By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
The tournament is here, and while college basketball fans still can’t quite relax in full reassurance the fortnight will go on without a hitch, it’s still nice to acknowledge the biggest sports absence from 2020 is back this year.
Before we get into the matchups, it’s worth noting this might be the first time in a while where there hasn’t been much conversation about tournament snubs. I didn’t think there was anything egregious with the field. I thought Louisville would’ve been in had it not lost to Duke late in the year or dealt with the COVID-19 pauses it had to deal with. I felt that Saint Louis would’ve had a better shot if it didn’t lose to Dayton or La Salle and had beaten St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 semis. Colorado State probably lost its bid directly to Utah State in the Mountain West semifinals and Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State and Vanderbilt in February. You can’t do that.
That being said, I understand the gripes about Wichita State and the Shockers’ less than stellar NET ranking. Even with two major conference bid thieves, the bubble seemed soft overall, but I thought the committee did well this year. And I don’t say that most seasons.
Below are some observations about all 68 teams in the field. The teams are listed in their first round matchups by region along with their KenPom overall/offensive/defensive efficiency rankings, as well as their NET. Just follow your bracket down the list.
Good luck on your brackets and enjoy the tournament!
(1) Gonzaga: KenPom: (1/1/11). NET: 1.
One of the fastest, most efficient teams in the country. Gonzaga’s 38.03 adjusted efficiency margin is the highest in the KenPom era (since 2002). The Zags are a so-so 36.5% from downtown, but their explosive offense comes from being able to cut and drive to the basket. They find ways to get inside and do it often. Gonzaga lives in the fast lane, and opponents that can’t keep up fall behind in a hurry. Corey Kispert is lethal from outside, but can also hit the mid-range and slash his way inside when needed. Drew Timme is the big man averaging 18 & 7, but is willing to take the occasional outside shot. Jalen Suggs has been a star as a freshman, averaging 14 points, 5.5 boards, 4.5 assists and 2 steals per game while shooting 51% from the field. Andrew Nembhard is a near-double-figure scorer off the bench after transferring from Florida. Imagine how good this team would be if Filip Petrusev hadn’t left for Serbia…
(16) Norfolk State: KenPom: (200/204/219). NET: 170.
The Spartans didn’t have to play their MEAC semifinal game because the league’s top seed North Carolina A&T had to withdraw from the tournament. Norfolk State then defeated Morgan State to win the MEAC’s auto bid and make its first tournament appearance in nearly a decade. In 2012, the No. 15 seed Spartans stunned No. 2 Missouri before losing to Florida in the second round.
(16) Appalachian State: KenPom: (209/227/205). NET: 210.
0-3 in the top two quadrants and 13-8 outside of them, including a 6-6 mark in Q4. The Mountaineers had to survive in overtime in both the Sun Belt quarterfinals and semifinals before knocking off Georgia State to win the league tournament.
(8) Oklahoma: KenPom: (39/36/53). NET: 36.
The Sooners enter the tournament having lost five of their last six, with the lone win coming against Big 12 bottom-dweller Iowa State and one of the losses coming to a poor Kansas State team. The Sooners are 5-9 against Quadrant 1 teams, have no games on record against Quadrant 2 and are 10-1 against the bottom two quadrants. Still, there’s a reason this was a top ten team at one point this season. Austin Reaves averages 17.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Brady Manek is a strong inside presence that can hit from 3-point range with his 6-9 frame. Elijah Harkless is a really athletic wildcard that helps this team defensively and has some offensive potential as well.
(9) Missouri: KenPom: (51/51/58). NET: 47.
How can a team beat a No. 1 seed and somehow be ranked outside the top 50 in KenPom? This is a veteran group with a lot of players that have been with Cuonzo Martin for a while, which is why the Tigers’ late season skid was so puzzling. Missouri had wins over Oregon, Wichita State, Liberty, Illinois and Arkansas before it beat Alabama on February 6. Since then the Tigers are 3-6 in a stretch that includes two losses to Ole Miss and a 10-point loss to Georgia. Guard Dru Smith has become one of the most improved players in the SEC to lead the Tigers in points, assists and steals. Xavier Pinson is averaging 14 points per game and provides a nice compliment in the backcourt. Jeremiah Tilmon is a valuable inside scorer and rim protector and Kobe Brown has down well in his sophomore campaign in a more expanded role in Missouri’s front court. Turnovers have been a problem for this team and the lack of perimeter offense could be tough to overcome.
(5) Creighton: KenPom: (19/14/40). NET: 26.
This is a veteran group with five double-digit scorers, headlined by Marcus Zegarowski’s 15.5 points per game on 41% shooting from 3. Damien Jefferson and Christian Bishop provide an inside presence to help open up the floor for Zegarowski and 40% 3-point shooter Mitch Ballock. The offense has all the explosive potential in the world, but is also susceptible to duds like the one it suffered in the Big East title game against Georgetown when the Bluejays shot 28% from the field and were manhandled on the glass.
(12) UC Santa Barbara: KenPom: (69/66/82). NET: 54.
A respectable opposing field goal percentage combined with a slow tempo, the Gauchos play solid defense and have a fundamentally sound offense that utilizes ball movement with a balanced attack. Santa Barbara is 21st in the country in field goal percentage aren’t bad from 3 or the free throw line either. They offer solid ball movement and create takeaways on defense. JaQuori McLaughlin is averaging 16.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. He’s also a 40% 3-point shooter. The resume doesn’t stand out. No games against Q1 teams, but a perfect 18-0 in the bottom two quadrants. There are power conference tournament teams who can’t say that. Creighton will easily be the toughest team the Gauchos have faced all year, but the champs of the Big West won’t be timid walking in.
