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Ranked in order of the FFI.
18. NC Central (16 seed / 23.6)
The Eagles have become a regular in the bracket, unfortunately they get stuck in a First Four game every year and haven’t been able to find their way out. NCCU was the best rebounding team in the MEAC on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’ll matter if they make it to Duke.
17. North Dakota State (16 seed / 41.1)
The Bison were the surprise winner of the Summit after South Dakota State got bounced early. They shoot a ton of threes and they don’t play much defense, so they can make for an entertaining game. Their 42-point loss to Gonzaga earlier this year doesn’t inspire much confidence for their chances against the Blue Devils.
16. Bradley (15 seed / 46.7)
The Braves have been hot, winning 9 of their last 11 games. There’s nothing flashy about the way they win, as they only eclipsed 80 points on four occasions this year. PG Darrell Brown is probably the only player you’d consider exciting on the team, but he’s as streaky as they come.
15. Saint Louis (13 seed / 55.3)
The Billies have more talent than your typical 13 seed, although it doesn’t usually show itself on the offensive end of the floor. In his three years, Travis Ford has been able to recruit more talent than you’d expect from a program of their stature and he’s brought in a few high-major transfers. They defend at a high enough level that things could get uncomfortable for Virginia Tech.
14. Liberty (12 seed / 64.3)
Ritchie McKay’s group is pretty solid all-around. They’ve got guards that can shoot it and a pair of guys down low in Scottie James and Caleb Homesley that – while undersized – have been really productive players. James has been surging at the end of the season and also might be the best actor in the tournament.
13. Temple (11 seed / 65.6)
You’re going to hear a lot about this being Fran Dunphy’s last season on Tuesday night. Fran’s a legend and a great coach, but he hasn’t made it to the second weekend of the dance in 16 tries. Shizz Alston can go and they’ve got some decent pieces around him, but they take a lot of dumb shots, if you ask me.
12. Yale (14 seed / 70.5)
I’m sure Yale will surprise some people on Thursday if they’re expecting your stereotypical Ivy League roster and playing style. Miye Oni is an NBA Draft prospect and the Bulldogs love to get up and down the floor. They’re more likely to play a game in the 90s than they are the 60s.
11. VCU (8 seed / 73.9)
I guess Marcus Evans is supposed to play for the Rams, but I don’t know for sure. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a very short stay for VCU. If Evans does play, they have a decent chance to get a win. They’re ridiculously good defensively, but their best offensive performance of the year will be needed to beat Duke.
10. Belmont (11 seed / 76.5)
It’s been nothing but great news for the Bruins over the last 36 hours. They were granted one of the last four bids in the field and they got big man Nick Muszynski back from injury. Dylan Windler is one of the best mid-major players in the country and is super efficient. You’d probably hate him if he was on Duke, but he’s on scrappy Belmont, so everybody will love him.
9. UCF (9 seed / 77.3)
The best and worst thing about March Madness is the unique stories that the media latches on to with teams. The Knights have two obvious ones: Aubrey Dawkins transferring in to play for his father and “TACKO IS SO TALL!” But BJ Taylor is really the one that makes UCF go. If he doesn’t play well, neither will they.
8. Minnesota (10 seed / 82.0)
Sometimes the Gophers are awesome and sometimes they look like they should be in the CBI. There’s really nothing that consistent about them besides Jordan Murphy being an animal out there. Amir Coffey can give you 30 and be the best player on the floor or he can give you 5 and you hardly notice he was out there. They have guys that can make shots, but a lot of times they don’t hit any at all.
7. LSU (3 seed / 84.2)
The ratings don’t seem to like the Bayou Bengals very much and they don’t even know that LSU doesn’t have their head coach and there’s a cheating scandal hanging over their head. It’s hard to picture this team losing early with how much talent they have, but there’s a lot of things working against them right now.
6. Louisville (7 seed / 87.6)
The Cardinals really haven’t gotten much accomplished since the beginning of February, but Chris Mack has pulled an upset or five in this tournament. Louisville wasn’t supposed to be as good as they looked for the first few months of the season, so maybe the late season slide was a little predictable. Outside of Jordan Nwora, the roster lacks a lot of punch.
5. Maryland (6 seed / 90.3)
The Terps have a lot of young talent and a great point guard to lead the show. All of their efficiency numbers look pretty good, but then you notice that they just weren’t very good against the best teams on their schedule. I could see them making the Elite 8 and I can also see them getting bounced in the first round. I know that’s helpful.
4. Virginia Tech (4 seed / 91.3)
There’s a lot of reasons to be interested in the Hokies. First off, they get Justin Robinson back at PG, which is huge. I think he’s their most important player and the straw that stirs the drink, to be cliche. Hopefully he’s able to fit seamlessly back into the rotation. They also have a possible Sweet 16 matchup with Duke. They beat the Blue Devils when Zion was out – so was Robinson – so I’d think they’d be pretty confident they can win again. Confidence has never been an issue with the Hokies. Oh, and there’s the little side story that Buzz Williams is likely to take the Texas A&M job after the year.
3. Mississippi State (5 seed / 92.5)
Similar to Maryland, the Bulldogs had a nice season and have nice players, but they didn’t really beat the best teams on their schedule. The best team they beat away from home was probably Clemson on a neutral floor. They’re also down a Weatherspoon.
2. Duke (1 seed / 115.9)
There’s a big asterisk next to the Duke number here. They were the head-and-shoulders number one team in the ratings before Zion missed six games. At the end of the day, the Blue Devils only lost one game when fully healthy and it was on a neutral court to another much more experienced #1 seed back in November.
The obvious red flag is the three-point shooting and I can’t do much to tell you that’s not a big concern for this team. Based on their current 30.2% mark, they’d be the worst three-point shooting team to make the Final 4 since KenPom was started in 2002. Of course, no one has ever had Zion on their team.
1. Michigan State (2 seed / 118.3)
The Spartans just keep taking injury hits and it hasn’t seemed to matter much so far. They lost Josh Langford and still won a share of the Big Ten. Nick Ward was out for the last five games, as well, and played sparingly in the BTT. They still won that, too. Kyle Ahrens has been in-and-out of the lineup, but now appears to be out for good. Can they survive all of it? Maybe. As long as Cassius Winston is on the floor, they still have a chance.