The 2021 NCAA Tournament is upon us. After a 728-day wait between Selection Sundays, we once again have a new bracket to fill out. This is obviously exciting for the fans, but also represents the culmination of a difficult journey for the hundreds of college basketball players set to take the court for the biggest stage during the coming weeks. This has not been an easy season. With COVID-19 pauses and scheduling difficulties, everyone involved has had to work extremely hard for us to get to having a bracket at all. For that, we should all be appreciative. 

Fans might not have been in attendance for every game, but they always had the backs of their favorite teams. Now with March Madness on the horizon, the college basketball world will converge on one of the meccas of hoops in the country: Indianapolis. The entire event will take place in “Naptown” and the surrounding areas, with games being played at historic sites across the state. The venues include Hinkle Fieldhouse, Mackey Arena, Assembly Hall, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, and Lucas Oil Stadium. 

The eventual goal of the NCAA Tournament is as always to be the last team standing, on top of a Werner ladder, with scissors in hand. But only one team can be the fateful “king of the dance.” In advance of the most exciting few weeks in sports tipping off later this week, let’s take a dive into my power rankings for the entire field of 68.

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68. Texas Southern Tigers (16-8, 10-3 SWAC)

Gold Star Leader: Michael Weathers (16.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg)

Texas Southern knocked out Prairie View A&M in the SWAC title game after the latter had previously been undefeated in conference play. The Tigers are entering the NCAA Tournament having won 14 of their last 15 games. Despite a No. 16 seed, they are playing their best basketball right now and are mostly an interior-oriented group. Head coach Johnny Jones’ group ranks 336th in 3-point attempt rate and 342nd in efficiency from deep. Defensively, they boast the 24th-best 2-point percentage allowed and 31st-best block rate.

67. Norfolk State Spartans (16-7, 8-4 MEAC)

Gold Star Leader: DeVante Carter (15.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.0 apg)

Norfolk State won the MEAC automatic bid and will enter the NCAA Tournament having won six consecutive games. The Spartans rank 201st in adjusted efficiency margin and are particularly dangerous from 3-point range. They are shooting 37.4 percent from distance for the year (32nd-best rate nationally). Head coach Robert Jones has done an excellent job this year to push the Spartans to just their second-ever Big Dance appearance. Their best regular-season wins were over George Mason (KP 132) and James Madison (KP 171).

66. Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (12-10, 9-7 NEC)

Gold Star Leader: Damian Chong Qui (15.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.5 apg)

Mount St. Mary’s won four consecutive road games to end its regular-season and win the Northeast Conference Tournament title. The Mountaineers come in as arguably the most underrated defensive team in the nation. Their opponents are limited to the 38th-lowest 3-point attempt rate and sixth-lowest assist rate. Mount St. Mary’s might only be 137th in adjusted defensive efficiency due to their low competition level, but they rank 15th nationally in effective FG% allowed. Damian Chong Qui, a 5-8 guard, is their top performer.

65. Hartford Hawks (15-8, 8-6 AE)

Gold Star Leader: Traci Carter (11.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.5 apg)

Hartford needed to win four straight in the America East Tournament to land the automatic bid and it was able to do exactly that. Their road win over Vermont during that run was particularly impressive as they leaped into the KenPom Top 200 as a result. The Hawks are a strong defensive unit that has limited their opponents to only 28.7 percent shooting from three. They have held four of their last five opponents to 65 points or fewer. Offensively, they are led by a pair of guards in Austin Williams and Traci Carter.

64. Appalachian State Mountaineers (17-11, 7-8 SB)

Gold Star Leader: Justin Forrest (13.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg)

Appalachian State finished only 7-8 during their regular-season Sun Belt schedule. That included dropping six of their final seven games prior to the conference tournament. Once in the win-or-go-home event, though, the Mountaineers rattled off four straight wins — including two in overtime — to acquire the automatic bid. They defeated three straight KenPom Top 200 opponents in their journey. Head coach Dustin Kerns is in his fourth year as a D1 head coach and this is his third time leading a team ranked Top 40 in 3-point attempt rate. If the Mountaineers are hot, they can be dangerous. They shot 32.6 percent from deep over the course of the season but were 38.6 percent in their four conference tournament games.

63. Iona Gaels (12-5, 6-3 MAAC)

Gold Star Leader: Isaiah Ross (18.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)

In his first year back at the helm of a D1 program, Rick Pitino has immediately guided Ions to its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance (excluding 2020’s tournament cancellation). Iona is the king of the MAAC and has been led by some great coaches over the years, from Kevin Willard to Tim Cluess to Pitino. This season’s iteration of the Gaels ranks 18th nationally in effective FG% allowed. Their only major defensive statistical flaw is sending their opponents to the foul line a ton (343rd in FTA/FGA defense). They had to endure a break that lasted from Dec. 23 to Feb. 12. It’s not often that a No. 2 seed is tasked with facing a national title-winning head coach in the first round, but that’s what Alabama will be tasked with when they face Pitino and Iona.

62. Cleveland State Vikings (19-7, 16-4 HL)

Gold Star Leader: Torrey Patton (14.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.7 apg)

Dennis Gates was easily one of the most impressive coaches in college basketball this season while guiding Cleveland State to the NCAA Tournament. The Vikings were one of the best Horizon League teams throughout the year and earned just their third-ever Big Dance appearance. They struggle on the defensive glass and with foul trouble, but defend the 3-point arc better than just about anyone in the nation, limiting both attempts and efficiency. This is a team that only lost to Ohio State by six on the road back in December. They have the potential to be dangerous.

61. Drexel Dragons (12-7, 4-5 CAA)

Gold Star Leader: Camren Wynter (16.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.3 apg)

Drexel wasn’t great during CAA play, winning just four of nine games. When it mattered most, though, the Dragons found their rhythm to take the conference’s automatic bid. En route to reaching the Big Dance, they took down Charleston, Northeastern, and Elon. This is a deliberate but offensively efficient unit that moves the ball very well. Drexel ranks Top 50 nationally in each of the following offensive categories: eFG%, 3P%, 2P%, FT%, and assist rate. They also defend the 3-ball well on the other end. The Dragons do a great job slowing games down and are used to playing with one another. They rank third nationally in minutes continuity from last year.

60. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (16-10, 10-5 SUM)

Gold Star Leader: Max Abmas (24.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.7 apg)

Oral Roberts split its series with each of North Dakota, South Dakota State, and North Dakota State during the Summit League regular-season. In the conference tournament, they won all three grudge matches in a row in order to win the conference’s automatic bid. An incredibly dangerous shooting team, the Golden Eagles rank 22nd nationally in 3-point attempt rate (.460) and ninth in 3-point percentage (.388). They can light it up on you in a hurry while also playing at one of the fastest paces in the country. Oral Roberts went 0-5 against KenPom Top 100 teams during its nonconference schedule but don’t be fooled — they can score in bunches. They are also the best free-throw shooting team in the nation at 82.6 percent.

59. Morehead State Eagles (23-7, 17-3 OVC)

Gold Star Leader: Johni Broome (13.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.8 bpg)

Morehead State flew under the radar in the OVC this season while Belmont started its conference schedule undefeated through 18 games. But then the Eagles upset the Bruins in the regular-season finale and did it again just a couple of weeks later to earn the auto-bid. Morehead State is an elite mid-major defensive team that ranks in the Top 100 in all major defensive statistics aside from turnover rate forced. They hold the No. 72 overall adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. The Eagles have lost just once since 2021 started, winning 20 of their last 21 games.

58. Grand Canyon Antelopes (17-6, 9-3 WAC)

Gold Star Leader: Asbjorn Midtgaard (14.1 ppg, 10.0 ppg, 1.4 bpg)

Grand Canyon is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance this season in its eighth season as a D1 program and first under head coach Bryce Drew. The Antelopes were the No. 1 seed in the WAC Tournament thanks to their elite defense and double-digit wins over Seattle and NMSU to punch their first-ever ticket to the dance. GCU ranks sixth nationally in effective field goal percentage allowed and also secures defensive rebounds at the 18th-best rate. Most of their offensive damage is done inside the arc or at the foul line. Six-foot-10 forward Alessandro Lever is the only Antelope with over 25 made 3-pointers this year.

57. Eastern Washington Eagles (15-7, 12-3 BSKY)

Gold Star Leader: Tanner Groves (16.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg)

Another scorching mid-major, Eastern Washington has lost just once since Jan. 22. The Eagles have won 13 of their last 14 games as they enter the Big Dance with the Big Sky’s automatic bid. Head coach Shantay Legans deploys one of the nation’s fastest offenses (possessions of 15.7 seconds). They also use that tempo to create good looks; the Eagles rank Top 60 nationally in eFG%, 3P%, 2P%, FT%, and turnover rate. They move the ball well offensively and aren’t afraid to shoot a bunch of threes. They lost to Arizona and Saint Mary’s on the road by a total of eight points during their nonconference schedule.

56. Liberty Flames (23-5, 11-2 ASUN)

Gold Star Leader: Darius McGhee (15.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.1 apg)

Liberty lived up to its top-seed billing in the Atlantic Sun by winning the league’s automatic bid. The Flames are an incredibly efficient offensive unit with the ability to spray from 3-point range. They rank 49th nationally in assist rate with a large number of those dishes turning into trifectas. Liberty ranks 15th in 3-point attempt rate (.474) and 8th in 3-point percentage (.388). They also use that ability to spray from deep to score efficiently inside the arc (.567 2P%; 9th). Liberty isn’t particularly strong defensively but rarely surrenders second-chance opportunities. They are at their best when asserting their glacier tempo and creating wide-open looks offensively.

55. Abilene Christian Wildcats (22-4, 13-2 SLND)

Gold Star Leader: Kolton Kohl (12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg)

Abilene Christian is no longer just the No. 1 team alphabetically in college hoops. The Wildcats have been incredibly impressive as a defensive unit this season. They rank No. 1 in the country in turnover rate forced and that has propelled their ball-movement-heavy offense (2nd in assist rate). In addition to forcing opponent mistakes, ACU ranks 26th in effective field-goal percentage allowed. They send their opponents to the foul line a lot, but are otherwise elite on D. Two of the Wildcats’ four losses this year were on the road against Texas Tech (by seven) and Arkansas (by 13).

54. Colgate Raiders (14-1, 11-1 PAT)

Gold Star Leader: Jordan Burns (17.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.3 apg)

A Top 10 team in the NET rankings, Colgate enters the Big Dance with a 14-1 record and is riding a 13-game winning streak. The Raiders might not have started their season until January but they needed very little time to get going. Head coach Matt Langel’s team ranks 25th in adjusted tempo and 43rd in adjusted offensive efficiency heading into the NCAA Tournament. Their elite statistics are somewhat buoyed by only 15 data points, but it is hard to ignore ranking in the Top 20 nationally in each of the following categories: eFG%, turnover rate, 3P%, 2P%, opponent eFG%, opponent 3P%, and opponent assist rate. Colgate only played five unique opponents all season.

53. UNC Greensboro Spartans (21-8, 13-5 SOCON)

Gold Star Leader: Isaiah Miller (19.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 4.0 apg)

Head coach Wes Miller has now guided UNC Greensboro to five consecutive 20-plus win seasons and this year marks his second NCAA Tournament appearance since taking over. The Spartans are an experienced defensive unit that defends the interior and the arc well. While they struggle in the free-throw attempt game, they make up for that by rebounding well and controlling the turnover battle more often than not. In addition to being a strong defensive group, they have the type of senior guard that can be dangerous in the Big Dance. Watch out for a potential “March Moment” from Isaiah Miller.

