to Worry: Stanford went 0-6 against the four best teams in the Pac-12 and additionally suffered bad losses to Colorado and Washington State, indicating about how well this team has played for the past several months.
March Madness Ceiling: Randle might be able to carry the Cardinal to one win if they’re fortunate enough to even make the tournament at all.
Record: 20-11, 12-6 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: Home losses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb and a 31-point loss to Notre Dame? No, thank you.
Reason to Believe: If nothing else, they’re used to playing in close games—the Boilermakers are 10-10 in games decided by 10 points or less.
Reason to Worry: They commit more turnovers than they force, allow more three-pointers than they make and went 2-8 away from home against the RPI Top 100.
March Madness Ceiling: It’s impossible to accidentally get 11 Big Ten wins, so Purdue has at least enough talent to win one tournament game. But that’s probably it.
Record: 26-5, 13-5 Mountain West
Why They’re Here: Led by J.J. Avila in so many ways, Colorado State opened the season 14-0 and hasn’t dropped off a ton from there.
Reason to Believe: The Rams have a strong, veteran seven-man rotation (three seniors, three juniors and a sophomore) that rebounds extremely well and doesn’t make many mental mistakes.
Reason to Worry: Against the RPI Top 150, Colorado State hasn’t exactly thrived away from home, just barely eking out wins over UC Santa Barbara, Colorado and New Mexico State.
March Madness Ceiling: Getting swept by Wyoming is not a great look, and it keeps us from believing Colorado State could win more than one game in the tournament.
Record: 19-12, 9-9 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: Illinois has dealt with its fair share of injuries and suspensions this season, but even at full strength this was never a team built for a deep tournament run.
Reason to Believe: Illinois has disappointed for most of the season, but how can you look at that January win over Maryland—without Rayvonte Rice in the lineup, no less—and not be at least a little optimistic of what the Illini might be able to do?
Reason to Worry: This is a very poor two-point shooting team that hasn’t had much success trying to slow down quality teams that insist on scoring in the paint, making it extremely reliant on an unreliable three-point shot.
March Madness Ceiling: The Illini could maybe win one game if they even make the tournament, but back-to-back upsets to reach the Sweet 16 isn’t gonna happen.
Record: 25-9, 13-5 West Coast
Why They’re Here: The vast majority of their resume says “don’t believe in us,” but that road win over Gonzaga sure is pretty.
Reason to Believe: Kyle Collinsworth set an NCAA record for triple-doubles in a season, and Tyler Haws passed Jimmer Fredette to become BYU’s all-time leading scorer.
Reason to Worry: Before that big win at Gonzaga, the Cougars didn’t have a single win away from home worth mentioning and even suffered road losses to Pepperdine and San Diego.
March Madness Ceiling: It’s impossible to put a cap on what Haws and Collinsworth are able to do, but anything more than a Sweet 16 appearance would be pretty unexpected.
Record: 26-8, 17-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference
Why They’re Here: The Gaels have only lost twice in this calendar year, thanks in large part to scoring 76.6 points per game against their MAAC brethren.
Reason to Believe: A potentially brutal matchup for any team in the country, Iona runs and guns as well as any of them, making 40 percent of its 24.5 three-point attempts per game.
Reason to Worry: Defense isn’t even an option for the Gaels, as they have given up at least 86 points in five of their seven losses.
March Madness Ceiling: Iona could win at least one game depending on the preferred pace of play of the No. 4 or No. 5 seed it’s paired up against, but the complete lack of RPI Top 100 wins makes that an unlikely scenario.
Record: 22-9, 11-7 SEC
Why They’re Here: The Tigers have some outstanding players in their frontcourt, but the number of bad losses this team has makes us want to vomit at the thought of trusting it to win multiple games.
Reason to Believe: Good luck finding a better pair of forwards than Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey anywhere in the country, as the duo has combined to average more than 32 points and nearly 20 rebounds per game.
Reason to Worry: In addition to wildly inconsistent effort from one game to the next, LSU commits too many turnovers and allows way too many offensive rebounds.
March Madness Ceiling: If you think LSU can string together more than two good games in a row, then you haven’t watched LSU play this season. The Tigers could maybe reach the Sweet 16, but that’s it.
Record: 19-12, 10-8 ACC
Why They’re Here: NC State has three incredible wins in conference, but that blowout loss to Boston College on the last day of February has us petrified to put this team any higher on the list.
Reason to Believe: In the Wolfpack’s three big wins, the backcourt trio (Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and Cat Barber) and big man Beejay Anya have all been incredible, showing that when the stars align, they can beat virtually anyone.
Reason to Worry: NC State is nearly dead last in the nation at forcing turnovers, and Anya is just as likely to fail to score a single point as he is to be anywhere near as dominant as he was in crucial wins.
March Madness Ceiling: If there’s a team seeded No. 8 or lower that has a run to the Final Four in it, it might be NC State—though we’d be far less surprised if the Wolfpack decided to get blown out in their first game.
