In men’s college basketball, the chaos will soon begin now that the field of 68 has been announced. And this season, it seems as if anything could happen. Maybe the powerhouses will dominate the next three weeks of action. Or maybe a team like last year’s Saint Peter’s Peacocks will put together another incredible run.
The tournament will tip Tuesday with the First Four from Dayton, Ohio, and the first round begins Thursday. Visit this link for the complete 2023 NCAA tournament schedule. (For a list of how the 32 automatic bids reached March Madness, visit ESPN’s “tickets punched” page.)
We understand you don’t know as much as we do about the 68 teams in the greatest multi-week sporting event in the world. (Yeah, we’re biased.) But we’re here to help you win your bracket, whether it’s an office pool or just a competition between you and your friends.
This year, we’ve developed a star system to define a particular team’s shot at advancing to the Final Four:
- Five stars means a team has it all, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it made a run to Houston.
Four stars means a team hasn’t always been consistent, but if it gets rolling, it has a reasonable shot.
Three stars means a team is talented but must play the best basketball of its season — and get lucky.
Two stars means you must be a gambler if you pick this team to get to Houston because that would be one of the greatest surprises in college basketball history. (Check last year’s bracket to see that it’s not impossible, though.)
One star means if these teams get that far, it’s time to set the entire bracket on fire because this is more rare than a lightning strike.
Either way, we’re not culpable for your bracket failures. But we take full responsibility for your victories.
Brackets are open! Head to Tournament Challenge and fill out your bracket now!
1-seeds | 2-seeds | 3-seeds | 4-seeds | 5-seeds| 6-seed | 7-seeds |
8-seeds | 9-seeds | 10-seeds | 11-seeds | 12-seeds | 13-seeds |
14-seeds | 15-seeds | 16-seeds
Alabama Crimson Tide
You can’t assess the Alabama men’s basketball program without mentioning everything that has happened off the court. Former player Darius Miles was recently indicted for the murder of Jamea Harris. Earlier, an investigator in the case said Brandon Miller (19.6 PPG, 41% from beyond the arc), the SEC Player of the Year and a projected lottery pick, transported the murder weapon to Miles that night. Miller, whose attorney denied he knew about the gun, has not been charged. A “pat down” pregame incident regarding Miller the same week was in poor taste, coach Nate Oats admitted.
Meanwhile on the court, an Alabama team that tore through the SEC with just two losses in league play and became one of just three teams in the last three seasons to beat Houston on its home floor could win the school’s first men’s basketball national championship. That’s the ceiling. The floor? An elite team that lost its focus and mojo suffers an unexpected upset. 5 stars
Houston entered the AAC tournament with an 11-game winning streak and just one loss since Dec. 10. With 29 wins at the end of the regular season, Kelvin Sampson’s crew completed its fifth season with 27 wins or more over the last six years. The Cougars have been college basketball’s most consistent program those six years, but Sampson might have his best team this year. Marcus Sasser (17.1 PPG, 38% from beyond the arc) is a potential All-American, Jarace Walker is a projected lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft and J’Wan Roberts is one of five Houston players averaging 10 points or more per game.
The concern about the Cougars’ tournament run will be the same one the program has faced in recent years: Can they compete with the best teams in America after playing in a league ranked ninth — below the West Coast Conference — on KenPom’s rankings? And is Sasser fully healthy after suffering a groin injury in the AAC tournament? If the answer’s no, Houston is a different, albeit still strong, team. 5 stars
After a comeback win in the 2022 national title game — they were down by 12 at halftime against North Carolina — the Jayhawks seemed likely to take a step back. They had lost Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, a pair of first-round picks, in last summer’s NBA draft. But Bill Self has assembled another strong roster that can handle any team in the country. Jalen Wilson (19.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG) is a projected All-American. Freshman Gradey Dick (14.3 PPG, 41% from 3) will make millions next year in the NBA. Kevin McCullar Jr. hit his stride down the stretch, connecting on 60% of his shots inside the arc from Feb. 1 through the end of the regular season. In that stretch, the Jayhawks were sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency (barttorvik.com). The best résumé in America is anchored by wins over Duke, Texas, Baylor, Indiana, Kansas State and Kentucky. The only flaw: The Jayhawks shot just 31% from 3 in their last nine regular-season games. Plus, the health issues that kept Self out of the Big 12 tournament could impact the Jayhawks if he doesn’t return for the NCAA tournament. 5 stars
Before the season, Matt Painter said 7-foot-4 star Zach Edey (21.9 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 2.3 BPG), the most dominant force in college basketball this season, would be able to handle a bigger workload. It seemed improbable simply because of his massive frame and the continuous physical strain he endures every game.
Painter was right, and Edey hasn’t lost his edge. Even when matched up against college basketball’s best this season, the projected Wooden Award winner has looked like he was playing with kids. He has made 75.5% of his attempts at the rim, per hoop-math.com. With his leadership, the Boilermakers have wins over Marquette, Gonzaga and Duke. Every team in America has to send an extra defender or two to help on Edey, which opens the floor for Fletcher Loyer (11.6 PPG) & Co.
The concern? The Boilermakers were 4-4 in their last eight games entering the Big Ten tournament and did most of their best work in November and December. Purdue committed turnovers on 18.5% of its possessions and made just 32% of its 3-point attempts, per barttorvik.com, from Feb. 1 through the end of the regular season. 5 stars
Before the season began, Tommy Lloyd vowed his team would continue to play the same style it did in 2021-22, despite losing Ben Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko — three players key to that style — to the NBA. He meant it. The Wildcats have played at a top-10 pace all season, averaging nearly 73 possessions per game. Combine that with an elite offense (38% clip from beyond the arc and 56% clip from inside it, entering the Pac-12 tournament) and Arizona is a tough opponent. With 6-11 star Azuolas Tubelis (19.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG) on the floor, the Wildcats have recorded 111 points on 100 possessions, per HoopLens.com. That said, their defense has been problematic in recent weeks. From Feb. 1 through the end of the regular season, Arizona was 79th overall in adjusted defensive efficiency. 5 stars
In December, a domestic violence allegation against then-head coach Chris Beard led to his suspension and subsequent termination. Enter Texas assistant Rodney Terry. The former UTEP and Fresno State head coach went 16-7 in the regular season in his interim role leading the Longhorns, and seems to have unlocked their potential. Marcus Carr & Co. connected on 37% of their 3-point attempts in the four weeks leading into the Big 12 tournament — a slate of games that included matchups against Kansas (twice) and road games against TCU and Baylor.