(4) Virginia: KenPom: (11/12/32). NET: 12.
The Cavs were probably a tad overrated at No. 4 in the preseason AP poll, but veterans Kihei Clark and Jay Huff give the reigning national champs experience in both the front and back court. Transfer Sam Hauser has made a big impact in his first year with the Hoos, averaging 16 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Clark continues to make big-time assists in key situations, but does this team have the key pieces to make clutch shots like it did when it won the title two years ago? There’s a big drop off in production after Virginia’s top four scorers. If the offense is forced to become one-dimensional, there’s less room for error with the Cavs than other higher-seeded teams.
(13) Ohio: KenPom: (71/29/174). NET: 87.
Jason Preston is a legitimate pro prospect. 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.6 steals per game combined with a 41% 3-point clip are really impressive numbers, even for a mid-major guard. Ohio is 18th in the nation in field goal percentage and a top-30 offensive team according to KenPom. With four other double-digit scorers besides Preston, including 6-8 forward Dwight Preston (14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds) the Bobcats will face an intriguing test against Virginia if the Cavs are able to suit up. The defense is a concern, however, and Virginia’s 12th ranked offense in adjusted efficiency could put a lot of pressure on Preston and Co. to hit buckets early and often.
(6) USC: KenPom: (14/30/19). NET: 19.
This team needs more firepower offensively to compliment Evan Mobley (16.8 points per game) and Tahj Eaddy (13.7), but the Trojans are a solid rebounding team and get good rim protection. Eaddy can get rolling if he heats up from outside (39%), but the offense can get into trouble if Mobley isn’t contributing. The 7-foot freshman has scored in double figures in all but two of USC’s games this season.
(11) Drake: KenPom: (53/19/120). NET: 45.
A solid offensive team that’s been hit by injuries, the selection committee did the right thing by putting the Bulldogs in the field. Drake didn’t have ShanQuan Hemphill (14.1 points, 6.3 rebounds per game) for a significant portion of the season and found a way to beat Loyola Chicago without him. Bulldogs head coach Darian DeVries told the Des Moines Register Sunday that “everything’s still on course” for Hemphill to play. Unfortunately, Drake will now be without guard Roman Penn, who had been averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 5.5 assists per game. He’s also one of Drake’s best on-ball defenders. The Bulldogs will needs more from Joseph Yesufu and Tremell Murphy if it wants to stick around past the first four. Even if it’s shorthanded, Drake can find ways to ugly a game up to keep it close if it needs to.
(11) Wichita State: KenPom: (74/56/103). NET: 72.
Considering how the offseason ended for Wichita State, the Shockers are a nice story to get into the tournament. Though it didn’t do itself any favors by blowing a lead to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament. I didn’t have any qualms about the field, but if I had to replace one team on the bubble, Wichita State would’ve been on the outside looking in. Tyson Etienne is the offensive weapon with 17 points per game and shooting 40% from outside. The Shockers clean the glass well, but only shoot 41% from the field.
(3) Kansas: KenPom: (22/59/6). NET: 11.
Since losing to Tennessee in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at the end of January, Kansas has won nine of its last 11 with the two losses coming to West Virginia and Texas on the road — the latter in overtime. During that stretch the Jayhawks beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor. It would’ve been fun to see what could’ve happened in a rematch against the eventual Big 12 champion Longhorns. This isn’t the best Kansas team Bill Self has had and at times it looked as if this wasn’t a top five Big 12 team, but the backcourt has made due after losing Devon Dotson from last year’s championship-caliber squad and David McCormack and Jalen Wilson have done a commendable job trying to replace big man Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks have four players scoring in double figures with guard Christian Braun averaging 9.8 to go along with his 5.3 rebounds. Marcus Garrett can take over a game defensively, averaging 1.6 steals and can be a menace as an on-ball defender on the perimeter. His speed is tough to keep up with when he cuts and slashes inside.
(14) Eastern Washington: KenPom: (110/86/152). NET: 114.
The Eagles play a guard-heavy lineup, but it’s 6-9 forward Tanner Groves who leads the way with 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Kim Aiken Jr. adds good length at 6-7 and brings 11.7 points and 8.5 rebounds to the floor. This team plays fast, is reliable from the floor and very steady from the foul line. Eastern Washington nearly pulled off an upset over Arizona in Tucson back in December and almost knocked off Saint Mary’s in Moraga. The Eagles enter the tournament having won 13 of their last 14 games.
(7) Oregon: KenPom: (36/16/76). NET: 33.
The Ducks have five players averaging in double figures, which is pretty good considering Oregon’s adjusted tempo ranking (242nd), but the defense leaves a lot to be desired and Oregon had just as many wins against Quadrant 1 teams as it did losses against Quadrant 3 teams. Eugene Omoruyi and Chris Duarte both average 16.7 points per game, but this team doesn’t rebound well and doesn’t have elite rim protection.
(10) VCU: KenPom: (45/117/12). NET: 37.