Record: 23-8, 13-5 Pac-12
Why They’re Here: Like a significant number of other teams on the list, Oregon drastically overachieved compared to preseason expectations, going 13-5 in Pac-12 play despite losing virtually everyone from last year’s team.
Reason to Believe: One of the few players who was on the roster last season, Joseph Young averaged 19.8 points per game during the regular season and has been the guiding force of this team all year long.
Reason to Worry: Oregon doesn’t exactly boast the best defense in the world, allowing at least 70 points in each of its eight losses.
March Madness Ceiling: Likely headed for a No. 9 or No. 10 seed, Oregon could absolutely win its first game, but will most likely fail to reach the Sweet 16 upon running into a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in its second game.
Record: 20-10, 11-7 SEC
Why They’re Here: They don’t have any particularly great wins, but good luck finding another team that twice put up a valiant fight against Kentucky and gave Gonzaga a legitimate challenge on a neutral court.
Reason to Believe: The Bulldogs might not have any household names, but they have a solid six-man rotation, particularly when freshman Yante Maten is having a positive impact in the paint as a shot-blocker and offensive rebounder.
Reason to Worry: Even against less than stellar defenses, Georgia has been a poor shooting team, especially as of late—four of Georgia’s five worst team field-goal percentages of the season have occurred since Valentine’s Day.
March Madness Ceiling: They’ve played well against some of the nation’s best teams, but the Bulldogs would be lucky to win a single game if they don’t start making buckets.
Record: 20-11, 10-8 ACC
Why They’re Here: Depending on whether Angel Rodriguez is hitting his shots or not, the Hurricanes can beat anyone in the country or be beaten by anyone in the country.
Reason to Believe: You do remember that Miami won at Duke by a 16-point margin earlier this season, right?
Reason to Worry: You do remember that Miami lost at home to Georgia Tech by 20 points and to Eastern Kentucky by 28 points earlier this season, right?
March Madness Ceiling: Out of all the bubbly teams, Miami is the toughest to forecast because of its limitless range of potential outcomes—the Hurricanes could advance beyond the Sweet 16, but you would also be risking bracket suicide by picking them to win more than one game.
Record: 27-4, 17-1 Southland
Why They’re Here: They lost three of their first four games—two of which they played either partially or entirely without key reserve Jared Johnson—but the Lumberjacks have only lost one game since Thanksgiving.
Reason to Believe: Exactly like last year’s team that knocked off VCU in the tournament, Stephen F. Austin forces a lot of turnovers and dominates in the paint to the tune of offensive rebounds and very efficient two-point shooting.
Reason to Worry: Though they only have one loss since Thanksgiving, the Lumberjacks haven’t actually played a tournament-worthy team since before Turkey Day.
March Madness Ceiling: With an efficient offense and a full-court press that can drive opponents bonkers, Stephen F. Austin could potentially win two games before crashing into a team capable of handling its defense and limiting its fast-break opportunities.
Record: 22-9, 15-5 Sun Belt
Why They’re Here: The Panthers suffered substantially more regular-season losses than expected, but let’s not forget they were everyone’s preseason Cinderella pick.
Reason to Believe: Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter are incredible talents, and Markus Crider really emerged as a reliable interior presence during Sun Belt play.
Reason to Worry: Hunter is eternally trying to rediscover his three-point stroke, and this team just isn’t the same unless he’s scoring in bunches.
March Madness Ceiling: If you’re still selling stock in Georgia State as a potential Sweet 16 team, we’ll gladly purchase it—provided it’s now going for a much lower price than it was in early November.
Record: 21-7, 11-3 Ivy
Why They’re Here: It hasn’t been anything close to the preseason AP Top 25 season we were expecting from Harvard, but can you really count out a team that still has multiple key assets from upsets in each of the last two NCAA tournaments?
Reason to Believe: Wesley Saunders is a machine, and the Crimson are finally starting to get a solid assist-to-turnover ratio out of Siyani Chambers and consistent scoring out of Steve Moundou-Missi.
Reason to Worry: Though they’ve been looking better, they still have more losses to teams outside the RPI Top 150 than they have wins against teams in the RPI Top 150.
March Madness Ceiling: After consecutive years with upsets, we’re all but obligated to say that Harvard could win at least one game against the poor No. 4 or No. 5 seed that happens to draw the Crimson.
Record: 21-10, 12-6 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: The Hawkeyes have a couple of outstanding wins over North Carolina and Maryland, but we’re just having trouble buying stock in a team without great guard play and with consecutive losses to Minnesota and Northwestern last month.
Reason to Believe: The four-man frontcourt of Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff, Gabriel Olaseni and Adam Woodbury is beyond solid, particularly on defense where Iowa is an above-average shot-blocking and two-point defense.
Reason to Worry: Six losses by double-digit margins to RPI Top 50 teams and another four losses to teams outside the RPI Top 50 are indicative of a team that can’t be relied on to bring its A-game on anything close to a nightly basis.
March Madness Ceiling: If they’re clicking, the Hawkeyes could string together a few upsets to reach the Elite Eight, but we certainly wouldn’t advise putting any jellybeans on that outcome.
