If trashed brackets are the hallmark of a great NCAA tournament, then this year’s edition could be an all-time classic. March promises to be madder than ever after an upset-riddled regular season where little went as predicted.
The top-ranked team in the AP Preseason Top 25 missed the NCAA tournament.
An unranked team in the preseason poll earned a No. 1 seed.
The team projected to finish ninth in the Big East swept the regular season and tournament titles.
The team projected to finish last in the Big 12 made the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed.
Now here comes an NCAA tournament in which some of college basketball’s dominant brands are lower seeds than usual, if they’re in the field at all. Also lurking down in the bracket is an array of dangerous mid-majors, some of whom won 30 or more games and won’t be intimidated facing opponents from bigger conferences.
Alabama, Houston and Kansas lead our annual 1-68 ranking of national championship contenders — grouped into eight tiers and ordered from most to least likely to snip the nets in Houston on the first Monday in April. Here’s the full list, and enjoy the mayhem:
TIER 1: Favorites
1. Alabama (+800) | S1 vs. Texas A&M CC
Alabama was barreling toward its best season in school history until a horrific tragedy brought unwanted questions and attention.
On Jan. 15, 23-year-old mother Jamea Harris was killed by gunfire along the Tuscaloosa Strip. Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and his friend Michael Davis were both indicted on capital murder charges. Police have said that two of Miles’ teammates, Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley, were both at the scene of the crime but are being treated as witnesses. Miller, the SEC player of the year and a future top-five NBA draft pick, allegedly delivered the gun after Miles texted Miller asking him to bring it.
Despite calls for Alabama to suspend Miller, the prized freshman has played on — and he and the talent-laden Crimson Tide have played well. They tore through the SEC with only two losses and then backed that up by handling three NCAA tournament-bound teams en route to the SEC tournament title.
Whether the scrutiny will galvanize or break Alabama as it advances in the NCAA tournament is the biggest question facing this team. At their best, the Tide are an elite defensive team with an NBA-style offense that boasts enough firepower to capture the school’s first basketball national title.
2. Houston (+550) | MW1 vs. Northern Kentucky
For months, the widely accepted narrative has been that there is no dominant team in men’s college basketball this season. And yet, by April, there’s a chance that Houston proves that idea was total baloney.
Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars remained the top-ranked team in advanced metrics despite suffering their third loss of the season this past Sunday. They have a trio of aggressive, battle-tested guards and a lottery pick anchoring their frontcourt. No other team in the country enters the NCAA tournament with a top-20 offense and defense.
The lone knock on Houston is that it hasn’t played as strong a schedule as other elite teams, but the Cougars have beaten Virginia, Saint Mary’s and Oregon in non-league play and taken two of three from Memphis in the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars also led Alabama by as many as 15 points early in the second half in early December before collapsing.
If the Cougars can buy Marcus Sasser time to get healthy and survive the South regional, then a huge opportunity awaits. Houston is the site of the Final Four, meaning that the Cougars could get to sleep in their own beds and have massive crowd support behind them.
3. Kansas (+800) | W1 vs. Howard
Since the demise of John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty, only two men’s college basketball programs have gone back-to-back. Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer did it at Florida in 2006 and 2007 and Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill did it at Duke in 1991 and 1992.
What would make Kansas’ feat even more impressive and unprecedented is that the Jayhawks lost most of last year’s national title team. Six of Kansas’ top eight scorers from last season are gone. Only forward Jalen Wilson and point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. logged more than 9.3 minutes per game a year ago.
Kansas’ path became a bit tougher on Sunday when it learned that its title defense will not go through the geographically friendly Kansas City regional. The Jayhawks instead will headline a loaded West region that includes four other KenPom top 11 teams — UCLA, Gonzaga, UConn and Saint Mary’s.
One key for Kansas is whether Bill Self is feeling well enough to be on the sideline during the NCAA tournament. Self underwent a standard heart catheterization last week and had two stents placed for the treatment of blocked arteries. The health of Kevin McCullar is also crucial for the Jayhawks. The do-it-all glue guy saw limited minutes during the Big 12 tournament due to back spasms and missed Sunday’s title game altogether.
TIER 2: Contenders
4. Purdue (+1100) | E1 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson
Purdue’s tortured NCAA tournament history isn’t why it’s a tier below its fellow No. 1 seeds. The Boilermakers are here because their freshmen backcourt showed signs fatigue over the final six weeks of the season.
