Before fans and pundits can debate the merits of where every team that made the NCAA Tournament was placed in the March Madness bracket, there are still the last set of rankings to view in comparison to the seeding of the tournament. While national rankings may not matter in the grand scheme of things as it pertains to the postseason, they at least give some insight into how some of the more well-known and respected programs rightfully or wrongfully fared when they were ranked for the March Madness extravaganza. When all is said and done, the following power rankings are simply a badge of honor with which to proclaim some type of success for excelling during the regular season.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
While the Cavaliers inability to score more than 70 points in a game consistently could do them in during the tournament, they proved emphatically that their crushing defense is more than capable of shutting down prolific offenses. Combined with their superb coaching, the Cavaliers have the discipline and intelligence to dissect their opponents weaknesses and win it all by the end of the tournament.
2. Villanova Wildcats
Although their defense looked decidedly better during the Big East tournament than it had during the regular season, the Wildcats need to prove that they can stifle opponents that are more competitively dynamic. However, if their offense is able to get open looks consistently, their uninspired play on defense may not matter much if they are able to score 80 points or more against their opponent.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Terrific on offense and defense, the Bulldogs will only fall in the tournament if they commit unforced errors down the stretch of a tight game. Without any noticeable weaknesses to speak of, the Bulldogs will be an extremely tough out in the tournament if their underrated athletes are able to perform exceptionally well on both ends of the court.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Although you could still make a case for the Spartans being the favorites to win the National Title based on their talent alone, it’s been their inconsistencies when it comes to shooting and maintaining possession of the basketball that is a serious cause for concern. If this program fails to play tough against a prolific shooting team in Bucknell, the Spartans could very well be forced to exit the tournament early yet again.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
Unselfish and potent offensively, the Jayhawks once again look like an elite program that could win it all by the end of the tournament. Unfortunately, their lackadaisical defense could leave them open to being upset if their offense goes through a brief cold spell against a strong defensive unit that is capable of shooting high percentage shots.
6. Cincinnati Bearcats
Even when their offense struggles mightily, the relentless defense of the Bearcats consistently prevents the opposition from receiving extra opportunities as they are proficient at blocking shots and garnering rebounds off of the defensive glass. If they can maintain their scoring average of 75 points per game, the Bearcats will be a difficult out for their respective opponent.
7. Michigan Wolverines
Arguably the hottest team going into the tournament, the Wolverines were highly productive on both offense and defense down the stretch of the regular season. If they can be a bit more tenacious when it comes to snatching rebounds off of the glass (33.3 RPG), their strong defensive presence combined with their clutch outside shooting abilities will be more than enough to get them to the Final Four this year.
8. Duke Blue Devils
In order for Duke to make the most of its talent-laden roster, they need to cut back on the silly turnovers (13 TPG) while getting the most of their big men when it comes to garnering rebounds off of the offensive glass. Assuming the Blue Devils capable zone defense can be effective, this program has everything and more to succeed and ultimately win a National Title.
9. North Carolina Tar Heels
If the Tar Heels are able to churn unabated, they have a fantastic chance of winning it all again by the time April 2nd comes around. Despite lacking the size of teams from years past, the Tar Heels are impressively one of the best rebounding teams in college basketball, which is vital to their being particularly deadly and unstoppable on a consistent basis.
10. Purdue Boilermakers
Despite having several tenacious athletes and a beast of a human being in Isaac Haas, the Boilermakers are actually a relatively anemic rebounding team (35 RPG). This is not to say that the Boilermakers are doomed to fail. In fact, when they are able to move the ball swiftly and effectively, they have plenty of playmakers, the most notable of whom are Vincent Edwards and Carsen Edwards.
11. Xavier Musketeers
Losing to Providence in the Big East tournament, the Musketeers confirmed the fears of anyone that had the bold idea of picking them to go far in March Madness: their defense is a serious liability. As great as their offense is, it will not matter much if they cannot prevent their respective opponents from scoring 70 points or more in a given contest.
12. Arizona Wildcats
Although the ease with which the Wildcats ran through their conference tournament may inspire some individuals to dub them a Final Four favorite, their lingering issues on defense have to be a cause for a concern for a program that is otherwise incredibly talented. However, given how productive and efficient their offense is on a consistent basis, they may be able to overcome their weaknesses on defense and overcome the controversy surrounding their program by playing tough in the tournament.