The Longhorns dominated in Austin, suffering just one loss this year in their new home arena. But they also lost their last five road games entering the Big 12 tournament. The direct result of a tough schedule in a tough league, or maybe a team that can’t reach its ceiling outside its home floor? Time will tell, but their Big 12 tournament championship run suggests they can battle anywhere. A new concern: Timmy Allen (10.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG) suffered a leg injury that kept him out of the Big 12 tournament. 5 stars
Since his arrival in Westwood in 2019, Mick Cronin has led UCLA to the Final Four, a Sweet 16 and now a top seed in the NCAA tournament. Before him, the storied Bruins hadn’t been to the Final Four in over a decade — an eternity for fans of a program with 11 national championships. This season’s group has the makings of a national champion. Jaime Jaquez Jr. (17.5 PPG 8.0 RPG) has been a force all season, leading UCLA on a 10-game winning streak entering the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins are also top five in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.
But the losses of Jaylen Clark, who suffered a foot injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona, as well as Adem Bona, who exited the Pac-12 semifinal against Oregon, cannot be overlooked. With Clark on the floor, UCLA held opponents to just 83 points per 100 possessions. For comparison, the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, have held opponents to 109.6 points per 100 possessions this season. 5 stars
Marquette Golden Eagles
Shaka Smart lost three of his top four scorers from last year’s squad, which lost its first game in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments. As a result, the Golden Eagles were picked to finish ninth in the preseason Big East poll. But they’ve beaten those odds and won the league’s regular-season title — and now Smart could win every reputable national coach of the year award.
Marquette has wins over Baylor, UConn, Xavier and Creighton. Kam Jones (15.3 PPG, 37% from 3) has blossomed in his second season. And this team shines with George Mason transfer Tyler Kolek (12.7 PPG, 7.9 APG, 40% from 3; Marquette has made 59% of its shots inside the arc with Kolek on the floor) running an offense ranked top-five in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Eagles also forced more turnovers per possession than any team in Big East action. But Marquette also had the worst interior defense in the league (Big East opponents had a 53.3% clip inside the 3-point line). 5 stars
Two years ago, Scott Drew coached Baylor to the national championship with a strong defensive crew led by a collection of veterans. This season, his best player is a freshman. Keyonte George (16.0 PPG) is a 6-4 projected lottery pick, with the potential to carry Baylor (No. 2 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom) to Houston — three hours from the Bears’ campus in Waco. George has scored 20 points or more in 12 games this season. But teams have to contend with him while also defending LJ Cryer (42% from 3) and Adam Flagler (41% from 3), two of America’s top shooters.
Every team that has won a national title, however, has been ranked in the top 30 — most have been top 20, actually — in KenPom’s final defensive efficiency rankings. Baylor entered the Big 12 tournament ranked 90th. That could be a problem. 5 stars
Sean Miller didn’t waste time raising expectations for a program that finished second behind Marquette in the Big East race in his first season back at the program he’d coached earlier in his career. It didn’t hurt that the bulk of last year’s NIT-winning squad returned for this season. The Musketeers have wins over West Virginia, Marquette, Creighton and, their most impressive feat, UConn (twice). Sixth-year point guard Souley Boum (16.8 PPG, 4.5 APG) has shot 42% from 3 this season, while Colby Jones (15.3 PPG, 4.6 APG, 40% from 3) is one of five players on the roster averaging double figures. But Zach Freemantle (15.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG), who had already missed nine games in the final weeks of the regular season, will not return due to a foot injury.
The good news: The team finished 6-3 in those games he missed, and the Musketeers are comfortable with Jerome Hunter (7.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG) as their new starter at power forward. 5 stars
Why Gonzaga is hitting its stride at the perfect time
LaPhonso Ellis and Jay Bilas explain why they feel Gonzaga is peaking heading into the NCAA tournament.
From 2016 to 2022, Mark Few’s program produced seven first-round picks. This year’s team has likely All-American Drew Timme (21.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and breakout forward Julian Strawther (15.3 PPG), but none of the high-ranking NBA prospects that backed this program’s most fruitful seasons in recent years. This, plus early stumbles, gave Zags naysayers plenty to fuel criticism of the perennial West Coast power still searching for its first national title.
This probably means you shouldn’t bet on Gonzaga, right? Well, if you believe the analytics, the Bulldogs have been the No. 2 team in America over the last month (No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency, 63% clip inside the arc, 38% from 3). They also failed to crack the top-100 in adjusted defensive efficiency during that stretch. Those kinds of imbalanced teams, historically, hit a wall before the Final Four. 4 stars
Kansas State Wildcats
After snapping a seven-game losing streak against in-state rival Kansas on Jan. 17, Jerome Tang stood on a table swarmed by KSU fans. He had a message for them: You can court-storm tonight but never again, because this is our new normal now.
He wasn’t lying. In his first season leading the Wildcats, the former Baylor associate head coach has established a new culture in Manhattan, Kansas. The Wildcats entered the postseason with 23 wins, their highest win total since 2018-19. Their résumé boasts victories over Kansas, Texas and Baylor (twice). Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson (17.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 42% from 3) and Markquis Nowell (17.0 PPG, 7.7 APG), who were both named to the all-Big 12 first team, have been the anchors. From Feb. 1 through the end of the regular season, however, Kansas State committed turnovers on 21.3% of its possessions, for a ranking of 340 out of 363 Division I teams, per barttorvik.com. 5 stars
Last year, the ACC sent five teams to the NCAA tournament. Four of those advanced to the Sweet 16, three made it to the Elite Eight and two advanced to the Final Four. The ACC of this year, ranked fifth by KenPom, lacks the same punch. For 10 of the last 11 seasons, Virginia (wins over Baylor, Illinois, Duke) finished top-three in the ACC in defensive efficiency. Familiarity and experience have been critical: Armaan Franklin (12.6 PPG, 39% from 3) is one of four upperclassmen averaging at least 9.3 PPG for the Cavaliers, and it feels like Kihei Clark (11.1 PPG, 5.7 APG) has played for Tony Bennett since the Ralph Sampson years.
