Pros and cons for the top 25 teams in our Power Rankings and how those strengths and weaknesses could impact how each squad fares in the NCAA tournament.

By Molly Geary
March 07, 2018

We made it—it’s the last week of this year’s college hoops power rankings. Now that the regular season is over for everyone and Selection Sunday is just days away, we’re going to do things differently for this final week. We’ll be giving brief pros and cons for all 25 teams—or reasons why you should and shouldn’t believe in their ability to make an NCAA tournament run. This final power ranking still emphasizes recent results to a degree, though with the regular season over it’ll place more weight than usual on teams’ entire body of work and advanced metrics.

1. Virginia (28–2)

Pro: Of course it’s the Cavaliers’ defense. They boast the No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency on kenpom.com, and their current 83.9 mark in the category would be the lowest for a team entering the NCAA tournament since 2015 Kentucky. A season ago, Virginia also entered the Big Dance with the nation’s top defense, but that squad gave up a notably higher 87.0 adjusted points per 100 possessions. It’s the same for its ACC-only defense, which gave up 95.2 points per 100 possessions in 2016–17 and just 89.1 this year.

Con: It has to come back to the offense. While taking the above into account, it’s worth noting last year’s Cavaliers entered the NCAAs with the No. 1 defense and No. 38 offense. This year’s team is currently almost identical in having the No. 1 defense and No. 39 offense (pending the ACC tourney). Since 2002, only nine of 64 Final Four teams entered the Big Dance with an offense ranked 39th or lower—however, it was only last year that South Carolina rode an elite defense and far worse offense to Phoenix.

2. Villanova (27–4)

Pro: The Wildcats are also elite on one end, but for them it’s on offense. Boasting the No. 1 adjusted offensive efficiency on kenpom, their current 126.9 mark is the largest since 2015 Wisconsin entered with the same mark, and those Badgers went on to knock off undefeated Kentucky’s top defense. In Jalen Brunson (fourth) and Mikal Bridges (eighth), ‘Nova has two players in the top-10 of offensive rating among those used on at least 20% of possessions.

Con: Superb as Villanova’s offense is, it’s extremely reliant on threes, which is very atypical trait of a Final Four team (though one of the few teams that bucked the profile was 2016 Villanova). The Wildcats’ three-point rate currently ranks 17th in the country, with them taking a whopping 46.5% of their shots from deep. And while those perimeter-shooting Wildcats won it all two years ago, this year’s team is significantly worse in another predictor area: two-point defense.

3. Duke (25–6)

Pro: The Blue Devils turned their biggest weakness into a key strength in the final stretch of the season, staging a dramatic turnaround on defense behind the use of a 2–3 zone. Defense was the main thing that, for most of the season, appeared to be holding Duke back from potentially winning a title. That’s no more, with its 11th-ranked defense teaming with its No. 2 offense. It also boasts the top offensive rebounding rate, the top defensive free-throw rate, has a star freshman in Marvin Bagley and a senior leader in Grayson Allen.

Con: Duke doesn’t really have a significant weakness right now, though it’s interesting that as it solved its defensive issues, its last five games featured three of its four lowest points-per-possession totals of the season. On a very-much related note, Gary Trent, whose perimeter shooting has been crucial this season (43.5% in ACC play) enters the postseason in a slump, having made just six of his last 27 threes. Defensively, the Blue Devils have to avoid getting beat in transition, where they give up 0.99 PPP (which ranked ninth in the ACC), per Synergy.

4. Michigan State (29–4)

Pro: The Spartans are one of the few balanced teams among the elite, boasting the 10th-best offense and ninth-best defense on kenpom.com. Entering the tournament top 10 in both offense and defense traditionally bodes well for Final Four and title chances. They don’t take a high number of shots (a good thing) from three but can really shoot it from deep, with the sixth-best mark nationally. They’re also elite at offensive rebounding and lead the country in two-point defense.

Con: Of the top 16 seeds in SI.com’s latest Bracket Watch, Michigan State has by far the worst offensive turnover rate at 19.2%, which ranks 236th nationally, per kenpom.com. Turnovers have been a problem for the Spartans all season, but even when they contain them things can go awry (see their Big Ten semifinal loss to Michigan). They don’t force turnovers to make up for it either, with their 14.5% defensive rate being better than only eight teams nationally.

5. Kansas (24–7)

Pro: The Jayhawks went through the gauntlet in the Big 12 and emerged as regular season champion yet again, a testament to this team’s mettle. They’re led by a senior guard in Devonte’ Graham, one of the country’s finest players, and have a top-10 offense. Kansas is light in the frontcourt but starting 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike ranks first nationally in both effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage, per kenpom.com.

