The Super Bowl is over a week in our rear-view mirror, so by now, you’ve seen all the bracket projections, conference races, and AP rankings you can handle. But what you really want to know is who’s going to cut down the nets in Atlanta. We’ll count down from 30, and these rankings won’t be which teams are playing the best right now, who’s the hottest, or who has the best resumes.
This a gut-feel list of who we’d bet on to win the National Championship – whether it be talent, coaching, team makeup, or any other reason we feel plays a role. In this part, we’ll list teams 30 through 9 and say a few words about some of them. In the next installment, we’ll give a rundown of our “Elite Eight” and some more in-depth info on those teams.
From Zero to Three
As the title would indicate, these teams could all lose in the Round of 64 or make a second weekend run. We really have no idea.
30. St. Mary’s
26. San Diego State
23. NC State
All three of these teams began the season with a whole lot of hype surrounding them. Kentucky began the year ranked 3rd in the AP Poll; NC State 6th; and UNLV 18th. They’ve clearly underachieved, but would you want to playing any of these teams in the early rounds?
No Catchy Category Name Applies
18. New Mexico
17. Kansas State
16. Oklahoma State
15. Colorado State
Below is what I wrote about these two teams in my latest Bracketology update for College Hoops Journal:
In terms of undervalued teams, I see a couple of 6-seeds that I think could make good runs. I don’t view the resumes of Colorado State and Oklahoma State as worthy to see them rise a line or two at this point, but I do think they could outperform the seed they earn. Colorado State rebounds as well as any team in recent memory on offense and on defense. Currently, Larry Eustachy’s Rams team is 2nd in Offensive Rebounding Percentage and 1st in Defensive Rebounding Percentage. Since that link is behind a pay wall, one sentence captures the gist of it below:
Of the 100 best offensive rebounding seasons over the past five years, just nine also had one of the top 100 defensive rebounding seasons.
Oklahoma State is loaded with talent, led by Marcus Smart and LeBryan Nash – both solid NBA prospects. If this tournament has taught us anything in the past, it’s to err on the side of pro-level talent and head coaching experience.Elite Eight Worthy, Sweet 16 Likely
These teams could be on the top four lines (Arizona almost certainly will be), but they still don’t have what it takes to make it to the Final Four. Arizona has shown too little consistency of late. They have lost two of their last four home games, something elite teams shouldn’t do. Pitt is very efficient on both sides of the court (as of this writing, they’re ranked 9th at KenPom in Offensive Efficiency and Defensive Efficiency), but their slow tempo can leave teams in games – particularly if they struggle on offense.
Cream of the Mid-Major Crop
The only reason Mark Few’s historically-underachieving-when-seeded-high Bulldogs are ahead of Brad Stevens’ historically-overachieving-even-with-a-middling-seed Bulldogs is because Gonzaga is likely to start on the 2-line while Butler is more in the 4-5 range.Frisky But Lacking Something
10. Ohio State
Both of these teams were in the Final Four last year, so the pedigree is there. DeShaun Thomas is a fantastic scorer, but after him, Ohio State lacks another guy who can take over a couple possessions in a row and carry them through a tough stretch.
Kansas has an NBA top-five talent in Ben McLemore. But they lack a secondary (and sometimes primary) ballhandler. Elijah Johnson is more of a natural 2-guard but was forced into playing the point this year. He has often drawn the ire of Bill Self and seems to have hurt himself mentally. Sophomore Naadir Tharpe controlled the flow of the game on Monday night, and his presence as a facilitator on offense may provide Kansas with enough to make a return trip to the Final Four.
The “Elite Eight” will be presented in Part II of this series later in the week. There are some surprises near the top.