But, this group isn’t on the same level as the 2019 national title team. If the Hoos play a close game in the early rounds, remember: This is the worst free-throw shooting team (70%) under Bennett since 2013-14. 4 stars
In 2013, Victor Oladipo nearly crashed the Wooden Award race when he finished one spot behind winner Trey Burke after previously failing to make the midseason list of candidates. Trayce Jackson-Davis (20.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.8 BPG) has had a similar run this year, challenging consensus favorite Zach Edey for the award. When he and projected first-round NBA draft pick Jalen Hood-Schifino (13.4 PPG) are cooking together, Indiana is difficult to stop.
But the program’s recent Jekyll and Hyde act has frustrated fans. Indiana has a nonconference win over Xavier, and it swept both Purdue and Illinois. Entering the Big Ten tournament, however, the Hoosiers hadn’t won back-to-back games since Valentine’s Day. During that rocky 3-3 stretch, Indiana failed to finish in the top-100 nationally in adjusted offensive or defensive efficiency. 4 stars
In 2011, Kemba Walker led a 3-seed Huskies in one of most miraculous national title runs in NCAA tournament history. The Huskies of 2023 boast the same potential. Yes, they suffered seven losses in league play. But they a résumé few can match. Wins over Alabama, Oregon, Iowa State, Creighton and Marquette suggest this program can compete with any team in the field. Adama Sanogo (16.9 PPG 7.2 RPG) is a force, and one of the reasons UConn owns the nation’s top offensive rebounding rate. He’s surrounded by two players (Jordan Hawkins, Alex Karaban) who both shot more than 38% from 3 this season. Tristen Newton (10.1 PPG) is one of the most balanced players in the Big East. And Danny Hurley’s team is ranked top-15 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Nothing underdog about these Huskies. 5 stars
First, the good news for one of America’s most physically imposing teams. Of the last nine teams that finished first in adjusted defensive efficiency in KenPom’s rankings, five reached the Elite Eight or beyond in their respective seasons. Only one — 2020-21 Memphis, which won the NIT — failed to reach the Sweet 16. Rick Barnes’ squad, which is also America’s best defensive team, could continue the trend.
But the Vols’ offensive challenges were a problem down the stretch of the regular season, when they finished 4-6 in the last 10 games. Point guard Zakai Zeigler’s season-ending ACL injury complicates Tennessee’s postseason potential, too. The Vols have a chance to advance to the second weekend off elite defensive play alone. But the late-season stumbles that preceded the Zeigler injury are a real concern. 4 stars
San Diego State Aztecs
Last season, SDSU star Matt Bradley made 40% of his 3-point attempts, continuing the veteran’s standing as one of America’s best shooters. He had a cold start to this season, connecting on just 26% (12-for-45) from 3 during nonconference action. In Mountain West action, he hit his stride again, shooting 43% from 3 and helping the Aztecs win the league title and secure their NCAA tournament spot.
This is a confident group. From Jan. 14 to March 4, the Aztecs lost just twice. 4 stars
The ACC’s lackluster performance this season minimized the attention around the league’s championship race. But Miami, which shared the league title with Virginia, put together one of the more impressive finishes in the country. The Hurricanes finished 8-1 in their last nine games prior to the ACC tournament. Isaiah Wong (15.9 PPG, 1.4 SPG, 38% from 3) won ACC Player of the Year honors, while Jordan Miller (15.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and Norchad Omier (14.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG) were named to the all-ACC second and third teams, respectively. Miami’s best wins came against Providence, Rutgers, Virginia and Duke.
If you believe this will be an NCAA tournament that rewards the hottest teams, and not necessarily the best teams, Miami is a sexy pick to make some magic in March. Just keep in mind the Hurricanes have had trouble protecting the rim, allowing their opponents to connect on 60% of their attempts inside the arc between Feb. 1 and the end of the regular season. And, Omier suffered an ankle in the ACC tournament. If he’s healthy, the Hurricanes are dangerous. But if he’s less than 100%, Miami could be a different team. 4 stars
Saint Mary’s Gaels
Since Randy Bennett’s first season in 2001-02, the Gaels have reached the second weekend once (2009-10). That could change this season. Aidan Mahaney (14.7 PPG, 41% from 3) is one of four players averaging double figures for the Gaels. Bennett’s strategy this season has been to play at one of America’s slowest paces — a WCC-low 63.2 possessions per game average in league play — while also employing an elite defense (top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency).
Outside of its two losses to Gonzaga, the margin of defeat in its other five losses this season was five points or fewer. That’s a testament to that defensive fortitude. In their last two games against the Zags, however, the Gaels were outscored 77-68 and 77-51, respectively. Questions about their potential to joust with the elite teams remain. 4 stars
Duke Blue Devils
Before the season, Jon Scheyer told ESPN he was ready for the criticism that might arrive in being the successor to Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in Division I history who retired last year. After a 5-4 start in league play, the criticism did arrive. But it didn’t last.