52. Wichita State Shockers (16-5, 11-2 AAC)

Gold Star Leader: Tyson Etienne (17.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.6 apg)

After falling to Cincinnati in the AAC Tournament semifinals, Wichita State’s selection for the NCAA Tournament was not a guarantee. The AAC regular-season champions enter the Big Dance as a No. 11 seed holding a 16-5 overall record. Head coach Isaac Brown has done an excellent job in his first season at the helm, even if only one of their 16 wins is over another team in the field. The Shockers take care of the ball offensively, draw a lot of fouls, and shoot a bunch of threes. A whopping 56.8 percent of their total points this season have come from beyond the arc or at the free-throw line. While they struggle to rebound defensively or create turnovers, opponents are generally forced into difficult shots.

51. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (22-4, 13-3 BW)

Gold Star Leader: Jaquori McLaughlin (16.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.2 apg)

Head coach Joe Pasternack has done a superb job at UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos have won 20-plus games in each of his four seasons at the helm thus far with this campaign being his best performance yet. USCB is very balanced with the ability to win in a variety of ways. They rank in the Top 100 nationally in just about every major statistical category and are a threat to make a run. While they did not beat a single KenPom Top 100 team in the regular season, they enter the Big Dance having won 16 of their last 17 games. This is a slow-paced team that is highly-efficient and is in rhythm at the most important time of the year. If you’re looking for a 12-over-5 upset, the Gauchos are a team to strongly consider. Remember the name Jaquori McLaughlin.

50. Ohio Bobcats (16-7, 9-5 MAC)

Gold Star Leader: Jason Preston (16.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 7.2 apg)

Ohio was just the No. 5 seed in the MAC Tournament but everybody knew they were more dangerous than its seed. Two of their five conference losses came without star player Jason Preston and they rattled off a six-game winning streak once he returned from injury. The Bobcats took out the No. 1 (Toledo) and No. 2 (Buffalo) seeds in the MAC Tournament en route to the automatic bid. Preston scored 49 combined in those two games. Ohio holds the nation’s 29th-best adjusted offensive efficiency rating in the country — their scoring ability makes them a dangerous double-digit seed. The Bobcats move the ball and have a strong supporting cast of snipers around a legit star in Preston.

49. Winthrop Eagles (23-1, 17-1 BSTH)

Gold Star Leader: Chandler Vaudrin (12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 6.9 apg)

Winthrop lost one game all year. One. While they only played two KenPom Top 100 opponents, that shouldn’t take away too much away from their 23-1 record. The Eagles play at the 11th-fastest adjusted tempo in the nation and dominated the glass at the mid-major level. Winthrop enters the Big Dance ranked Top 15 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. They also force plenty of turnovers on D and turn those into transition points. This will be head coach Pat Kelsey’s second tournament appearance with Winthrop. Chandler Vaudrin is one of the top mid-major players in the country.

48. North Texas Mean Green (17-9, 9-5 CUSA)

Gold Star Leader: Javion Hamlet (14.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.5 apg)

North Texas ended its regular season with three consecutive losses to fall to 9-5 in league play. This netted them just the No. 3W seed in the CUSA Tournament, but that didn’t stop them from winning it all. The Mean Green held each of their four opponents to fewer than 60 points in their quest for the automatic bid, including giving up only 57 in an overtime win over Western Kentucky. UNT ranks 43rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency thanks to excellent closeouts, strong interior D, and their ability to stifle ball movement. Senior guard Javion Hamlet is a dynamic offensive leader who steps up in big moments more often than not. The JUCO product enters the Big Dance having averaged 18 points on 47.6 percent shooting over UNT’s last nine games.

47. Oregon State Beavers (17-12, 10-10 P12)

Gold Star Leader: Warith Alathishe (9.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.7 apg)

Oregon State entered the Pac-12 Tournament as the conference’s No. 5 seed but out of the at-large conversation. With three wins over NCAA Tournament teams (UCLA, Oregon, Colorado) in three days, the Beavers earned the automatic bid. This is the program’s second NCAA Tournament trip in seven years under head coach Wayne Tickle; the Beavers did not dance in the 25 years prior to his hire. This year’s iteration of Oregon State basketball is mostly offensively driven. The Beavers rank 25th nationally in assist rate while also taking the care of the ball well and excelling at getting to and converting at the free-throw line.

46. UCLA Bruins (17-9, 13-6 P12)

Gold Star Leader: Tyger Campbell (10.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 5.6 apg)

UCLA snuck into the NCAA Tournament despite losing each of its last four games, all of which were against teams also in the field. The Bruins are an offensively oriented team that ranks 25th in adjusted efficiency on that end of the floor. They have had plenty of defensive woes this season, including giving up a bunch of 3-pointers. With that said, though, they limit second-chance opportunities and free-throw attempts. Can they rekindle their mojo from the 12-2 start to the year? They went just 5-7 over their last 12 with two of those wins coming over lowly Washington and Arizona State.

45. Georgetown Hoyas (13-12, 7-9 BE)

Gold Star Leader: Jamorko Pickett (12.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.9 apg)

Georgetown entered the Big East Tournament well outside of Big Dance consideration with just a 9-12 overall record. That was despite winning four of their last six regular-season games. Once at Madison Square Garden, the Hoyas knocked off Marquette, Villanova (admittedly shorthanded), Seton Hall, and Creighton to snag the league’s automatic bid. This is a bid-stealer that also happens to be playing its best basketball right now as Georgetown just beat Creighton by 25. Head coach Patrick Ewing’s team is strong defensively and capable of lighting it up from three. They have a propensity to get destroyed in the turnover department, though.

44. Syracuse Orange (16-9, 9-7 ACC)

Gold Star Leader: Alan Griffin (14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.8 bpg)

Syracuse sneaked into the NCAA Tournament field despite just a 1-7 record in Quad-1 games. Regardless, everyone knows that the Orange are always dangerous once they reach the Big Dance. Head coach Jim Boeheim’s group is offensively driven this season with strong national ranks in turnover rate, free-throw percentage, and assist rate. With coach’s son Buddy Boeheim leading the way from distance, the Orange can pile up points from three in a hurry. As has always been the case with their defensive scheme, a high proportion of opponent shots against Syracuse come from beyond the arc (nearly 44 percent).

