#16 North Carolina Central Eagles
This is the 3rd straight tournament appearance for the Eagles who are led by Raasean Davis (14.6 PPG 8.9 RPB) and underrated head coach Lavell Moton. It’s a shame that all the media coverage goes to the other school in Durham.
#16 North Dakota State Bison
The Bison have a winning culture that stems from their football team winning 7 FCS National Titles this decade. Rocky Kreuser has to be one of the best names in the field.
#16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Kaleb Bishop and a school mascot of a Knight? This team is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Knights to F4.
#16 Prairie View A&M Panthers
There is an A&M in the tournament and they aren’t from College Station. The Panthers have lost one game in 2019 so far and have a National Championship in their view.
#11 Belmont Bruins
The NET Rankings present themselves with Belmont beating out the bubble. The Bruins won road games at UCLA and at Murray State but ultimately fell to the Racers in the Ohio Valley Championship. They play with tremendous pace and shooting, scoring 87.4 PPG. Dylan Windler could be a fringe NBA prospect with averages or 21.4 PPG and 10.7 RPG on 43 % 3-point shooting.
#11 Temple Owls
Shizz Alston Jr. and company did enough to make the field of 68. Owls are thought of as the wisest of animals and Temple has no shortage of wisdom in 70 year old head coach Fran Dunphy.
#11 Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State was the third Pac 12 Team to make the field after sweating out the bubble but that’s something they’ve got to be used to living in the heat. The Sun Devils have talent but I don’t even think they know which version of themselves is going to show up to play in the First Four. I’ll play devil’s advocate and assume the team that beat Kansas shows up instead of the team that lost to Vanderbilt and Princeton.
#11 St. John’s Red Storm
Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon, Mustapha Heron, Marvin Clark, and LJ Figueroa are all capable scorers and when they are “on” this team is FUN. If the Red Storm get out and run they have the scorers to stay in any game.
#1 Duke Blue Devils
First off Nike reportedly sent their best people to personally fit a shoe specifically for Zion and that somehow isn’t preferential treatment? There’s nothing I can tell you about Duke that you haven’t seen on ESPN since Trae Young passed the torch to Zion Williamson, but what I can tell you is that Duke is a true underdog team that nobody believes in with a group of underrated players that nobody thought had the ability to win games. If you think Duke is good now, just wait until Zion and RJ Barrett are seniors.
#8 VCU Rams
VCU defeated Shaka Smart in Austin, Texas this year and that’s all you need to know about the direction of the two programs in the last four years. One team is in the tournament and one is not.
#9 UCF Knights
This committee believes that UCF should make the playoffs! Not only does the Knights roster contain 7’ 6” Tacko Fall but they also have former Michigan Wolverine Aubrey Dawkins playing under his dad and averaging 15.2 PPG after battling injuries the past couple seasons. The Knights have been good all season in an improving American Conference.
#5 Mississippi State Bulldogs
You can’t lose with someone named Quinndary Weatherspoon.
#12 Liberty Flames
What a great name for a school in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Liberty won a competitive Atlantic Sun Conference and you know that a school with Hugh Freeze as the head football coach is willing to do anything to win.
#4 Virginia Tech Hokies
Justin Robinson is back from injury for the tournament to rejoin Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear Jr. giving the Hokies a talented trio to play under Coach Buzz Williams who will surely be sweating things out on the sidelines.
#13 Saint Louis Billikens
A Billiken is “the god of things as they ought to be” which is an absolutely genius mascot to have if the way things ought to be for your team is to win games. We’ll see if it pays off.
#6 Maryland Terrapins
Maryland lost three of their last four games but this is the part of the story where the hare thinks he has an insurmountable lead on the tortoise. The Terrapins have us right where they want us and that’s taking a nap. The team has been slow, but now it’s time to be steady and win the race.
#3 LSU Tigers
LSU has an elite scorer in Tremont Waters and a relentless player in Naz Reid but Will Wade will be out indefinitely (crime). That could allow someone as crafty as Waters to play even more freely with the talent around him.
#14 Yale Bulldogs
Yale plays really fast with guards Miye Oni and Alex Copeland keeping things under control for the Bulldogs as evidenced by the 97 points scored to win the Ivy League. There is no shortage of high IQ players on this roster.