Con: Kansas’s 47th-ranked defense is low for a Final Four contender, and it’s poor on the defensive boards, where it allowed Big 12 opponents to grab over a third of their misses. Offensively, the Jayhawks are often very vulnerable if they’re having a bad night from the perimeter, and their extremely low free-throw rate (ranked 332nd) could come into play in close games.

6. Xavier (27–4)

Pro: This team made a surprise run to the Elite Eight as a No. 11 seed last year and still has many of the same players with that kind of experience and hunger to finish the job. Xavier has a top-10 offense, shoots extremely well from the free-throw line, rebounds very well on the defensive glass and has a senior in Trevon Bluiett capable of taking over a game—just look at what he did last year—as well as solid supporting players in J.P. Macura and Kerem Kanter.

Con: The Musketeer defense currently ranks 73rd in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com. Since 2002, only four of 64 Final Four teams entered the tourney with a defense outside the top 50 (a fifth, 2014 Wisconsin, ranked 50th). Only two teams (2011 VCU, 2003 Marquette) made the Final Four with a defense ranked worse than Xavier’s, so, like some other teams on this list, history is against it here. Its two-point D is especially a concern, ranking dead last in Big East play.

7. Gonzaga (30–4)

Pro: Like last year—though to a lesser degree—advanced metrics favor the Zags, who are top 15 in offense and defense on kenpom and top-10 in two-point defense, all key areas that historically point toward tournament success. Gonzaga is hard to stop offensively because it has so many efficient players. Big man Killian Tillie, who just averaged 24 points and made an absurd 13 of 14 threes in the WCC tourney, could become a breakout star of the NCAA tournament. He led West Coast play in offensive rating and is in the 98th percentile nationally in PPP, per Synergy.

Con: The Bulldogs’ perimeter defense ranks 208th nationally, a far cry from their No. 2 rank last season, and it bit them in losses to Florida, Villanova and Saint Mary’s. While this team has a lot of different personnel from its national title runner-up squad, it’s worth noting that while it again dominated the WCC, it gave up 8.6 more points per 100 possessions in league play this year and had varying success stopping an elite big man in Jock Landale.

8. Purdue (26–8)

Pro: The Boilermakers have a lot of things going for them, like the No. 3 offense, No. 6 effective field-goal percentage, No. 2 three-point percentage and a strong interior defense, including a top-10 defensive free-throw rate. They’re also fifth on kenpom and Sagarin and fourth in BPI. SI.com’s Chris Johnson explained after their Big Ten final loss how they still have the profile of a typical Final Four team. Purdue has many weapons offensively, including four players shooting 40% or better from three and a fifth (Vincent Edwards) at 39.2%, and has two 7-footers it can rotate in the paint in Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms.

Con: All that being said, it’s understandable if people are skittish on the Boilermakers due to their results. Their best wins of the season were against a reeling Arizona team back in November and two defeats of Michigan—which got revenge with its win on Sunday. To be fair, Purdue didn’t have many other opportunities for marquee wins, but its three-game skid in February is likely still fresh in people’s minds, and its defense has slipped of late, going from top-10 for most of the season to 30th now. Its percentage of shots that are three-point attempts is also higher than ideal.

9. Michigan (28–7)

Pro: For the second year in a row, Michigan rolls into the NCAA tournament having pulled off a Big Ten tourney championship despite not earning a double bye. That team went on to the Sweet 16, but in terms of overall strength, this year’s team is better. The Wolverines are powered by their defense this time, which ranks sixth nationally (per kenpom) and fifth in transition D (per Synergy), and the offense has been in top form of late, averaging 1.17 PPP over their nine-game win streak. If you believe in momentum, few teams are playing better right now—though they’ll have a week and a half off before their first-round game.

Con: If a game comes down to free throws, Michigan isn’t exactly who you’d put your money on. Its free-throw rate ranks 272nd, so it doesn’t get to the line too often in the first place, but the Wolverines collectively shoot a paltry 65.7% once there. Charles Matthews (55.1%) and Zavier Simpson (51.9%) are ideal players for opponents who need to force free throws late to target. Additionally, Michigan ranked last in Big Ten play in offensive rebounding rate, and a poor shooting night could leave it iced out. 