43. Drake Bulldogs (25-4, 15-3 MVC)

Gold Star Leader: Tank Hemphill (14.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)

Drake enters the Big Dance with one of the best records in the country at 25-4. After starting the season 18-0, though, they are just 7-4 over their last 11 with losses to Valparaiso and Bradley mixed in. The big problem is that the Bulldogs are playing without star point guard Roman Penn, one of the main reasons why they rank in the Top 20 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. They have also been without Tank Hemphill, but it is likely that he will be back in action this week. Drake is a very good team that was 18-0 for a reason but injuries have greatly impacted their ceiling. The Bulldogs are still a threat but don’t appear quite as good as they were a couple of months ago.

42. Michigan State Spartans (15-12, 9-11 B10)

Gold Star Leader: Aaron Henry (15.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.5 apg)

I know, I know, I know. I’m underrating Michigan State in March and I’m sure this will come back to bite me. And while the Spartans have beaten Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan all within the past few weeks, there is a reason why they are playing in the “First Four.” This just isn’t as good of an MSU team as we are used to seeing. Head coach Tom Izzo’s team barely ranks in the Top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency and is 266th nationally in effective field-goal percentage. If their offensive rebounding is limited, they are very beatable. On the bright side, Aaron Henry is a legit star and their defense has done an excellent job limiting 3-pointers this season.

41. Maryland Terrapins (16-13, 9-11 B10)

Gold Star Leader: Aaron Wiggins (14.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.6 apg)

There are two ways to look at this Maryland team. On the pessimistic side, they are just 16-13 overall and enter the Big Dance having lost three of their last four, including games to Northwestern and Penn State. Optimistically speaking, though, they were riding a five-game winning streak prior to that tough finish and added a double-digit win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. This is a team that shoots a bunch of threes and can be extremely dangerous when they are hitting. Head coach Mark Turgeon’s group has exceeded expectations this year while ranking in the Top 50 nationally in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. They bring a lot of size to the court at all five positions and can boast wins over Illinois, Rutgers, and Wisconsin.

40. Virginia Tech Hokies (15-6, 9-4 ACC)

Gold Star Leader: Keve Aluma (15.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg)

Mike Young is in the Big Dance in his second season at the helm of Virginia Tech. As a program, this marks the Hokies’ fourth appearance in the last five years. This iteration of the Hokies is very balanced with the No. 55 AdjO and No. 54 AdjD. While not particularly elite in any specific stats, they generally do everything fairly well. Most importantly, though, Virginia Tech moves the ball offensively and gets a lot of 3-pointers up. If they are hot from deep, they can be extremely difficult to knock off. The Hokies boast wins over Villanova, Clemson, and Virginia. Wofford transfer Keve Aluma has thrived since following his head coach to the high-major level.

39. North Carolina Tar Heels (18-10, 10-6 ACC)

Gold Star Leader: Armando Bacot (12.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.9 bpg)

While several other blue bloods struggled this season, North Carolina still found its way to the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels enter the dance having won three of their last four games with the lone loss coming to Florida State. They have largely alternated wins and losses for most of the last month as they were seemingly in the bubble conversation up until their home win over Florida State on Feb. 27. The Tar Heels are offensively challenged but rank tops in the nation at securing their own misses. UNC secures offensive boards on a whopping 41.3 percent of missed shots and also gets to the foul line often. They are rock-solid defensively with the 15th-best adjusted defensive efficiency rating nationally. Their frontcourt is excellent.

38. VCU Rams (19-7, 10-4 A10)

Gold Star Leader: Bones Hyland (19.5 ppg, 4.7 arpg, 1.9 spg)

VCU’s success over the years has been founded on the defensive end and head coach Mike Rhoades has continued that during his four years at the helm. The Rams enter the Big Dance this season with the 12th-best adjusted defensive efficiency rating in the country, their third straight year ranking in the Top 50 under Rhoades (and second in three years in the Top 15). VCU forces the ninth-most turnovers by rate in the nation and they also limit their opponents to the 23rd-lowest effective field-goal percentage. With the fourth-best block rate and third-best steal rate, they fluster opponents in several different ways. While they struggle offensively at times, the return of Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland from injury makes them very dangerous. Hyland is a sophomore superstar who everyone should note.

37. Utah State Aggies (20-8, 15-4 MWC)

Gold Star Leader: Neemias Queta (15.1 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.2 bpg)

An elite defensive unit ranked eighth in adjusted defensive efficiency, Utah State has the potential to be far more dangerous than its No. 11 seed indicates. The Aggies enter the Big Dance at 20-8, but that comes even after starting the year just 1-3. They found their rhythm in Mountain West play while rolling through several solid teams. A regular-season sweep of San Diego State at home proves how capable this team is of making a potential run. Big man Neemias Queta is my National Defensive Player of the Year and the primary reason why the Aggies rank Top 20 in each of the following categories: offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, opponent eFG%, opponent 2P%, and block rate. They move the ball well offensively, generating assists on 60.7 percent of made baskets. Much of their ceiling rests on freshman Rollie Worster who is ready for the big stage. Watch out if Brock Miller gets hot from three.

36. Florida Gators (13-9, 9-7 SEC)

Gold Star Leader: Tre Mann (16.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.4 apg)

Florida is stumbling its way into the NCAA Tournament having lost three of its last four games; the lone win was over Vanderbilt. The Gators still landed a No. 7 seed, though, and they can boast wins over LSU, Tennessee, and West Virginia from earlier in the year. They rank in the Top 40 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Tre Mann has taken a big step this season as a sophomore guiding much of their offense. Also watch for Michigan transfer Colin Castleton as an impact big man underneath; he ranks 32nd nationally in block rate. Florida does a great job preventing their opponents from getting hot from three, though they are susceptible to giving up offensive rebounds.

35. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-11, 10-10 B1G)

Gold Star Leader: Ron Harper Jr. (15.4 ppg, 5.9, 1.6 apg)

Head coach Steve Pikiell had his first NCAA Tournament appearance stolen from him by COVID-19 last year. Not this time. The Scarlet Knights have punched their first ticket to the Big Dance since 1990-91 and have a defense capable of giving several teams fits. Rutgers holds the 17th-best adjusted defensive efficiency rating and ranks 17th in block rate. They enter the tournament having won just four of their last nine games. On the bright side, they have been much better away from home compared to a season before.