Record: 24-7, 14-4 Mountain West
Why They’re Here: Good luck finding a hotter team in the country because Boise State is 13-1 since mid-January, scoring five of its six most impressive wins of the season during that stretch.
Reason to Believe: Good luck finding a hotter player in the country because Derrick Marks has averaged 22.6 points per game since the beginning of 2015 and has suddenly blossomed into a deadly three-point shooter in his senior season.
Reason to Worry: Great as their marksman has been (I’ll show myself out), James Webb III is their only other particularly reliable scorer, so a box-and-one defense could really give the Broncos fits.
March Madness Ceiling: Boise State has the offensive firepower to pull off one upset, but a multi-win tournament seems unlikely.
Record: 23-8, 14-4 Big Sky
Why They’re Here: The Eagles stomped Texas Southern, won at Indiana, nearly won at Washington (back when the Huskies had Robert Upshaw and that was actually a challenge) and even gave SMU a pretty good run for its money.
Reason to Believe: Learn the name Tyler Harvey because the sophomore assassin is following in the baby-faced-mid-major-to-NBA-stud footsteps of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, and his three-point stroke alone could be worth a couple of wins.
Reason to Worry: We’re still waiting for the first defensive stop of Eastern Washington’s season.
March Madness Ceiling: Harvey, Venky Jois and Drew Brandon are one lethal three-headed combo capable of producing enough points to carry this team to the Sweet 16.
Record: 19-12, 9-9 Big East
Why They’re Here: The nation is overrun with teams that have quality wins and terrible losses, but the Musketeers are perhaps the most egregious of the bunch, suffering their two worst losses of the season to Auburn and DePaul during the same two-week span in which they blew out Georgetown by a 17-point margin.
Reason to Believe: At its best, Xavier moves the ball very well, scores efficiently and often effortlessly in the paint and forces a lot of turnovers on defense.
Reason to Worry: At its worst, Xavier gives the ball away far too much, has too many shots blocked and allows the opposition to convert much too often on two-point attempts.
March Madness Ceiling: Though they have some quality wins, it’s really tough to see the Musketeers winning more than one game in the tournament, especially since they’ll very likely run into a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the round of 32.
Record: 18-12, 8-10 Big 12
Why They’re Here: Though the Cowboys didn’t do much of anything during the nonconference portion of the season, they’ve picked up a lot of quality wins in arguably the nation’s best conference to prove themselves worthy of consideration for a bit of a run.
Reason to Believe: McDonald’s All-American Le’Bryan Nash didn’t stay in school for four years just to get bounced out in the first round for a third consecutive year, and Phil Forte and Anthony Hickey are prepared to help him graduate with at least one NCAA tournament victory.
Reason to Worry: The Cowboys are a well-below-average rebounding team; however, they did sweep Baylor during the regular season, so sometimes data is really dumb.
March Madness Ceiling: Are we going to get the Cowboys that beat Texas, Kansas and Baylor in the span of six days or the ones who then immediately went on a four-game losing streak with losses to TCU and Texas Tech as bookends? Oklahoma State could reach the Elite Eight; it could also get slaughtered by a lesser team in its opening game.
Record: 19-12, 9-9 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: They’ve had a couple of disappointing losses this season (who hasn’t?), but wins over Maryland, Butler and SMU are indicative of a team that could do some damage.
Reason to Believe: There might not be a better three-point shooting roster in the country, and when Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. are feeling it, look out.
Reason to Worry: In five of their final seven losses of the regular season, the Hoosiers made at least 10 three-pointers and still lost because their defense—particularly in the paint—is so awful.
March Madness Ceiling: Never count out a team that can catch fire beyond the arc, but the Hoosiers don’t have the strength in the post on either end of the court to be trusted to win more than one game.
Record: 19-12, 8-10 Big 12
Why They’re Here: For all of their struggles against elite teams, the Longhorns haven’t had any particularly disappointing losses (in terms of RPI), have competed valiantly in most of their losses and even have a couple of marquee wins over Baylor and West Virginia.
Reason to Believe: They still haven’t really put it all together, but the depth of talent on this roster is what led many of us to believe in the preseason that Texas could be the team to finally dethrone Kansas in the Big 12. And the Longhorns still have all of those players and could conceivably jell at any moment.
Reason to Worry: The Longhorns are 3-7 in games decided by eight points or less, displaying a propensity for doing just enough to not win time and again.
March Madness Ceiling: Not one among us would be surprised if Texas lost its first game, but doesn’t there always seem to be one team that gets hot and makes the Elite Eight after several months of us trying to figure out why it has been underachieving?
Record: 27-5, 16-0 Ohio Valley
Why They’re Here: Mathematically speaking, 32 should be the cutoff for teams that we expect to win at least one game, so it would be a crime if the Racers were ranked any lower than this.
Reason to Believe: Cameron Payne is the truth, and big man Jarvis Williams and wings T.J. Sapp and Jeffrey Moss are no joke either—overlook Murray State at your own peril.
