At long last, the NCAA Tournament bracket is finally set. Outside of Nevada entering the field ahead of Rutgers, there was little drama on the bubble as the experts proved why they’re the best at projecting the field. The final Power 16 rankings of the season will be a little different this time around. Instead of listing the 16 best teams in the sport, I’ll list the 16 teams that I believe will be dancing their way into the second weekend. Follow along at your own risk and happy bracketing!

1. Houston (31-3) No. 1 Midwest

I’m sure I’ll come to regret these words, but I think Houston got the most favorable 8-9 matchup of any 1-seed this season. I’d argue Iowa and Auburn are the worst team at their respective seeds and I see the Cougars advancing to the Sweet 16 even if Marcus Sasser (pictured) isn’t available the first weekend. Kelvin Sampson will extend his second weekend streak this season, and are the team to beat provided Sasser comes back healthy.

2. Alabama (29-5) No. 1 South

With the best collegiate prospect and an endless supply of disruptive defenders, the Crimson Tide have an elite mix of game changing players and a consistent defensive effort that frustrated SEC opponents like no other this weekend. The defense did have some lapses against high level competition (and Oklahoma), but I don’t think they’ll have to worry about that before the second weekend.

3. Purdue (29-5) No. 1 East

So much of Purdue’s tournament will rely on what happens in the matchups around them. If it stays chalky and pits them against Memphis, I don’t think they’ll survive the first weekend. Beyond that, Duke and Tennessee would cause serious problems with their frontcourt length to disrupt Edey. Give them FAU and a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16? You might as well book their hotel in Houston.

4. Texas (26-8) No. 2 Midwest

The Longhorns should be considered on high upset alert with a dangerous 7-10 matchup that could cause them fits regardless of who wins. However, the way they handled Kansas in the Big 12 Championship was beyond impressive and buying into their incredible backcourt is as easy as Zach Edey making a hook shot. Rodney Terry’s magical ride continues to the Sweet 16.

5. Duke (26-8) No. 5 East

The Blue Devils faithful should be sending a mass supply of anonymous letters to the selection committee for what they did on Selection Sunday. They did enough to prove they should be a top-four seed, especially if Virginia earned a spot on that line. Jon Scheyer is leading the hottest team in the country into the tournament with a major chip on their shoulder. Good luck Oral Roberts – you’re going to need it.

7. Baylor (22-10) No. 3 South

The 2021 Baylor Bears featured the best backcourt in the nation and zero momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament after a convincing loss in the Big 12 Tournament to the 5-seed. The story in 2023 is exactly the same. Write them off at your own risk, because this team has the talent to cut down the nets when everything is clicking.

8. UCLA (29-5) No. 2 West

The injury bug attacked UCLA in a big way over the last week, but it looks like the only casualty will be Jaylen Clark when they begin their NCAA Tournament campaign. This loaded region could feature some fireworks, but defense travels, which gives me the most confidence in the Bruins out west.

9. Gonzaga (28-5) No. 3 West

If it’s not going to be UCLA in the West, I’m leaning toward Gonzaga, who rival Duke as the hottest team in the country heading into March Madness. The lack of a target on their back could prove wonders as the Zags look to silence the doubters who refuse to give them a chance in March. I refuse to fall into that trap and believe we’ll see Mark Few for at least two weekends once again.

10. Connecticut (25-8) No. 4 West

We’ll keep running down the line out west as we look at the Huskies at the four seed. The analytics love UConn’s explosive offense, but experts view their struggles away from home as a red flag. I view it as a “playing in the other team’s arena” problem. This team walloped premier competition in Portland early in the season and they were a possession away from knocking off Marquette in MSG. I’m all in on the Huskies and think you should be too.

11. Xavier (25-9) No. 3 Midwest

Staying in the Big East, the Musketeers can’t be happy about their first-round draw. Kennesaw State is not a team to be trifled with but the backcourt combination of Souley Boum and Colby Jones should be able to handle anything and get this team ready for a Sweet 16 duel with Texas.