Purdue is shooting just 29% from behind the arc since Feb. 1, a concerning stat for a team that relies on surrounding dominant 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey with perimeter marksmen. The disappearance of second-leading scorer Fletcher Loyer over the past four games is especially worrisome. He is 2-for-20 from the field during that stretch.
The way Purdue’s smaller guards have struggled against defensive pressure is also a red flag. Teams with big, athletic perimeter defenders have been able to disrupt Purdue’s offense, force turnovers and make it tougher for Edey, the national player of the year favorite, to receive an entry pass.
And yet even with those issues, don’t discount the Boilermakers. This is a team that has the most dominant player in college basketball, a team that beat Marquette and wrecked Duke and Gonzaga in non-league play, a team that rebounded from a rough February to win the Big Ten tournament.
Like most teams, Purdue has some weaknesses. Purdue has also shown it can often overcome them.
5. UCLA (+1200) | W2 vs. UNC Asheville
Here’s one reason UCLA could still make a Final Four run despite Jaylen Clark’s season-ending Achilles injury earlier this month: Ballyhooed freshman Amari Bailey has shown signs of growth and is playing with soaring confidence.
In three Pac-12 tournament games, Bailey displayed terrific playmaking in the open floor and a knack for finishing at the rim, tallying 54 total points on 56% shooting from the field. In fact, the former five-star recruit should have had two more points were it not for this laughably bad call.
Here’s the Amari Bailey “offensive foul” for those that haven’t seen it yet. All I see is a poster. pic.twitter.com/H3fquWawoW
— UCLA Nation (@UCLA_Nation) March 12, 2023
While Bailey and David Singleton are capable of reducing the blow of Clark’s injury, UCLA won’t reach Houston without the activity and athleticism of freshman center Adem Bona. The Bruins are hoping Bona will return from a shoulder injury to play in UCLA’s NCAA tournament opener against UNC Asheville.
In Bona’s absence against Arizona last Saturday night, UCLA resorted to having 6-foot-7 forward Jaime Jaquez play some center with its two remaining big men in foul trouble. The battle-tested Bruins are mentally strong enough to potentially survive their opening two NCAA tournament games without Bona at full strength, but they’ll need his shot blocking and energy if they see Drew Timme and Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
6. Texas (+1600) | MW2 vs. Colgate
Since the domestic violence allegation that led to coach Chris Beard’s indefinite suspension and eventual termination, Texas has only solidified itself as a potential title contender. Interim coach Rodney Terry has led the Longhorns to a 19-7 record, a pair of victories over Kansas and the program’s second-ever Big 12 tournament title.
As Texas begins play in the NCAA tournament, the big question now is how far Terry would need to advance to keep the job. Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte has traditionally preferred to hunt big game with his coaching hires, but he could face pressure to reward Terry if the Longhorns make the Final Four for the first time in two decades.
While Terry has done an admirable job under difficult circumstances the past few months, turning the program over to him full-time would be a risky decision. At Fresno State, Terry made one NCAA tournament appearance in five seasons before leaving in 2018 to take over at UTEP. He went 37-48 in three years in El Paso and then left to become Beard’s top assistant.
There’s nothing in Terry’s track record that would make him a candidate for the Texas job under normal circumstances, but he has a chance to make it difficult for Del Conte not to at least consider him. The team that Beard built is among the favorites to emerge from the Midwest region and is a legitimate national title contender.
7. Marquette (+2500) | MW2 vs. Vermont
While Shaka Smart rocketed to prominence in 2011 by leading VCU from the First Four to the Final Four, NCAA tournament success has largely eluded him since then. Smart has lost his past six first-round NCAA tournament games at VCU, Texas and Marquette despite being the superior seed in four of them.
That streak should end this year with Marquette in the midst of one of its best seasons in school history. The Golden Eagles swept the Big East regular season and tournament titles with a team that lost three of last year’s four leading scorers and was projected to finish ninth in the league before the season.
Marquette landed in a section of the bracket where it has every chance to do damage. The Golden Eagles will not meet an opponent ranked higher than 24th on KenPom or the NET until at least the Elite Eight.
8. Gonzaga (+1800) | W3 vs. Grand Canyon
It turns out that the worst Gonzaga team in recent years, as this team has been described, is still very dangerous. The Zags took down Alabama, Kentucky and Xavier in non-league play, throttled Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game and finished the season in the top 10 in the human polls and computer metrics.
While Gonzaga is vulnerable defensively this season, its offense has evolved from good to great to volcanic over the course of the season. Drew Timme is still Drew Timme, a patient and skilled low-post scorer with the deepest arsenal of moves in the sport. Julian Strawther has emerged as a consistent second option. And an array of complementary scorers have shown an ability to knock down open shots.
