- March Madness is here, with 68 teams harboring dreams ranging from winning a national title to pulling off a first-round upset. How does the entire field stack up?
Sixty-eight is a lot of teams. Nearly one-fifth of all 353 teams in Division-I basketball qualify for the postseason. For comparison, only 3% of FBS football schools qualify for the Playoff. In just over three weeks, only one will remain on the stage watching One Shining Moment, yet for now there are 68 teams with that same dream. But not all 68 were created equal. From Duke to North Carolina Central, what follows are the 2019 NCAA tournament Power Rankings.
With Zion Williamson back, Duke is once again the nation’s best team. The Blue Devils have lost just once this season with all four of their five-star freshmen healthy, a wild 89–87 loss to Gonzaga in Maui. With center Marques Bolden’s status still uncertain (he missed the ACC tournament after spraining his left MCL against UNC on March 9), there’s a chance they won’t be at full strength in the NCAA tournament. Still, this is a team that has Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones and is coached by Mike Krzyzewski. In other words: the best team in the country.
Often considered one of the country’s hardest teams to judge due to their soft conference slate, the Bulldogs made things a lot easier this year with a non-conference schedule that featured games against Duke in Maui, Tennessee in Phoenix and UNC in Chapel Hill. They also handled more mediocre competition, taking down Arizona, Illinois, Creighton and Washington. Their average scoring margin is better than plus-23 points, and while that’s easy to dismiss because they play in the WCC, it’s also the best mark in program history. Sleep on Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell at your own risk.
The advanced metrics love the Cavaliers. They not only rank No. 1 on kenpom, they’re chasing down 2015 Kentucky as the best-rated team in the kenpom era (since 2002). Of course, the numbers loved Tony Bennett’s team last year before it imploded against UMBC. Kenpom has ranked Virginia in the top 12 every year since 2014, and the Cavaliers have never made it past the Elite Eight. This is the best offensive squad Bennett’s ever had, and Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome are the core of an elite team that has lost just three games all year, with two of those losses coming against Duke. They’re best in the country on a per-possession basis, but because they give themselves so few possessions to show it, their games are more high-variance and they’re more upset-prone than other top teams.
4. North Carolina
The Tar Heels are a blast to watch. Coby White flies down the court piloting the fifth-fastest offense in college basketball, Cam Johnson is a dead-eye three-point shooter and Luke Maye is a force inside the arc. They own the offensive glass despite their only rotation player taller than 6’10” (Sterling Manley at 6’11”) playing just four minutes in 2019 due to injury. Point guard is a notoriously difficult position in Roy Williams’s lightning-quick offense, but White has handled it with aplomb and the Tar Heels rank eighth in the country in assist percentage. One concern: while Kenny Williams is a lockdown defender and has the reputation of a three-point threat because he shot 40% last year, he’s made only 29% of his long-range attempts this season.
Tennessee is old-school. Veteran players: check, almost all the key players from last year’s 26-win team are back. An offense centered on post play: check. The Volunteers rank 328th in the country in three-point attempt rate. Their two best players, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, are both dominant forces in the paint. Sharing the ball: check. Rick Barnes’s team has the 13th-best assist percentage in the country. The Volunteers aren’t exactly straight out of the 1970s––they’ve still got two 3-and-D wings in Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner, and Schofield has taken 154 threes this season––but they’re likely to be the favorites of grandfathers across the country.
Somehow, John Calipari’s team takes even fewer threes than Tennessee, ranking 340th in three-point attempt rate. Calipari’s teams have largely ignored the three-point line ever since his third year in Lexington when the Anthony Davis-led Wildcats won the national championship. This year’s team has embraced a different aspect of the analytics revolution, getting to the foul line at a higher rate than all but eight teams in the country. PJ Washington, Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson lead a team that’s extremely physical on offense and defense. The tip of the defensive spear is point guard Ashton Hagans, who held Coby White to one of his worst games this season when Kentucky beat UNC in December.
7. Michigan State
The Spartans are a cookie-cutter great college basketball team. They’ve got a great veteran point guard (Cassius Winston), a dominant low-post presence (Nick Ward) and a deep cast of role players surrounding them in 3-and-D guy Matt McQuaid, stretch four Kenny “Big Ken” Goins, Ward’s apprentice Xavier Tillman and freshman X-factor Aaron Henry. They play great defense, assist on a higher percentage of their made field goals than any other team in the nation and are run by a curmudgeon coach who’s been in charge since the Clinton administration. They’re not unique, but they are good.
