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Ranked in order of the FFI.
16. Iona (16 seed / 36.0)
I’m not going to make fun of Jordan Cornette again for saying the Gaels had the look of a second weekend team just because they rolled 14-21 Monmouth in the MAAC Championship because I like Iona.
They’re a fun team, but every year they get matched up with a super athletic team in the NCAAT. It stinks because I think they could make things interesting if they ever got matched up with some team that isn’t very athletic and wants to slow the game down. But instead they get UNC, who will gladly play at Iona’s fast pace and run them into submission.
15. Abilene Christian (15 seed / 46.0)
Abilene prides themselves on defense and it’s worked well for them thus far, but they also pride themselves on discipline off the floor apparently and it means they had to kick two of their best players off the team.
14. Georgia State (14 seed / 57.4)
I’m a Georgia State guy. They defend, they’ve got a lead guard – D’Marcus Simonds – that can fill it up, and they’re just tough. I’d auto-bet them to cover against Houston, but I still remember the horrific beat they suffered against Cincinnati last year (look it up) and I also love Houston this year.
13. New Mexico State (12 seed / 61.3)
Well, the Aggies have won 19 games in a row. They have a deep rotation. They rebound everything. They took Kansas to the wire in Kansas City. I want to believe in them, but I’m a little gun shy after they haven’t come close in the last couple years.
12. Northeastern (13 seed / 66.3)
Vasa is great, they’ve got guys all over the floor that can shoot it, and Shawn Occeus is back in the lineup and he looks good. It’s hard not to bet the farm on the Huskies against Kansas. The only games they’ve lost recently have come on the road and they’ve been by a very small margin.
11. Seton Hall (10 seed / 72.5)
I seem to like the Pirates more than the efficiency numbers do, but they’ve beaten Marquette twice this month, beat Villanova, and lost to Villanova in a nailbiter at the Big East Tournament. I believe that Myles Powell is going to hit every big shot he takes. I hate that I have to cheer against them in the first round. If they get past Wofford, they get Kentucky again, who they beat in MSG back in December.
10. Washington (9 seed / 76.3)
I don’t hate the Huskies, but there aren’t many big wins to hang your hat on. I think they’re capable if they play offense like they were in the middle of the season, but Jaylen Nowell is the only consistent scorer they have. Their defensive numbers look good, but they’ve only played three Top 20 offenses all year and those defensive numbers did not look good.
9. Utah State (8 seed / 76.8)
Well first things first, Sam Merrill is awesome. That’s understood. But the Aggies have a few other shooters around him that can get hot and a few guys down low to give them second chances. Freshman Justin Bean has helped a lot in the latter department the past month or so. Washington is no walk over, but they’ll need those hot shooters and busy rebounders if they’re gonna have a chance to pull the upset over UNC.
8. Ohio State (11 seed / 78.3)
The Buckeyes just don’t really have any great wins to make you believe in them and they had plenty of chances. They’re good enough to cover the spread, though.
7. Wofford (7 seed / 81.0)
Let’s be clear about something: Wofford did not get “killed” every time they played high major teams. I know some national media can be unrelentingly ignorant and arrogant, simply look at a final score, and form an opinion, but it’s not true. The Terriers were up 12 in the second half against Mississippi State. The 11-point result was the most they were down all game. They were down one at Oklahoma with 10 minutes to go. They were down 3 to UNC with 10 minutes to go. They were down 5 with 10 minutes to go at Kansas. They beat the 4 seed in the SEC – South Carolina – by 20 on the road.
All of those games – except UNC – were on the road against high-major teams in buy games. Do you think they were catching many calls late in those games?
Nothing personal against Seton Hall, but I have to pull for Wofford out of principle.
6. Houston (3 seed / 85.4)
I’m higher on the Cougars than the ratings here. All we ever talk about is how guards win games in March and Houston has them in spades. They don’t have a ton of size in terms of height, but Kelvin Sampson is willing to throw out four guys at the five and it keeps them fresh. They can all rebound and Brison Gresham is a decent shotblocker. Remember they were a Jordan Poole miracle away from beating Michigan in the first round last year.
5. Auburn (5 seed / 88.0)
Auburn’s on a tear right now, winning their last eight, obviously concluding with the SEC Tournament championship. Maybe the most impressive part of that Tennessee game was the fact they did it mostly without the usual services of Jared Harper, who was sidelined with foul trouble.
The Tigers like to run and gun, and that championship game was basically peak Auburn basketball. But we haven’t seen that a ton this season. Outside of beating Tennessee twice in a 9 day span, the Tigers really haven’t won any of their other games against the best teams on their schedule. Just something to consider if you’re thinking about taking them to beat UNC.
4. Kansas (4 seed / 88.9)
It’s Kansas and it’s Bill Self, but I wouldn’t expect a typical run for the Jayhawks. The losses from the roster have been too great. I think it’d be a bit of a surprise if they made it to the second weekend.
3. Iowa State (6 seed / 98.6)
I’m not sure what to believe with the Cyclones. Obviously their efficiency numbers are pretty good and they just won the Big 12 Tournament. However, they lost 6 of 8 to end the regular season and things broke pretty nicely for them with Baylor being banged up, Dean Wade out for Kansas State, and Kansas with its issues.
I like a lot of their players, but I don’t see how they overcome a glaring rebounding issue when they might have to go through Kentucky and UNC, who crush people on the glass.
2. Kentucky (2 seed / 101.0)
Kentucky fits the “Top 20 on offense and defense” profile that everybody’s looking for, but I’m a little skeptical because I just don’t know if they can make enough shots from the perimeter. I’d be surprised if they lost before the Elite 8, but once they start to play other elite teams that can keep them off the offensive glass a little bit, I’m not sure they can make enough from the outside to compensate.
1. North Carolina (1 seed / 103.3)
Their streakiness shooting the ball scares me a little bit, but I love the Heels. I love Coby White. I love Cam Johnson. I love the way they rebound, a consistent staple of Roy Williams teams. And I love that somehow Ol’ Roy still doesn’t get enough respect as a coach. Back to the shooting, part of that is Luke Maye and Kenny Williams have both shot 29% this season. Obviously that’s a season’s worth of data to go on, but they were also above 40% last year, so you know they’re still capable of getting hot. I wish they were a little deeper, but everyone outside of Garrison Brooks has done a pretty good job of staying out of trouble most of the time.