13. Tennessee Volunteers
While the Volunteers are not an electric team offensively, they are a relentless and determined defensive unit that does more than enough to allow their shooters to eventually find their rhythm. If Tennessee can score at least 70 points per game in the tournament, they will have a great chance of making it to the Elite Eight if not farther during March Madness.
14. Wichita State Shockers
Although the Shockers undoubtedly possess one of the most efficient and productive offenses in the country, their uninspired play defensively has been to their detriment on more than one occasion. If they can attack the glass with inspired zeal, they may be able to overcome their worrisome defensive issues.
15. West Virginia Mountaineers
With their full-court press defense looking far better during the Big 12 Conference tournament, the Mountaineers have the recipe for success to go far in the NCAA Tournament. With point guard Jevon Carter being the vocal and fearless leader for his team on offense and defense, the Mountaineers possess the intangibles and physical grit to take down any opponent that makes the fatal mistake of underestimating them.
16. Houston Cougars
Despite losing to Cincinnati in the American Conference tournament, the Cougars should not be underestimated during March Madness as they possess a highly physical defense and a fearless athlete in Rob Gray that can single-handedly lead his team to victory. They rarely win pretty, but Houston’s insatiable competitive nature combined with their boundless stamina is ideal for a grueling tournament format.
17. Ohio State Buckeyes
Scrappy defensively, the Buckeyes are disciplined when holding opposing offenses to minimal opportunities. Offensively, the Buckeyes are proficient at taking high percentage shots near the basket and should be in great shape to make a run in the tournament if Keita Bates-Diop is playing at a high level.
18. Auburn Tigers
When the Tigers bully their opponents on the glass (38.2 RPG) and make their shots consistently they are extremely difficult to stifle for an extended period of time. However, when their usually productive offense breaks down, they are incapable of rallying defensively against opportunistic opponents. While the Tigers should not be taken lightly, their over-reliance on their shooters to carry them to victory could be a problem if they have to face a disciplined defense in the tournament.
19. Clemson Tigers
As great as the Tigers are defensively (65.8 PAPG), they struggle to block out some of the more prolific three-point shooters in the half court. However, the Tigers do have some tenacious defenders in Marquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, both of whom will need to be particularly vigilant when they take on a defensive minded New Mexico program in the tournament.
20. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Limping their way into the postseason, the Red Raiders have looked like a shell of themselves defensively. Worse still, their unimpressive offense has been unable to carry the load and is susceptible to being intimidated by some of the more stout defenses in college basketball. While the Red Raiders possess the talent to go far in the tournament, they need to be able to overcome some recent adversity to really shine when it matters the most.
21. Kentucky Wildcats
Winning the SEC tournament was vital to elevating the confidence of the youngest team in college basketball, which could not have come at a better time. However, the Wildcats inability to shut down their opponents when they are down from a scoring perspective is a bit of a concern, especially during March Madness.
22. Nevada Wolfpack
Losing to San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference tournament, the Wolfpack made it abundantly clear that they cannot win against reputable opponents when their offense becomes stagnant. Luckily, the Wolfpack are a strong outside shooting team (39.8 3P%), an advantage that they will need to rely on consistently if they hope to make some noise in the tournament.
23. New Mexico State Aggies
One of the better programs in the tournament that you have never heard of, the Aggies boast one of the most efficient defensive and rebounding units in college basketball (63.8 PAPG, 41.5 RPG). Although they struggle mightily when it comes to shooting the basketball, the Aggies could pose a problem for a Clemson program that is reliant upon the three-point shot to score consistently.
24. Miami Hurricanes
With their offense improving noticeably down the stretch of the regular season, the Hurricanes simply need their capable yet inconsistent defense to be rock solid if they hope to go far in March Madness. Even more importantly, Miami needs to be at least average from the free throw line if they hope to win tight defensive grudge matches in tournament play (66.3 FT%).
25. Creighton Blue Jays
Although the Blue Jays have been fairly poor from a defensive standpoint, their offense could very well be their saving grace in their first-round matchup with Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament. If Marcus Foster can be the prolific and dynamic shooter that he was during the regular season (49 FG%, 42.2 3P%), the Blue Jays could be a surprisingly adept competitor in March Madness.