The Rams’ only Quadrant 1 wins came against Utah State in November and St. Bonaventure at home more than a month ago. Since then VCU is 4-3 with a loss to George Mason at home. Still, this team is strong defensively with a great shot blocker in Hason Ward (2.3 per game) and the Rams average 9.2 steals as a team. Nah’Shon Hyland averages 19.5 points per game and was a big reason VCU was able to hang around St. Bonaventure in the A-10 title bout. Vince Williams Jr. has become more comfortable from 3-point range and his 41% clip shows it’s paying off. The Rams’ defense will keep it in games, but they desperately need to take care of the ball on offense and find a way to produce inside scoring.
(2) Iowa: KenPom: (5/2/50). NET: 6.
The defense has gotten better, but the Big Ten Tournament showed the Hawkeyes still need to get better on that end of the floor to compliment their stellar offense, which is fourth among power conference teams in 3-point percentage and leads the country in assists per game with 19.1. Iowa also takes care of the basketball with a remarkable 2.01 assist-to-turnover ratio. Luka Garza leads all power conference players with 23.7 points per game. Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon are both double-digit scorers that can hit from 3. Bohanon will direct the offense and leads the team in assists while Wieskamp shoots over 47% from outside. If Iowa’s defense can continue to improve, the Hawkeyes could very well see themselves with the school’s first Final Four appearance in 41 years.
(15) Grand Canyon: KenPom: (108/142/74). NET: 107.
The Antelopes have been taking care of business as of late. They cruised through the WAC Tournament with a pair of blowout wins and have won their last three games by double digits. The also lost to Arizona State by one in Phoenix back in December and played Colorado to a respectable 10-point game in Las Vegas before Christmas. Grand Canyon generates a lot of its offense through the half court game and is 16th in the country in field goal percentage. Asbjorn Midtgaard is the only player in college basketball shooting 70% from the field. The bigger issues are scoring from outside and being better at the free throw line. Iowa’s improved defense and high-octane offense will be a tough ask for Bryce Drew.
(1) Michigan: KenPom: (2/5/7). NET: 4.
The big question is the status of forward Isaiah Livers, who has averaged 13 points and 6 boards while starting every game this season for the Wolverines. Michigan will look to Franz Wagner and Eli Brooks to take a bigger scoring role from the perimeter as both players shoot 38% from 3. More of the responsibility inside will fall on freshman Hunter Dickinson, who has been solid while putting up 14 points and 7.6 boards per game. Michigan is a reliable foul shooting team and plays well defensively. How this team controls tempo and pace will dictate its tournament run, but making up for Livers’ absence will ultimately be Michigan’s toughest task.
(16) Mount Saint Mary’s: KenPom: (219/287/136). NET: 159.
The Mountaineers have played some good teams in Maryland and VCU so maybe there’s some big game readiness there. Mount Saint Mary’s bounced back from a three-game skid in mid-February to win four straight on its way to the NEC Tournament crown. It’s the sixth NCAA Tournament appearance for the Mountaineers and they’ve been a No. 16 seed in each one. They are 2-1 in first four games, most recently bearing New Orleans in 2017 before losing to Villanova.
(16) Texas Southern: KenPom: (229/236/236). NET: 208.
The Tigers have won nine straight games, granted only two of them against teams with winning records. Texas Southern has seen its share of quality teams, facing Oklahoma State, Saint Mary’s, Auburn and BYU during the non-conference schedule. The Tigers play fast and are actually 10th in the country in rebounds per game. Michael Weathers averages 16.5 points per game, but Texas Southern’s 27% team 3-point rate leaves this offense with a lot to be desired.
(8) LSU: KenPom: (29/5/125). NET: 28.
Five wins in Quadrant 1 and no losses in the bottom two quadrants. It’s a decent resume overall for the Tigers, but the defense is the worst among teams in the KenPom top 50. LSU has the backcourt and depth to score with anyone and is physical enough to hold its own on the glass. Cameron Thomas and Ja’Vonte Smart are a great duo in the backcourt with Thomas averaging 22.6 points per game and Smart shooting 42% from 3. The front court features veterans Trendon Watford and Darius Days, who are both averaging north of seven boards per game. The on-ball defense needs to be better and the Tigers can’t afford to keep missing assignments. This team could very well stun Michigan in the second round. It could also get waylaid by St. Bonaventure in the round of 64.
(9) St. Bonaventure: KenPom: (25/38/17). NET: 23.
The Bonnies play a slow tempo and are stout defensively. They rebound well for a team that tries to limit possessions and have good ball movement, but also have players that can generate offense with five guys averaging double figures. Kyle Lofton leads the team in points (14.6) and can heat up from outside despite being just a 25% 3-point shooter. The bigger threats from deep are Jaren Holmes (39%) and Dominick Welch (41%) and both are also regular contributors on the glass. Osun Osunniyi is averaging a near double-double with 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Can this slow tempo offense keep up with LSU’s speed and athleticism?
(5) Colorado: KenPom: (17/17/29). NET: 15.
The loss to Oregon State aside, this is a good basketball team with some key veterans in McKinley Wright and Evan Battey. Wright leads the team in points (15.5), assists (5.6) and steals (1.1). His ability to drive and finish, as well as get to the free throw line will keep the Buffaloes in games. Jeremiah Horne serves as the outside threat. At 6-7, his 42% 3-point mark is tough to guard to go along with his team leading 5.8 rebounds per game. Battey is a double-digit scorer for the first time in his career and all three players are incredibly reliable from the charity stripe. Colorado was cooking before the loss to the Beavers, having won six straight.