34. Oklahoma Sooners (15-10, 9-8 B12)

Gold Star Leader: Austin Reaves (17.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.7 apg)

Oklahoma has a strong resume and boasts plenty of quality wins heading into the Big Dance. The Sooners have beaten the likes of West Virginia (twice), Kansas, Texas, and Alabama this year. With that said, though, they have lost five of their last six games entering the NCAA Tournament with their lone win coming over Iowa State. Is it possible that Oklahoma peaked too soon? Yes, but they are very talented when on their game. If OU can rediscover their prior selves, then the second weekend is in play.

33. Missouri Tigers (16-9, 8-8 SEC)

Gold Star Leader: Dru Smith (14.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.9 apg)

Missouri ranks 11th nationally in experience and seventh in minutes continuity. The Tigers are clearly among the most veteran teams in the nation and that has led to a strong year for head coach Cuonzo Martin. They defeated Oregon, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama during this regular-season, although none of those victories have come over the last month. Since Feb. 10, Missouri is just 3-6 with two of those wins coming over South Carolina and Florida. This is another team that potentially peaked too soon. When at their best, they are balanced with a Top 50-60 rating in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

32. Wisconsin Badgers (17-12, 10-10 B1G)

Gold Star Leader: D’Mitrik Trice (13.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.0 apg)

Wisconsin’s quality metrics indicate that they should be much higher in this list. After all, they are ranked at No. 11 on KenPom. With that said, though, the Badgers enter the Big Dance on a downturn; they have won just four of their last 13 games. Over the course of the entire year, Wisconsin is 4-11 against fellow NCAA Tournament teams and 0-9 against Top 7 seeds. This team is experienced and disciplined defensively. UW ranks 22nd in experience and 12th in minutes continuity. If they can avoid long offensive droughts, they might massively outperform this spot and reach the second weekend. D’Mtrik Trice is a big-shot maker.

31. Clemson Tigers (16-7, 10-6 ACC)

Gold Star Leader: Aamir Simms (13.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.7 apg)

Clemson struggled for a stretch in January in which it lost four of five games. Since then, though, the Tigers have won six of their last eight games coming into the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Brad Brownell’s group is excellent defensively and boasts plenty of high-quality wins. While most occurred several months ago, their victories over Purdue, Alabama, Florida State, and five other Big Dance teams have not disappeared. They are a dangerous group that has proven capable of beating excellent competition.

30. St. Bonaventure Bonnies (16-4, 11-4 A10)

Gold Star Leader: Jaren Holmes (13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg)

The A10 Tournament champions will arrive in Indianapolis as winners in six of their last seven games; four of those victories came over KenPom Top 60 opponents. A metrics darling, the Bonnies rank 17th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency as they have locked down on that end of the floor. Osun Osunniyi anchors this squad on D with the 21st-best individual block rate in the country. Kyle Lofton is the primary initiator on offense with a pair of strong floor-spacers next to him in Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch. There is a lot to like about Mark Schmidt’s roster; they might not have any key seniors but are an experienced group mainly of juniors.

29. LSU Tigers (18-9, 11-6 SEC)

Gold Star Leader: Cam Thomas (22.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.4 apg)

One of the most one-sided teams in college basketball, LSU enters the NCAA Tournament ranked fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency but only 125th on the other end of the floor. Led by freshman guard Cam Thomas, the Tigers are an offensive juggernaut capable of outscoring just about anyone. They reached the SEC Tournament final before the Big Dance, acquiring wins over Mississippi and Arkansas on the journey. Head coach Will Wade’s team plays at a frenetic pace and is dangerous due to its ability to score in bunches.

28. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-8, 11-6 ACC)

Gold Star Leader: Jose Alvarado (15.4 ppg, 4.2 apg, 2.9 spg)

Georgia Tech is easily one of the hottest teams in the country right now. The Yellow Jackets are entering the Big Dance fresh off winning the ACC Tournament and as winners of eight straight. Jose Alvarado (ACC DPOY) and Michael Devoe form an experienced upperclassman backcourt capable of torching the nets from 3-point range. They have combined for over 100 made trifectas this year and also contribute to GT ranking in the Top 30 in offensive and defensive turnover rate. Head coach Josh Pastner’s top player, though, is big man Moses Wright (ACC POY).

27. BYU Cougars (20-6, 10-3 WCC)

Gold Star Leader: Alex Barcello (15.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg)

Gonzaga has received all the publicity from the WCC this season, but BYU has been very good in its own right. While they lost all three of their games against the Bulldogs, they were otherwise 20-3 with wins over St. John’s, San Diego State, and Utah State. The Cougars rank in the Top 30 nationally in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency as Mark Pope continues to blossom as an excellent head coach. Alex Barcello has been at the forefront of their offensive efficiency this season while shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc.

26. UConn Huskies (15-7, 11-6 BE)

Gold Star Leader: James Bouknight (19.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.9 apg)

UConn performed admirably in its first season back in the Big East. The Huskies finished with a 15-7 overall record but four of those losses came without James Bouknight. The future NBA player is now healthy and is a major reason why this team is rated so high. Since he returned from injury, UConn has jumped from No. 43 on KenPom all the way up to No. 16. Head coach Dan Hurley’s team is excellent defensively and features an offensive star in Bouknight. They also have a talented frontcourt including an elite interior defender in Isaiah Whaley.

25. San Diego State Aztecs (23-4, 14-3 MWC)

Gold Star Leader: Matt Mitchell (15.4 ppg, 5.5 apg, 1.5 spg)

San Diego State was one of the best teams in the nation last season and did not go away after losing a few key pieces. Matt Mitchell is among those returners who have kept the Aztecs right in the picture for a deep run. They are winners of 14 straight heading into the Big Dance. SDSU holds the 11th-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation behind their ability to lockdown in the interior, force turnovers, and secure defensive boards. Offensively, you can count on the Aztecs to bury their fair share of trifectas; they rank 119th in attempt rate and 28th in efficiency on 3-pointers. Mitchell is the star with Jordan Schakel as an excellent second option. Nathan Mensah anchors the paint defensively.