10. Cincinnati (27–4)

Pro: Often overshadowed by No. 1 Virginia, the No. 2 Cincinnati defense is extremely legit as well. Per kenpom, it’s top 10 in a litany of defensive areas, including block percentage and steal percentage, and is ranked second in both two-point defense and effective field-goal defense. The Bearcats lead the country in overall half-court defense, giving up just 0.72 PPP, and are almost equally as adept in transition defense, ranking fourth nationally (all per Synergy Sports). That kind of ability to get stops is crucial.

Con: It’s a very similar case here to the Cavaliers. Cincinnati’s offense currently ranks 44th, which, again, is atypically low for Final Four teams but not without precedent. Gary Clark leads the country in offensive rating among players used on at least 20% of possessions, but he’s not a scoring machine, and the Bearcats will need others, like Jacob Evans, to be on their “A” games offensively.

11. North Carolina (22–9)

Pro: Does being the reigning champs count? Their point guard is a guy who already has “Final Four Most Outstanding Player” on his résumé, and he and Theo Pinson have played in two national title games. Don’t discount that level of experience. Add breakout star Luke Maye to that, who has had his own NCAA tourney magic, and you can see why the Tar Heels have the nation’s fourth-ranked offense. They’re once again a strong rebounding team and can push the pace and beat teams in transition.

Con: Another team with a defense (51st overall, 12th in conference play) that doesn’t match its offense. UNC’s perimeter defense, which ranks 329th nationally, has been poor, and it hasn’t been great in either transition or the half court. The Heels have been clipped by both elite and non-elite offensive teams this season, and it’s hard to trust they will be able to string five strong enough defensive games together for a third straight trip to the Final Four, let alone the title game.

12. Tennessee (23–7)

Pro: One of two teams that surprised everyone by co-winning the SEC, the Vols have several characteristics pointing toward tournament success: a top-five defense, a fairly high efficiency margin rank (14th), not overly reliant on threes and a fairly strong two-point defense, albeit one that wasn’t quite as good in SEC play. They’ve also played the eighth-hardest schedule, per kenpom.

Con: The offense is on the low side at No. 47, and outside of Kyle Alexander, Tennessee has been poor with two-point shooting, including being below 40% as a team in four of its last seven games. Grant Williams has been prone to foul trouble, and opponents in general get to the line at a fairly high rate against the Vols. Going up against an elite big man could be a challenge.

Steven Ryan/Getty Images

13. Ohio State (24–8)

Pro: Penn State is likely not making the NCAA tournament, so at least the Buckeyes can’t lose to a team four times in one season. But on a more serious note, this is a team probably getting a bit overlooked. Ohio State is one of just a few teams with no red flags based off Luke Winn’s 2017 look at a Final Four team’s profile. While its offense and efficiency margin are a bit below the median, they don’t cross into outliers, and they have the Big Ten Player of the Year in Keita Bates-Diop.

Con: The Buckeyes don’t want to get into a track meet, as their transition defense is remarkably poor, ranking in the 8th percentile per Synergy Sports. They’re much better in the half court and excellent late in the shot clock, so they’re going to want to slow teams down and play at their pace. Depending on the matchups, this could either play into their hands or present a difficult challenge.

14. Texas Tech (23–8)

Pro: When you look at teams that could potentially be under-seeded in the NCAA tournament, the Red Raiders should be right up there. A late-four game skid that came when their best player, Keenan Evans, was hampered by injury will likely cost them a bit on Selection Sunday, but had he been healthy the story might be different. Defensively, Texas Tech ranks third nationally behind Virginia and Cincinnati, built off forcing turnovers and limiting opponents both inside and outside the arc.

Con: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A team with a top-five defense has a notably lower offense. The Red Raiders check in at No. 51, lower than that of Virginia, Cincinnati and Tennessee, but in the same range. We saw what happens when Evans isn’t at his best, and it’s no coincidence he’s averaged 8.8 points in their seven losses and 19.7 in their 23 wins. Even with a healthy Evans, Texas Tech will need players like freshmen Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver to step up to sustain a deep run.

15. West Virginia (22–9)

Pro: The Mountaineers are enjoying their highest-ranked offense since 2009–10, currently sitting 14th on kenpom. They’re doing this despite not being a great shooting team and having a low free-throw rate, mainly because they crash the offensive boards and take care of the ball, making the most of their possessions. Jevon Carter is a lockdown defender who is sixth nationally in defensive win shares, per Sports Reference, and could stymie opposing lead guards. Meanwhile, center Sagaba Konate has the nation’s No. 2 block rate.