(12) Georgetown: KenPom: (55/85/41). NET: 64.
Georgetown took advantage of Villanova’s injury struggles before beating Seton Hall in the Big East semifinals. Then the Hoyas destroyed Creighton to win the Big East championship. Georgetown held one of the best offensive teams in the country to less than 30% shooting from the field and destroyed Creighton on the boards. Jahvon Blair scored 18 points in the win and his 15.8 points per game anchor the backcourt production. Qudus Wahab gives the Hoyas 12.4 points and 8 rebounds per game. A lot of what Georgetown does defensively is often nullified by the 15.3 turnovers its offense offers per game, but its 41% opposing field goal percentage can help it get stops if it needs to generate a run.
(4) Florida State: KenPom: (15/10/48). NET: 24.
The Seminoles missed out on a conference championship, but the win in the semifinals over North Carolina was a nice bounce back after a disappointing loss to Notre Dame and avenged a loss to the Tar Heels from late February. It was the first quality win for Florida State in a while. Junior RaiQuan Gray was on a scoring spree before a pair of eight-point performances in the ACC Tournament, but he’s been scoring well above his 12-point average as of late. Leading scorer MJ Walker has done well to take on a bigger role this season, but his numbers have been up and down during the team’s recent stretch. Florida State is reliable from the line, on the glass and from the perimeter, but needs to take better care of the ball.
(13) UNC Greensboro: KenPom: (100/129/67). NET: 84.
Wes Miller continues to do a nice job with the Spartans and he’d have more tournament bids in the past few seasons if it weren’t for Steve Forbes and Mike Young. UNC Greensboro’s only Q1 game came in a 21-point loss to Furman on the road. The Spartans also have six losses in the bottom two quadrants and only have one win against a top 100 NET team. Still, there are some pieces to work with here. The Spartans aren’t afraid to get physical on the glass and Isaiah Miller is averaging 19.3 points per game. The offense doesn’t turn the ball over much, but it needs more contributions on the other end to help Isaiah Miller against Florida State.
(6) BYU: KenPom: (24/28/26). NET: 20.
This is a balanced team that probably gets overshadowed because the best team in its league is Gonzaga, but the Cougars score, rebound and move the ball well. Mark Pope has done a nice job in his second season after his tournament-worthy team last year never got the chance to show itself in the Big Dance. Alex Barcello leads the way with 15.9 points, 4.5 assists and 1 steal per game. He’s also a 48% 3-point shooter. BYU also has solid length inside with 6-8 freshman Caleb Lohner and Purdue transfer Matt Haarms. The Cougars are a solid outside shooting team and are reliable from the mid-range and free throw line. They don’t generate a lot of steals defensively, but make up for it by holding opponents to a solid 41% from the field, good for 44th in the nation.
(11) Michigan State: KenPom: (56/98/32). NET: 70.
Sparty got into the first four thanks to a late string of wins over Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan. Aaron Henry has done a great job at shouldering the void left by Xavier Tillman and Cassius Winston, but Michigan State’s offense is borderline inept. This team shoots only 42% from the field and 32% from 3. The wildcard is guard Rocket Watts. The Spartans are 7-0 when he scores in double figures and he played some of his best basketball in the wins over Illinois (15 points, 5 assists) and Michigan (21 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds). He has to be better and start taking a bigger role in the offense if Michigan State looks to advance beyond the first four.
(11) UCLA: KenPom: (44/26/86). NET: 46.
This is a decent outside shooting team, but the defense needs to improve. The Bruins have five double digit scorers, but they can get more from Tyger Campbell. UCLA did a nice job of stringing together some wins after losing Chris Smith to a torn ACL, but now Mick Cronin’s team enters Indiana on a four-game skid, including a overtime loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. UCLA doesn’t have elite size and can be in danger of getting outmuscled on the boards due to its lack of length.
(3) Texas: KenPom: (25/21/36). NET: 21.
The Big 12 Tournament champions are 8-4 in games decided by four points or fewer and enter the tournament on a five-game win streak. Is this finally the year Shaka Smart takes a step forward at Texas? The Longhorns haven’t been past the first round of the NCAA Tournament under smart, but this is the best offensive team he’s had in Austin. Andrew Jones continues to be a great story while averaging 14.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Jericho Sims averages 9.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and is second in the nation in field goal percentage. Matt Coleman III and Courtney Ramey give the Longhorns depth in the back court while Greg Brown adds an inside presence along with Sims.
(14) Abilene Christian: KenPom: (86/157/30). NET: 74.
The Wildcats beat the Southland Conference regular season champions by 34 to get to the Big Dance. Now they get a chance to show off some state pride against the Longhorns in the first round. Abilene Christian has already had a taste of the Big 12 this season when it lost to Texas Tech by only seven in Lubbock in December. This team is gritty and willing to play with pace and is also fifth in the country in assists per game. The Wildcats will create opportunities to run in transition and will look to use center Kolton Kohl (12.3 points per game) to score inside. The big question is if this team can create shots if Texas stifles Abilene’s half court scheme.
(7) UConn: KenPom: (16/24/25). NET: 30.