24. Texas Tech Red Raiders (17-10, 9-8 B12)

Gold Star Leader: Mac McClung (15.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 apg)

I’m still not sure what to believe regarding Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have a great head coach, pass the eye test, beat several excellent teams this year, and made the title game in their last NCAA Tournament appearance. All of that sounds like a recipe for a deep run, but I’m not completely sold. Their resume is bolstered by playing in a grueling Big 12 as they finished just 6-10 in Q1+2 games combined. Can they be counted on to win enough games in a row to makea a run? We’ll see. From a statistical standpoint, they dominate the turnover battle on both ends of the floor and tenaciously stifle the interior defensively. They rely on offensive boards and free throws for a fair amount of their scoring, but Mac McClung can get his own bucket when it matters most.

23. Colorado Buffaloes (22-8, 14-6 P12)

Gold Star Leader: McKinley Wright (15.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.6 apg)

Colorado has been an efficiency darling throughout this season, ranking in the KenPom Top 20 ever since Jan. 7. They are an all-around team that has proven plenty capable of making a potentially deep run, and three wins over USC is especially impressive. Head coach Tad Boyle’s team is also playing well right now as it won six consecutive games prior to falling in the Pac-12 Tournament title game. The Buffaloes are elite at the foul line at 82.2 percent; this makes them the second-best foul shooting team in the field by percentage. This is an experienced group with an outstanding senior leader at the forefront in McKinley “do-it-all” Wright.

22. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (14-4, 16-2 MVC)

Gold Stat Leader: Cameron Krutwig (15.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.0 apg)

Loyola Chicago is arriving in Indianapolis with the nation’s best adjusted defensive efficiency rating and the No. 9 spot on KenPom. Yet, they earned just a No. 8 seed and that puts them in a difficult spot to make a run. There should be no doubt about how dangerous this team can be in the field. They move the ball beautifully on offense and space the floor with great shooters around an interior star; it is easy to understand why thank rank ninth nationally in eFG%. Defensively, you won’t find many better. The Ramblers refuse to send their opponents to the foul line or give up second-chance opportunities, ranking Top 10 in the country in both defensive categories. They stifle ball-movement and limit 3-point attempts as well. Lucas Williamson is the nation’s most underrated elite defender and Cameron Krutwig is a do-it-all star big; both were freshmen on Loyola’s Final Four team.

21. Oregon Ducks (20-6, 14-4 P12)

Gold Star Leader: Chris Duarte (16.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 apg)

Oregon head coach Dana Altman always gets his team playing its best at the right time. This season is no different. The Ducks are 11-2 since Will Richardson fully joined the lineup after missing the entire first half of the season due to injury. The 6-5 junior guard is a huge difference-maker as a veteran who does just about everything well. Coach Altman has a fun collection of transfers from across the country on the roster, including former JUCO Chris Duarte, who has blossomed into one of the best players in the whole country. Oregon is an elite offensive team capable of splashing home plenty of trifectas (19th in 3P%) and also able to do damage underneath. Their defense struggles on occasion but does force a fair amount of turnovers.

20. Villanova Wildcats (16-6, 11-4 BE)

Gold Star Leader: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (15.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.9 apg)

Villanova is coming into the tournament as losers in three of four and also lost star guard Collin Gillespie to injury along the way. It has been a really brutal couple of weeks for the Wildcats but Jay Wright is still the leader and he has plenty of remaining talent on the roster. Namely, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was a co-Big East Player of the Year and Justin Moore will hopefully be close to 100 percent for the Big Dance after getting hurt earlier. JRE is an interior star and the Wildcats still boast plenty of shooting around him with Moore and Caleb Daniels. Villanova’s ceiling takes a major hit without Gillespie but this is still an offensive juggernaut with defensive holes. Watch for Jermaine Samuels to possibly emerge as a star this March.

19. Tennessee Volunteers (18-8, 10-7 SEC)

Gold Star Leader: Yves Pons (8.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg)

Tennessee has basically alternated wins and losses for the last month but looked close to being back to their normal selves over the past week. Consecutive double-digits wins over Florida were impressive and then they held a lead over Alabama for most of the SEC championship game until squandering it late. Regardless, the Volunteers are a very good team that is particularly elite defensively. Head coach Rick Barnes’ group ranks fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency and features a pair of five-star freshmen wings. Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are dangerous first-year players while Victor Bailey and Santiago Vescovi space the floor from three. Josiah Jordan-James is a Swiss Army knife and Yves Pons should not be forgotten either as a muscular defensive stud.

18. USC Trojans (22-7, 15-5 P12)

Gold Star Leader: Evan Mobley (16.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.0 bpg)

USC head coach Andy Enfield has found a recipe for success in the form of elite freshmen bigs. Onyeka Okongwu filled that role a season ago while propelling the Trojans inside and Evan Mobley has stepped into those shoes this season with an even bigger campaign. Mobley has easily been one of the nation’s top first-year players this year and is the primary reason for USC ranking 10th in offensive rebounding rate, second in opponent 2P%, and 18th in block rate. He is a versatile monster inside and pairs with his brother Isaiah Mobley to form a deadly frontcourt. Senior guard Tahj Eaddy is a consistent threat from distance and Drew Peterson is a 6-8 do-it-all wing who causes matchup problems. USC is dangerous.

17. West Virginia Mountaineers (18-9, 11-6 B12)

Gold Star Leader: Derek Culver (14.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.1 apg)

West Virginia landed a No. 3 seed despite dropping back-to-back games to Oklahoma State prior to Selection Sunday. Regardless, the Mountaineers are a very good team with an incredibly strong collection of wins. They also did not suffer a single loss to a KenPom sub-40 team. I think this is a squad that you can count on to take care of business in the early rounds. The Mountaineers are excellent offensively, particularly when it comes to offensively rebounding and drawing fouls. They hold the 11th-best adjusted offensive efficiency rating nationally. Their defense leaves some to be desired, but this is a battle-tested group with a great head coach. Miles McBride is a clutch bucket-getter.

