Xavier claimed the last spot on the one line, and as a result got shipped to the West region, which they share with three teams that KenPom actually ranks higher. As a result, they may have a tough road ahead if they want a spot in San Antonio.
1 – Xavier Musketeers (28-5, Big East regular season champs, KenPom ranking: 14th)
Big Wins: Cincinnati, Butler x2, Creighton x2, Seton Hall x2
Bad Losses: None
The Breakdown: The Musketeers are one of the less intimidating one seeds in recent memory, with KenPom currently rating them 14th. They lost to Providence twice, once on the road and once in the Big East tournament, and were one of several victims to Arizona State’s hot start. They found a way to win the Big East despite Villanova handling them easily in both contests, mostly by taking care of business against teams lower than them. This team likely goes as far as their offense takes them.
2 – North Carolina Tar Heels (25-10, T-3rd in the ACC, KP: 8th)
Big Wins: Michigan, Tennessee, Duke x2
Bad Losses: Wofford
The Breakdown: North Carolina has been solid, but not dominant this year. They lost seven games in ACC play, and dropped a head-scratcher at home against Wofford. However, KenPom ranks their offense 5th and defense 34th nationally, so there’s more to this team than wins and losses. They’re an outstanding rebounding team on both sides of the court, and play excellent defense without fouling. Junior forward Luke May is one of the country’s better players.
3 – Michigan Wolverines (28-7, T-4th in the Big Ten, KP: 10th)
Big Wins: Michigan State x2, Purdue, Ohio State
Bad Losses: LSU, Northwestern
The Breakdown: Michigan likely wouldn’t have found their way to the three line had it not been for a tear through the Big Ten tournament, featuring wins over Michigan State and Purdue. They ended up tied with Nebraska in an unimpressive Big 10 conference, but notched enough nice wins to get the committee’s attention. As you would expect from a Steve Beilein team, they fire up a lot of threes, while playing a half-court style game. Unlike traditional Beilein teams however, they play elite defense, ranking 5th nationally per KenPom.
4 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (30-4, WCC regular season and tournament champs, KP: 7th)
Best Wins: Ohio State, Creighton
Bad Losses: none
The Breakdown: The Zags are probably the most dominant mid-major team over the last 15 years. They made the national title game last season, and “slipped” to a 4 seed this year, largely due to a lack of big-name victories in the non-conference slate. They dropped big games to Florida and Villanova, while knocking off Ohio State, Creighton and Texas. They’re in the hallowed 20-20 club in KenPom’s rankings, showing ability on both ends of the floor. As always though, it’s hard to know exactly how much to trust this team, as they rack up a lot of impressive numbers against a very weak conference.
5 – Ohio State Buckeyes (24-8, T-2nd in the Big 10, KP: 15th)
Big Wins: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue
Bad Losses: none
The Breakdown: Ohio State feasted on a down year in the Big 10, but didn’t beat anyone in the tournament field in their non-conference slate, making them tough to judge. They had shots at Gonzaga, Butler, Clemson and North Carolina, but came up short each time. This team both shoots very well from two, and locks down opponents from two, making them a tough opponent, if not an elite one. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop is a force, doing a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes.
6 – Houston Cougars (26-7, 5th in ACC, KP: 17th)
Big Wins: Wichita State x2, Cincinnati
Bad Losses: Drexel, LSU, Tulane
The Breakdown: Like Ohio State above, Houston didn’t make any noise until a weaker conference schedule started. They were a thorn in Wichita State’s side, and a home win over Cincinnati probably bumped them up a couple of lines. Despite a somewhat lackluster resume, this team is in the top 30 both offensively and defensively, per KenPom. They play excellent halfcourt defense and crash the boards, while hitting a lot of threes. There’s definitely some sleeper potential here if they live up to their analytics.
7 – Texas A&M Aggies (20-12, T-7th in the SEC, KP: 30th)
Best Wins: West Virginia, Auburn, Kentucky
Bad Losses: LSU, Mississippi State
The Breakdown: Texas A&M shot out of the gate with a big win over West Virginia, but injuries and other issues limited them through the first part of the season. A&M avoided horrible losses, but racked up a lot of losses against good teams, while picking up few wins. A 5 game midseason losing streak really held them down.