The Huskies have length on the inside, but guard James Bouknight is the star with 19 points per game. UConn seemed primed to win the Big East tournament before bowing out to Creighton in the semis. The Huskies protect the rim and rebound well. Bouknight and fellow guard R.J. Cole are also solid defensively. 6-9 Isaiah Whaley gives UConn a big body inside that possesses good hands and solid range.
(10) Maryland: KenPom: (31/42/27). NET: 35.
The Terps have more losses than any at-large team in the field. There aren’t any losses outside the top two quadrants, but some of the three losses in Quadrant 2 are tough to accept. Losing to Northwestern to snap a five game win-streak and following up a win over Purdue by losing to Penn State give this team an uneasy feel. Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins are both averaging 14 points per game and Donta Scott offers a combination of inside scoring, range and interior defense. The inconsistency is a concern, but Maryland has certainly flashed its potential at times this season.
(2) Alabama: KenPom: (8/34/2). NET: 7.
The SEC champs showed some serious versatility in Nashville during the conference tournament. The Crimson Tide destroyed Mississippi State on Friday, rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to beat Tennessee on Saturday and held off LSU in a back-and-forth final on Sunday in which neither team led by more than six points after halftime. Credit to Alabama for winning those last two games without All-SEC freshman team selection Josh Primo, who’s averaging 8 points, 3.4 rebounds and shooting 39% from 3 this season. Alabama’s pace and offensive philosophy makes it easy to pin this team as a 3-point heavy squad, but in reality they look to go inside and get easy buckets. Alabama’s defense is strong enough that it can claw its way back into games if the outside shots aren’t falling, but if Alabama’s knocking down outside shots and utilizing that active defense? Well, just ask Mississippi State what that looks like. Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, John Petty Jr. and SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones are all double-digit scorers. What’s so impressive about this offense is how often they’re able to find open looks from the wings and corners. Nate Oats had a top ten scoring offense in Buffalo three years ago and he’s found similar success on both ends of the floor in Tuscaloosa.
(15) Iona: KenPom: (181/210/161). NET: 138.
The story obviously surrounds Rick Pitino getting back into the NCAA Tournament in his first season with the Gaels, but Iona has been here fairly frequently, making it to the field for the seventh time in the past ten seasons. Isaiah Ross is a solid pure scorer, averaging 18.4 points per game and shooting 39% from long range, but the Gaels average more turnovers per game than they do assists. That’s not great as Iona gets ready to face the Tide.
(1) Baylor: KenPom: (4/3/44). NET: 2.
Moderate tempo team that shoots over 41% from 3 — the best percentage in college basketball. Incredibly efficient on offense and can hit big shots in big moments. Jared Butler averages 17 and 5 per game and is dangerous from outside. Baylor’s backcourt also gets significant contribution from MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Matthew Mayer has become an integral part of the front court, making big defensive plays, finding easy buckets and hitting outside shots. Mark Vital is a do-it-all player on defense, scoring six points and averaging 6.8 boards per game. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is another big body inside who can score. No the most reliable foul shooting team and needs to be better on defense.
(16) Hartford: KenPom: (192/254/127). NET: 162.
When the top two seeds in the America East tourney both go down, it opens up the door for Hartford to reach its first NCAA Tournament since becoming a Division 1 school in 1985. Prior to this season, the Hawks’ only postseason appearances at the D1 level were two CIT invites in 2013 and ’18.
(8) North Carolina: KenPom: (28/53/15). NET: 32.
A lot of size, physicality and resiliency with this group. The ball movement isn’t too bad either. North Carolina doesn’t have a remarkable resume (3-9 in Quadrant 1), but the Tar Heels showed some mettle in beating Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals before narrowly losing to Florida State in the semifinals. Armando Bacon and Garrison Brooks are the veterans who will need to use their size to help make up for some offensive deficiencies. North Carolina desperately needs to take better care of the basketball, too.
(9) Wisconsin: KenPom: (10/32/13). NET: 27.
It’s tough to criticize a team that hasn’t lost outside of Quadrant 1 since January, but the Badgers still just went a meager 5-10 in the top quadrant this season and are entering the tournament having lost six of eight—the last four losses all by five points or fewer. For Wisconsin to earn a shot to take down a No. 1 seed, Micah Potter will have to be stronger on the boards, D’Mitrik Trice will have to take games over and Brad Davison will have to really heat up from outside.
(5) Villanova: KenPom: (12/9/68). NET: 17.
The Wildcats won’t have Collin Gillespie (14 points, 4.3 assists per game) and could very well be without Justin Moore (12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds) for the NCAA Tournament. That puts a lot of pressure on Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels. Villanova will need to scrap and claw its way out of the first weekend, especially if it meets Purdue in the second round. That’s a tough task for a team that has the third-worst defensive efficiency rating among top 30 KenPom teams.
(12) Winthrop: KenPom: (91/120/70). NET: 55.
Winthrop is 23-1, but 20 of those games, including its lone loss came against Quadrant 4 teams. The Eagles are 2-0 in Quadrant 2 and haven’t played a game in the top quadrant this year. This team can score, but it’s turnover-prone, ranking 233rd in the country in turnovers per game. By comparison, Winthrop’s first round opponent, Villanova turns the ball over only nine times per game. Only Wisconsin turns it over less. Winthrop likes to run and push the floor, but if it can’t take care of the ball, it’ll fall behind quickly. Chandler Vaudrin is one of four Eagles scoring in double figures and he’s also the team leader in rebounds, assists and steals while shooting 37% from 3, but even a shorthanded Villanova team will take advantage of Winthrop’s lack of efficiency.