It’s impossible to rank the Wolverines any higher since they’re 0–3 against Michigan State. Their nonconference wins over UNC and Villanova look better almost every day, but they’ve been inconsistent over the season’s final month. Zavier Simpson, Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole are all great players, but the Wolverines have little depth after those four—namely, just Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers (they rank 350th of 353 teams in bench minutes). They also profile very similarly to Virginia: per-possession metrics love them, but they’re a slow, defense-first team that could be vulnerable in March Madness.
The Cougars’ 31–3 record is tied for best in the nation, and their opponents have the worst eFG% in the country, but they’re outside the top five because their best wins came at home against LSU and at UCF (which won the return trip to the Fertitta Center). Their guards and wings are their strength: Corey Davis Jr. can do it all, Galen Robinson sets everything up, Armoni Brooks makes nearly four threes a game on 40% shooting and Dejon Jarreau can create offense out of thin air. Kelvin Sampson is back.
10. Texas Tech
At this point, we’ve reached teams that have clear flaws. In Texas Tech’s case, it’s the offense, though it did improve at the end of the season on the back of monster games from Jarrett Culver and the emergence of Davide Moretti. But the Red Raiders’ calling card, as it was last year, is their fearsome defense. They force turnovers on nearly a quarter of their defensive possessions, and opponents shoot just 41.3% on twos and 30.1% on threes against Chris Beard’s team. It starts on the perimeter, but Tariq Owens is the centerpiece as one of the best shot-blockers in the country. It held Duke to the Blue Devils’ least-efficient offensive performance this season. No one wants to play these guys.
11. Florida State
It’s been quite the turnaround for the Seminoles, who were in rough shape in mid-January after back-to-back losses to Pitt and Boston College on the heels of a brutal buzzer-beating loss to Duke. Since then, they’ve won 14 of 16 games. Many coaches say they go 10-deep on their bench, though few actually will; Leonard Hamilton is one of the few. Everyone from go-to scorer Mfiondu Kabengele, who struggles with foul trouble at times but also draws fouls at an elite rate with a powerful low post game, to 7’4” Christ Koumadje (only the second-tallest player in the tournament somehow) to freshman three-point bomber Devin Vassell has a role.
The knock on Purdue is that it’s too reliant on star guard Carsen Edwards, who takes 37.1% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, the highest percentage for anyone in a power conference. Sometimes, he has an off night and the Boilermakers do things like lose to Minnesota (Edwards had 22 points on 7-of-31 shooting) or score 48 points against Indiana (nine points on 4-of-24 shooting). But this overlooks the fact that Purdue’s role players fit really well around Edwards. Fellow guard Ryan Cline shoots 41.8% from deep on seven attempts per game, Matt Haarms anchors the defense at 7’3” and Nojel Eastern is a lockdown defender.
Ethan Happ has had a wild ride at Wisconsin, from Sweet 16 runs in 2016 and 2017 to last year’s depressing 18-loss campaign. Wisconsin’s offense revolves around three guys: Happ, obviously, Brad Davison, who looks like he’s 15 years old but is shooting nearly 37% from deep, and D’Mitrik Trice, younger brother of Michigan State legend Travis and also a dead-eye three-point shooter. The Badgers’ offense is extremely slow and efficient, and their defense is maddeningly effective. In other words, they’re Wisconsin.
With Will Wade’s status uncertain, the Tigers are in limbo. Yes, they won the SEC regular season title and Tremont Waters and Naz Reid are legitimate stars. But they also needed overtime for five of those conference wins, including two against Arkansas and Missouri, and they rate even lower than this by per-possession metrics. Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays will need to step up. LSU is good, but not national title contenders.
Last year, Buffalo came into the NCAA tournament unheralded before promptly stomping No. 1 draft-pick-to-be Deandre Ayton and Arizona in the first round. This year, no one’s sleeping on the Bulls and their high-pressure defense and up-tempo offense. They won at Syracuse, and their 16 wins in the MAC are nothing to sneeze at in a conference that kenpom ranks ninth-best in the country. The names to know are CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris, who combined to average more than 45 points per game.