Gonzaga is the only team in college basketball that has reached the past seven Sweet 16s. If the Zags extend that streak to eight, they should have tremendous crowd support at the West regional in Las Vegas.
9. Arizona (+1200) | S2 vs. Princeton
Arizona is the rare team that starts a pair of true big men in 7-footer Oumar Ballo and 6-foot-11 Ąžuolas Tubelis. How deep the Wildcats can advance in this tournament probably depends on whether that mismatch favors them or their opponent. Can potential opponents like Baylor, Missouri and Utah State spread the floor and force Ballo and Tubelis to defend in space? Or can Tubelis hunt mismatches at the other end of the floor and make teams pay?
Another factor with Arizona is its habit of playing up or down to its level of competition. This is a Wildcats team that took two of three from UCLA and defeated the likes of Tennessee, Indiana, Creighton and San Diego State but also suffered a few head-scratching losses.
TIER 3: Fringe Contenders
10. UConn (+1600) | W4 vs. Iona
Ray. Rip. Ben. Kemba. Shabazz. Jordan?
JORDAN HAWKINS WHAT DID THE RIM DO TO YOU? pic.twitter.com/EYMb4big7g
— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) February 18, 2023
Jordan Hawkins’ ability to hunt shots running around off-ball screens or attack the rim off the bounce is a huge reason UConn has a national title ceiling.
11. Baylor (+1800) | S3 vs. UC Santa Barbara
While Baylor’s dynamic three-headed backcourt is capable of shooting the Bears to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend, it’s hard to trust a team as defensively inept as these Bears. Even with the midseason return of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Baylor has been a turnstile all season in the paint. An off night from behind the arc could doom Baylor to a second straight first-weekend exit, especially given the dangerous teams in the Bears’ section of the bracket.
12. Duke (+3000) | E5 vs. Oral Roberts
Jon Scheyer’s debut season didn’t start smoothly, but the first-year coach has the ACC tourney champion Blue Devils peaking at the right time. They’ve won nine straight and 12 of 14 — and one of those two losses was the Virginia game in which Kyle Filipowski was robbed of the chance to win the game at the free-throw line at the end of regulation.
How much of that is a result of the mediocrity of the rest of the ACC? And how much is elite freshmen Dereck Lively, Tyrese Proctor and Dariq Whitehead gaining confidence and continuing to develop? We’ll have a better idea after the next couple weeks. Either way, Duke is a 5 seed that nobody wanted to draw and Scheyer is building trust that he was the right choice to succeed Mike Krzyzewski.
13. Indiana (+3500) | MW4 vs. Kent State
Indiana has a first-team All-American in its frontcourt in Trayce Jackson-Davis, a future NBA guard in freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino and a wealth of experience in its supporting cast. This is a team that has all the tools necessary to make a deep run … so why does it feel like they’re just as capable of an early exit?
14. Texas A&M (+5000) | MW7 vs. Penn State
Maybe the committee hadn’t forgotten about Buzz Williams’ angry soliloquy after Texas A&M was left out of the NCAA tournament last March. Maybe the committee wanted to send a message to the Aggies to improve their miserable non-conference schedule.
Whatever the explanation, Texas A&M deserved better than No. 7 seed.
Texas A&M had a miserable November and December, but the Aggies have been a juggernaut since then. They stormed to a 15-3 SEC record. They beat Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas at home. They won at Auburn and Missouri. They’ve performed like the No. 6 team in the nation since Jan. 1, according to Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings.
Asked about the selection process and his team’s seeding, Williams told reporters, “I just think more transparency is needed.”
"I just think for all coaches, we would just like to know how it works,” he continued. “Any multi-billion-dollar industry, they explain how it goes. That was my point last year in not making it and that's my point this year."
15. Creighton (+4000) | S6 vs. NC State
Creighton began the season with sky-high expectations after pushing eventual national champ Kansas to the brink in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament. The Bluejays have at times lived up to their preseason top-10 ranking and at times fallen short during a maddeningly up-and-down 12-loss season.
What makes Creighton a Final Four dark horse is a combination of its talented starting five and its favorable draw. If the Bluejays can get past NC State in the first round, potential round-of-32 opponent Baylor has dropped four of six and looks vulnerable defensively.