(4) Purdue: KenPom: (13/23/23). NET: 22.
The Boilermakers were great down the stretch, winning five in a row before bowing out to Ohio State in overtime in the Big Ten Tournament. Trevion Williams is strong inside and has had a great postseason so far while averaging 15.6 points and 9 rebounds this year. Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic lead the backcourt with the latter being the bigger outside threat. Zach Edey is a great spell for the front court off the bench, averaging 9 points and 4.5 rebounds in less than 15 minutes per game. He’s also an excellent rim protector. Purdue was put on the back burner earlier this season thanks to losses to Clemson and Miami, but the way this team finished with a 13-6 record in the Big Ten makes this a team capable of a deep run.
(13) North Texas: KenPom: (71/119/42). NET: 59.
This team might be under seeded considering its KenPom and NET ranking are both higher than multiple 11 and 12-seeds. North Texas is a really solid outside shooting team. 6-10 Zachary Simmons is scoring 10.3 points per game and works the inside-out game well for the Mean Green. Javion Hamlet and James Reese are both double digit scorers in the backcourt and Thomas Bell scores in double figures from the wing while shooting 39% from 3. North Texas will have its hands full in a first round matchup against Purdue, but if it gets going from the outside, its defense could make for a frustrating time for the Boilermakers.
(6) Texas Tech: KenPom: (23/33/24). NET: 16.
The good news: Texas Tech didn’t lose to a single team outside of Quadrant 1 all season. The bad news: Texas Tech went 4-10 in Quadrant 1, and the Red Raiders meet another Q1 squad in Utah State. MacMcClung is a guy you trust with the ball in his hands in the final seconds of a game and the Georgetown transfer has averaged 15.7 points per game, but the team isn’t reliable from the perimeter as a whole. The Red Raiders get contributions across the lineup on the glass and continue to play the solid defense Chris Beard’s teams have boasted in Lubbock, but not nearly to the same significance as it did during its title game run two years ago.
(11) Utah State: KenPom:(40/112/8). NET: 39.
After getting swept by Boise State, the Aggies won six straight games before losing to San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament, including a 12-point win over fellow bubble hopeful Colorado State. This team is fantastic on defense, rebounds well and has great ball movement in the half court offense. Neemias Queta is averaging a double-double with 15.1 points and 10 rebounds, is active defensively and is a fly swatter with 3.2 blocks per game. Veteran forward Justin Bean gives Utah State a reliable interior duo. If it protects the basketball better and can get some more productivity out of its backcourt, Utah State will send Texas Tech packing in the first round.
(3) Arkansas: KenPom: (18/35/14). NET: 14.
The Razorbacks’ only Quadrant 2 loss came at home to Missouri on January 2 when the Tigers were off to a strong start and looked like one of the best two teams in the SEC. The other five losses were to Tennessee, twice to LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The best thing Eric Musselman has done with this team from year one to year two in Fayetteville is improve the rebounding. It cost Arkansas a handful of games late last season and now the Hogs are one of the best teams in the country on the glass and are also one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball. Moses Moody gets all the attention as the leading scorer, but Arkansas becomes a frustrating matchup for anyone when JD Notae gets going. Arkansas is 4-1 when he scores 20 or more.
(14) Colgate: KenPom: (84/43/140). NET: 9.
Just 15 games played on the season, none in Q1, just two in Quadrant 2 and a Q3 loss somehow puts the Raiders in the top 10 of the NET. What we do know about Colgate is it plays with a lot of tempo, rebounds well and ranks in the top 10 in the country in points per game and assists per game. Jordan Burns averages 17 points and 5.4 assists per game while shooting 41% from 3. The Raiders add three more guys averaging in double figures and leading rebounder Keegan Records also pulls in 9.3 points per night. Only four teams in the nation shoot 40% or better from beyond the arc. Colgate is one of them.
(7) Florida: KenPom: (37/40/37). NET: 31.
Mike White has done a solid job making this team as competitive as its been considering the loss of Keyontae Johnson earlier in the year. Tre Mann can take over games with his ability to drive and finish as well as his near-40% 3-point clip. The Gators need Colin Castleton to contribute at both ends of the floor. He’s Florida’s leading rebounder, is the primary post presence on offense and is a reliable rim protector. Veterans Noah Locke and Scottie Lewis add depth in the backcourt. Tyree Appleby averages 11.4 points and 3.3 assists per game for a team that doesn’t utilize a ton of ball movement. Shot creation will be important for this team.
(10) Virginia Tech: KenPom: (50/55/54). NET: 48.
A really respectable job by Mike Young after the Hokies were picked to finish 11th in the ACC this year. Virginia Tech navigated through the season without any losses in the bottom two quadrants, but had their final two regular season games canceled due to COVID-19 complications and lost in the ACC quarterfinals to North Carolina upon their return to play. Forward Keve Aluma averages 15.6 points and 8 rebounds per game while Tyrece Radford averages 11.9 and 6.1 while shooting 56% from the floor. The defense needs to be more opportunistic, but the Hokies aren’t afraid to try and out-physical teams regardless of size.
(2) Ohio State: (7/4/76). NET: 8.