Reason to Worry: Though the Racers have won 24 games in a row, they went just 1-2 vs. RPI Top 100 teams and were obliterated by Xavier (62-89) and Valparaiso (58-93) in those losses.
March Madness Ceiling: More often than not, at least one No. 12 or No. 13 seed reaches the Sweet 16, and Murray State has to be considered the favorite to assume that role this year—if the Racers even make the tournament after losing in the OVC championship.
Record: 22-9, 13-5 American
Why They’re Here: It’s pretty incredible what Cincinnati has been able to accomplish this season after all it lost from last year’s team and without Mick Cronin on the sidelines for most of the year.
Reason to Believe: It has been the season of slow-paced, defensive basketball, and that style of hoops has been right up Cincinnati’s alley for the past half decade.
Reason to Worry: Though the offense has occasionally caught fire (84 points against Temple!), the Bearcats have proved themselves capable of failing to reach 50 points in losses to dreadful teams like East Carolina and Tulane.
March Madness Ceiling: Reaching the Sweet 16 isn’t completely out of the question, but if the Bearcats couldn’t win tournament games with Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, it’s tough to see them winning any games without a single player averaging 10 points per game.
Record: 23-6, 14-4 Atlantic 10
Why They’re Here: Rather than struggling in what was supposed to be a transitional year to the Atlantic 10, the Wildcats put together one of the best seasons in school history.
Reason to Believe: This is an extremely efficient offense that rarely commits turnovers and has five players averaging better than one made three-pointer per game.
Reason to Worry: The defense nearly nullifies the beneficial impact of the offense, rarely forcing turnovers and frequently getting dominated in the paint by the opposition.
March Madness Ceiling: In terms of adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, Davidson’s numbers are nearly identical to Notre Dame’s—if you’re buying the Fighting Irish as a potential Final Four team, you better be buying Davidson as a potential Elite Eight team.
Record: 24-6, 15-3 American
Why They’re Here: The caliber of opponents has been nothing special, but the Mustangs won 22 of their final 25 regular-season games to really turn around a disappointing 2-3 start to the season.
Reason to Believe: We’re constantly looking for teams big enough and bad enough to hang with Kentucky, and SMU has four interior players (Markus Kennedy, Yanick Moreira, Ben Moore and Cannen Cunningham) who do a ton of damage in the paint.
Reason to Worry: The Mustangs are routinely careless with the ball on offense, only have one reliable three-point shooter (Nic Moore) and haven’t played a Sweet 16-caliber opponent since losing to Arkansas and Gonzaga back in November.
March Madness Ceiling: It’s tough to put a ceiling on a team that was without arguably its most talented player (Kennedy) for the first few weeks of the season, but SMU should at least be able to win its opening game before giving a higher-seeded team a run for its money in the round of 32.
Record: 21-10, 12-6 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: Much higher than this in most seasons, we’re still waiting for the Spartans to prove they’re capable of beating a quality team rather than suffering close losses to all of them.
Reason to Believe: Between Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and several others, there is more than enough talent on this roster to beat anyone if and when they all play well together rather than having an apparent rotation in which just two guys do very well in each game.
Reason to Worry: An inability to force turnovers keeps the Spartans from making up deficits in a hurry, and a 63 percent conversion rate at the free-throw line keeps them from salting away late leads, resulting in a 6-8 record in games decided by single digits.
March Madness Ceiling: Tom Izzo plus talented players equals a ceiling of no less than a Final Four, but that type of run would certainly need to come out of nowhere this season, as the Spartans went winless against the RPI Top 25.
Record: 15-16, 8-10 Big 12
Why They’re Here: The Wildcats might not even make the tournament because of their inordinate number of losses, but who would you rather pick to win multiple games in March: a Kansas State team with five RPI Top 25 wins or a Michigan State or SMU team without a single one?
Reason to Believe: They scored wins over Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State in the final month of the season, and though Marcus Foster has had his issues this year, it’s not like he has forgotten how to be the guard who had the entire world buzzing as a freshman.
Reason to Worry: In addition to the sheer quantity and quality of losses suffered, the Wildcats are woefully careless in the turnover department and simply don’t have an efficient offense by any means.
March Madness Ceiling: If Kansas State does make the tournament, it has proved more than capable of being the No. 11 or No. 12 seed that pulls off a pair of upsets to reach the Sweet 16.
Record: 24-7, 14-4 Mountain West
Why They’re Here: San Diego State had one of the best recruiting classes this offseason. Yet it has primarily been the upperclassmen pacing the Aztecs to a great season, and that veteran leadership could make them scary.
Reason to Believe: One of the best defenses in the entire country, the Aztecs get a ton of blocks and steals and hold opponents to an impeccably low shooting percentage by never allowing open looks.
Reason to Worry: As great as San Diego State’s defense is, that’s about how poor its offense is. This might be the worst shooting team in the tournament field.
March Madness Ceiling: Defense wins championships, but an inability to make free throws or three-pointers leads to early exits; let’s split the difference and say the Aztecs are capable of reaching the Elite Eight, but we aren’t particularly optimistic about it happening.