The Wildcats are defending champions, but this team bares little resemblance to last year’s squad after losing four players to the NBA. Jay Wright’s team has adopted part of the pace-and-space mentality that has flourished in the pros––notably the space part. (It ranks toward the bottom of the country in pace.) Villanova takes more than 50% of its shots from deep and has three-point threats at four positions in Collin Gillespie, Phil Booth, Saddiq Bey and Eric Paschall. The Wildcats’ defense might hold them back––they lost to Penn and Georgetown while allowing those mediocre squads to score 1.2 points per possession.
17. Virginia Tech
The Hokies appear to have recovered from their midseason fear of showing up for big games (20-plus point losses at Virginia and UNC). Even more importantly, Justin Robinson appears to have recovered from his left foot injury that kept him out the final 12 games of the season, in which the Hokies went a mediocre 7–5. They’re an elite shooting outfit with Ty Outlaw, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Robinson all making better than 37% of their threes on more than four attempts per game. But they could also die by the three: they pack it in defensively and more than half of their opponents’ shots have come from long range this season, so they could be in danger if their opponent gets hot.
It’s been a down year in Lawrence, but the Jayhawks aren’t out-and-out bad. Dedric Lawson is a force down low who draws more than five fouls a game with his unique arsenal of post moves and shoots 80% at line. Freshman point guard Devon Dotson still turns the ball over a bit too much, but he’s developed into a potent scorer. Questions abound across the rest of the roster as swingman Marcus Garrett, freshman guard Quentin Grimes and redshirt-turned-starter Ochai Agbaji have yet to prove themselves as reliable contributors. The Jayhawks will go as far as their role players take them.
Viewed as a favorite, Marquette looks vulnerable. Its offense is reliant on a 5’11” point guard, its defense isn’t special and its role players don’t fit quite as easily as Purdue’s do around Edwards. The Golden Eagles have lost five of their last six games. But viewed as a sleeper, Marquette looks dangerous. Markus Howard is possibly the most skilled offensive player in the country, creating shots and bombing threes with barely an inch of space. Sam Hauser has Klay Thompson-like heat check potential next to Howard’s Steph Curry, and the rest of the cast can fill the gaps. Marquette is in the eye of the beholder.
The Cardinals have stumbled a bit down the stretch, losing eight of their last 12 games. Their main problem: the top of the ACC is really good. Louisville slots in clearly below the conference’s top tier and doesn’t really have a defined identity, but it is nonetheless a solid team. Star forward Jordan Nwora can get it done inside, drawing nearly five fouls per game, and outside, shooting 37% from deep on more than six attempts per game. Given where the program was last year, Chris Mack has done an impressive job in his first season.
21. Kansas State
Barry Brown, Dean Wade, Makol Mawien, Kamau Stokes, Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra are all back after last year’s UMBC-aided Elite Eight run, though Wade is once again struggling with injuries to his right foot. The Wildcats are a great defensive team, but nothing special offensively. With an effective field goal percentage under 50%, they won’t be scoring many points, and their main issue is a lack of consistent three-point shooters. But since they also allow an eFG% of 48.1%, their opponents won’t be scoring many points either.
The Terrapins have two consistent players and a bunch of question marks. Anthony Cowan is a sweet-shooting defensive pest at point guard, and Bruno Fernando is an absolute tank down low. But neither is quite good enugh to carry the team to victory by himself a la Edwards and Howard. Maryland will live and die with the contributions of Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Jalen Smith and Eric Ayala.
Auburn’s half-court offense is reliant on Bryce Brown and Jared Harper knocking down threes. They’re both good at it, shooting 40.4 and 37.7% respectively, but there’s no plan B for the Tigers, who take almost half their shots from deep. Their true plan A, however, is transition offense. They force turnovers on a nation-leading 25.4% of their defensive possessions and rank top-five in steal and block percentage. For Bruce Pearl, the best offense is a good defense.
24. Iowa State
As basketball has changed since 2006, Villanova’s legendary four-guard offense with Randy Foye at power forward has looked more and more like a precursor to today’s four-out offenses. This year’s Iowa State team is a descendant of that squad, though Nick Weiler-Babb, Tyrese Haliburton, Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker are all larger guards. The Cyclones’ five best players are all guards, but the team is so loaded in the backcourt that Lindell Wigginton often comes off the bench. Unsurprisingly, the Cyclones’ defense is a little suspect, and they aren’t a good rebounding team, but they can definitely score.
