College Basketball Tiers: How 45 Top Teams Stack Up at the Season's Midway Point

A comprehensive look at how the men's college basketball landscape is shaping up, with an eye toward March.
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While the schedules themselves have been uneven, and COVID-19 complications have claimed bits and pieces of schedules around the country, we’re nearly halfway through the men’s college basketball calendar. We’re starting to figure out which teams are legit and which are dicey. It’s a good time for a pulse check.

The concept of placing teams into tiers certainly isn’t novel, but it does feel like a much more useful approach than trying to rank them even more arbitrarily, based on incomplete and varied results. Between my own eye test and the help of heaps of data—most teams have played more than 10 games now—at least we can see trends and make inferences. There is no difference within tiers—teams are grouped together based on estimable quality. This is a thought exercise, not a year-end best-of list, and it’s not definitive.

Keep in mind that this is not bracketology, and makes minimal-to-no attempt to project tournament seeding. Whom teams have played and what they’ve done certainly matters, but not in any concrete sense. This list would not be possible without the data provided by KenPom, Basketball Reference, and insights from Boost Sport.

For everyone’s benefit, including my own, these tiers had to stop somewhere—if your favorite team missed the cut, it does not mean I deny their existence, or that they aren’t relevant. If you’re a Kentucky fan looking for Kentucky, you can just close this window.

Top college basketball contenders at the midway point

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Tier I: Gonzaga (12–0)

There’s really no argument left surrounding Gonzaga’s credentials: it’s going to require either a near-perfect performance or strange circumstances for someone to beat it. The Bulldogs are a perfect storm, a delight to watch and have broken all comers with blistering tempo and efficient early-clock offense. Mark Few only deploys six players regularly, but it hasn’t mattered much. Gonzaga has yet to meet an opponent who can play at its pace for all 40 minutes, much less wrest control of the game away in any significant fashion.

While annihilating all comers, the collective unselfishness and maturity with which Gonzaga happily plays has been striking. The Zags pass decisively and rarely settle for bad shots in the halfcourt. Corey Kispert has been completely unfair. A quick Kispert hot streak can make a game feel out of reach before opponents get their bearings. Stellar drive-and-kick play from Jalen Suggs gives them an inside-out dimension. The freshman has exceeded all expectations, shot the ball exceptionally well from distance through nine games, and is rarely forced out of his comfort zone thanks to the guys around him. Joel Ayayi might be the best glue guy in the country. Drew Timme’s cagey post play can carry them for stretches, and takes pressure off the guards to hoist tough shots late in the clock. The ball rarely stops moving, and the quality of their play on the break limits over-reliance on shooting the three. This is as balanced a college offense as we’ve seen in recent memory.

If there’s a real concern here, it’s that the Zags are vulnerable at the rim—their opponents are shooting 78.6% around the basket, per Boost’s data. Timme is not much of a rim protector, and promising backup Oumar Ballo is a long-term project. They’ve relied on turning opponents over and controlling the defensive glass to compensate. That’s been made easier by the fact that the guard trio of Suggs, Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard all stand 6’ 4” or taller and are excellent positional rebounders, capable of grabbing a defensive rebound, leading the break and making plays on the move. Timme is heavy-footed in space and can be foul-prone against physical bigs. There just aren’t many opponents with the requisite personnel to expose him.

Frankly, the only question left is whether anyone is going to knock Gonzaga off. These guys make such quick decisions, shoot so well and make so few mistakes. It feels nearly impossible to force them into a slower style, or muck the game up. Someone is going to have to try to match them blow for blow, which requires a ton of discipline, and enough of your own makes to get back on defense and limit transition. You cannot afford to let them run off misses. It’s just so hard to box out their guards.

It’s hard to guess at who might do it. Iowa and Kansas couldn’t keep up. Plodding Virginia had no hope of mucking up the pace. The closest anyone came was West Virginia, in a weird game where Suggs missed time with an in-game injury. Gonzaga successfully shifted gears and won with staunch defense instead. What might have taken place in a pandemic-canceled Dec. 5 matchup with Baylor looms large. We may get that rematch in March.