Record: 22-9, 12-6 Atlantic 10
Why They’re Here: Though they lost Briante Weber, VCU still has talented players in Treveon Graham, Melvin Johnson, Mo Alie-Cox and several others.
Reason to Believe: HAVOC existed before Weber came along, so even without the man who was on pace to break the NCAA record for steals in a career, VCU still has an incredibly aggressive and effective defense capable of creating serious headaches for the opposition.
Reason to Worry: More critical than his steals, the Rams have missed Weber’s leadership as the point guard on offense, struggling to score even more than usual in the half-court sets.
March Madness Ceiling: If the bracket breaks right and they’re able to avoid all teams that have had practice against aggressive, trapping defenses like West Virginia or Louisville, maybe the Rams could make a really deep run, but the more likely scenario is that they run up against a quality point guard and get bounced before the Sweet 16.
Record: 21-10, 11-7 Big East
Why They’re Here: Many expected regression from last year’s tournament team after losing Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts and Josh Fortune, but this is probably the best Providence team since the one Rick Pitino led to the Final Four in 1987.
Reason to Believe: The Friars have been great because there is not a more unstoppable duo in the country than Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton—they have combined to score at least 32 points in 21 of 23 games since the beginning of December and have reached at least 40 points in nine of those games.
Reason to Worry: While knowing those two studs will likely score 35 is a great start, there has been no rhyme or reason as to whether third-leading scorer Tyler Harris will put up three points or 18 points in a given night.
March Madness Ceiling: Providence hasn’t had a winning streak of more than three games since December, and we would be surprised if the Friars were even able to win that many in a row in the tournament. But this is going to be an exceptionally fun team to watch for however long it does last.
Record: 22-9, 11-7 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: There is no “I” in team, but you can’t spell D’Angelo Russell without “dangerous.”
Reason to Believe: Contrary to popular opinion, there are actually other players on this team—Marc Loving is shooting 49.4 percent from three-point range, Jae’Sean Tate has blossomed remarkably since early January and Shannon Scott gives the Buckeyes two guards averaging at least five assists per game.
Reason to Worry: The reason Ohio State gets billed as a one-man team is because Russell is the only one of the bunch who actually produces on a nightly basis.
March Madness Ceiling: Russell gets the Buckeyes at least one win, but aside from one great game against Maryland (while the Terrapins were slumping, no less), Ohio State hasn’t shown an ability to beat the caliber of opponent it will be facing as early as the round of 32.
Record: 22-9, 12-6 Big East
Why They’re Here: Just three years removed from the Horizon League, Butler finished 11-6 in the Big East and even had big neutral-court wins over North Carolina and Georgetown.
Reason to Believe: With Andrew Chrabascz back in the mix after missing a few games to nurse a broken hand back to health, Butler has a very strong and well-defined starting five led by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.
Reason to Worry: While the starting five is solid, there isn’t much of a cavalry coming off of Butler’s bench, so there’s no room for fatigue, injury or a cold-shooting night by any starters.
March Madness Ceiling: If the Bulldogs advanced to the Final Four, it wouldn’t be the first or second time in the past decade a team shocked us. But it would certainly be a surprise from a team that might be lucky to reach the Sweet 16.
Record: 24-7, 12-6 ACC
Why They’re Here: Though the team isn’t nearly at full strength since dismissing Chris Jones, the Cardinals have shown an ability to win without him and aren’t nearly the pushover many expected them to be back when the news of his dismissal first broke.
Reason to Believe: Short-handed roster or not, Rick Pitino has won two national championships and has been to seven Final Fours, including two of the past three, so it might not be a bad idea to just give him the benefit of the doubt for a couple of wins.
Reason to Worry: With Jones out of the picture, this is a team with only two-and-a-half proven scorers—Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell as the whole numbers and Wayne Blackshear as the half—so one poor shooting night by one player could doom the Cardinals.
March Madness Ceiling: While Pitino alone is probably worthy of a trip to the Sweet 16, it’s tough to picture this team going toe-to-toe with one of the 16 best teams in the country and emerging victorious to reach the Elite Eight.
Record: 28-4, 17-1 Missouri Valley
Why They’re Here: The Shockers aren’t nearly as good as last year’s undefeated version, but that’s a pretty unfair barometer against which to judge an otherwise solid team.
Reason to Believe: Whether you consider Wichita State a mid-major team or not, star players like Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton have had more tournament experience than the entire rosters of many major conference teams.
Reason to Worry: In the paint, it’s been Darius Carter-or-bust on both ends of the court, and that’s going to be a serious problem if and when the Shockers run into a team with multiple talented big men.
March Madness Ceiling: It’s pretty tough to see Wichita State having the depth or strength to beat a team on the No. 1 or No. 2 seed line to reach the Elite Eight, let alone two in a row to reach the Final Four, so anything more than a trip to the Sweet 16 might be a stretch.
Record: 21-9, 12-6 Big 12
Why They’re Here: One of the toughest teams in the country to put a finger on, the Sooners typically play the type of defense that can carry a team to a deep run in the tournament, but they also gave up at least 75 points in five of their last 15 regular-season games.