25. Mississippi State
In SEC play, Quinndary Weatherspoon played the fourth-most minutes of any player in the conference, had the sixth-highest usage rate and best three-point shooting percentage (44.9%). This man can get buckets. He’s also got a trusty sidekick in backcourt mate Lamar Peters, who makes better than 38% of his 6.5 three-point attempts per game. The X-factor for the Bulldogs is Aric Holman, who’s a great offensive big man but sometimes can’t stay on the floor defensively.
It’s hard to rank the Terriers any higher since they lost by 11 in Starkville after collapsing in the second half in one of their only matchups against power conference competition. Still, this feels low for a team whose last loss came in that game against Mississippi State on Dec. 19. Fletcher Magee is just four buckets shy of the career record for made three-pointers (504), but he’s not Wofford’s only threat. Point guard Storm Murphy shoots 50.6% from deep and Nathan Hoover’s three-point shooting percentage is 46.1. For the most part, this reliance on the three has worked for the Terriers, who have won 29 games by scoring more than 40% of their points from beyond the arc.
Nevada entered the season with sky-high expectations and returned its top-three scorers––Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Cody Martin––from last year. A veteran team loaded with transfers, the Wolf Pack were once again quite good, but those national title aspirations look a tad ambitious. The team’s non-conference slate proved to be mediocre when the teams they defeated––BYU, USC, Arizona State and Utah––ended up having underwhelming seasons. Still, the Wolf Pack have already proven to be a dangerous out in the tournament and shouldn’t be overlooked just because they couldn’t beat San Diego State.
The Rams crashed out of the A-10 tournament in the quarterfinals after losing guard Marcus Evans to a knee injury; his status for the NCAA tournament is still up in the air. Entering that game, Evans had a 28% usage rate when on the court, the fourth-highest in the conference. He wasn’t too efficient with those possessions, but if VCU’s offense wasn’t very good with its best player on the court it’s hard to imagine it getting any better without him. The Rams will have to rely even more on their defense, which is limiting opponents to 27.6 percent shooting from deep and forcing turnovers 23.4% of the time, ninth in the country.
On the opposite hand lies Iowa, a fish out of water in the defense-first Big Ten. Fran McCaffrey has always preferred a more fast-paced, higher-scoring brand of basketball than his conference coworkers, and this year’s Hawkeye squad was no exception, ranking as the third-most efficient offense in conference play and second-worst defensively. Iowa has a deep core of bucket-getters, including smooth-shooting wing Isaiah Moss (41.5% from deep), clutch point guard Jordan Bohannon and skilled low-post bully Tyler Cook (six fouls drawn per game).
Two mediocre Syracuse teams have rode that infuriatingly effective 2–3 zone to tournament runs in the past three years. This team has the potential to be a third. Tyus Battle carries the offense and he’ll be the headlining name in any such run, but the most important player for Jim Boeheim might be Paschal Chukwu. The 7’ 2” Chukwu averages a cool 4.3 points per game, but he’s the foundation in the middle of that zone. With a seven-foot eight-inch wingspan, Chukwu bothers any shot from anywhere near the paint, which is why teams take almost half their shots from deep against the Orange. But Chukwu only plays about half the game because he’s busy picking up six fouls per 40 minutes. Syracuse needs him on the floor.
Spiritually a member of the Big Ten since Mick Cronin took over in 2006, the Bearcats are no different in 2019. They play slow, never turn the ball over, hammer the offensive glass and stifle opponents on defense. Sometimes their inability to score can get them into trouble, like in a bizarre loss at East Carolina and overtime victories against mediocre Tulsa and UConn squads. They likely can’t survive an off-night from star forward Jarron Cumberland, who averages 18.4 points per game and is a shoe-in member of the “ugly looking shot but still it somehow goes in” all-stars, alongside Tennessee’s Schofield and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon.
