I haven’t written much about college basketball on the site in the past, but I had a lot of thoughts on the season and wanted to publish my own opinions. A lot of college basketball analysis is flawed, and the basic issue I find with traditional analysis is the fact that even when you lose on the road to a good team, you get downgraded. Home/away splits and strength of schedule get taken out of context, and take away from how to really look at a team’s performance. Here is my power ranking of teams as of March 10th, with major conference tournaments ready to begin and give a few teams their last shot at the tournament.
This isn’t an attempt at bracketology or predicting the field, just my ranking of the best teams in the country. With 32 automatic bids and 11 projected conference champs included in my rankings, I will only rank the top 47, leaving the other 21 spots in the tournament up to the bottom-feeder conference tournaments.
- Florida – Even though it is a terrible year for the SEC as a whole, Florida’s overall resume is the best in the country. Two road losses early in the year gave way to quality wins over Kansas, Memphis, and an undefeated SEC run. Even if they drop a game in the SEC tourney, Florida is a lock for a #1 seed.
- Arizona – Holding the #1 spot on Kenpom holds a lot of weight for me, and Arizona’s defense is the most efficient in the country. No team in the country has more impressive road wins (SD St., Michigan, & UCLA), making it close to a coin flip for my top overall seed.
- Wichita St. – This is a spot that needs a lot more than a sentence or two, but you have to respect 34-0. This is a balanced team that may still be underestimated going into the tournament.
- Villanova – Winning the Battle 4 Atlantis in November gave Nova an incredible non-conference profile, and only having losses to Cuse and Creighton makes Villanova the fourth top seed if they close out the Big East tournament.
- Kansas – 8 losses is a lot for a potential 2 seed, but Kansas’s schedule was absolutely absurd and from a talent and production standpoint, they’re an elite squad. They maintained the top offense and defensive efficiency in Big 12 conference play.
- Duke – There are enough great wins on their schedule to balance out the rough road losses. Duke’s offense is dangerous, and Jabari Parker can carry this team far.
- Louisville – The returning champs have gotten little to no fanfare nationally, yet remain a huge threat. Montrezl Harrell is one of the key players for the entire tournament, and Russ Smith remains a monster on both ends of the floor.
- Virginia – The Hoos have flipped a switch since Tennessee destroyed them in their final non-conference game, and have the defensive talent to match up with anybody.
- Wisconsin – Outside of their horrid 1-5 stretch in January, the Badgers have been a top 5 team in the country. Unfortunately for them, those three home losses will hold back their seeding.
- Michigan – If Michigan or Wisconsin wins the big 10 tournament, they will slide up to a 2 seed for sure. Last year’s runner up still has a balanced and efficient offense.
- Syracuse – A lock for a 1 seed just two weeks ago, losing to BC and Georgia Tech at home has set the Orange back. If they can pull off an ACC tournament win, they will rocket back up the list.
- Cincinnati – Sean Kilpatrick is the kind of player who feels like he’s been in college forever, and that’s a huge compliment to his consistent level of play. If the Bearcats knock down their outside shots, they are going to be an extremely tough matchup.
- Creighton – They have Doug McDermott and no home losses. If they beat Villanova for the Big East title they could slide up to a 3 seed in my book.
- San Diego St. – Despite sitting at #23 on Kenpom, the Aztecs have an impressive resume and defense for March.
- Iowa St. – This is a team that anybody would hate to match up against in March. The Big 12 had the toughest, most balanced conference in the country and Iowa St. handled it well after beating Michigan and Iowa, two of the Big 10’s best, during their non-conference schedule.
- Michigan St. – Never count out Tom Izzo, and in a year without the depth of many top years, Michigan St.’s top wins are enough to get them a 4 seed.
- North Carolina – This team is too reliant on Marcus Paige for my liking, but their recent hot streak and non-conference slate show just how dangerous (if inconsistent) they are.
- Ohio St. – If not for two terrible losses to Penn State, the Buckeyes would slide up this list. Their outside shooting is rough, but this is a solid, experienced team.
- Connecticut – Shabazz Napier is a stud, and I’ll take UConn over SMU or Memphis at the back-end of the AAC teams.
- VCU – They don’t have a big win other than UVA, but VCU’s Havoc makes them the best team in the A10. A conference tourney win would obviously help their seed tremendously.
- Oregon – Oregon’s season has weirdly mirrored Wisconsin with a midseason swoon and great play the rest of the year. In my opinion, they’re the second best
- Oklahoma St. – I’m throwing out the 3 games where Marcus Smart was suspended, and look at their elite athletic trio of Smart, Brown, and Nash to go with Phil Forte’s shooting. This is a team built for the tournament – all they need to do is rebound and they will win a couple games.