Reason to Believe: Buddy Hield is typically the leader in the scoring column, but Oklahoma has six players plenty capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, theoretically making them more immune than most to cold-shooting nights.
Reason to Worry: Often a tale of two halves, Oklahoma has been no stranger to giving away big leads (at Creighton in November, at Iowa State in March) nor to falling way behind early before storming back (at Kansas in January)—when the Sooners are on the court, no lead is safe for either team.
March Madness Ceiling: They have the team defense and the offensive star power to legitimately make a run to the Elite Eight, but it would take serious stones to trust the life of your bracket to a team like Oklahoma that often loses the rebounding battle and is wildly inconsistent from one half to the next.
Record: 23-8, 11-7 Big 12
Why They’re Here: The biggest wild card in the entire tournament field, West Virginia played two phenomenally close games against Kansas but has also been blown out by a margin of at least 18 points four different times.
Reason to Believe: West Virginia leads the nation in steal percentage by a wide margin, dominates the offensive glass and rolls with a deep bench, making the Mountaineers perhaps the most frustrating team to face in the entire country.
Reason to Worry: West Virginia does not shoot well, allows opponents to make a high percentage of shots on possessions that don’t result in turnovers and routinely commits a ton of fouls.
March Madness Ceiling: Like VCU in recent years, there’s no ceiling on West Virginia’s tournament potential, but the Mountaineers are liable to get blown out the first time they face a team that isn’t phased by their full-court press.
Record: 21-10, 10-8 Big East
Why They’re Here: Though they sputtered substantially through the first five weeks of Big East conference play, the Red Storm played well enough early and late in the season to prove themselves to be potential trouble.
Reason to Believe: Veteran leadership is critical to have in March, and St. John’s has four seniors, a junior and a sophomore in its primary six-man rotation.
Reason to Worry: St. John’s is excellent at blocking shots and limiting turnovers, but this is an awful rebounding team on both ends of the court.
March Madness Ceiling: With a 2,000-point scorer (D’Angelo Harrison), a rapidly improving point guard (Rysheed Jordan), a strong candidate for Big East Player of the Year (Sir’Dominic Pointer) and one of the nation’s best shot-blockers over the past several seasons (Chris Obekpa), St. John’s could be this year’s No. 6-10 seed that makes a run to the Final Four.
Record: 24-7, 13-5 SEC
Why They’re Here: Lest you think the SEC is just Kentucky and a smorgasbord of cream puffs, the Razorbacks were one of the hottest teams in the country over the final seven weeks of the season.
Reason to Believe: Through the end of February, McDonald’s All-American and candidate for SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis was averaging 23.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 40 minutes—putting him on the same level as Wooden Award favorites such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor (23.4, 12.3 and 1.8) and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (22.4, 10.2 and 2.0).
Reason to Worry: Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden, though both very talented, haven’t been anywhere near as consistently solid as Portis, and the team as a whole has dealt with turnover problems in losses.
March Madness Ceiling: Arkansas hasn’t even been to the Sweet 16 since 1996, but the most talented Razorbacks roster since the Nolan Richardson era could stay hot and reach the Final Four without it coming as a total surprise.
Record: 26-5, 14-4 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: One of the biggest surprises of the entire season, Maryland finished in second place in its inaugural year in the Big Ten and has scored key wins over Iowa State and Wisconsin.
Reason to Believe: With Melo Trimble legitimately vying for Freshman of the Year and Dez Wells finally hitting his stride late in the season, Maryland has the type of electric backcourt duo that enabled Connecticut to surprisingly win the national championship last season.
Reason to Worry: The Terrapins have struggled on the road, losing three road games by a margin of at least 16 points and failing to win a single game away from home by more than 10 points.
March Madness Ceiling: Great as the backcourt duo and Jake Layman have been, contributions from the rest of the roster have been wildly erratic and typically minimal, putting Maryland’s perceived ceiling at the Final Four.
Record: 26-5, 14-4 ACC
Why They’re Here: Notre Dame had one of the most efficient offenses for the bulk of the season, but that hasn’t been the case lately, as the Fighting Irish were held to 60 points in three of their final five games of February.
Reason to Believe: It is with reverence that we bust out a name like Kemba Walker, but if there’s a lead guard in the country capable of matching Walker’s 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game during the magical tournament run in 2011, it’s Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant.
Reason to Worry: Because the Fighting Irish have an adjusted defensive efficiency in the mid-100s, they’re probably going to need Grant to post numbers like those in order to win a game beyond the first weekend of the tournament.
March Madness Ceiling: Notre Dame was averaging 85.9 points per game through the first seven weeks of the season, and if that offense decides to make a triumphant return, the Fighting Irish could conceivably last until the Final Four before running into a defense they can’t crack.
Record: 30-3, 16-2 Missouri Valley
Why They’re Here: Like a mid-major version of Virginia or Wisconsin, Northern Iowa has been successful by taking high-percentage shots, dominating the defensive glass and consistently forcing opponents to play at its preferred, snail-like pace.