8 – Missouri Tigers (20-12, T-4th in the SEC, KP: 39th)
Big Wins: Tennessee, Kentucky
Bad Losses: Illinois, Mississippi
The Breakdown: This team is a bit of a wildcard. They lost star freshman Michael Porter Jr. just minutes into their season. They still had a decent showing in the SEC, picking up a couple of nice wins along the way. Now, Porter is back, but he’s played just one game, scoring 12 points on 18 shots. If he looks like the projected top 5 draft pick in tournament play, Missouri can make some noise. If not, they look like a pretty average 8 seed.
9 – Florida State Seminoles (20-11, T-8th in the ACC, KP: 35th)
Big Wins: Florida, North Carolina, Clemson
Bad Losses: Wake Forest
The Breakdown: Florida State plays fast and can score in bunches. They’re also long team that crashes the offensive boards and blocks shots, though they struggle with defensive rebounds.
10 – Providence Friars (21-13, T-3rd in the Big East, KP: 64th)
Big Wins: Xavier x2, Villanova
Bad Losses: Minnesota, UMass, DePaul
The Breakdown: Providence is KenPom’s lowest ranked team to make the field without a First Four game. Nothing stands out as a particular area of strength, but they notched three total wins over one seeds, so there’s definitely some ability here. Teams with good, veteran guard play tend to shine in tournament time, so it’s worth noting that senior Kyron Cartwright is a proven floor general who plays well on both sides of the floor.
11 – San Diego State Aztecs (22-10, Mountain West tournament champs, KP: 50th)
Big Wins: Gonzaga
Bad Losses: Washington State, California, Wyoming, New Mexico, UNLV
The Breakdown: San Diego State wasn’t even considered a bubble team, but played their way into the field by winning the MWC tourney, though it should be noted that Nevada was the only decent team they had to beat along the way. Like we’re used to seeing from San Diego State, they play tough defense with a good helping of zone. They rebound well, don’t send teams to the free throw line, take care of the ball, and don’t allow easy looks at the basket. Though the talent isn’t necessarily indicative of a team that can make a run, this team does do a lot of the important things very well.
12 – South Dakota State Jackrabbits (28-6, 1st in the Summit League, Summit tournament champs, KP: 75th)
Best Wins: Buffalo
Bad Losses: Missouri State, Wyoming
The Breakdown: This team can shoot the lights out, which will likely make them a popular 12-5 upset in a lot of brackets. They don’t force many turnovers, but are first in the country in offensive turnover rate, so mistakes are fairly rare. They don’t focus on defense a whole lot, so a barnburner may be likely where this team is involved.
13 – UNC-Greensboro Spartans (27-7, Southern Conference Regular Season and Tournament Champions, KP: 82nd)
Best Wins: NC State
Bad Losses: Presbyterian, Chatanooga, UNC-Asheville, Mercer
The Breakdown: Greensboro isn’t much to write home about offensively, but they’ve been a strong defensive team. They give up a lot of threes while allowing few makes, so some f their 29th defensive ranking by KP may be fool’s gold, but they do play good 2 point defense and force a lot turnovers, while rebounding well on both ends. Don’t write this team off for an upset.
14 – Montana Grizzlies (26-7, Big Sky regular season and tournament champions, KP: 71st)
Best Wins: UC-Irvine, maybe?
Bad Losses: UC-Santa Barbara, Idaho, Eastern Washington
The Breakdown: Montana’s profile is pretty solid this year, even if they didn’t beat or play anyone of much importance. They crash the boards and force turnovers, so if they can hang in athletically, there’s potential to be a pesky team.
15 – Lipscomb Bisons (23-9, Atlantic Sun Conference tournament champs, KP: 166th)
Best Wins: Belmont x2
Bad Losses: Tennessee Tech, North Florida, Jacksonville, NJIT
The Breakdown: Lipscomb scheduled four very solid opponents in the non-con, in Bama, Texas, Tennessee and Purdue. Unfortunately, they faired poorly against all of them, with Tennessee being the only game that stayed even remotely close. If you like fast-paced basketball though, this may be a fun team to watch. Their pace is the 5th fastest in D1, averaging nearly 75 possessions per game.
16 – UNC-Central Eagles (19-15, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament champs, KP: 308th) OR Texas Southern Tigers (15-19, SWAC tournament champs, KP: 249th)
The Breakdown: Tonight’s game between these two pits far and away the two worst teams in the field, per KenPom. The winner will likely pose very little threat to be the first 16 seed to take out a 1.