Of course, March will come with more variables than usual this year. Between the possibility of COVID-19 impacting teams and players, the pressure of the moment and the annual unpredictability of the tournament itself, there are no shoo-ins. Still, Gonzaga is the prohibitive favorite right now, and has earned that.

Tier 2: Baylor (11–0)

Baylor will never win the style war. But the Bears are the only team in the country rolling out a top-five KenPom adjusted offense and defense. They fit all the championship criteria. They’ve got experienced guards, including Player of the Year candidate Jared Butler and defensive ace Davion Mitchell, and rarely turn the ball over. They’re ridiculously deep, and their six players who regularly take threes are—somehow—all shooting north of 40% from distance. That’s probably not sustainable, but opponents still have to respect it. Everyone in their rotation has gotten better, and Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler can change games off the bench. Despite not boasting a ton of size and losing Freddie Gillespie, Baylor has been every bit as good on the offensive glass, with Mark Vital’s always playing bigger than 6' 5" and emerging sophomore Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s earning the majority of center minutes.

Plus, the Bears’ ability to dictate pace and force mistakes with a well-connected defense remains a constant. Mitchell excels at making opposing guards uncomfortable. Vital is a pain in the ass to play against and can switch onto just about anyone in a pinch. Everyone knows where to be, and they’re deep enough to manage foul trouble. They limit second-chance points, turn opponents over, foul shooters infrequently and do all the margin-of-error things exceptionally well. Only two opponents have managed to score more than 70 points on Baylor; the Bears won those games by 40 and 29, respectively.

On a good night, this is a team that will beat anyone. We’ll see how long its 42.8% three-point clip holds up. Baylor has started games slower in January, and when shots aren’t falling, its offense can still be a tad sluggish. That can cause an overreliance on Butler to create good looks, as Mitchell and Teague can be ball-stoppers and a touch dependent on jumpers. Baylor doesn’t get to the free throw line that often, relatively speaking, and disciplined defensive teams should be able to at least play them close. Still, its guards are so good that it will comfortably grind out most of those games. Scott Drew’s group isn’t quite as scary as Gonzaga. But the Bears are the clear front-runners to usurp them, and that’s a compliment.

Texas' Matt Coleman drives vs. Kansas

Tier 3: Clear Final Four contenders

Iowa (11–2)

You won’t find many teams capable of outscoring Iowa, much less stopping it. The Hawkeyes take incredible care of the ball, take good shots and rarely waste opportunities. They have enough shooting and playmaking to space the court and maximize early-clock opportunities, and can simply toss it to Luka Garza, college basketball’s most dominant player, whenever necessary. Most of the time, that’s going to work.

Iowa looked totally overmatched trying to keep up with Gonzaga in December but also had an uncharacteristically poor shooting day (4 for 22 from three, 14 for 26 from the line), missed open looks and had to play from behind. I’m intrigued by freshman Keegan Murray, whose minutes have been on the rise and who supplies the team with extra size and shooting up front. The Hawkeyes need someone besides Garza to put pressure on the rim, and Joe Wieskamp has to be more consistent in all facets. But its firepower seems almost matchup-proof.

The Hawkeyes’ Final Four candidacy hinges on their ability to get stops, and, to a lesser extent, whether they’ll run into another team with a big who can slow down Garza—North Carolina’s Day’Ron Sharpe made him look human, and a Jan. 29 matchup against Illinois and fellow massive person Kofi Cockburn should be an interesting litmus test. They’re not a very athletic team and they rely on a small backcourt—and their defense will never be especially good as a result. In both defeats (they also lost at Minnesota on Christmas in overtime), Iowa’s been out-shot from three and has given up close to 100 points. It may drop a few more games in the Big Ten, but its offense is as dependable as it gets and should buy it quite a margin for error in March as long as the shots are falling. Garza is a great equalizer.