Reason to Believe: Seven players on this roster finished the regular season averaging at least 1.0 three-point attempts per game and making at least 38.7 percent of those attempts, including Seth Tuttle, who is quite possibly the best power forward in the entire country.
Reason to Worry: No one in Missouri Valley play was able to do it, but inevitably someone is going to speed the Panthers up and get them out of their element, and we have no way of knowing how they’ll respond when forced to play at a pace most of the country considers normal.
March Madness Ceiling: Though Northern Iowa doesn’t have quite the same level of talent as Virginia and Wisconsin, if you (rightly) believe that those two teams are contenders for the national championship, then you should probably buy at least a little bit of stock in Northern Iowa making the Final Four.
Record: 20-9, 12-6 Big East
Why They’re Here: Some will undoubtedly be surprised to see the Hoyas this high on the list—especially given the early exits in their last five trips to the tournament—but they have one heck of a nine-man rotation that swept Butler, beat Villanova by 20 points and nearly had upsets over Kansas and Wisconsin.
Reason to Believe: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is one of the most underappreciated guards in the country, but know that he can beat the opposition in any number of ways and can single-handedly keep the Hoyas in any game.
Reason to Worry: Though we noted a couple of great wins and near-wins by Georgetown, can we really trust a team that was swept by Xavier (by a combined margin of 30 points) to string together more than two games without an inevitable dud?
March Madness Ceiling: Georgetown’s ceiling depends on how nice the officials are feeling on the second weekend of the tournament because this is a vastly different team when Josh Smith is saddled with early foul trouble—which is far too often.
Record: 22-8, 12-6 Big 12
Why They’re Here: Defense is frequently optional for Iowa State, but the seven-best scorers on this team are more than enough to make the Cyclones better than the vast majority of the country.
Reason to Believe: The list of teams comfortable running and scoring with the Cyclones is almost nonexistent, and Iowa State ranks in the top 10 in the nation in both adjusted tempo and adjusted offensive efficiency.
Reason to Worry: Iowa State has been lethal at home. But get the Cyclones away from Hilton Coliseum, and they’ve struggled to the tune of losses to South Carolina, Texas Tech and Kansas State.
March Madness Ceiling: The struggles away from home are troublesome and may impact how deep we’re willing to pick the Cyclones, but as far as ceilings go, there’s no good reason why this team couldn’t get hot and reach the Final Four.
Record: 23-8, 11-7 Big 12
Why They’re Here: Every year, there seems to be one team that simply “out-scraps” its opponents en route to at least an appearance in the Elite Eight, and there is not another team in the country that fights and hustles for wins quite like Baylor.
Reason to Believe: Baylor’s zone defense has been giving opponents fits all season long, and the Bears’ insatiable ability to crash the offensive glass makes them one of the most difficult teams to prepare to face.
Reason to Worry: They’re usually efficient on offense, but sometimes they just straight up struggle to put the ball in the hoop—despite leading the nation in offensive rebound percentage, they failed to eclipse 1.0 points per possession nine times during the regular season.
March Madness Ceiling: Six straight wins for a team that is below-average from two-point range and the free-throw line and commits too many turnovers while having too many shots blocked seems like a stretch, but the Bears could conceivably claw their way to the Final Four.
Record: 23-7, 13-5 Pac-12
Why They’re Here: Delon Wright has been arguably the best player in the country over the past two seasons, and he’s got quite the cast of sidekicks on a roster potentially built for a deep run.
Reason to Believe: From Dec. 20 through Feb. 26, Utah won 15 of the 18 games that it played by double-digit margins, displaying an ability to consistently dominate its competition.
Reason to Worry: Not a single one of those wins came against a remotely marquee team, though, and the Utes went just 2-5 against the RPI Top 50 during the regular season.
March Madness Ceiling: Whether it’s in the Final Four or the first game they play, the Utes will keep winning until they run into a team that can slow down their offense—they’re 19-0 when scoring at least 61 points and 2-6 when held to 60 or less.
Record: 21-10, 11-7 ACC
Why They’re Here: Don’t be fooled by the number of losses; a healthy North Carolina is one of the most talented rosters in the entire country.
Reason to Believe: Between a heavy reliance on two-point buckets and offensive rebounds, the Tar Heels have one of the nation’s best interior attacks.
Reason to Worry: The rift between good North Carolina and bad North Carolina is enormous, and there’s no telling when the bad one and its complete inability to defend anyone will decide to make an appearance.
March Madness Ceiling: Consistency and injuries have been North Carolina’s biggest problems this season, but if you’re looking for a team outside the top two seed lines that could win the whole tournament, look no further.
Record: 24-7, 13-5 Big 12
Why They’re Here: The most successful team from the nation’s best conference, Kansas might be the squad most prepared for the NCAA tournament—if it isn’t too fatigued from the gauntlet it ran over the past four months.
Reason to Believe: If you believe in refinement through fire, no team in the country has been more battle-tested than the Jayhawks, who boast the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule by no small margin.
Reason to Worry: We’ve already seen this team get absolutely blown out by Kentucky (understandable) and Temple (not so much).