Con: WVU has taken a step back this year overall defensively, going from the top 10 in each of the last two years to 39th currently. It’s still Press Virginia, with the second-best mark nationally in defensive turnover rate, though that rate is notably down 4% from 2016–17 and down 2.4% in steal rate. The Mountaineers have also had trouble closing out big leads at times.

16. Wichita State (24–6)

Pro: How does a top-five offense sound? At No. 5 in adjusted offensive efficiency, the Shockers currently have their highest-ranked offense under Gregg Marshall, led by the inside-out combo of Landry Shamet and Shaquille Morris. Wichita State shoots the ball well both inside the outside the arc without over-relying on either and led the AAC in league play in effective field-goal percentage, turnover rate, two-point shooting and three-point shooting.

Con: Defense. Defensively, this year’s Shockers are not the team you’re accustomed to in Wichita, ranking 101st on kenpom— a huge departure from where they finished over the last five seasons (13th, 1st, 15th, 11th, 20th). As they’ve made the move to the AAC, their defensive steal rate is down almost 3%, opponents are shooting 4.5% better from three and their defensive effective field-goal percentage has gone from 43.8% to 48.9%.

17. Auburn (25–6)

Pro: Auburn is the other major surprise in the SEC and has used a combo of a fast pace, three-point shooting and an emphasis on both forcing turnovers and getting to the foul line to find success. The Tigers led SEC play in defensive turnover rate and steal rate and get an abnormally high amount of their points from the three-point line and the foul line. The latter is more reliable in a tournament format, and when they get to the charity stripe, they convert at a 78.9% clip.

Con: Again, if you’re a believer in momentum, the fact that three of the Tigers’ six losses came in the last two and a half weeks is potentially foreboding (an early SEC tournament exit would only compound it). They’ve had some defensive struggles since losing Anfernee McLemore, and while they play at a high tempo they haven’t been great at getting back in transition, giving up 1.045 PPP (33rd percentile nationally) per Synergy Sports. In a recent shootout with Arkansas, they were outscored in the fast-break 17-to-7.

18. Arizona (24–7)

Pro: It should go without saying that having Sean Miller and Allonzo Trier back is a huge boon to the Wildcats, who can once again dream of a March run. Then you have a guy named Deandre Ayton—have you heard of him?—who can often be downright unstoppable and helped Arizona make 56.1% of its two-point shots in Pac-12 play. He and Trier are a brutal combo for any defense to face, and Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic give the 16th-ranked offense additional punch.

Con: There’s a big reason to seriously doubt Arizona’s ability to go on a long run, and it has nothing to do with its inopportune turn in the spotlight of the FBI investigation: it’s the Wildcats’ defense, which ranks 95th on kenpom. The only team to make a Final Four with a defense that low in the kenpom era was 2011 VCU, and while Arizona’s offense is strong, it doesn’t seem elite enough to pull off some sort of major anomaly.

19. Clemson (22–8)

Pro: The Tigers made huge defensive strides this year and it’s going to carry them to their first NCAA tournament appearance in seven years. They did it by improving their halfcourt defense, going from the 69th percentile to the 92nd, per Synergy, and limiting opponents to just 39.5% shooting there. Overall, Clemson’s defense ranks seventh on kenpom and ninth in two-point defense. Elijah Thomas anchors the paint and posted the best block rate in ACC play and the 23rd-best nationally.

Con: This is … you guessed it … another team notably better on one end of the floor than the other (its offense ranks 55th). In Clemson’s last 11 games, it won the six where it scored more than 1.0 PPP and lost the five where it did not. It very much feels like a team that will go as far as its offense takes it, since its defense has generally been strong. Starters Gabe DeVoe and Shelton Mitchell have been inconsistent of late and the Tigers haven’t made 40% of their threes in a game in a month. 

20. Houston (24–6)

Pro: The Cougars are top 40 in both offense and defense, which can’t be said about half of this list. If you’re not familiar with them, they’ve got a marquee win over both Wichita State and Cincinnati and beat Arkansas and Providence in nonconference. They shoot well from three (where both Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks have made 43% of their 180+ attempts), rank 11th in offensive rebounding, like to play small ball and convert well in transition. They also have a go-to scorer in senior guard Rob Gray.

Con: Houston puts other teams on the free-throw line far too often, ranking 312th in defensive free throw rate. Opponents get nearly a quarter of their points from the charity stripe, which is something an aggressive attacking team can exploit. The Cougars’ small lineups could give them trouble against a bigger team, and they rate as below average on Synergy Sports in post-up situations in the halfcourt.