Once they got healthy — Jeremy Roach (13.0 PPG), Dereck Lively II (2.3 BPG) and Dariq Whitehead (8.0 PPG) all missed key stretches due to injuries — the Blue Devils gained momentum. Freshman Kyle Filipowski (15.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG) has been a wunderkind for a squad that boasts wins over Xavier, Miami and Iowa, and played for (and won) the ACC tournament championship after an eight-game winning streak. Seems the Blue Devils just needed some time to find their groove. Now that they have, they look like a team with some staying power. 4 stars
Greg McDermott’s team was picked to win the Big East in the preseason, but a rocky 3-8 stretch — including a six-game losing streak — had made many reconsider that evaluation. Well, it’s a long season, and Creighton followed up with an 11-3 record in its next 14 games. Ryan Kalkbrenner (15.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.2 BPG) is one of five players averaging at least 11.9 PPG this season for the Bluejays. South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman (12.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.2 SPG) has been one of the most versatile players in the league and helped the Bluejays finish first in defensive efficiency in Big East play this season. 4 stars
Iowa State Cyclones
If you like rollercoasters, pick ISU for a tournament run. In November, Caleb Grill scored 31 points and T.J. Otzelberger’s squad beat then-No. 1 North Carolina at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland. And after a 4-0 start in Big 12 play, Otzelberger was a popular name in the early national coach of the year conversations. Then the Cyclones went 5-10 in their next 15 games. Entering the Big 12 tournament, they’d lost seven of their previous eight road games. And Grill, who cited challenges with his mental health, was dismissed from the program. Jaren Holmes (13.2) & Co. (top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency) might have peaked early, but wins over Baylor (twice), Kansas, Texas and Kansas State showcase their potential. 3 stars
TCU Horned Frogs
Mike Miles Jr. is still getting back into a rhythm after missing five games with a knee injury. He returned for the final five games of the regular season and connected on 40% of his shots inside the arc, well below his 58% average this season. But if he regains his confidence during the postseason, TCU will be a challenge for any opponent — as proven by its victories over the Big 12’s top tier (Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas). But college basketball has evolved in recent years, and teams that can spread the floor with shooters can create matchup challenges.
Which isn’t the case for TCU, one of America’s worst 3-point shooting teams (30%). A 70.1% clip from the charity stripe won’t help TCU in any close battles, either. Still, Jamie Dixon’s team, especially with the real Miles Jr., has a high ceiling. 4 stars
Fresh off a loss to 15-seed Saint Peter’s in last year’s first round and two years removed from a nine-win season, John Calipari entered 2022-23 in a cloud of uncertainty. A leader with a lifetime contract and a national title will never be on the hot seat, but it was clear the marriage between the program and Calipari — who got into a public spat with football coach Mark Stoops over the summer — had reached a contentious state.
But winning cures all. Reigning Wooden Award winner Oscar Tshiebwe (16.4 PPG 13.1 RPG) and this talented group found a rhythm, going 11-5 in their past 16 games. If you can get past those losses to South Carolina and Georgia, Kentucky looks closer to the team that was picked to win the SEC in the league’s preseason poll. Second in offensive efficiency in league play, one of the biggest questions facing the Wildcats is their collective health: Sahvir Wheeler, Cason Wallace and CJ Fredrick have all endured injuries that sidelined them in recent weeks. 4 stars
When Dennis Gates accepted the Missouri job last summer, he called Kobe Brown and made a pitch. He told the Tigers star that if he’s not invited to his wedding in the future, he would think he’d failed to build the relationship he coveted with his players. That appealed to Brown, who made the decision to stay at Missouri instead of transferring. It paid off for everyone involved. The all-SEC first-teamer (15.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 46% from 3) helped the Tigers go from last season’s 12-21 campaign to its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years. With wins over Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, they entered the SEC tournament on a four-game winning streak. 3 stars
Texas A&M Aggies
Sometimes, the NIT is an afterthought for programs that wish they’d been included in the NCAA tournament. But Buzz Williams encouraged his team to approach last year’s NIT participation as an opportunity to build toward its future goals. The Aggies made a run to the NIT title game — they’d won 11 games in a row at that point — where they lost to Xavier. They carried that momentum into this season, finishing one game behind Alabama in the SEC title race. Williams’ squad swept Missouri and Auburn, while also adding wins over Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama to its résumé. Shooting woes could doom this program: A&M made just 32.5% of its shots from beyond the arc in SEC play. But it was also the best free throw shooting team in the conference (78%). Wade Taylor IV (16.3 PPG 37% from 3) can lead this team to the second weekend and maybe beyond. 4 stars
In 2017, Chris Collins, a former player and assistant under Mike Krzyzewski, coached Northwestern to the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. The moment gave NU a national spotlight it had not previously enjoyed. It also upped the pressure to continue to take the next step.
That was the hard part: Five consecutive losing seasons followed, along with a shaky job status for the coach who had made history. When star Pete Nance transferred to North Carolina last summer, it appeared Northwestern would crash again. Boo Buie (17.2 PPG 4.5 APG, 1.1 SPG) and the Wildcats had other plans. Their return to the NCAA tournament is once again one of the field’s great redemption stories. Wins over Illinois, Purdue and Indiana (twice) prove Northwestern — top-20 in adjusted defensive efficiency this season — could, at the very least, be a quagmire for its first-round opponent. 3 stars
Michigan State Spartans
Last month, the Spartans helped their entire campus move forward following a mass shooting. No matter what happens in the NCAA tournament, all of the MSU athletes will be remembered for their resilience.
Still, this isn’t one of Tom Izzo’s most talented squads, despite beating some of the top teams in the country (Kentucky, Maryland, Indiana) and finishing the regular season with an 11-8 record in Big Ten play. Tyson Walker (14.8 PPG, 43% from 3) has to be the catalyst for this group to advance in the tournament, while A.J. Hoggard (12.6 PPG) has to make wise decisions and Joey Hauser (45% from 3) has to find space on the perimeter to do his best work. It’s all possible. 3 stars
It’s unclear which version of the Terps will show up to the NCAA tournament. At home in the Xfinity Center — which boasts one of America’s largest student sections — they’ve dominated in wins over Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern and Illinois. Only UCLA managed to defeat Maryland there this season. When they left College Park, the Terps were 2-9 in true road games. That’s not good. And that’s been the problem. Maryland had trouble maintaining a consistent defensive fortitude (its Big Ten opponents shot 51% from inside the arc). But Charlotte transfer Jahmir Young (16.2 PPG) is one of four players on the roster averaging double figures. We know what the Terps can do. We just don’t know whether they can do it everywhere. 3 stars
Iowa’s back in the NCAA tournament because Kris Murray wanted to be more than the twin brother of Keegan Murray, a lottery pick last year who also starred for the Hawkeyes. Kris withdrew from the NBA draft and returned to Fran McCaffery’s program, where he has been one of America’s best players. The 6-8 versatile forward (20.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG and 1.2 BPG) is the engine for a team ranked top-five in adjusted offensive efficiency. While this team swept Indiana and beat Illinois and Michigan State on its way to an 11-9 record in Big Ten action, it also finished 4-5 in its last nine games prior to the NCAA tournament — a snapshot of the turbulence this group has experienced this season. 3 stars
Eric Musselman’s emotions throughout his team’s 67-61 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC tournament quarterfinals on Friday — he had to be restrained by his assistants multiple times and a reporter claimed an Arkansas assistant grabbed his phone and threw it down — illustrate the frustration around this program entering the NCAA tournament. Picked to finish second in the SEC race behind Kentucky in the preseason, the loss was the team’s sixth in nine games. The Razorbacks’ challenges included a series of injury issues, with six players missing at least five games this year — including NBA prospect Nick Smith Jr., who didn’t suit up for 19 games. They’ve also been unable to hit the right note consistently. Their 18.2% turnover rate on offensive possessions was 11th out of 14 SEC teams. Their talent and potential still make them more intriguing than imposing right now. 3 stars
During an 81-76 win over UCF in the AAC tournament quarterfinals, Kendric Davis scored 33 points and DeAndre Williams finished with 35. The teammates are connected, and not just because they both are from Houston. Penny Hardaway used the commitment of Davis, the former SMU star, to lure Williams back to Memphis for another year. Now they’re one of the hottest combos in college basketball.