Michigan (11–0)

It’s exceptionally hard for a Big Ten team to go undefeated, and I wouldn’t necessarily expect Michigan to pull it off, but it looked pretty damn convincing Tuesday night against Wisconsin. Juwan Howard has hit the ground running in every aspect and netted a signature win, as the Wolverines wore down and eventually blitzed the Badgers in Ann Arbor, ripping off a huge run to end the first half by forcing turnovers and successfully speeding their opponents out of their comfort zone. They were on a 30–3 run five minutes into the second half. It was no accident, and the result Michigan needed to solidify its status as a legit Final Four–caliber team.

I’m not ready to move these guys up into Baylor’s tier—they played a relatively nonthreatening schedule before the Wisconsin game—but they are legit. The Wolverines have experience at every position and an impressively diverse attack, with freshman Hunter Dickinson emerging as a focal point up front. Franz Wagner’s all-around game has taken a massive leap forward, and he’s capable of changing a matchup on both ends. Isaiah Livers has slimmed down and gotten healthy. That’s as strong a trio as you’ll find east of Spokane. I do worry a bit about ball security—Columbia transfer Mike Smith has struggled with turnovers, and Eli Brooks isn’t a natural point guard. But Michigan’s personnel is good enough to beat anyone, and its defense has looked dominant in conference play.

Michigan figures to be tested in the back half of its schedule, but this is a disciplined group capable of playing different styles—it can play in transition, it can attack mismatches in the half court and it takes away the paint as well as anyone in the country. The Wolverines have a host of reliable shooters to surround Dickinson up front and a potential first-round pick in Wagner. I’m buying them, as I’m sure many are.

Texas (10–2)

Is it time to trust Texas? The primary question entering the season was guard play, but the Longhorns continue to fare well in close games and have gotten steady minutes out of the experienced trio of Matt Coleman, Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey. Those guys are proving more reliable than anyone expected, and the results have come accordingly. Texas is big, tough, and athletic up front, with two future NBA players in Greg Brown and Kai Jones and a quality rebounder in Jericho Sims. I’m not sold on the Longhorns as a truly elite offensive team—they need to move the ball better, don’t get to the line enough and aren’t overly creative with how they beat you, relying on Coleman and Ramey to improvise late in the clock. But they look like the real deal on the other end, where they can flummox teams with length and take away easy looks at the rim.

Texas hasn’t played anyone that shoots the ball well yet, the exceptions being Kansas, which it still beat handily, and Villanova, which eked out a win in Austin in early December. Opposing teams are shooting a combined 28% from three. Some of that is quality defense, but some of it is luck. The Longhorns’ opponents have also been below-average from the free throw line on the whole. Some degree of regression is coming, and Texas struggled greatly to score the ball in Wednesday’s last-second loss to Texas Tech.

How Shaka Smart uses Brown and Jones moving forward will be worth watching closely, and it’s where the margin for improvement might lie. The Longhorns play three guards most of the time in a four-out attack, forcing one of the bigs to function on the perimeter. Brown is a non-playmaker at this point, recording a single, measly assist in his first 12 college games. Jones hasn’t been much better, and there are nights you just don’t feel his impact at all. Both are streaky three-point shooters. Sims is a more traditional center and gives them a more physical dimension, but isn’t dynamic on the perimeter. Smart’s had success mixing and matching, but any spark of real chemistry between those frontcourt players could be what pushes Texas over the top. It might also be a pipe dream.

Anyway, Texas has beaten Kansas and West Virginia on the road, has to play Baylor only once (at home) and has shown a good amount of mettle in close games. The work isn’t done, but a No. 1 seed is a legit possibility.

Tier 4: Knocking on the door

These are teams with very real chances of making the Final Four. They have work to do to earn my full stamp of approval. But they’re a cut above the following group and could challenge to move up as the second half of the season rolls on.