- Iowa – Iowa’s defense tanked towards the end of the season, but they are still one of the best 11 loss teams you will see. They could use a couple wins in the Big 10 tourney.
- Oklahoma – They slowly snuck up the ranks as the season went on, never having an outcome too good or too bad. Playing in the Big 12 has prepared them well, but despite their 12-6 record I think they are really the 4th or 5th best team in the conference.
- Kentucky – A tough team to place and one without a real identity on either side of the floor, Kentucky has enough to talent to pull their team together and knock off a giant or just lose by 20 in the first round.
- UCLA – Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are one of the best backcourts in the country, and even though they don’t have a standout win, UCLA will be a tough out.
- SMU – Larry Brown has made SMU a real contender, and Nic Moore is underrated nationally. They have a couple bad road losses, but so do a lot of teams at this level.
- Baylor – Another team that rebounded from a midseason swoon, has the size and shooting to pull off an upset or two.
- Saint Louis – After being overrated for nearly the whole season, St. Louis has fallen back to earth. Their defense is legit, but I’m not sure this team has the firepower to win games in March away from home.
- Memphis – A normal yet unspectacular tournament-level team, Memphis needs to take advantage of home court for the AAC tournament.
- Pittsburgh – Reductionist systems like RPI and the AP poll discredit Pittsburgh across the board, and at this point it’s pretty sad. This is a team that has fought the top teams in the ACC and shouldn’t be close to the bubble.
- Tennessee – They’ve risen all the way to #13 on KenPom, and it would be a travesty if they miss the tournament. The SEC semifinal could give the opportunity to knock off Florida and prove their true worth.
- Gonzaga – While they don’t have any elite wins, Gonzaga has a lot of solid mid-level wins over the likes of Arkansas and West Virginia. They missed a few opportunities to impress on the road, but retain a solid overall profile.
- Texas – They have a very solid overall profile, but their efficiency numbers leave a little to be desired. A couple wins in the Big 12 tournament would help quell some of those doubts.
- Nebraska – An easier conference schedule helped, but Nebraska’s 11-3 finish to conference play easily puts them in the field. A win over Ohio St. in the conference tournament would move them up even more.
- Kansas St. – Some early season losses hold back their computer numbers, but they have wins over 8 teams on this list, including Kansas.
- New Mexico – this is where it starts to get dicey with teams that don’t necessarily “deserve” to be in. A couple of good home wins will carry them into their tournament, but I don’t have much confidence for them to get out of the first round.
- George Washington – I think the A10 has gotten a bit overrated, but GW has a solid defense and good wins over Creighton and VCU while dealing with multiple injuries.
- Arizona St. – Dropping their last game to Oregon St. was a letdown, but thanks to a weak bubble Arizona St. should still be OK.
- Xavier – Creighton, Cincinnati, and Tennesee give them three solid wins, but taking out Marquette in the first round of the conference tournament is still needed to lock them into a bid.
- UMass – They did a great job manipulating RPI in their favor and not playing any gimmes, and are a team I can’t wait to pick against in the tournament. But they still deserve to get in.
- Harvard – They basically cruised through the regular season, and as weird as it sounds, losing by 5 at Uconn was their best performance of the season. The advanced numbers support them a lot more than teams like Stephen F. Austin and Southern Miss.
- BYU – Their tempo overstates their true scoring margin, but I like that they only lost 1 game at home and took out Stanford and Texas away from their building. Because the bubble is so weak this year, they’re in a good spot.
- Stanford – Is Stanford a great team? No, but with wins over UConn, Oregon, and UCLA and no terrible losses they deserve a shot in March.
- St. John’s – I’m not sure what is with all of these teams that had terrible January stretches (long New Years parties, guys?) but St. John’s has looked like a different team towards the end of conference play. They need a win over Providence in the Big East tournament, but they should make it in.
- Minnesota – Teams need to be looked at for the quality of their play adjusted for their opponents, and when you look at the schedule Minnesota has taken on, suddenly 12 losses doesn’t look too bad. Taking out Ohio St., Wisconsin, and Iowa is no easy task, even at home.
- Florida St. – The Seminoles are in a similar spot to Minnesota, and unfortunately the committee tends to like the mid-majors with 8 losses and an easy schedule to the majors with 12 losses and a tough one. I think they should be in, but they probably need two wins in the ACC tourney to convince the committee.
On the Outside Looking In (in no exact order) - Utah, Providence, Clemson, Georgetown, Dayton, Arkansas, Maryland, Colorado, Louisiana Tech
Matt Cott is a co-founder of RotoAnalysis and writer for The New York Times and CBS Philly as well as a student at UVA who swears his bias didn’t affect this column. Follow him on Twitter @KidCotti21!
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