Entering the AAC championship game, Memphis had lost just four games since Jan. 1. Two of those came against Houston, a national title contender. The others were Tulane and UCF, both in overtime. A Memphis team that averaged 73 possessions per game in league play is heating up at the right time. 4 stars
West Virginia Mountaineers
Picked to finish ninth in the Big 12’s preseason poll after losing key players from 2021-22, West Virginia didn’t seem as if it would have legit NCAA tournament aspirations. But there’s a rule whenever you assess a Bob Huggins team: Opponents still have to travel to Morgantown, where it has always been difficult to get a win. On their home floor, the Mountaineers beat TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Auburn and Kansas State this season. They also landed a road win at Pitt, which became more valuable as the season progressed.
That’s how a squad that finished 7-11 in Big 12 action and, at one point, lost six of seven games, managed to secure an at-large berth. It remains unclear whether Erik Stevenson (15.5 PPG, 38% from 3) & Co. will make any noise. 2 stars
A 76-73 loss against Arkansas in the SEC tournament’s opening round extended a trend for the Tigers: losing close games. Here’s the list of teams that beat Bruce Pearl’s squad this season by three or fewer points: USC, West Virginia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. There are also five-point losses to Texas A&M and Alabama (overtime). The opportunities have been there for Auburn to win, although a 4-9 record in its last 13 games entering the NCAA tournament couldn’t have made Pearl feel safe as Selection Sunday approached. Despite the rocky finish, Johni Broome (14.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.3 BPG) is one of four Auburn players averaging double figures. 3 stars
Illinois Fighting Illini
From Jan. 4 to 31, the Illini amassed a 7-2 record and played their way into Big Ten title contention. It came with a stretch of 19 straight days without a break at one point, according to coach Brad Underwood. That, along with a more challenging schedule in February, changed the trajectory of a program that went 4-6 in its 10 games entering the NCAA tournament. Terrence Shannon Jr. (17.1 PPG) and Matthew Mayer (12.8 PPG, 1.3 BPG) are an elite combo who will have to carry this group through another tough stretch in the NCAA tournament. 3 stars
Florida Atlantic Owls
For most, a seven-game winning streak would be proof they peaked at the right time. FAU has been playing at this level all season. A 20-game winning streak that began in November and was snapped in early February proved the Owls were not only top of the class in the C-USA; they were a mid-major worth watching as Selection Sunday approached. In a nine-game stretch from Feb. 1 to March (in which they finished 7-2), the Owls shot 56% from 2 and 39% from 3, per barttorvik.com. Both Johnell Davis (13.4 PPG, 40% from beyond the arc) and Alijah Martin (12.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG) were all-Conference USA first-teamers. The 25th-ranked team according to KenPom is a good example of a mid-major that might not have faced the toughest schedule but has the metrics to suggest it can compete with the top teams in America. 3 stars
Utah State Aggies
After leading UMBC to a first-round win over Virginia in 2018 — the first and only 16-seed victory over a 1-seed in NCAA tournament history — Ryan Odom didn’t immediately bolt for another job. He waited for the right opportunity, which came in Logan. In 2021-22, his first season with the Aggies, he recorded 18 wins.
This season, he led the program to its third NCAA tournament appearance since 2019. All-Mountain West first-teamer Steven Ashworth (16.3 PPG, 45% from 3) leads a squad that’s top-15 in adjusted offensive efficiency (39% from 3, 55% inside the arc). USU also has the best defense inside the arc in Mountain West play. There’s a lot to like about this team’s shot to win a game or two. 3 stars
Can Penn State make a run in the Midwest Region?
LaPhonso Ellis, Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas react to the reveal of the Midwest Region.
Penn State Nittany Lions
It’s fair to wonder which coach thought Jalen Pickett didn’t deserve a spot on the all-Big Ten first team. (He was a unanimous first-team selection for the league’s media but not the league’s coaches.) Because he’s clearly one of America’s greatest players. With the 6-4 guard on the floor this season, PSU has connected on 55% of its shots inside the arc and 39% of its 3-point attempts. He also scored 41 in a win over Illinois on Valentine’s Day. Nearly half of Penn State’s shots this season have been 3s (48.2%) — which might not be enough to help one of the worst defensive units in the Big Ten (11th in efficiency) advance. 3 stars
Boise State Broncos
Leon Rice’s squad secured the fourth NCAA tournament berth of his 13-year tenure, but it wasn’t easy. The Broncos split each of their regular-season series against Nevada, San Diego State and Utah State, the other top teams in the Mountain West. But Boise State also had an ace in its push for a bid: a nonconference win over Texas A&M, which has anchored its résumé. With Max Rice (14.4 PPG, 42% from 3) — son of the coach — the Broncos have made 52% of their shots inside the arc and 37% of their 3-point attempts. He’s one of five Boise State players averaging at least 10 points per game this season.