16. Miami (+5000) | MW5 vs. Drake
Miami’s hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament’s second weekend rest on Norchad Omier’s gimpy right ankle. Omier, who Jim Larranaga has described as the best rebounder he has ever coached, suffered the injury just over a minute into the Canes’ ACC semifinal loss to Duke. Without him, the Blue Devils controlled the glass at both ends of the floor.
If Omier is at full strength, Miami has a case to be a few spots higher in this tier. If Omier is out, the Hurricanes will be fortunate to even get past dangerous No. 12 seed Drake.
TIER 4: Not quite as good as their seeding
17. Virginia (+4000) | S4 vs. Furman
Virginia’s slow pace and penchant for scoring droughts makes it more vulnerable to upsets than other high seeds. So does the absence of injured forward Ben Vander Plas, an important cog in the Cavaliers’ offense because of his passing and floor-spacing ability.
18. Xavier (+5000) | MW3 vs. Kennesaw State
There’s a reason the Musketeers were so excited about their 3 seed. They landed one of the most favorable draws of any team in the field. Kennesaw State is a remarkable story but also the weakest No. 14 seed. Sixth-seeded Iowa State, Xavier’s most likely second-round opponent, is just 6-11 since mid-January.
19. Kansas State (+5000) | E3 vs. Montana State
Two years after collapsing in the middle of a game at Florida, Keyontae Johnson is tormenting opposing teams like he never left. The former SEC preseason player of the year’s resurgence is the best story in college basketball this season.
KEYONTAE JOHNSON WITH AN UNREAL FINISH!
Kansas State improves to 15-1 and 4-0 in the Big 12.pic.twitter.com/B7q3rAwF0Y
— Heat Check CBB (@HeatCheckCBB) January 11, 2023
20. Tennessee (+3000) | E4 vs. Louisiana
With every first-round flop or early round loss, Rick Barnes reminds everyone why it’s difficult to trust his teams in the NCAA tournament. He consistently underperforms when it matters most no matter how big a talent edge he has.
He couldn’t get past the second round with Kevin Durant.
He has lost all five times he has coached in the 8-9 game.
His last seven Texas teams didn’t advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.
Three of his four NCAA tournament teams at Tennessee have lost to double-digit seeds.
Barnes may yet reverse that trend and make a second Final Four, but this doesn’t seem likely to be the year. While Tennessee’s long, physical defense might be the nation’s best, its offense was a concern even before losing starting point guard Zakai Zeigler to an ACL tear in a victory over Arkansas on Feb. 28.
Without Zeigler, Tennessee misses its best shot creator, a 5-foot-9 sophomore who averaged 10.7 points and 5.4 assists while also ferociously defending the ball. The Vols might be able to physically overwhelm first-round opponent Louisiana, but this offense is probably going to stall out at an inopportune time before too long.
TIER 5: Second-weekend ceiling
21. Kentucky (+4000) | E6 vs. Providence
Two years ago, Kentucky endured its worst season in decades. Last year, the Wildcats suffered their worst NCAA tournament loss in program history. This year, John Calipari has succeeded in stabilizing a talented team that underachieved until mid-January, but there is still a lot riding on this NCAA tournament for the embattled Kentucky coach.
Kentucky is most vulnerable against a team that can minimize its offensive rebounding edge at one end of the floor and put Oscar Tshiebwe in ball screens and attack him off the dribble at the other end. Vanderbilt did that relentlessly in its two recent wins over Kentucky. The Wildcats will have to find an answer to advance beyond the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.
22. TCU (+3500) | W6 vs. Arizona State
23. San Diego State (+8000) | S5 vs. College of Charleston
Why don’t skeptics take the Mountain West seriously even though it ranks above the ACC in some metrics this year? It’s because the Mountain West is 7-22 in the NCAA tournament over the past decade and 0-8 since 2019.
Of the four Mountain West teams to make the NCAA tournament this season, San Diego State is the only single-digit seed. The Aztecs have the best chance to make a second-weekend run and restore some of the March credibility the Mountain West has lacked.
* In 2020, hard-luck San Diego State was 30-2 and poised to earn no worse than a No. 2 seed when the NCAA tournament was canceled.
24. Saint Mary’s (+4000) | W5 vs. VCU
25. Missouri (+20000) | S7 vs. Utah State
When Dennis Gates landed the Missouri job last year, the new coach’s top priority was to persuade his best returning player not to transfer. He called Kobe Brown and told him that if he’s not invited to Brown’s wedding someday, he wouldn’t be satisfied with the job that he did as Brown’s coach.