#7 Louisville Cardinals
Chris Mack had no drop off moving from Xavier to Louisville, getting the Cardinals back to a respectable level. Jordan Nwora is a versatile forward on a team that showed flashes in wins against Michigan State and North Carolina among other close losses.
#10 Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers are an athletic group that either play really well or really badly. Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey do most of the work for a team with little bench scoring. The Gophers will go as far as that combination takes them and cannot dig themselves into early holes.
#2 Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State is one of the most complete teams in the country with a star point guard in Cassius Winston, a three-and-D player in Matt McQuaid, and mobile big man Xavier Tillman. After finally getting to see them in person, Winston can make any pass or shot that he needs to and is impossible to guard if he gets the switch off a screen that he wants. McQuaid just scored 27 points to win the Big Ten Tournament and is the perfect fit alongside Winston. Can the Spartans make it past the round of 32 for the first time in three years?
#15 Bradley Braves
Bradley has the fourth most international players in college basketball which means they must value the fundamentals. A lot of “flashy” highly rated kids are only concerned with their mixtapes. This won’t be an issue for Bradley.
#1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Not only is Rui Hachimura much improved in the English language, but he improved in every statistical category to become one of the best forwards in college basketball. He went toe to toe with Zion in Maui and won. Gonzaga has scoring at all five positions and when you can bring Killian Tillie off the bench you know you are in good shape depth wise. This team brings a 30-3 record into the tournament but I truly believe they haven’t reached their full potential.
#8 Syracuse Orange
I think Jim Boeheim figured out a couple years ago that his teams do much better if they’re a lower seed in the tournament. Prior to the postseason ban in 2015 the Orange were perennial 5 seeds or higher. Following the ban, The Orange made the Final Four as a 10 seed and a Sweet 16 as an 11 seed. It’s a bold strategy but we’re in the age of tanking where you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Simply put, there’s a reason that youth basketball is trying to ban the 2-3 zone: They’ve seen how unfair it is for Syracuse in a tournament setting.
#9 Baylor Bears
Makai Mason is back in the NCAA Tournament where we last saw him score 31 points for Yale to upset Baylor. What a classy move for Mason to join the Bears to try and help them win some games after what he did a few years ago.
#5 Marquette Golden Eagles
Markus Howard vs Ja Morant in the first round? Yes please. Howard is a lethal scorer that leads the run and gun Golden Eagles with the pep in his step to be the dynamic guard that carries his team on a tournament run. In total there are four starters who shoot over 40% from deep for Marquette including the Hauser brothers. Everyone likes to talk about Adrian Wojnarowski’s “Woj Bombs” but watch out for Steve Wojciechowski’s team that has the “bombs away” mentality. When they hit shots and defend just a little bit they can run with anyone.
#12 Murray State Racers
If you can tell me what state Murray State is actually located in then good for you. But one thing I can tell you about the Racers is that Ja Morant is every bit as advertised and he has quality teammates around him. Morant will be a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft avering 24.6 points, 10 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game on 50% FG shooting. The NCAA Tournament is better for having Morant and Murray State in the field and fans should do everything they can to watch from his pregame dunks to the final whistle.
#4 Florida State Seminoles
Florida State literally has a player named Christ and if that’s not enough I don’t know what is.
#13 Vermont Catamounts
The Catamounts avenged their loss vs UMBC in the America East championship and are ready to make some upsets of their own. Anthony Lamb leads the way for Vermont and the Cats are ready to mount a run.
#6 Buffalo Bulls
If you’ve ever watched a rodeo you know how hard it is to ride a bull for more than a few seconds but I’m telling you to ride these bulls for 3 weeks. CJ Massinburg represents #MACtion at a high level once again after announcing himself to the world in last year’s tournament. Buffalo is back for more with the 4th highest scoring team in the field of 68.
#3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
Chris Beard is one of the best coaches in America and I don’t know how many people actually know that. In 2016 Beard’s Arkansas Little Rock team won the Sun Belt and upset Purdue in the first round. In 2018 he got Texas Tech to the Elite 8 of the tournament. This season the Red Raiders earned a share of the Big 12 regular season title with undervalued players such as Jarrett Culver. There may not be much else in Lubbock, Texas, but there is the best basketball in the state and it really isn’t that close.