This is a good Mountain West team. We’ll find out if it can be more than that. 2 stars
Andy Enfield’s fifth NCAA tournament invite wasn’t easy to attain. The Trojans played in a conference that lacked the quality win opportunities enjoyed by schools in the other power conferences. But Boogie Ellis (18.0 PPG, 39% from beyond the arc) and Drew Peterson (14.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.4 APG), a pair of all-Pac-12 first-teamers, helped. USC held its Pac-12 opponents to a 42% clip inside the arc. Joshua Morgan, a 6-11 junior, is averaging 2.3 BPG. If these Trojans can protect the rim and Ellis and Peterson can anchor an offense that has scored 80 points or more 11 times this season, they could win a game or two. 3 stars
NC State Wolfpack
You could call this Wolfpack season the “Life and Times of Terquavion Smith, Vol. 2,” because the sophomore has played a significant role in their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2018. The projected second-round NBA draft pick, who’s averaging 17.3 PPG, isn’t the only standout for Kevin Keatts’ program, which is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of winning the national championship, either. Jarkel Joiner (17.3 PPG) is one of five Wolfpack players averaging at least 9.2 PPG.
NC State’s most impressive feat? It committed turnovers about once every 10 possessions in ACC action. It also allowed a 50%-plus clip inside the arc. So which Wolfpack will show up: the one that beat Duke by 24 points in January, or the one that lost to Clemson by 25 points Feb. 25? 3 stars
Mississippi State Bulldogs
In his first year with the Bulldogs, former New Mexico State coach Chris Jans has led the program to its second NCAA tournament appearance since 2009. This, in a season that has been defined by great stretches, bad stretches and challenging stretches. The Bulldogs started the season on an 11-0 run that included a win over Big East regular-season champ Marquette, went 1-8 over the next nine games and finished the regular season with an 8-3 mark — beating TCU, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Missouri in that last period.
Mississippi State is also the worst 3-point shooting team in America (27.3%). That’s not hyperbole. Contrast that with the fact that Tolu Smith (15.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG) & Co. are top-10 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. 2 stars
It was no secret Jeff Capel had to save his job after four straight sub-.500 seasons and no postseason appearances. Off-court issues over the past two seasons involving some of his players only added to the pressure.
He responded by leading Pitt to a top-three finish in the ACC standings and its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016. The Panthers held their ACC opponents to a 47.4% clip inside the arc (third) and finished second in offensive efficiency in league play. Blake Hinson, a 6-7 forward, averaged 16.1 PPG and 6.3 RPG while also connecting on 39% of his 3-point attempts. Pitt beat Virginia and Miami, the co-ACC champs, but also lost at Notre Dame in a crucial matchup for its postseason hopes. 3 stars
Arizona State Sun Devils
Desmond Cambridge Jr. might have saved Arizona State’s season when he connected on a deep 3-point buzzer-beater to give his team a win at rival Arizona in late February, sealing its at-large hopes in the process. The Sun Devils were top-three in turnovers forced and defense inside the 3-point line during Pac-12 action. A nonconference win over Creighton helped their cause, too.
But a 2-6 record against UCLA, Arizona, USC and Oregon — the top teams in the Pac-12 — led them to the bubble. Despite offensive woes proving a challenge all season, though, Bobby Hurley’s squad enters the NCAA tournament with an 8-4 record in its final 12 games. 2 stars
Nevada Wolf Pack
All-Mountain West second-teamer Kenan Blackshear has made 48.2% of his shots at the rim, per hoop-math.com. Why does that matter? He’s a 6-6, 215-pound athlete who moved to point guard this season. At that size, he’s a more imposing matchup for any team Nevada — which has held its opponents to an impressive 93 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per HoopLens.com data — might face. This team has poise.
It led the MW with a 15.4% turnover rate in league play. The Wolf Pack do have a few weird losses (see: Loyola Marymount, Wyoming), but Steve Alford’s squad is a good Mountain West team with real ambitions to advance. 3 stars
After starting the season 14-3 overall and 6-0 in Big East play (including wins over Marquette and UConn), Ed Cooley’s squad was in the early mix for a top NCAA tournament seed. Things unfortunately fell apart for the Friars, who went 7-8 over their next 15 games, ending with a 73-66 loss to UConn in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.
Cooley’s teams are always stacked with rugged defenders, but this group hasn’t fit that profile since the vibe changed midway through the season. During that 7-8 stretch, the Friars were 154th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Yes, the Sweet 16 team from a year ago is in the field, but it doesn’t have the tenacity that past teams coached by Cooley displayed. 2 stars
Pat Kelsey doesn’t try to hide his game plan every night. The Cougars shoot a lot of 3s, more than 47% of their field goal attempts. That’s more than almost every team in America. The Cougars have made just 33% of those attempts, but they’re relentless. In the three CAA tournament games they played, Kelsey’s squad shot 91 treys. They can also let them fly because, led by Dalton Bolon (12.3 PPG) and Ante Brzovic (11.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG), they play fast (top-30 tempo) and boast a top-40 offensive rebounding rate. That game plan has been successful for a team with just two losses since Nov. 11. 2 stars
Coach Darian DeVries and his son, sophomore Tucker DeVries (19.0 PPG, 39% from 3), are more just an NCAA tournament feel-good story. This is a dangerous mid-major team that has accrued momentum over the last two months and has the potential to upset any first-round opponent. The Missouri Valley Conference tournament champs are 16-2 in their last 18 games. They connected on 54% of their shots inside the arc and 40% outside during that stretch (barttorvik.com). They’re ranked top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency and top 30 in turnover percentage, too. A team that can play legit defense, hit 3s and protect the ball? Every Power Five coach in America right now hopes to avoid this opening round matchup. 2 stars
Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Mike Rhodes. The Rams coach has led the team to its third NCAA tournament appearance in five years. But he’s still searching for his first NCAA tournament win. If it happens, the Rams’ defensive pressure will be the difference. They forced turnovers on nearly one-fifth of their league opponents’ possessions. What does that mean? For every four trips up the floor, A-10 opponents had a turnover. That’s an incredible rate. Opposing teams know they’ll have trouble advancing the ball against the Rams. Adrian Baldwin Jr. (12.6 PPG) & Co. have also experienced offensive gains during the nine-game winning streak that continued when VCU beat Dayton in the Atlantic-10 tournament championship game. 2 stars
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Max Abmas was a sophomore when he led ORU to the Sweet 16 in 2021, one of the NCAA tournament’s most memorable rides. Two years later, the 38% 3-point shooter who’s also averaging 22.2 PPG and 4.0 APG is still a problem. In every meaningful metric, this Golden Eagles squad is also better than the 2021 team that beat Ohio State and Florida before losing to Arkansas, and is capable of another run to the second weekend. They’ve shot 59% from inside the arc and 37% from 3 since Jan. 1. And they’ve won 18 games in a row.