21. Florida (20–11)

Pro: The Gators have been up-and-down, but they closed their regular season with three solid wins. This is a veteran-led team that was a win away from the Final Four last year and rarely throws away possessions, ranking fifth in offensive turnover rate. When Florida is on, it’s easy to believe it can make some noise in the postseason: it has several capable three-point shooters who can get hot, a senior point guard who led SEC play in assist rate and it went 5–1 against the teams that joined it in the SEC top five. It also limits opponents in transition, with only 15.9% of opponents’ shots coming there, which is third-best nationally, per Hoop-Math.

Con: The key phrase in the above was “when Florida is on.” The Gators have been maddeningly inconsistent at times, sometimes even within the same game, with a tendency to have better first halves then seconds. While they did well against the SEC’s best, they dropped games to each of the conference’s bottom four. Florida’s frontcourt depth is also a concern, and only 30% of their shots come at the high-percentage area of the rim, per Hoop-Math, which ranks 295th.

22. Nevada (26–6)

Pro: The Wolf Pack have an enviable amount of offensive firepower, with four different players averaging more than 13.5 points and two, Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline, averaging 19.5 and 17.6, respectively. While Martin and Caroline are the big fish, Kendall Stephens leads the team in offensive rating and ranks 29th nationally in true shooting percentage (66.1%), 54th in three-point shooting (44.7%) and 44th in turnover rate, per kenpom. Together, it adds up to the No. 8 offense and a team extremely good at perimeter shooting and taking care of the basketball.

Con: This is a similar case to Arizona, where a top offense’s likely NCAA potential is dragged down by a defense ranked in the 90s. When Nevada loses, it tends to struggle defensively in the interior, and opponents’ overall 50.6% shooting on two-point attempts is 200th nationally. It also has very thin depth and can hardly afford any foul trouble. With their offense, the Wolf Pack could make some noise in March, but it’s hard to see them sustaining a long run.  

23. Miami (22–8)

Pro: The Hurricanes took a big hit when they lost Bruce Brown in late January, but they’ve won seven of 10 in his absence, including a recent signature win in Chapel Hill. Miami’s a very young team, but it’s been getting great contributions from freshmen Lonnie Walker and Chris Lykes, who take the lion’s share of shots when on the floor, each at 24.6%. Down low, Dewan Huell and Anthony Lawrence were both top 10 in ACC play in defensive rebounding rate.

Con: Opponents posted a 54.4% effective field-goal percentage against Miami in ACC play, which ranked dead last (yes, even behind Pitt). Its defense was only the 10th-most efficient in league action, with opponents shooting well and getting to the free-throw line. The Hurricanes offensively, meanwhile, are one of the nation’s worst free-throw shooting teams, making just 66.6%. They’re also the only team on this list that ranks outside the top 40 on both offense and defense.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

24. Kentucky (21–10)

Pro: There’s a boatload of talent here, and we’ve seen a young Kentucky team put it all together in March before. The Wildcats are top-five nationally in two key categories: offensive rebounding percentage and defensive three-point percentage, and they had the best free-throw rate in SEC play. Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are their best options on offense, while Jarred Vanderbilt is a rebounding machine. Quade Green and P.J. Washington have been playing well of late.

Con: Can we trust these young Wildcats? They’ve shown the ability to string together both wins and losses, leading to their 10–8 record in SEC play. Turnovers are a problem, where they rank 220th nationally, and they collectively shoot just 69.5% from the free-throw line. The offense has picked up of late, but it’s interesting that Kentucky’s most-used type of possession, spot ups, has resulted in it its lowest amount of PPP, ranking in just the 16th percentile nationally, per Synergy.

25. TCU (21–10)

Pro: This team can score. The Horned Frogs had the Big 12’s most efficient offense in league play, and it ranks sixth nationally on kenpom. They shoot very well from three (40%) without relying on it, which is important come March, and they’re a strong rebounding team on both ends. TCU also moves the ball well and is seventh nationally in assist rate, including three players who were top 20 in conference action.

Con: So, TCU’s offense vs. defense stats basically read like an inverse. While the offense is sixth in the country, the defense is … 106th. It made the highest percentage of threes in Big 12 play … and gave up the highest percentage. It had the league’s second-highest effective-field goal percentage but its worst defensive one. So while the Frogs can get buckets, they really struggle to stop teams. If a team can slow them offensively, it’s likely game over.

NEXT FIVE OUT: St. Bonaventure, Arkansas, Rhode Island, Virginia Tech, Loyola-Chicago

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