16. Texas Longhorns (19-7, 11-6 B12)

Gold Star Leader: Courtney Ramey (12.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.0 apg)

Texas has seemingly rediscovered itself. After the Longhorns lost four of five over a month ago, they have since won eight of their last 10 with the lone losses coming to West Virginia and Texas Tech. They are currently winners of five straight and took the Big 12 Tournament title by defeating Oklahoma State. While the Longhorns have not returned to their previously elite metric status, they are playing better basketball than most right now. They rank Top 40 in adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency. Texas is also particularly adept at winning the 3-point battle; they shoot a bunch of threes at high efficiency while doing forcing the opposite out of their opponents. They are limiting opposing offenses to only a 41.3 percent assist rate (sixth-lowest).

15. Virginia Cavaliers (18-6, 13-4 ACC)

Gold Star Leader: Sam Hauser (16.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.8 apg)

This isn’t the same dominant defensive Virginia team that we have seen in the past. In fact, this is the lowest-rated Tony Bennett defense since 2011 at just 33rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. With that said, though, this iteration of the Cavaliers is his third-most efficient offensive team. They still play at one of the slowest tempos in the country but are remarkably efficient. UVa ranks in the Top 20 nationally in each of the following offensive categories: eFG%, 3P%, 2P%, FT%, and turnover rate. They work possessions for an average of over 20 seconds but consistently get good looks. They particularly launch 3-pointers at a high rate (42.3 percent of shots) and are quite efficient on those attempts. Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy are exceedingly dangerous transfer snipers.

Note: Virginia withdrew from the ACC Tournament due to COVID-19.

14. Creighton Bluejays (20-7, 14-6 BE)

Gold Star Leader: Marcus Zegarowski (15.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.3 apg)

Creighton has taken a bit of a step backward offensively this season but still ranks 14th in adjusted efficiency on that end. The big aspect of their March ceiling is a massive improvement in adjusted defensive efficiency compared to a season ago, going from 78th to 40th. The Bluejays are a No. 5 seed this year and are very dangerous as a result of their improved defense and top-tier offensive ability. They launch threes at the 33rd-highest rate in the country and are very effective on those attempts. Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock are among the upperclassmen leaders of this experienced group. They are fresh off a 25-point beatdown at the hands of Georgetown in the Big East Tournament but had won seven of their previous nine.

13. Florida State Seminoles (16-6, 11-4 ACC)

Gold Star Leader: Raiquan Gray (12.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.4 spg)

Head coach Leonard Hamilton has turned Florida State into a consistent powerhouse with long athletes capable of flustering opponents on both ends. This season is no different. While not an elite defensive group like the past, this team plays at a fast pace and scores points in a hurry with the 10th-most efficient offense in the country. The Seminoles rank 11th in offensive rebounding rate and ninth in 3-point efficiency as a team that is dangerous both inside and out. On the defensive end, they block the eighth-most shots and limit 2-point percentage at the 11th-best rate. Scottie Barnes is a do-it-all freshman star to watch while MJ Walker is the primary perimeter threat.

12. Purdue Boilermakers (18-9, 13-6 B1G)

Gold Star Leader: Trevion Williams (15.6 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.1 apg)

Purdue has a super bright future with a young core, but the present is pretty darn exciting as well. The Boilermakers rank exactly 23rd in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency as a balanced unit. They are also playing their best basketball of late. Prior to losing in OT to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, they ended their regular season on a five-game winning streak. Purdue went 11-3 over the final two months of the year and is hitting its stride. Trevion Williams is a dominant interior presence and Sasha Stefanovic is a feared perimeter threat. The freshmen are all impactful in their own ways: Jaden Ivey is a flat-out killer; Brandon Newman splashes threes; Zach Edey is a burgeoning star, and Mason Gillis is highly efficient.

11. Kansas Jayhawks (20-8, 12-6 B12)

Gold Star Leader: David McCormack (13.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.0 bpg)

Kansas is entering the Big Dance as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Jayhawks have won eight of their last nine games with the lone loss coming in overtime at Texas. They hold the No. 6 adjusted defensive efficiency rating in the nation while being highly effective across the board on that end. Perhaps most notably, opponents are only recording assists on 47 percent of possessions against KU. The Jayhawks play with a fair amount of offensive tempo and have been tested by several of the best teams in the country this year. In addition to playing in the grueling Big 12, the Jayhawks faced Gonzaga and Creighton in nonconference. Coach Self has another very good team on his hands.

Note: Kansas withdrew from the Big 12 Tournament due to COVID-19.

10. Oklahoma State Cowboys (20-8, 11-7 B12)

Gold Star Leader: Cade Cunningham (20.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.6 apg)

Oklahoma State ended the regular season with the second-most Quad-1 wins in the season (10). While their advanced metrics leave some to be desired and they suffered a couple of head-scratching losses, it’s hard to overlook this team’s insane ceiling. Cade Cunningham is a likely First Team All-American and he is getting a ton of help from a burgeoning secondary star in Avery Anderson. The Cowboys won eight of their last 19 to reach this point as a No. 4 seed. They are incredibly dangerous on both ends of the floor. Head coach Mike Boynton has done an excellent job this year. Cade is must-see TV.

9. Arkansas Razorbacks (22-6, 13-4 SEC)

Gold Star Leader: Moses Moody (17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 apg)

Arkansas has been rolling in advance of the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks ended their year winning nine consecutive games before falling to LSU in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The Muss Bus is now rolling into the Big Dance as a No. 3 seed with plenty of gas left in the tank. The Razorbacks hold the No. 14 adjusted defensive efficiency rating in the country and are excellent across the board. Every single major statistic of theirs ranks in the upper half of the country. They play the nation’s 17th-fastest pace and are a fun collection of transfers and elite youngsters. Moses Moody is one of the best freshmen in the country and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better sixth man than JD Notae. 