But every opponent will try to corral Abmas and force other players to make plays. At least, that’s what Houston did in its 83-45 win over Oral Roberts in November. Abmas finished 1-for-13 and scored three points in that rare loss. With him at the helm though, this team is still capable of landing a few upsets again. 2 stars
It’s imprudent to put every underdog in the same boat in the NCAA tournament. Some of the teams without the high-profile brands or power-conference affiliations deserve more scrutiny, like those from the solid SoCon. In January and February, Furman committed turnovers on just 14.4% of its possessions and shot 58% from inside the arc. Bob Richey’s squad won its 15 conference games by an average margin of 16 points. The Paladins — a Paladin is a knight or a “defender of a noble cause” — won five of those by 20 points or more. And 6-7 star Jalen Slawson (15.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG 3.2 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.6 SPG, 39% from 3) is one of four players on the roster averaging double figures. 2 stars
Kent State Golden Flashes
With 2 minutes, 59 seconds to play on the road at Houston in late November, Kent State’s VonCameron Davis hit a 3 that tied the game at 41-41 apiece. The Golden Flashes held a 10-point lead in the first half, too. They would eventually lose 49-44. With 3:41 to play on the road at Gonzaga a week later, they led the Bulldogs by four points before falling 73-66.
Those competitive displays were not flukes. The Golden Flashes are 10-1 in their last 11 games. Sincere Carry (17.3 PPG) is the best player for a team that’s top-30 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom, and a potential problem for a first-round opponent. 2 stars
In reference to his future, Iona coach Rick Pitino told ESPN last week that he was too focused on the MAAC conference tournament to worry about other jobs that might be interested in him. “I’m not thinking about that,” he said. Well, they’re thinking about him. Pitino is reportedly a target for St. John’s, which recently fired Mike Anderson. He could have other suitors, too. Either way, it appears that this could be his last stretch leading the Gaels.
If he did leave, Iona’s supporters wouldn’t complain, given his success with the program. Pitino has led Iona to its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years. MAAC Player of the Year Walter Clayton Jr. (16.9 PPG, 44% from beyond the arc) and all-MAAC first-teamer Nelly Junior Joseph carried the Gaels to a 27-win season, which includes a 14-game winning streak entering the NCAA tournament. 2 stars
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
Sometimes a player needs a few opportunities to find the right spot. Take Jordan Brown, the former McDonald’s All-American who signed with Nevada after high school for the 2018-19 season. He then transferred to Arizona and played in 2020-21. But after the school fired Sean Miller, the 6-11 forward went to Louisiana, where he seems to have finally unlocked his potential.
The all-Sun Belt first-teamer is averaging 19.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 1.2 BPG. In his team’s 100-72 loss at Texas in December, Brown finished with 20 points (7-for-14). Brown and the Sun Belt’s best offensive team (senior Greg Williams Jr. has shot 40% from 3 this season) will put up a fight in the opening round. 2 star
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
In six seasons at UCSB, former Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack has averaged 22 wins. This year’s 27-7 is the best of the stretch, and it’s thanks to a strong offense around the rim. In Big West action, the Gauchos shot 56.4% from 2 and enter the NCAA tournament on a seven-game winning streak. It helps to have the Big West Player of the Year, Ajay Mitchell (16.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 1.4 SPG), on your side. With Mitchell on the floor this season, this team has committed turnovers on just 15% of its possessions, per HoopLens.com. But the Gauchos don’t have a sexy win on their résumé that suggests they’ll break any brackets this year.
Then again, the most dangerous teams are always the ones that are overlooked. 1 star
Kennesaw State Owls
In 2019-20, his first season at Kennesaw State, Amir Abdur-Rahim notched just one victory. That year, Chicago State was the only team that finished lower than the Owls (352nd) in KenPom’s final rankings. Three years later, they’ve reached the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I program after beating Liberty — with whom it shared the regular-season title — in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship. Led by Chris Youngblood (14.7 PPG, 41.1% from 3), the Owls have connected on 37% of their 3-point attempts this season. No matter what happens in the NCAA tournament, they’ve already won. 2 stars
Grand Canyon Lopes
Bryce Drew might never exceed the fame he earned after making one of the greatest shots in NCAA tournament history in the 1998 matchup between his 13-seed Valparaiso squad and 4-seed Ole Miss. But he’s beginning to carve out his own legacy as a head coach who has found success at multiple stops. After leading GCU to this year’s WAC tournament title, he now has five NCAA tournament appearances across three schools (Valparaiso, Vanderbilt and Grand Canyon). Rayshon Harrison (17.7 PPG) & Co. will take a six-game winning streak into the first round, hoping their 38% clip from the 3-point line gives them a shot at an upset. 1 star
Montana State Bobcats
During the 1995-96 season, freshman Danny Sprinkle averaged 9.8 PPG for a Bobcats squad that reached the NCAA tournament. Last season, Sprinkle — now the coach at his alma mater — led the program back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since that appearance. It’s a remarkable story when you consider all three of Montana State’s NCAA tournament appearances (including this season’s) are tied to Sprinkle. But it’s more than a cool tale. Jubrile Belo (13.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG), last season’s Big Sky Player of the Year, and RaeQuan Battle (17.4 PPG), an all-Big Sky first-teamer this season, lead a team that finished first in defensive efficiency in the league and also forced turnovers on one-fifth of its conference opponents’ possessions. 1 star
Mitch Henderson is connected to five of Princeton’s NCAA tournament appearances. He was a guard (9.2 PPG in his four-year career) who helped the Tigers reach the NCAA tournament in three consecutive seasons from 1996 to 1998. After returning as the program’s head coach in 2011, he led them to the dance in 2017, after a six-year drought. This is No. 5.