32. Utah State
It may be cruel to the likes of Quinn Taylor and Diogo Brito to call the Aggies a two-man band, but they’re a two-man band. Junior guard Sam Merrill plays offense, taking more than a quarter of the team’s shots and making them 46.5% of the time. He’s a scoring threat anywhere on the court, especially as a 90% shooter from the free throw line. Freshman center Neemias Queta plays defense, blocking more than 10% of opposing two-pointers when he’s on the court and holding opponents to 42.1% shooting on twos. And don’t sleep: he’s 2-for-5 from deep this year.
Finally, Tacko Fall has made the NCAA tournament. UCF landed in the NIT two years ago, and injuries cost him the second half of his junior year. But now the 7’6” goliath, one of the most distinctive players in college basketball, is ready for primetime. He shoots 75.4% from the floor, unsurprising numbers for a man who does not need to jump to dunk. Don’t confuse that for shooting talent, though. His 36.1% free throw shooting tanks the team’s overall average so much that despite B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins each shooting better than 77% at the line, the Knights rank 333rd in free throw percentage.
The Gators piled up 15 losses despite ranking in the top 30 in kenpom. They did it with consistently poor late-game execution and a brutal non-conference schedule, which included losses to Florida State, Oklahoma and Michigan State. The player to watch on Florida is senior guard KeVaughn Allen. Allen was a star his sophomore year and still shoots 89% at the free throw line, but somehow can’t do better than 40% from the field this year.
The Rebels were picked to finish last in the SEC in the preseason media poll, but Kermit Davis wasn’t having that in his first year in Oxford. Instead, he steered the team to 20 wins and a seventh-place finish. The Rebels’ offense rests on the shoulders of guards Breein Tyree and Terence Davis, who have impressively similar numbers (Tyree has taken 234 twos, Davis 233). Tyree uses slightly more possessions and is a bit more efficient, while Davis is a bit more of a distributor. Because Tyree and Davis are the ones drawing all the fouls, Ole Miss ranks fifth in the country with a 78.3 free throw percentage.
The next dozen or so teams are all similar in quality. Leading off are the Huskies, who finally played close to their talent level in Mike Hopkins’s second year. Various members of that disastrous 2016–17 team, which won nine games despite having Markelle Fultz, are still here, except now they’re good. Noah Dickerson is a force down low, David Crisp is a solid shooting guard and Matisse Thybulle is a perfect 3-and-D wing. Instead of Markelle running things, they now have Jaylen Nowell, the Pac-12 Player of the Year. The major change for the Huskies since 2017, besides the improvement of those role players, is on the defensive end, where they rank among the best in the country at forcing turnovers.
37. Murray State
Ja Morant! He dunks! He’s cash! He does other cool stuff! Morant has already proved he can get it done against stiffer competition, dropping 25 points at Auburn in December and 36 in the OVC Championship game against Belmont to get the Racers into the tournament. Morant will need a little help if the Racers are to make a run. Darnell Cowart has been a revelation since entering the starting lineup, but he’ll need to stop fouling everyone in sight if he’s going to have a major impact. Tevin Brown, the Racers’ best outside shooting threat, is another key piece.
The Bears lost leading scorer Tristan Clark to a season-ending left knee injury in early January. At the time, they didn’t even resemble a NCAA tournament team with losses to Stephen F. Austin and Texas Southern on the resume and a brutal Big 12 schedule ahead. So of course they ripped off a six-game win streak and have had a spot wrapped up since mid-February that even a season-ending four-game losing streak couldn’t threaten. Their new star: former Baylor-killer Makai Mason, a grad transfer from Yale most famous for scoring 31 points to upset the Bears in the first round in 2016.
For the ninth-straight year, Belmont is an elite offensive team that ranks top-15 in the country in eFG% (third this year). This year’s edition of the uber-efficient Bruins is led by Dylan Windler, who makes 85% of his free throws, 67% of his twos and 42% of his threes. The X-factor for Belmont will be if freshman center Nick Muszynski can return from the ankle injury he suffered in the OVC tournament semifinals.
40. Saint Mary’s
Randy Bennett’s outfit is also an extremely efficient offensive squad in a mid-major conference. The difference is that while Belmont races up the floor, the Gaels operate the fourth-slowest offense in the country, just a touch faster than Virginia. While these slow-motion offenses are often lauded for their ball movement, don’t expect many assists from St. Mary’s. The Gaels rank dead last in assist percentage, a wild departure from just two years ago when they had the eighth-highest percentage in the country. The formula is simple: ask Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts to get buckets.