#14 Northern Kentucky Norse
Everyone knows that Old MacDonald had a farm but not everyone knows that Drew McDonald has a team that won the Horizon League for the second time in three seasons. The Norse won at Little Caesars Arena, notoriously empty for basketball games of all levels, showing that this team knows how to create its own energy.
#7 Nevada Wolfpack
“It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep may be.” It’s the Wolfpack and everyone else despite the low seed. Nevada is defined by positionless basketball and experienced players, a deadly combination in March. The Martin Twins have one last chance but Jordan Caroline is the man that really makes the pack strong. If Nevada hits outside shots they can beat anyone, and this is a scary team that sees teams they can hunt.
#10 Florida Gators
KeVaughn Allen is in the tournament for his senior season but his fate may be more closely tied to the ability of freshman guard Andrew Nembhard to break out. It was his big shot to beat LSU that got Florida on the right side of the bubble and could have the Gators chomping at your bracket.
#2 Michigan Wolverines
Michigan held 9 of the 24 teams they played to a season low points per possession. The Wolverines can play stifling defense but it all comes down to ball movement for this team. Zavier Simpson and the skyhook enter the NCAA Tournament with plenty to prove. Luke Wilson, one of the beest walk ons in the country, says Michigan has a chance because, “we have Coach Beilein”.
#15 Montana Grizzlies
Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring and these Grizzlies certainly aren’t in hibernation. Jamar Akoh, Ahmaad Rorie, Sayeed Pridgett all average over 15 PPG and face a familiar first round foe.
#1 Virginia Cavaliers
Questions abound after the Retrievers ate brackets last season. How would Virginia respond to the UMBC loss? Does defense still win championships? Will the Cavaliers play another team with a dog mascot? De’Andre Hunter is healthy this year, let’s see what kind of difference that makes.
#16 Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
Gardner-Webb qualified for their first NCAA tournament by upending the defending Big South Champion Radford Highlanders on the road. DJ Laster scored 32 points in that game for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. There are few things worse than those without a sense of urgency and Gardner-Webb’s mascot ensures that won’t be a concern.
#8 Ole Miss Rebels
Kermit Davis reversed Ole Miss’ record in his first year and got them to the tournament. Breein Tyree can score in bunches which they’ll need to fight their way into the deep rounds.
#9 Oklahoma Sooners
The Oklahoma basketball team gave up less points per game than their football team did this season (don’t check that stat but it’s closer than it should be). ESPN may miss the days of erratic shot selection from last season but this team actually deserves to be in the tournament.
#5 Wisconsin Badgers
Ethan Happ post moves. Give him the ball and get out of the way.
#12 Oregon Ducks
People said the Pac 12 was a one-bid league? Think again! With 4 wins in 4 days the Oregon Ducks are alive and quacking. The Ducks lost Bol Bol early in the season but seem to have figured things out thanks to a lineup adjustment that involves starting four 6’ 9” players in Kenny Wooten, Paul White, Louis King, and Francis Okoro and equip Oregon with plenty of defensive versatility. Payton Pritchard has Final Four experience as the point guard for this team and does everything for the Ducks (12.7 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.7 RPB). The Ducks may have been ugly most of the season, but they looked in the mirror and found themselves at the right time.
#4 Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State deserves credit for ending Kansas’ reign over the Big 12 and for their top 3 scoring defense. The Wildcats made the Elite 8 last year without Dean Wade and may have to do it again as he’s missed time with another injury. They play as tough as any team in America.
#13 UC Irvine Anteaters
Candidate for best mascot of the tournament, the Anteaters lost five games all year. Gone are the days of Mamadou N’Diaye for UC Irvine but Max Hazzard will have teams cautious of bothering the mascot that eliminates pests and higher seeds alike.
#6 Villanova Wildcats
They won it all last year.
#11 St. Mary’s Gaels
Jordan Ford averages 21.3 points per game and is surrounded by Australians, New Zealanders, and Europeans. St. Mary’s beat Gonzaga to earn their automatic bid. Not even Duke could do that.
#3 Purdue Boilermakers
This team goes with Carsen Edwards. If he is locked in then there’s nobody that can guard him. If he forces shots up inefficiently, he basically guards himself. He averaged 23 points per game this season and will be in attack mode all game long.