Creighton (10–2)

It’s been tough to know exactly what to make of Creighton the past couple of years, but it’s clear to me that the Bluejays are much better than they were last season. They’re much less reliant on Marcus Zegarowski, have gotten solid play from an improved supporting cast and are much-improved defensively. It’s not an exact equivalence, but I watched Creighton get throttled against St. John’s on the road last season in a game where Zegarowski basically did nothing. On Saturday, it beat the Johnnies by 18 as he sat with a hamstring injury.

For an undersized team, Creighton finishes really well at the rim, complementing its array of capable shooters. The Bluejays are not replete with individual talent, but they play well together and the pieces mostly fit. Denzel Mahoney has become a solid all-around contributor. They have 7-foot freshman shotblocker Ryan Kalkbrenner to anchor defensive-minded lineups as needed. They need Zegarowski—who doesn’t put much pressure on the paint and can be a tad one-dimensional—to play well when it counts. But on a good night, they can look like an offensive juggernaut, albeit an unorthodox one. They’ve won six straight and are rounding into form.

Kansas (10–3)

This is a really weird Kansas team. Everyone is still getting used to life without Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Beyond a defined starting five, it still seems like Bill Self is getting a handle on his rotations. The Jayhawks boast a strong perimeter trio, with rock-solid Ochai Agbaji, a much-improved Christian Braun and the emerging but streaky Jalen Wilson anchoring the offense. It’s the other guys who worry me. Marcus Garrett’s preseason credentials were way overblown, and he’s not a natural point guard, but Self doesn’t trust freshmen Dajuan Harris and Bryce Thompson. David McCormack can be one of the most frustrating players in college basketball. It’s tough to fathom any big with a frame like his shooting just 42% from the field.

Still, Kansas has been competent in most areas: It’s survived close games against Creighton and Texas Tech and beaten West Virginia handily. I’ll give the Jayhawks a pass for getting blitzed by Gonzaga in the season opener. Getting blown out by Texas does leave a bad taste. They’re talented enough to handle most opponents, but the scariest thing here is the lack of a playmaking element on the roster. If Self has the courage to cut back Garrett’s minutes and give Harris a chance to build confidence, that could be a solution, at least for 20 minutes a game. This is clearly a good team, talented and tough enough to scrap in the Big 12 and win games in March. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a great one.

Tennessee (9–1)

The Vols are clearly the most dangerous team in the SEC: They brought everyone back, added two high-impact freshmen to their backcourt and might have the most athletic, tenacious defense in the country. The catch is that they clearly don’t have optimal shooting, which manifested in their lone loss to Alabama. Most of the time, that weakness may not matter—they force plenty of turnovers with perimeter ball pressure and lead the country in block percentage, per KenPom. Consistently turning defensive stops into transition offense is a salve for shaky shooting teams. But in any footrace where Tennessee doesn’t knock down its open shots, it’s going to be vulnerable.

The key to the engine is underrated point guard Santiago Vescovi, who was a recruiting coup for Rick Barnes out of Uruguay and the NBA’s Global Academy program. He’s a high-level game manager and has taken a step forward as a scorer. Yves Pons is a hurricane around the rim, and has turned himself into one of the most impactful defenders in the country. John Fulkerson is solid. Touted freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer have acquitted themselves well off the bench and have benefited from easing into smaller roles.

My favorite strange fact is that the Vols’ five starters—Pons, Vescovi, Fulkerson, Josiah-Jordan James and Victor Bailey—are all left-handed shooters. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that before. I genuinely like watching this team, and Vescovi, Pons and Johnson are a lot of fun. The SEC is wide open. If they start to click offensively, this group can do real damage.