The Buckeyes’ run in the Big Ten Tournament was encouraging considering the four-game skid they ended the regular season with, but Ohio State nearly blew a big lead to Minnesota in the second round, then did it again against Purdue in the quarterfinals before using a solid second half run to pull away from a shorthanded Michigan team in the semifinals. It makes one feel somewhat uneasy about this team’s ability to close out games. Before the four-game slide, the Buckeyes had won ten of eleven. Chris Holtmann’s team has been streaky, but how much of a good streaky can it ride from its success in the conference tournament? EJ Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. will need to pace the offense. Washington’s ability to drive has been an added element to his game to go along with his ability to really heat up from outside. Ohio State’s 76 defensive efficiency ranking is the lowest among any team in the KenPom top 20.
(15) Oral Roberts: KenPom: (152/74/285). NET: 158.
Picking the 15-2 upsets are always hard, mainly because they don’t happen often, but if I had to pick one this season it would be the Golden Eagles over Ohio State. Oral Roberts was competitive in road losses to Oklahoma State, Wichita State and Arkansas, losing all three games by a combined 21 points. It also showed some resiliency in a pair of close wins in the Summit League semifinals over a South Dakota State team that beat Utah State earlier in the year before moving on to win against North Dakota State to capture the league title. Max Abmas leads the nation in scoring with 24.2 points per game and has a pair of 40-point games this season.
(1) Illinois: KenPom: (3/7/5). NET: 3.
This team has lived up to the hype created by center Kofi Cockburn and star guard Ayo Dosunmu electing to return to Champaign this season. Dosunmu averages 20.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game and continued to play at a high level during Illinois’ run in the Big Ten Tournament after his return from a facial injury he suffered in February. Cockburn is a double-double machine, averaging 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds. Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo are big contributors as role players, especially on defense. Curbelo is athletic while Frazier can be a perimeter weapon offensively. Even more impressive was the way this team found ways to win in Dosunmu’s absence and Cockburn being zeroed in on. Those two get all the attention, but Brad Underwood’s team is deeper than that.
(16) Drexel: KenPom: (146/95/247). NET: 135.
This team found a way to win the CAA despite being 4-5 in league play during the regular season. Camren Wynter has been solid averaging 16.8 points per game, but KenPom’s 247th rated defense in adjusted efficiency will have its hands full against Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois.
(8) Loyola Chicago: KenPom: (9/49/1). NET: 10.
There’s been a lot of discussion that this team is better than the one that made the Final Four in 2018. That squad entered the tournament ranked 41st in KenPom and finished 31st. This team enters the tournament ranked 9th and is better across the board in offensive and defensive efficiency, including the top-ranked defense, per KenPom. The Ramblers are a disciplined basketball team. They shoot a solid 50% from the field, 37% from 3, have good ball movement and typically stay out of foul trouble. Cameron Krutwig was a freshman on that Final Four team three years ago. Now he’s averaging 15 points per game to go along with 6.7 boards and 3 assists. He’s also—not surprisingly—solid defensively. Lucas Williamson and Braden Norris lead the scoring out of the backcourt and both are capable outside threats. Loyola Chicago is 6-4 in the top two quadrants and 16-0 against the bottom two. For a Missouri Valley team, that’s pretty good.
(9) Georgia Tech: KenPom: (32/27/52). NET: 34.
What a season for the Yellow Jackets. They lost their first two games to Georgia State and Mercer. Now they’ve won eight straight games after beating Florida State for the ACC title. ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright has had a great season averaging 17.4 points and 8 rebounds per game. Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher are both double digit scorers that offer solid length and Jose Alvarado is averaging 15.3 per game with 4.1 assists and is a 39% 3-point shooter. He’s also second in the nation in steals. Georgia Tech moves the ball well, but struggles on the boards and will need to be disciplined in a first round matchup against Loyola Chicago.
(5) Tennessee: KenPom: (21/71/4). NET: 13.
John Fulkerson’s status was still in question as of Sunday night. Tennessee’s offense has been a roller coaster all season, but the Vols showed some reasons for optimism over their past three games with a pair of wins over Florida and a close loss to eventual SEC champ Alabama. Freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are they keys to Tennessee’s scoring and Yves Pons continues to be one of the elite defenders in the country. Victor Bailey Jr. and Santiago Vescovi are wildcards when it comes to the perimeter offense. If either one of them heats up, Tennessee becomes a tough out, especially with that vaunted defense.
(12) Oregon State: KenPom: (85/65/117). NET: 91.
The lowest-ranked KenPom team in the field among power conference schools, Oregon State joined Georgetown as one of two bid thieves during champ week. The Beavers do several things well, but nothing extraordinary. Ethan Thompson can score from anywhere on the floor and is a solid rebounding guard. Forward Warith Alatishe has great length for his 6-7 frame. He gets his hands on a lot of rebounds and provides inside scoring. Jarod Lucas can get hot from outside and Zach Reichle can pull up from long range or maneuver his way to the rim. Oregon State does a good job at creating open shots on the perimeter, but also leaves open looks on the 3-point line and doesn’t close out well.
(4) Oklahoma State: KenPom: (30/54/22). NET: 29.
The Cowboys have won eight of ten in a stretch that includes a win over Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals and a pair of victories over West Virginia, including one without Big 12 Player of the Year Cade Cunningham. His ability to hit contested 3s from outside while also being able to drive inside and get to the rim would suggest this team solely relies on him, but the win over the Mountaineers in his absence makes it clear the Cowboys have some depth behind the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Kalib Boone and Isaac Likekele can contribute on both ends of the floor. Four different players average five rebounds or more while six players average eight points or better.