#14 Old Dominion Monarchs
Coach Jeff Jones has coached through cancer in a truly inspiring story, the kind that make this sport so special. BJ Stith and Ahmad Carter both average over 16.5 PPG to lead the Monarchs.
#7 Cincinnati Bearcats
Jarron Cumberland seems to be enough for the defensive minded Bearcats that are more than happy to get down and guard. This is your friendly reminder that a bearcat is also a real animal.
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes lost in Columbus, Fran McCaffery chased the refs into the tunnel to curse them out, and got suspended 2 games for it. Including that one, Iowa has lost 5 of their last 6 games but at least they have a coach willing to speak his mind.
#2 Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee beat Kentucky twice this season and has two of the most physically imposing players in the nation. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams have heard how overrated they are all year.
#15 Colgate Raiders
Roll out the toothpaste jokes all you want but Colgate should be taken seriously with guys like Jordan Burns (35 points in Patriot League Final) and Rapolas Ivanauskas (16.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 43.4 3-point %). Don’t brush the Raiders to the side.
#1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Iona won their 4th straight MAAC Tournament title meaning that this is a surprisingly experienced NCAA tournament team. They’re due for some NCAA Tournament wins now.
#8 Utah State Aggies
Sam Merrill is a stud averaging 21.2 PPG but Utah State’s inclusion is more closely connected to the Zion obsession. It’s no coincidence that the state with Zion National Park gets a school into the dance.
#9 Washington Huskies
Mike Hopkins rolls out the 2-3 Zone just like he learned from Jim Boeheim. Manifest Destiny of the 2-3 Zone.
#5 Auburn Tigers
A Tiger does not need to boast that it is a Tiger. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown lead a streaky shooting Auburn team coming in with momentum after winning the SEC Tournament.
#12 New Mexico State Aggies
New Mexico State has made eight NCAA Tournaments since 2010 meaning it’s either time to win some games in the big dance or time to pick a different conference.
#4 Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self is coaching for his job after not winning the Big 12 for the first time in 14 years. Sometimes fear is the best motivator.
#13 Northeastern Huskies
Vasa Pusica hit 7 threes to win the Colonial and leads a balanced but potent Huskies team. Two Huskies teams in the region has this looking like the Iditarod.
#6 Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State beat Kansas in the Big 12 Championship game to ensure that the Jayhawks were unable to win a conference title. Marial Shayok and Lindell Wigginton turn Iowa State into Team Canada. Nick Weiler-Babb and Talen Horton-Tucker are among the names that make this Cyclones team a broadcaster’s dream.
#11 Ohio State Buckeyes
Did you know that Chris Holtmann has a higher annual base salary than Dabo Swinney? If you’re getting paid like that you better win it all. Kaleb Wesson must avoid foul trouble.
#3 Houston Cougars
Everyone wondered how Houston would respond to getting their hearts ripped out but the Cougars are arguably better this year than last. They only give up 61 points a game and they beat four tournament teams in the non conference. All of their guards can shoot the three ball. Corey Davis Jr. has filled the shoes of Rob Gray nicely and Armani Brooks has emerged as well. This team has admirable resiliency and should be believed in.
#14 Georgia State Panthers
I told you last year about D’Marcus Simonds and he’s worth mentioning again. Georgia State is becoming a power in the Sun Belt.
#7 Wofford Terriers
Wofford lost 4 games all season long: Home vs UNC, @ Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi St. and won at South Carolina by 20. Fletcher Magee, Nathan Hoover, and Storm Murphy will have announcers salivating for white basketball stereotypes. And the Terriers are stocked with 4 players that shoot over 41% from 3 including Magee who has made 502 in his career and is 2 behind Travis Bader for most 3’s in NCAA history. You know what they say about hungry dogs.
#10 Seton Hall Pirates
It’s all about Myles for the Pirates. Myles Powell and Myles Cale are the two leading scorers for Seton Hall.
#2 Kentucky Wildcats
Tyler Herro or Tyler Hero? The Freshman guard has been important to Kentucky’s success and has been a great fit alongside PJ Washington, whose decision to return to school has paid off. The Wildcats have depth but more importantly they have some experience because Duke took all the 5-stars.
#15 Abilene Christian Wildcats
Abilene Christian qualified for its first NCAA Tournament in only its sixth year of being a Division 1 school. The home of Taco Bueno has a team that is muy bueno and represents the Southland Conference.