Villanova (8–1)

I’m often a little skeptical about the quality and depth of the Big East, but a competent Villanova team is always dangerous when it matters. This isn’t the most talented team Jay Wright has rolled out, but the recipe is the same: share the ball, shoot open threes and don’t waste possessions. The Wildcats haven’t been a truly elite defensive team since 2017–18. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is a rock-solid player, but I’m admittedly a little concerned with their lack of interior presence other than him—they’re not a great offensive rebounding team and haven’t done a great job protecting the paint. Their opponents have shot just 64% from the foul line. Villanova did beat Texas, and its only loss came against Virginia Tech.

Villanova is still a tough out, with the much-improved Collin Gillespie running the point, Robinson-Earl contributing in every way possible and the underrated Justin Moore and sharpshooter Caleb Daniels rounding out its lineups. It’s probably the favorite to win the conference, but it seems extremely close with Creighton. Villanova ranked third in the AP poll coming into the week, but I’m not entirely sure why, and I’m not prepared to throw it in the tier above this just yet. The Wildcats are slated for a tough test at UConn on Friday having not played since Dec. 23.

Wisconsin (10–3)

Hopefully this isn’t wishful thinking, but I don’t expect the Badgers to get wrecked again like they did Tuesday. That game was more emblematic of Michigan’s being extremely good than it was some black mark on Wisconsin’s claim as a contender. If a team is good enough to run on the Badgers and turn them over the way Michigan did, they’ll have a good chance to win. Frankly, there just aren’t many college teams with the personnel to do that. Coming into that game, Wisconsin was one of just two teams ranking top 10 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom, with Baylor being the other. All of these Big Ten teams are going to take some lumps, but most of them will end up better off for it.

Wisconsin has six seniors in the rotation, led by the impressive duo of D’Mitrik Trice and Micah Potter. I’m intrigued by freshman Johnny Davis. Brad Davison is still in college. This team has shooters, it protects the ball, it grinds the clock down, and, if you’re playing at their pace, the Badgers are a tough out. On an off-shooting night, they can run into trouble, and if you can speed them up, there’s a chance to discombobulate their offense. The danger of playing that slow is getting a little too patient, and the fact Trice is their only creative scorer is a little bit troublesome. Still, it’s hard to match their size, firepower and experience, and those things are going to matter.

This is basically the same team that won eight straight games to end last season. It has a rematch with Michigan and two apiece with Iowa and Illinois remaining. Let’s hope Tuesday was just a blip.

Illinois's Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu

Tier 5: You would rather not play them

Clemson (9–1)

There’s a pretty good chance Clemson is the best team you haven’t watched play yet. It’s a weird year in the ACC, and the Tigers look capable of winning the league. This looks and plays like the best team in Brad Brownell’s tenure, boasting the country’s top defense, per KenPom. Clemson plays a lot of guys, and it’s working. Offensively, it’s not elite in any way, but as long as it can keep the score low and capitalize on mistakes, it has enough to beat you. Versatile forward Aamir Simms has become a consistent inside-out force, causing danger as a screener and punishing smaller defenders on the inside. Sophomores Nick Honor and Al-Amir Dawes form a promising backcourt. The bench has been effective, and there are plenty of guys who can knock down an open shot. I worry a bit about the offensive ceiling here, but Clemson is a tough out.

Houston (10–1)

Houston finds a way to be good every year. Still, I’m not exactly sure how it stacks up. Texas Tech is its only significant nonconference win, and the AAC slate isn’t particularly challenging. The Cougars are an inconsistent shooting team that relies on elite offensive rebounding. Other than the fact they foul a lot, their defense holds up in every way.

Losing Caleb Mills to the transfer market hurts, but Marcus Sasser earned the starting point guard role and continues to improve. Kelvin Sampson’s coaching and a rotation heavy on upperclassmen helps. Houston should be able to earn a good tournament seed but has more to prove—without many great opportunities to do it, unfortunately.