That pitch appealed to Brown enough to return to Missouri, a decision that has turned out great for all parties. Brown’s 15.8 points per game and 44.8% 3-point shooting are big reasons that the fast-paced, high-octane Tigers have taken down the likes of Tennessee, Iowa State, Illinois and Arkansas this season and have sleeper potential in the wide-open bottom half of the South region.
26. Iowa State (+6600) | MW6 vs. Pitt
Only a year ago, Iowa State advanced to the Sweet 16 despite closing the regular season with seven losses in its final 11 games. This year’s defensive-oriented Cyclones will try to repeat that feat after another disappointing regular season finish.
Was Iowa State’s back-to-back wins over Baylor the past two weeks a product of matchups? Or a sign that jettisoning guard Caleb Grill was addition by subtraction?
27. Memphis (+8000) | E8 vs. Florida Atlantic
28. Arkansas (+5000) | W8 vs. Illinois
With two projected lottery picks, another 16-point-per-game scorer and a proven coach, how did Arkansas lose more SEC games than it won this season?
One factor was an unbalanced SEC schedule that included a total of nine games against the league’s five top teams. Another was the lingering knee injury that sidelined Nick Smith until mid-February. Maybe the Razorbacks’ biggest issue is their pieces don’t fit. They have no one to space the floor. It isn’t even just that they can’t shoot 3s. They don’t shoot them. Only 20.5% of their points come via 3-pointers, per KenPom, which is 358th nationally.
29. Florida Atlantic (+20000) | E9 vs. Memphis
The selection committee did Florida Atlantic dirty. Not only did a 31-win team ranked 13th in the NCAA’s NET rankings receive a 9 seed, the Owls’ first-round opponent is scalding-hot Memphis, which just upset Houston in the American Athletic Conference title game and hasn’t lost to anyone besides the Cougars in six weeks.
FAU dominated a league with several other really good mid-majors. It’s deep, skilled and capable. Still, picking the Owls to make a run would be more enticing if they landed elsewhere in the bracket.
30. Michigan State (+10000) | E7 vs. USC
January, February, Izzo, April? We’ll see. No one will ever take a Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State team lightly, but this isn’t a vintage Spartans team that hammers you on the glass. They’ll go as far as their guards can take them.
31. Illinois (+8000) | W9 vs. Arkansas
32. Maryland (+8000) | S8 vs. West Virginia
33. Penn State (+15000) | MW10 vs. Texas A&M
34. Utah State (+20000) | S10 vs. Missouri
Utah State is the rare double-digit seed who is favored to win its opening NCAA tournament game. The Aggies are a KenPom top-20 team coached by Ryan Odom, the architect of the UMBC team that shocked Virginia and became the first 16 seed to topple a 1.
If Utah State goes on a run, it will be because the Aggies are hard to guard. They space the floor with an array of shooters.
35. Auburn (+10000) | MW9 vs. Iowa
The Tigers caught a huge break from the selection committee getting sent to Birmingham for the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend. That might help them get one win, but Bruce Pearl’s team doesn’t score efficiently enough to put a scare into Houston.
36. West Virginia (+12500) | S9 vs. Maryland
37. Iowa (+10000) | MW8 vs. Auburn
Me: I can’t trust Iowa’s 167th-ranked defense in the NCAA tournament.
Fran McCaffrey is a freak pic.twitter.com/qa2u0WWD2e
— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) February 25, 2023
38. USC (+20000) | E10 vs. Michigan State
39. Northwestern (+15000) | W7 vs. Boise State
Only days after Collins’ fifth straight losing season last March, Northwestern’s first-year athletic director hinted that he was running out of patience. Derrick Gragg issued a statement noting his “disappointment” and tasking Chris Collins with “making necessary changes to build towards success in the 2022-23 campaign.”
Collins has done that and then some. Fueled by a formidable defense and the playmaking of senior guard Boo Buie, Northwestern briefly cracked the AP Top 25 late in the season and earned its second-ever NCAA tournament bid with room to spare. The Wildcats don’t seem to have the offensive firepower (or the draw) for a deep run, but they’ve exceeded expectations even getting this far.
TIER 6: Dangerous double-digit seeds
40. VCU (+25000) | W12 vs. Saint Mary’s
The last time VCU made the NCAA tournament, it didn’t get to play. The Rams had to forfeit their first-round game against Oregon because of an ill-timed COVID-19 outbreak.
VCU has lost three games since early December and is a nightmare matchup for Saint Mary’s because of the Rams’ disruptive defense. If you saw the Gaels struggle to attack defensive pressure late in the WCC season, it’s easy to see why VCU is a trendy first-round upset pick.