After star freshman Bol Bol went down, things looked pretty bleak in Eugene, and the Ducks wouldn’t be in the field if not for their Pac-12 tournament championship. But those four wins in four days were just half of a season-ending eight-game winning streak. Dana Altman’s squad is here on the strength of its defense, which relies on athletic shot-blocker Kenny Wooten. Wooten’s presence inside helped convince opponents to take more than 45% of their shots from long range this season, with a conversion rate of less than 30% from beyond the arc.
42. Arizona State
If Remy Martin played at more reasonable hours on the East Coast, he’d be a favorite of college basketball Twitter. First, his name is Remy Martin, and second, he plays with an unpredictably entertaining style, jitterbugging through defenses, firing off highlight-reel passes (if they connect) and also taking his fair share of questionable threes. He’s not the Sun Devils’ best player—that would be freshman powerhouse Luguentz Dort—but he’ll be a key factor in any potential Arizona State upsets.
The Golden Gophers are not a good shooting team, ranking below average from the field and from deep. They have just one player, freshman Gabe Kalscheur, who shoots better than 31% on threes and takes at least one per game (he’s up above 40% though from beyond the arc). They solve these shooting issues by hitting the offensive glass hard to get extra possessions and getting to the line at a high rate (though they don’t shoot that well when they get there). Minnesota lacks a true point guard (Isaiah Washington comes closest, though he only plays about 16 minutes a game), but there’s no need for a complex offense when Jordan Murphy is down low to gobble up points and rebounds on his own.
44. New Mexico State
The Aggies lost their only game against top competition this year, squandering a second-half lead and falling by three to Kansas in Kansas City. A trendy upset pick in numerous years since 2012, they’ve still yet to make it out of the first round. The advanced metrics like this team better than those previous Cinderella candidates, and they’re on a 19-game winning streak and coming off a 32-point win in their conference championship game. Their strength lies in their depth. Nearly 50% of the available minutes go to bench players and their leading scorer Terrell Brown averages just 11.3 points per game.
45. Seton Hall
The Pirates aren’t good at anything in particular except having Myles Powell, who is awesome. He was a role player on the 2017 and 2018 Seton Hall teams that had Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington, but Powell made it clear that he was the captain now with a 40-point game against Grand Canyon in the Pirates’ fourth contest this season. Two weeks later he went 6-for-11 from deep, including an insane go-ahead step-back three at the end of regulation, in Madison Square Garden against Kentucky. He won’t be afraid of the big stage.
The Flames have adopted the offensive strategy of their in-state neighbors: slow and extremely efficient. They rank 349th in tempo and 12th in eFG%, consistently generating solid shots for Caleb Homesley and Scottie James inside the arc. Liberty also has a three-man three-point bombing arsenal in Lovell Cabbil, Elijah Cuffee and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, all of whom shoot better than 40% from long range.
It’s wild to think that just one year ago Oklahoma was, on the relatively small shoulders of Trae Young, one of the most fun teams in the country. Last year’s Sooners were maligned for being too Trae-centric and disinterested in defense, but this year’s team has made defense its calling card and relies on a variety of scorers to get the job done. Christian James, Kristian Doolittle and Brady Manek are all still here averaging more than 10 points a game.
48. St. John’s
Quite possibly the biggest boom-or-bust team in the tournament, the Red Storm could both lose in the First Four in Dayton or make a run to the Sweet 16. They’ve shown up when the competition demands it, pulling out two wins over Marquette and another against Villanova. But they’ve also disappeared when it hasn’t, getting swept by DePaul and losing at home to Georgetown. Shamorie Ponds is awesome though.
Anyone looking for platitudes on how these Ivy Leaguers “play the right way” can find them with the Bulldogs, who assist on a bunch of their buckets and have the 11th-best eFG% in the country, though they’re not an elite defensive unit. However, the real reason Yale is here is that it plays with Miye Oni. A potential second-round pick in the 2019 NBA draft, Oni is an dual threat who shoots 38% from deep on five attempts per game but also gets it done inside and is an elite rebounder.