After Princeton shared the Ivy League regular-season title with Yale, the Ivy League tournament championship game settled the score between the two rivals. The team has made 55% of its shots inside the arc with Tosan Evbuomwan (14.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG) on the floor this season, per HoopLens.com. He also helped Princeton hold Ivy League opponents to a 47% clip inside the arc, the top mark in the conference. 1 star
None of this would have happened without toothpaste. Seriously. Colgate University was named after the Colgate family, which made its fortune with toothpaste and other health products and made sizable donations to the university in the late 1800s. That’s your fun fact to help you talk about this underdog. Here’s another one: With a 41% clip this season, Colgate is the best 3-point shooting team in America. Tucker Richardson (13.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.1 SPG) helped his squad win its third consecutive Patriot League tournament championship and establish the Raiders as one of the most dominant mid-majors in America. Between their league slate and the conference tournament, they’re 20-1 since Dec. 22. 1 star
UNC Asheville Bulldogs
Drew Pember. That’s the name you need to know. The 6-11 UNC Asheville star averaged 21.2 PPG, 9.4 RPG and 2.3 BPG this season. He also shot 37% from 3, while his team connected on 39% this season.
Every year, people search the field for a feisty mid-major with the potential to pull off an upset. Some of the greatest upsets in college basketball history unfolded because an unsuspecting high seed couldn’t top a hot mid-major’s scoring barrage. Yes, the Bulldogs have a number of questionable losses on their résumé (Georgia State, Winthrop and USC Upstate are all ranked in the 200s on KenPom). But they should still qualify. Plus, they’ve lost just one game since Dec. 31, so they’re confident. 2 stars
Conversations about the transfer portal tend to center on its impact on major-conference programs — some of which must now rebuild every year in this new era. But there’s been plenty of movement within the non-power-conference pool. Dylan Penn, a 6-3 guard who transferred to Vermont from Bellarmine last summer, averaged 13.2 PPG this season and helped John Becker’s team capture its seventh consecutive America East championship and its fourth NCAA tournament appearance in seven years. Finn Sullivan (11.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.3 APG), formerly from San Diego, became the seventh consecutive Vermont player to win America East Player of the Year.
Will the Catamounts’ careful ways — they committed turnovers on just 11.6% of their possessions in league play — continue in the NCAA tournament against better competition? We’ll see. 2 stars
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders
After anchoring TAMU-CC’s run to its second NCAA tournament appearance in school history last season, Trevian Tennyson (15.7 PPG, 41% from 3), Isaac Mushila (14.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG) and Terrion Murdix (13.4 PPG, 2.3 SPG) all returned. This season’s team is even better. Last season, the Islanders connected on just 32% of their 3-point attempts. This season, the Southland tournament champs were first in both offensive and defensive efficiency in league play, per KenPom. They shot 40% from 3 against their conference opponents on their way to their third NCAA tournament appearance — and they’ve lost just one game since Jan. 21. 1 star
Southeast Missouri State Redhawks
The NCAA tournament system is a wonderful experience for the major conferences because there are a multitude of ways to earn an invitation. But in the one-bid leagues, every team enters its conference tournament with a shot, regardless of its performance in the regular season.
SEMO finished 2-5 in its last seven Ohio Valley Conference games before going on a run to win the league tournament and earn the OVC’s automatic berth. Together, Chris Harris and Phillip Russell combined to average 38.2 PPG in four tournament games.
And that’s all it takes in March. The Redhawks, who played at a top-10 pace this season, got hot at the right time and earned their second-ever NCAA tournament berth as a Division I team. 1 star
Northern Kentucky Norse
Darrin Horn, who finished 23-41 in the SEC in four years at South Carolina, got a second chance with Northern Kentucky. A decade after the Gamecocks fired him in 2012, he secured his first NCAA tournament berth as head coach — and the Norse’s third since 2017. They’re 7-1 in their last eight games, and won the Horizon League tournament because of their defensive pressure: They’ve forced turnovers on nearly one-fourth of their opponents’ possessions. And NKU has a star, 6-2 guard Marques Warrick, who has averaged 21.3 PPG over his last nine games. 1 star
The last time Howard made the NCAA tournament, Kenny Blakeney was a college student. But not a typical college student. Blakeney was a freshman on one of the greatest college teams in NCAA men’s basketball history: the 1991-92 Duke team that won the national championship. Howard was also in the tournament that year.
And now Blakeney has led Howard to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 31 years, in just his fourth season as head coach. The Bison connected on 43% of their 3-point attempts in MEAC play this season. No matter the result for All-MEAC first-teamer Elijah Hawkins (13.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 48% from 3) and Howard in their first NCAA tournament game, they’re already legends. 1 star
Texas Southern Tigers
Texas Southern spent the first month of 2022-23 on a treacherous buy-game tour. Lopsided matchups against Texas Tech, Auburn, Houston and Kansas defined its nonconference season, along with a home win over Arizona State. Things didn’t get better in league play. Johnny Jones’ squad finished 11-20 overall and 7-11 in the SWAC entering the conference tournament.
The beauty — or the curse, if you’re a top team with a loss — of the automatic-bid conference tournament format is that a team like the Tigers can rewrite the narrative of their season. And that’s what they did, securing their third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. Davon Barnes averaged 17.3 PPG and connected on 68% of his shots inside the arc across the three SWAC tournament victories. 1 star
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Well, this is awkward. Merrimack’s victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in the NEC tournament championship game extended the Warriors’ winning streak to 11 games. But an antiquated NCAA rule for teams that transition to Division I athletics means Merrimack can’t participate in this year’s NCAA tournament. So Fairleigh Dickinson gets the nod by default. It’s not fair to anyone, including FDU, which swept Merrimack in the regular season.
Demetre Roberts (16.7 PPG) & Co. had the most efficient offense in NEC play this season. But the Knights also finished eighth in defensive efficiency in league play (their NEC opponents shot 54% from inside the arc against them, and 39% from outside). 1 star