12. Miami

13. Kansas State (23-9) No. 3 East

Markquis Nowell has the makings to be the next fan favorite breakout star in March Madness. With his limitless range and unflappable personality, Nowell is an elite point guard who is made for high leverage situations. Not to mention, Jerome Tang knows what it takes to win in March after working alongside Scott Drew in 2021, winning a national championship with the Baylor Bears.

14. Arkansas (20-13) No. 8 West

There might not be an active coach better at reaching the Elite Eight than Eric Musselman. With the Razorbacks, he’s done it the last two years as a 3- and 4-seed, but it’s a different path this season as an eight. However, he’s no stranger to this underdog pressure either as he took Nevada to the regional final in 2018 as a 7-seed before falling to Loyola Chicago. With a boatload of NBA talent and the length to disrupt any offensive action, Kansas will have their work cut out for them in a game I believe the Hogs will come out on top of.

15. Missouri (24-9) No. 7 South

It was the ACC last season who pulled off the high-seed upsets, but I’m looking to the SEC this year with the Missouri Tigers following Arkansas’ lead on the first weekend. This is an extremely talented team with the athleticism to cause fits on the entry passes that Arizona utilizes as well as anyone. After knocking off Utah State in the Round of 64, the Tigers will hand Arizona the opening weekend upset that they only narrowly avoided last season against TCU.

16. Furman (27-7) No. 13 South

If you’re looking for a 13-seed or higher to buy into this March, look no further than the Paladins (but maybe check out Kent State just in case). The duo of Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson is as elite as any mid-major school and could earn a ton of fans if they play up to their potential against a suffocating Virginia defense. If they can do that, I like their chances not just to knock off the Cavaliers, but whoever wins the 5-12 matchup as well.

Players of the Week:

The final edition of the players of the week can be renamed the conference of champions – and not the self-proclaimed Pac-12 nonsense that Bill Walton talks about on his late night broadcasts. These five players carried their teams to a conference championship this week and are worthy of substantial recognition for their efforts. Let’s start with the National Player of the Year.

Zach Edey, No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers

While we didn’t get to see a rematch between Edey and Trayce Jackson-Davis, we did get to see what makes Purdue’s star the undisputed national player of the year. His dominance in the Big Ten Tournament was a friendly reminder that there are simply no answers to stopping the 7’4 big man on his best day. That is why he’s our national player of the week.

Brandon Miller, No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama ran through the SEC all season until the final day of the regular season, but got their revenge on the Aggies in a rout for the conference crown. Miller led the way for the Tide this week and dropped in a game high 23 points against Texas A&M despite one of his worst shooting days of the season. His ability to light up the box score, even on his off nights, is what makes him such an enticing lottery prospect this summer.

Kendric Davis, Memphis Tigers

Even if Marcus Sasser was on the court Sunday, Davis would’ve been the best player in Fort Worth. The SMU transfer punched an automatic ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 28-point average over three games, leading the Tigers to a win over the second overall seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket. It’s hard to rank any transfer ahead of Davis when looking back for the most productive player who came out of the portal this summer.

Kyle Filipowski, No. 21 Duke Blue Devils

The emergence of Dereck Lively for the Blue Devils has helped nobody out more than Kyle Filipowski. The increased attention on Lively’s impact in the paint has opened the floor for the seven-foot forward who capitalized on his opportunities in Greensboro. The ACC’s Rookie of the Year drilled the first two 3-pointers of the game in a rout over Pittsburgh and knocked down six of his 13 attempts from beyond the arc to help earn the ACC Tournament MVP.

Tyler Kolek, No. 6 Marquette Golden Eagles

Kolek’s heroics against St. John’s in the quarterfinal of the Big East Tournament set the tone for the rest of the weekend as he carried his team to their first Big East championship in school history. The crafty lefty propelled the Golden Eagles to a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament and should be one of the most feared players in March Madness with his poise and confidence to pull games out late.

Play of the Week:

After Amari Bailey slammed in the potential dunk of the season on Pelle Larsson, the referee inexplicably called it back with one of the worst foul calls we’ve ever seen. Larsson’s response? Return the favor on the very next possession. Check out this unbelievable sequence from an unbelievable Pac-12 Tournament championship.

Video Credit: Twitter


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