Illinois (9–4)

The four losses illustrate some of Illinois’s inconsistencies, but to be fair, three of them have come by three points, and the other one was to Baylor. I’m not as sold on Illinois as the Iowa-Michigan-Wisconsin trio, but Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are a lot for any opponent to handle. Dosunmu still leaves a little bit to be desired as a lead playmaker, but he’s frequently stepped up his game when it counts—it’s just that there are too many times when he’s their only source of perimeter offense.

Cockburn is too massive for pretty much anyone to defend one-on-one, but his inability to pass out of double teams and poor free throw shooting prevent him from being a truly top-tier center. The X-factor is freshman playmaker Andre Curbelo, but Brad Underwood has given him a short leash. The supporting cast is decent, but it’s been different guys stepping up each game, rather than a rotation firing on all cylinders. This is clearly the best Illinois team since 2005, but its best wins are blowouts of Duke and Minnesota that mean less in retrospect.

Oregon (9–2)

As usual, Oregon is an extremely old team, which tends to matter the further into the season we get. Chris Duarte has broken out as a game-changing shooter, and he’s no slouch defensively, either. Transfers Eugene Omoruyi, Eric Williams and LJ Figueroa have been steady. Even with Payton Pritchard gone, the Ducks are tough, physical and seem to have a collective identity. They just aren’t particularly deep, and their guard play leaves something to be desired, which puts a lot more pressure on Duarte to score on the perimeter. I buy them as the most dangerous Pac-12 team. It’s unclear how much that means yet.

Texas Tech (11–3)

The Red Raiders have yet to recapture their Final Four magic from two years ago, and some of the shine here has worn off. But they’re still wholly unfun to play against, with a teamwide commitment to doing the little things on defense and making life difficult. They have two capable perimeter scorers in Mac McClung and Terrence Shannon Jr. and the rugged Marcus Santos-Silva to clean things up inside. McClung’s tendency to freelance and jack shots worries me, though, and the ball movement can be subpar with this group, as can the shooting. We’ll see how far Chris Beard’s tried and true recipe can take them. They just earned a significant win at Texas. I’m not all the way on board yet.

Virginia (8–2)

Virginia is still Virginia. It’s much more balanced than last year’s team, which was overreliant on holding opponents under 60 to win games and leaned far too heavily on Kihei Clark. An improved Jay Huff and transfers Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy make the team much more multidimensional with a far less predictable offensive team. The Cavaliers still take great care of the ball and force you to beat them. Tony Bennett will do this until the end of time. It’s hard to look at this iteration of the Hoos and see something special, but they might win the ACC again, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone.

West Virginia (9–4)

It’s never a great time facing off against the Mountaineers, and they’ve played Gonzaga and Texas close, which counts for something. They just aren’t especially deep (particularly with Oscar Tshiebwe’s transfer to Kentucky), don’t shoot exceptionally well and rely way too much on Miles McBride to score in the half court. McBride is a tough player, but he settles for too many jumpers, and he’s the only player who can do anything off the dribble. West Virginia’s style of play always keeps it around, and it beats the teams it’s supposed to beat. It just may not have the firepower to consistently hang with better teams.

Tier 6: Sneakily potent

Colorado (9–3)
Ohio State (10–3)
Saint Louis (7–1)
UCLA (9–2)
Virginia Tech (10–2)

From here, making sense of the field gets messy—there’s not much separating this group from the tier below, other than the fact that these are teams I can talk myself into making noise. I had UConn in this group before it was announced that James Bouknight is having elbow surgery and will miss time. No Bouknight in March would be one of the biggest non-COVID-19 bummers of the season.

Colorado is steady on both ends and has a bunch of seniors, including one of the Pac-12’s best guards in McKinley Wright IV. It doesn’t get quite enough credit and is a legit contender in the conference. Similarly, Ohio State has a ton of experience, and Chris Holtmann continues to get results, although the Buckeyes have lost to competitive Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota teams on the road. They probably won’t win the Big Ten, but they’ll have plenty of résumé opportunities and should be able to come out relatively unscathed. Duane Washington Jr. is streaky but doesn’t get mentioned enough, and he’s started to rediscover his three-point stroke. This group may have a surprise win or two up its sleeve.