March Madness Ceiling: We wouldn’t completely rule out a national championship, but it’s tough to see Kansas winning six games in a row unless Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Wayne Selden are saving their best for last.
Record: 29-2, 16-2 Big East
Why They’re Here: Villanova doesn’t have the individual star power of most top teams, but you won’t find a more consistently solid eight-man rotation outside of Lexington, Kentucky.
Reason to Believe: When this offense is clicking, the opposing defense might as well just sit back and enjoy the show. The Wildcats shot 46.0 percent from three-point range in the month of February and made at least 11 three-pointers in seven of those eight games.
Reason to Worry: If there’s a more unpredictable statistic in the tournament than three-point shooting, we haven’t discovered it.
March Madness Ceiling: Villanova could win it all, but the fact that the Wildcats have yet to face any of the nation’s elite teams could lead to a bit of a rude awakening starting in the Elite Eight.
Record: 32-2, 17-1 West Coast
Why They’re Here: Lost in the February fuss over whether they deserve a No. 1 seed is the fact that the Bulldogs—with a core of Kevin Pangos, Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer—have more than enough talent to beat anyone.
Reason to Believe: Though we haven’t seen them beat a particularly good team since November, the Zags have the innate ability to win both high- and low-scoring games—a prerequisite for prolonged success in the tournament.
Reason to Worry: Gonzaga hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 1999, and—though arguably better than any of those previous teams—the Bulldogs lost the only game they played against one of the 20-best teams in the country this year.
March Madness Ceiling: Gonzaga will undoubtedly be an early-upset pick just like seemingly every year, but this is one of the few teams that could realistically be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.
Why They’re Here: While the Blue Devils have the offensive star power to beat anyone, a lack of depth and frequent defensive struggles keep them out of our top four.
Reason to Believe: If there’s a big man in the country capable of putting the team on his back with a six-game stretch of 25-point, 12-rebound games, it’s Jahlil Okafor.
Reason to Worry: Great as he is on offense, Okafor is hardly an eraser in the paint, and it has resulted in an adjusted defensive efficiency for Duke that doesn’t even rank in the top 50 nationally.
March Madness Ceiling: Duke has the talent and the pedigree to win the tournament, but the Blue Devils could also get bounced in the first weekend by a hot shooter.
Why They’re Here: Unequivocally the best team west of the Rocky Mountains, let’s not allow a couple of close road losses make us forget Arizona was the second most popular preseason pick to win the national championship.
Reason to Believe: Outside of Kentucky and Virginia, Arizona has the most efficient defense in the country and no shortage of players 6’6″ or taller who are capable of and hellbent on finishing at the rim.
Reason to Worry: In their three regular-season losses which came by a combined total of nine points, the Wildcats shot 61.8 percent from the free-throw line, leaving 26 points at the charity stripe.
March Madness Ceiling: Stanley Johnson appeared to hit the proverbial freshman wall in February, but if he can get back to playing like he was in January—averaging 1.51 points per field-goal attempt—Arizona might be the second-best team in the country.
Record: 28-3, 16-2 Big Ten
Why They’re Here: The Badgers made the Final Four last season, and this is a markedly better team than the one that came one Aaron Harrison dagger away from playing for the 2014 national championship.
Reason to Believe: With a front line of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes and a backcourt that never commits turnovers, Wisconsin has the most efficient offense in the country.
Reason to Worry: The Badgers don’t force turnovers on defense and have occasionally fallen victim to hot three-point shooters.
March Madness Ceiling: They won’t be the favorite to win the national championship, but this is the team best suited to deal with the two favorites—the Badgers have the size to hang with Kentucky and the patience and style to not be frustrated by Virginia.
Record: 28-2, 16-2 ACC
Why They’re Here: Virginia’s defense has been so incredibly and consistently stingy that people are simultaneously lauding Tony Bennett as the Coach of the Year while using his system as an example for why college basketball needs a makeover to improve scoring.
Reason to Believe: Because of that impenetrable pack-line defense, there’s a near-0 percent chance of Virginia ever facing an insurmountable deficit.
Reason to Worry: The offense hasn’t been anywhere near as crisp since losing Justin Anderson to a broken finger, so if he’s less than 100 percent healthy in the tournament, the Wahoos could struggle to put points on the board.
March Madness Ceiling: Virginia could absolutely win the NCAA tournament, and hopefully doing so in games decided by scores like 52-44 will be enough for some rule changes to occur this summer.
Why They’re Here: From the moment last April that Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew) decided to stay for another season, Kentucky has reigned as the best team in the country.
Reason to Believe: If you inexplicably need an excuse to buy stock in Kentucky, just take a look at what is probably the greenest KenPom profile in the history of the site because the number of things this team does better than the rest of the country can’t possibly be summarized in one sentence.
Reason to Worry: The Wildcats are not a great three-point shooting team and occasionally allow too many offensive rebounds, but as long as they’re focused, there’s no reason to worry.
March Madness Ceiling: Good luck finding anyone who doesn’t think this team could and should win the tournament.