8. Ohio State Buckeyes (21-9, 12-8 B1G)

Gold Star Leader: EJ Liddell (15.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg)

Head coach Chris Holtmann continues to do a great job at Ohio State as the program has now finished in the KenPom Top 10 for back-to-back years. This time around, the Buckeyes own the nation’s fourth-best adjusted offensive efficiency rating. They most notably rank 13th in turnover rate and are particularly dangerous as a 3-point shooting team; they rank in the upper half of the nation in 3-point attempt rate and connect on 36.5 percent of those shots. OSU has some defensive troubles but does a nice job inside the arc. EJ Liddell is the leader of this team as a major breakout sophomore forward. Ohio State stumbled down the stretch of the regular season with four straight losses but then won three in a row to reach the Big Ten Tournament title game.

7. Houston Cougars (24-3, 14-3 AAC)

Gold Star Leader: Quentin Grimes (18.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.9 apg)

Houston does not have the same elite-level wins as the other teams in this Top 10 but its metric numbers are off the charts. More specifically, the Cougars are a statistician’s dream on the defensive end of the floor. Their defensive ranks include: 1st in eFG%; 7th in 3P%; 5th in 2P%; 5th in FT%; 9th in block rate; 15th in steal rate. They simply do everything well on that end … and are still six spots higher in adjusted offensive efficiency than defensive efficiency. Houston holds the second-best offensive rebounding rate in the country. In terms of bucket-getters, Quentin Grimes is a fringe All-American capable of taking and making the big shots. He made 82 3-pointers this year.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes (21-8, 14-6 B1G)

Gold Star Leader: Luka Garza (23.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg)

Iowa is undeniably an offensive juggernaut led by the likely National Player of the Year in Luka Garza. With the big man commanding constant defensive attention, he needs a strong supporting cast of shooters and that is exactly what Coach McCaffery has on the perimeter. The Hawkeyes rank 13th nationally in 3-point percentage (.386) thanks in large part to secondary star Joe Wieskamp and veteran point guard Jordan Bohannon. Iowa not only dishes out the fourth-most assists per made field goal, but also has the lowest turnover rate in the nation. They are defensively much improved from last season (97th in 2020; 50th in 2021) and have particularly better on that end of late.

5. Alabama Crimson Tide (24-6, 16-2 SEC)

Gold Star Leader: Herb Jones (11.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.4 apg)

Good luck finding many teams more entertaining than Alabama. The Crimson Tide are one of the very few teams that can play at a ridiculously fast pace and still rank extremely high on the defensive end. They hold the second-best adjusted defensive efficiency rating in the country while playing at the ninth-fastest tempo. ‘Bama defends the arc extremely well and forces their fair share of turnovers. Herb Jones is an All-American and easily one of the best defenders in the country. Offensively, head coach Nate Oats’ team launches threes at the 17th-highest rate. They can still win without hitting the three thanks to their elite defense, but nobody is beating them when they are connecting from distance. Jahvon Quinerly has been blossoming down the stretch.

4. Michigan Wolverines (20-4, 14-3 B1G)

Gold Star Leader: Hunter Dickinson (14.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg)

This ranking is somewhat dependent on the severity of Isaiah Livers’ injury. If he is unavailable for the entirety of the Big Dance, the Wolverines might slip a couple of spots but would still be safely within the Top 10. Head coach Juwan Howard has done wonders with this group; he did an excellent job this offseason filling in the holes around Livers and Franz Wagner. Most notably, freshman Hunter Dickinson is a star post man and Columbia transfer Mike Smith has been a genius facilitator of the offense. Michigan is just 2-3 over its last five coming into the NCAA Tournament and could be without Livers. That’s worrying. But if they can get back on track, they can win it all.

3. Baylor Bears (22-2, 13-1 B12)

Gold Star Leader: Jared Butler (17.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.8 apg)

Baylor has been a Top 5 team in the country all season long and that remains the same here. Even though the Bears have looked a little rusty since coming back from a pause, they have still notched victories over West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech since. They are 22-2 overall with their lone losses coming to teams on the Top 4 seed lines. The key to making a run at the national championship will be getting their defense back on track. Baylor’s offense still ranks third in adjusted efficiency (tops in 3P% at 41.8%), but its defense has dipped to 44th. They need to remedy an eFG% allowed of 49.1 percent (129th nationally) in order to win it all, but they could do exactly that. Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell are both All-Americans.

2. Illinois Fighting Illini (23-6, 16-4 B1G)

Gold Star Leader: Ayo Dosunmu (20.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.3 apg)

Illinois was the national leader in Quad-1 wins and absolutely rolled down the stretch of the campaign. The Illini arrive in Indianapolis as Big Ten Tournament champions and winners in a ridiculous 14 of their last 15 games. That is an insane accomplishment given they played in the Big Ten and each opponent was slotted in the KenPom Top 100. With Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, this team boasts both a perimeter and an interior star with which to combat their oppoisition’s defense. Illinois also ranks 25th in 3P% compared to 310th a year ago, thanks in large part to Da’Monte Williams leading the nation at a 56.5 percent (62 attempts). Trent Frazier has also revitalized his shooting this year.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-0, 15-0 WCC)

Gold Star Leader: Drew Timme (18.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.0 apg)

If you are surprised by Gonzaga at No. 1 here, welcome to the 2020-21 college basketball season — you arrived just in time. The Bulldogs have been the best team in the sport all season long and it hasn’t been that close to this point. They have rolled through the vast majority of their opponents, which includes wins over Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa, Virginia, and BYU (three times). This team tested itself in nonconference and then blew away the WCC. Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, and Jalen Suggs are all likely All-Americans. The fact that Joel Ayayi is their fourth-best player is a testament the ridiculously loaded roster Mark Few assembled. Heck, Andrew Nembhard even came off the bench for 16 games. Gonzaga ranks tops in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency, and plays at a pace that is difficult to handle. They are the deserving favorite to win it all this year.

Lukas Harkins
Lukas Harkins

Heat Check CBB national writer and bracketologist