50. Ohio State
The Buckeyes took a lot of heat down the stretch because they suspended Kaleb Wesson and suddenly started putting up under-20-point halves against Northwestern and Wisconsin. Such are the consequences of removing the No. 1 offensive threat from the lineup. Wesson is tough to handle down low, but the Buckeyes struggled offensively even when he was available because he would commit an average of five fouls per 40 minutes. This propensity for fouling landed him on the bench for long stretches in nearly every game. The Buckeyes have a solid cadre of wing defenders that keep them afloat in games when they’re scoring 16 points in a half, but without Wesson their offense looks helpless.
The original UMBC upset victims, the Catamounts finally solved Ryan Odom’s squad in a convincing America East championship victory. In an effort to replicate the production that Ernie Duncan has given his squad the past four years, John Becker has added two of his brothers to the mix in junior Everett and freshman Robin. All three Duncans, however, can barely eclipse the production of star forward Anthony Lamb, who averaged 21.4 points per game on 52% shooting from the field and 37% from deep.
This might be low for the Owls, but they rate poorly by per-possession metrics and their best win outside of Philadelphia came against Missouri. They also lost at Tulsa and looked to be the clearly worse team in their AAC tournament loss to Wichita State. Shizz Alston is a dynamic scoring guard who has been fun to watch in all four of his years at Temple. The problem is he doesn’t have a great scorer next to him. Quinton Rose is an athletic wing who can create his own shot, but the problem is he only makes 41% of his field goal attempts and doesn’t get to the line a lot either.
53. UC Irvine
The Anteaters are an elite defensive squad. They allow few three-point attempts, forcing their opponents off the line but not allowing easy shots at the rim either. In fact, their opponents’ two-point field goal percentage is the worst in the nation at just 40.6. This is at least partially a product of playing in the Big West, but it’s impressive nonetheless. They also go deep into their bench, ranking seventh in the country in bench minutes.
54. Old Dominion
The Monarchs had an insane run through the Conference USA tournament, putting themselves in precarious positions in both the quarterfinal against Louisiana Tech (4% win probability at one point in the second half) and semifinal against UAB (7.5%) before storming back for victories thanks to the clutch play of Ahmad Caver and Xavier Green. Caver is their sun and stars, playing in 93.9% of available minutes, the fourth-highest percentage in the country. He’s a steady ball-handler who rates well in both assist and turnover rate but often struggles to score against top competition.
The Huskies are dangerous. They’re 12–1 in their last 13 games and just knocked off one of the nation’s leading scorers in Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman in the CAA title game. They play slow; their offensive possessions are 308th-fastest in the country, so they’ll limit the amount of possessions in a game and increase the potential for variance. But most importantly, they’re cash. Vasa Pusica is their leader, shooting 40.1% from long range, while the team takes nearly half its shots from deep and makes them at the 14th-best rate in the country. They’ve struggled in games against top competition, losing by more than 20 to both Virginia Tech and Syracuse, but sleeping on the Huskies would be unwise.
56. St. Louis
The Billikens cannot shoot. They rank 322nd in eFG%, 327th in three-point percentage and 352nd in free throw percentage. Like Minnesota they’ve solved this problem by grabbing 36.1% of their misses, 13th-best in the country. They also get to the foul line so much that they still get more than a fifth of their points there despite making only 59.8% of their free throws. Unsurprisingly, the better half of their work comes on the defensive end. In the final three games of their tournament-berth-clinching A-10 tournament run, they allowed 55, 44 and 53 points.
57. Northern Kentucky
Forward Drew McDonald leads the Norse, who are making their second NCAA tournament appearance in just seven years in Division-I. McDonald is the fulcrum of the offense, but Northern Kentucky also shares the ball in a free-flowing offense that ranks fifth in the country in assist percentage. McDonald has also proven he can get it done in the clutch, sinking a buzzer-beating three to beat Oakland in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament.
58. Georgia State
Last year, D’Marcus Simonds powered the Panthers to a 15 seed and a first-round exit at the hands of Cincinnati. He’s back doing the same thing. He takes 30% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, and no other Georgia State player is above 21. While Simonds himself isn’t a three-point shooter, he’s surrounded by Jeff Thomas, Devin Mitchell and Malik Benlevi, who all make more than two per game at better than 40% shooting.