(13) Liberty: KenPom: (97/52/168). NET: 86.
The Flames only have one win in Quadrant 2, but stayed within 10 points of TCU and Missouri. Liberty lacks the ideal size to compete with Oklahoma State, but the Flames rank sixth in the nation in 3-point percentage and are fourth in 3-pointers made with more than ten per game. 6-9 forward Blake Preston is the inside man averaging 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, but everyone else on the floor is capable of scoring from the perimeter. Liberty is going to live and die by the 3-point shot, but upsets in the tournament don’t happen without hitting some buckets.
(6) San Diego State: (20/44/11). NET: 18.
A good outside shooting team with a very strong defense. The Aztecs only have two double digit scorers in Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel, but they can score from anywhere and Schakel is a 46% outside shooter. San Diego State has won 14 straight games, all of which game in Mountain West play, but the league was deeper this season with two teams getting into the field and two more sitting on the bubble. The Aztecs also started off the season with a win over then-No.22 UCLA.
(11) Syracuse: KenPom: (41/22/89). NET: 40.
Syracuse has only one Quadrant 1 win all season, but the Orange did get wins over North Carolina and Clemson to close out the regular season and gave Virginia all it could handle before losing on a buzzer beater in the ACC quarterfinals. This team has some guys that can shoot in Buddy Boeheim (17.1 points per game), Alan Griffin (14.7) and Quincy Guerrier (14.4). Plus, Syracuse is a solid 78% from the free throw line. If it can defend better, it’s not out of the question to see this team in the Sweet 16.
(3) West Virginia: KenPom: (27/11/65). NET: 23.
A great offensive team that isn’t afraid of pace. Derek Culver attracts all of the attention, but Miles McBride leads the team with 15.4 points per game while shooting north of 39% from 3. The Mountaineers have found ways to spread the scoring around more following the departure of big man Oscar Tshiebwe after just ten games. Taz Sherman has become increasingly reliable from the field and Sean McNeil is the type of player who doesn’t shy away from making timely 3-pointers. West Virginia can struggle at times to keep up with teams defensively, but Bob Huggins’ squad will be a tough out after sledging through an incredibly deep Big 12.
(14) Morehead State: KenPom: (128/214/72). NET: 121.
What the Eagles did to Belmont in the OVC finale was impressive and Johni Broome played lights out throughout the tournament, but what we’ve seen from Morehead State as of late is more of the exception than the rule. The Eagles’ 214th Ken Pom offensive rating is the worst in the tournament not including 16-seeds. This team commits too many turnovers and lost all three Q1 games it played by an average of 28 points. Two wins over Belmont in a week is impressive, but Morehead State’s going to need more against West Virginia.
(7) Clemson: KenPom: (42/99/20). NET: 41.
The offensively challenged Tigers don’t have a quality win since beating Georgia Tech on February 12. They have one double-digit scorer in Aamir Simms and they don’t rebound well and the one-time No. 1 defense in the country has dropped to No. 20 in the KenPom efficiency ratings. A team that tries to control the flow of a game with slow pace, Clemson doesn’t like to be sped up. Go on a run against this team and it has the defense to set up a response. It’s just a matter of whether it has the offensive weapons to do so.
(10) Rutgers: KenPom: (34/75/18). NET: 38.
The Scarlet Knights had not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991—the longest tourney drought among power conference teams. Rutgers would’ve been in last year had the event not been canceled, but the Scarlet Knights ended the skid this year anyway. Ron Harper Jr. can get it done at both ends of the floor and Geo Baker is adds a veteran presence to the backcourt. Myles Johnson cleans the glass and is a good rim protector, but this team could use a better post presence on offense.
(2) Houston: KenPom: (6/9/16). NET: 5.
The top team in the country in opposing field goal percentage. Houston isn’t likely to turn games into a track meet, but it has the athleticism to manage opponents that try to get the Cougars on their heels, and when it does get going, it’s a tough team to stop. Houston has been well-coached under Kelvin Sampson and made the Sweet 16 in 2019. The primary concern is the strength of schedule, which ranked 106 according to KenPom — the third-lowest among top 30 KenPom teams. The Cougars were just 2-1 in Quadrant 1 games this season with one of those wins coming against Boise State. Houston doesn’t shoot lights out from the field, but can make their way to the foul line, where they’re comfortable generating offense from and they make up for the offense with their defensive-friendly pace. Quentin Grimes is the leading scorer and shoots 40% from 3 and the Cougars will rely on Justin Gorham (8.6 points, 9.2 rebounds per game) on the post and glass. Marcus Sasser is the volume shooter from the perimeter who isn’t afraid to let it rip and Houston’s offense can become increasingly dangerous if he gets hot.
(15) Cleveland State: KenPom: (151/199/121). NET: 160.
The Vikings are 1-4 in the top three quadrants, with their other 21 games being played in Q4. However, Cleveland State did only lose by six to Ohio State in Columbus earlier in the year. Other than that there isn’t much to hype up here. Thanks to some upsets in the Horizon League Tournament, the Vikings didn’t face a team with a winning record through its championship run. Cleveland State struggles to rebound, doesn’t shoot well from 3 and is facing the nation’s leader in opposing field goal percentage in the first round.