I’m in on Saint Louis, as a group capable of scaring and upending more talented teams. The Billikens are about to go a month between games, unfortunately. They have the pieces to win the A-10 and give bigger teams problems: Jordan Goodwin, Javonte Perkins and Hasahn French are a potent, physical trio. They’ll out-tough you if you let them. UCLA lost Chris Smith for the season, but that may not matter a ton. The Bruins are undefeated in the Pac-12, it looks like all their players are making progress and Mick Cronin has the program relevant again. They seem like a top-three team in their conference.

Not to be forgotten, Virginia Tech beat Villanova and Clemson and just handled Duke on Tuesday. You may not be able to name any of their players, but the Hokies are trending up and have an outside case to move up a tier. There’s something to be said for simply being solid. Mike Young looks like a shrewd hire.

Louisville's Carlik Jones claps during a game

Tier 7: Good, but not completely convincing

Alabama (10–3)
Indiana (8–5)
Louisville (9–1)
Minnesota (10–4)
Oklahoma State (9–3)
Purdue (8–5)
Rutgers (7–4)
Stanford (8–3)
UConn (7–1)
USC (9–2)

It’s hard to get a great bead on these teams, but they all clearly merit some intrigue. I won’t wax poetic on any of them.

I don’t know whether Alabama and Louisville can stay hot, but it wouldn’t shock me. The Tide’s success feels more pace-driven than talent-driven, but Nate Oats gets things done, they’ve beaten Tennessee already and could hold on to win the conference with a little luck.

Louisville has two great guards in Carlik Jones and David Johnson, as well as some promising underclassmen, but not much else in the way of offense. Samuell Williamson has been disappointing.

If Oklahoma State’s tournament ban remains under appeal, it could still play in March, which would be fun—the Cade Cunningham effect is real. I feel kind of the same way about the Cowboys as I do about USC and Evan Mobley: As good as they are, there’s too much riding on the shoulders of one star freshman game to game.

I wasn’t expecting the Trojans to be this good, but Mobley is a one-man defensive front a lot of the time. He erases space by himself. In college basketball, that can be all you need some nights.

I was buying UConn—who have a very tough supporting cast—before Bouknight got injured. The problem is that without him, it’s only a supporting cast.

Stanford has an elite defense and a talented team, but its best win was against Alabama. I love Oscar da Silva, and Ziaire Williams is regaining his confidence, but the Cardinal offense leaves a lot to be desired. Indiana, Purdue, Rutgers and Minnesota have to play in the Big Ten, so their ceilings are capped in the regular season. They should all make the tournament. It’s a brutally tough conference. Did I get everyone?

Tier 8: How good are these teams really?

Arkansas (10–2)
Duke (5–3)
Florida (6–3)
Florida State (6–2)
LSU (8–2)
Michigan State (8–4)
Missouri (7–2)
Oklahoma (7–4)
North Carolina (8–4)
Richmond (9–3)
San Diego State (9–2)
Seton Hall (9–5)
Xavier (10–2)

If you scrolled all the way down here just trying to find your team, welcome. Again, this isn’t bracketology, but this is a facsimile of what the bubble might look like. WIth a couple of exceptions, most of these teams have yet to beat anyone of substance. They’re all definitely good enough to vie for the tournament. Many of them will. It feels weird that we have Michigan State and Duke in this group, but it’s that type of year. I enjoy the stylings of Day’Ron Sharpe, but North Carolina isn’t very good a lot of the time. Arkansas and LSU haven’t beaten anybody significant yet. Kentucky, you’ll find, is absent. And if Keyontae Johnson is able to make it back this season, Florida will move up a tier or two.

For now, there’s just not enough evidence to separate these teams in a way that doesn’t seem arbitrary. That’s what conference play is for. Assuming, of course, we make it to the end.