In two years at Northwestern, Rapolas Ivanauskas was beset by injuries, played 11 minutes, grabbed three rebounds, committed five fouls (a fouls committed per 40 rate of 18.2!!!) and went 0-for-2 from the field. This summer, he transferred to Colgate. At Colgate, he averages 30.6 minutes per game, grabs nearly eight rebounds and scores 16.4 points. He was named Patriot League Player of the Year. His partner in crime is boom-or-bust guard Jordan Burns, who in his last six games has scored 27, 5, 8, 10, 5 and 35 points.
When Jamar Akoh went down with a wrist injury, the rest of the Big Sky may have been dreaming of stealing this bid from the Grizzlies, who have claimed it in four of the past eight seasons. With Akoh missing time, Montana hasn’t been quite as good this year as it was last season, but Sayeed Pridgett, Ahmaad Rorie & Co. can certainly score; they’ve got the sixth-best eFG% in the nation.
61. Abilene Christian
In a down year for Stephen F. Austin, the Wildcats snagged the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament bid in just their sixth year in Division-I. The Southland was one of the nation’s worst conferences in 2018-19, and a weak non-conference schedule is boosting their win total (in their only game against power conference competition, the Wildcats fell 82–48 to Texas Tech). They do some things well though, forcing turnovers at the eighth-best rate in the country and shooting threes at the 19th-best percentage (though they take them at an underwhelming rate given their success).
This year’s other first-time tourney attendee, the Runnin’ Bulldogs knocked off Chris Clemons and Campbell and Carlik Jones and Radford to snag this bid. They’ve got two ACC wins, taking down both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in nonconference play. If they’re going to be this year’s UMBC, David Efianayi will be their Jairus Lyles. Efianayi makes 41% of his threes and gets support from Jose Perez and DJ Laster, who went off for 32 points in their Big South title game win over Radford.
While this ranking may not be promoting the Bradley brand, the Braves could’ve done a better job of that themselves if they hadn’t opened conference play 0–5 and lost to the likes of Eastern Illinois in non-conference play. Nonetheless, their late-season turnaround was impressive, and their slow motion jog through the Missouri Valley tournament, including a revenge victory over Loyola Chicago after they lost in the semifinals to the Ramblers last year, earned them a date with Michigan State.
64. North Dakota State
Western Illinois did the heavy lifting in the Summit League tournament, knocking out three-time defending champions South Dakota State and Mike Daum. North Dakota State gladly stepped through the open door and earned a trip to Dayton despite having one of the softest defenses in the country. The Bison rank 347th in forced-turnover rate and almost never commit fouls. They’re 0 for 4 against fellow tournament teams (Gonzaga, New Mexico State, Montana and Iowa State).
It’s not often the MAAC champion is a 16 seed, but it’s not often the MAAC is as bad as it was this season. Monmouth best exemplifies this quality, or lack thereof. The Hawks opened the season 0–12 before turning things around in conference play and making a run all the way to the conference championship game. To their credit, the Gaels are a veteran team on a 12-game winning streak and just claimed their fourth-straight MAAC tournament championship and corresponding NCAA tournament bid.
66. Prairie View A&M
The Panthers must be watching a lot of James Harden tape because they rank third in the country with a 44.2 % free throw rate. The problem is that they somehow foul their opponents more, allowing an opposing rate of 46.6%, fourth-worst in the country. The SWAC is one of the worst conferences in the country, but the Panthers did win 21 of their final 22 games, which is impressive in any context.
67. Fairleigh Dickinson
The Knights came out of the chaotic Northeast Conference to earn this spot in Dayton. Fairleigh Dickinson isn’t notably good or bad at anything except shooting threes, which it makes at a better than 40% clip. The Knights’ only problem is that only about 35% of their shots come from long range, which ranks 273rd in the country.
68. North Carolina Central
The Eagles rank nearly 100 spots lower on Kenpom than the second-lowest tournament team; Prairie View A&M is at 209, NC Central is 303. Turning the ball over on nearly a quarter of their possessions probably isn’t helping, and neither is shooting just 31.2% from deep. Still, they made it! Raasean Davis is a force down low, making more than 60% of his shots and snagging nearly nine boards per game. If the Eagles can get him the ball before they give it to the other team, they could make it out of Dayton.
March Madness 2019: Print the complete NCAA tournament bracket