41. NC State (+15000) | S11 vs. Creighton
Guards win in March and NC State has two good ones. The backcourt of Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith give the Wolfpack a puncher’s chance in any game with their ability to isolate off the dribble and get buckets
42. Boise State (+20000) | W10 vs. Northwestern
43. Providence (+12500) | E11 vs. Kentucky
Bryce Hopkins shooting for revenge against his former team makes for a fun storyline ahead of Providence vs. Kentucky. But for the Friars to have any chance to pull an upset, they will have to defend with more urgency and attention to detail than they did late in the regular season.
Providence’s guards haven’t stayed in front of their man off the dribble and the Friars’ frontcourt hasn’t supplied much rim protection. That’s how Providence plummeted from contending for the Big East title to one of the last teams to avoid the First Four.
44. Kent State (+50000) | MW13 vs. Indiana
They won 28 games. They have a dynamic, battle-tested backcourt. They led both Gonzaga and Houston deep into the second half on the road earlier this season. If Indiana takes Kent State lightly …
45. Drake (+50000) | MW12 vs. Miami (Fla.)
46. Pittsburgh (+20000) | MW11 vs. Iowa State
47. Oral Roberts (+25000) | E12 vs. Duke
This Oral Roberts team is far better than the 15th-seeded one that upset Ohio State and Florida en route to the 2021 Sweet 16. Max Abmas is still lethal attacking off the dribble and he has a stronger supporting cast around him. The Golden Eagles are the only team in the country who didn’t take a conference loss this season.
The first-round matchup with Duke is intriguing but perhaps not ideal. The Blue Devils are peaking at the right time and have the mobile big man in Dereck Lively to defend Oral Roberts’ array of pick and rolls and pick and pops. The Golden Eagles also do not have an obvious defensive matchup for Kyle Filipowski.
48. Arizona State (+20000) | W11 vs. TCU
Even better after slaughtering Nevada in the play-in game.
I love how the player in Bobby Hurley comes out when he celebrates. Saw it after the Miracle at McKale too. pic.twitter.com/iOVsGf7oCF
— Jake Anderson (@jwa1994) March 13, 2023
49. College of Charleston (+25000) | S12 vs. San Diego State
Charleston won 31 games this season, but be careful before anointing the Cougars as your 12-5 upset pick. San Diego State is a tough draw for a team who wants to run and gun and shoot threes. The defensive-minded Aztecs are going to be able to slow the tempo to a crawl, play lock-down perimeter defense and keep Charleston off the offensive glass.
50. Furman (+50000) | S13 vs. Virginia
51. Louisiana (+50000) | E13 vs. Tennessee
52. Iona (+50000) | W13 vs. UConn
Before Rick Pitino leaves for a bigger job, perhaps in the Big East at St. John’s, he’ll try to lead what is likely his last Iona team to a massive NCAA tournament upset. The Gaels haven’t lost since January … but they also haven’t seen anyone like UConn. Defensive rebounding is a huge concern for Iona in this game. If the Gaels can’t hold the Huskies to one shot, this one will be over in a hurry.
53. UCSB (+100000) | S14 vs. Baylor
54. Colgate (+100000) | MW15 vs. Texas
Colgate isn’t just going to be happy to be in the tournament, nor will it be intimidated facing Texas. The core of this year’s Red Raiders was part of last year’s team that led Johnny Davis’ Wisconsin deep into the second half in the round of 64. This year’s team won at Syracuse in November and then won the Patriot League by six games.
It’s difficult to imagine Colgate stopping — or even slowing down — Texas, but the Raiders might be able to score with the Longhorns for awhile. While Colgate scores in a greater variety of ways than it did last season, the Raiders hit a national-best 41.1 percent of their 3s as a team, a formula that makes them a dangerous underdog if they can get hot at the right time.
TIER 7: The semi-easy outs
55. Princeton (+100000) | S15 vs. Arizona
56. Kennesaw State (+100000) | MW14 vs. Xavier
57. UNC Asheville (+100000) | W15 vs. UCLA
Keep an eye on UNC Asheville if UCLA’s Adem Bona doesn’t play as a result of his shoulder injury. The Bruins would be light on frontcourt defenders to throw at Drew Pember, the 6-foot-9 Tennessee transfer who averaged 21.2 points and 9.4 rebounds this season. If Pember could get Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne into foul trouble or force UCLA to send double teams and leave shooters free, maybe this is closer than the average 15 vs. 2 game.