By this time next week only 68 teams will be left and a beautiful bracket will be filled out and adjusted countless times before it ultimately gets busted before the second weekend. Take it all in and enjoy the ride college basketball fans!

As we prepare for the rest of the conference tournaments to begin, let’s take a look at who’s getting hot at just the right time in the final Power 16 rankings of the regular season!

1. UConn (28-3)

A year after securing the school’s fourth NCAA Tournament championship this century, Dan Hurley has the Huskies favored to do it again at the conclusion of the regular season. With complex offensive schemes, talented players at every level and unparalleled swagger up and down the roster, UConn should be a popular pick to win it all when the bracket releases in a week.

2. Houston (28-3)

Whoever claimed Houston was fraudulent the last few seasons because of its participation in a weak American Athletic Conference owes Kelvin Sampson an apology. The Cougars finished out an outright title in the nation’s toughest conference with a 30-point thrashing of Kansas on Saturday. Houston will rightfully be another popular choice to cut down the nets in Phoenix.

3. Purdue (28-3)

Another year, another Big Ten title for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. Zach Edey was sensational on Saturday with 32 points and 11 rebounds to clinch at least a share of that title but it will only take one win or an Illinois loss to make it outright. Two more titles could easily be on the way with him and the rest of the Boilermakers seemingly hitting their stride at just the right time.

4. Kentucky (23-8)

Saturday’s win in Knoxville was just a culmination of what Kentucky has done the last several weeks. With talented freshmen like Justin Edwards and DJ Wagner finally figuring it out, and the continued excellence of Reed Sheppard, Antonio Reeves and Rob Dillingham, the Wildcats are the most talented and most dangerous team in the sport at their best.

5. North Carolina (25-6)

The Cormac Ryan (pictured) legacy game came at a perfect time and feels reminiscent to when another first-year transfer took over against Duke years ago in Brady Manek. This year’s North Carolina team has a similar swagger to the 2022 national runners-ups with far more regular season success to back it up.

6. Tennessee (24-7)

The loss to Kentucky was disappointing but doesn’t take away from the outright regular season title the Volunteers will take into the SEC Tournament this week. With Dalton Knecht and his lethal offensive arsenal complementing one of the nation’s best defenses, this year’s Tennessee team is different, in a better way, with the ability to win games on both ends of the floor.

7. Arizona (24-7)

An ugly loss over the weekend puts a damper on an otherwise impressive end to the season for the Wildcats. It also should strike fear into anyone wanting to pick them to go on a deep run as the upset bug that led to a loss to Princeton last season continues to be a problem in 2024. Could another early exit be on the horizon?

8. Iowa State (24-7)

I’m not sure anyone predicted Houston and Iowa State to finish first and second in the Big 12 standings coming into the year but those continuing to underestimate the Cyclones will do so at their own peril when filling out brackets. Anchored by the nation’s second-best defense and an aggressiveness that rivals Houston, Iowa State will be one of the last teams coaches will want to see in the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

9. Duke (24-7)

Every time it looks like it might be time to start believing in the Blue Devils, they lay an egg in a huge opportunity to build some momentum. UNC’s season sweep will sting but the season is far from over as long as somebody decides they want to show up in the season’s biggest games in the coming weeks.

10. Marquette (23-8)

The Golden Eagles did better than expected without Tyler Kolek this week, even snagging a road win at the Cintas Center to wrap up the regular season. They’ll need their star point guard back to have any chance of making noise in either postseason tournament this month.

11. Creighton (23-8)

It was a solid finish to the year for Creighton who jumped up to the two-seed in the Big East Tournament with a win over Marquette this week. The outlook is simple for the Blue Jays: make threes, win games; miss threes, go home. We saw in last month’s rout of UConn that the former version can beat anyone but the other… could go home very early in March Madness.

12. Baylor (22-9)

Baylor always seems to keep games close but the inability to blow teams out could come back to bite them in the postseason. Closing out games will only get more difficult the next few weeks and if the Bears keep letting teams hang around, luck will eventually run out.

13. Gonzaga (24-6)

The Zags return to action Monday night after more than a week off but will they be able to keep the momentum of an eight-game winning streak rolling? Two more wins and a WCC title could result in Mark Few’s group being a VERY popular “Cinderella” Final Four team in brackets across the country.

14. Auburn (24-7)

KenPom still has Auburn as the fourth team in college basketball, and while I vehemently disagree, it’s pretty clear that the product on the court is one of the best in college basketball. The Tigers finished the regular season without any wins by single digits, which can be interpreted either way, but if they’re going to make a run at a national championship, that’s certainly going to have to change. The question is whether the players will be prepared for it.

15. South Carolina (25-6)

The Gamecocks prevailed at Mississippi State to cap off an unbelievable regular season in Lamont Paris’ second season in Columbia. These guys are legitimate contenders in the SEC Tournament and whatever regional they’re placed in on Selection Sunday despite what some of the metrics may say.

16. Illinois (23-8)

A 17-2 run to start Sunday’s game at Iowa propelled the Illini to an impressive win to close out a terrific regular season in the Big Ten. Illinois is another team that’s inconsistency got the best of them at times, but the ceiling is one of the highest in the nation heading into the postseason. It’s just a matter of which team shows up when it matters most.

Next 5: Utah State, Saint Mary’s, BYU, Nevada, Texas

Players of the Week:

Cormac Ryan, No. 7 North Carolina Tar Heels

We talked a little bit about Ryan already but his performance is worthy of a little bit more recognition. The Notre Dame transfer quickly knocked down three triples to put UNC up big early and after going quiet for a little while, closed out the game with three more in the second half at critical moments.

Reed Sheppard, No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky fans are running out of words to describe their hometown hero after Sheppard put on a 3-point shooting clinic down the stretch of an 85-81 win over No. 4 Tennessee. The freshman finished with 27 points on 7-10 shooting from beyond the arc to close out the regular season with an absurd 52.6 3-point percentage.

That percentage is currently the sixth-best in a season since 1992-93 and could easily improve with how confident Sheppard is letting it fly right now.

Dalton Knecht, No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols might have lost but Knecht was the last person to blame with a career-high 40 points against Kentucky. Sheppard’s team came out on top but Knecht put the final nail in the coffin on his bid to win SEC Player of the Year in his first season in Knoxville.

Kam Jones, No. 8 Marquette Golden Eagles

A different lefty was thrust into the primary playmaker role out of the backcourt this week and Jones shined in it against Xavier on Saturday. The explosive junior detonated for his third 30-point performance in the last six games and added nine assists in the win as well. It’s games like this that will force NBA teams to take a long look at him this summer.

Jalen Bridges, No. 11 Baylor Bears

Baylor is loaded with talent in the backcourt and at center as Yves Missi continues his ascension throughout his freshman year. That makes Bridges the X-factor on the wing, and he didn’t disappoint on Monday night with a ridiculous 32-point effort against Texas on 6-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Known for his athleticism and defense, if Bridges can contribute even just 15 points it’s seen as a major boost. 32 makes Baylor unstoppable.

Play of the Week

The dark side of March is upon us. Appalachian State controlled the Sun Belt all season long, and even knocked off Auburn in December, but thanks to this double-clutch buzzer-beater, the Mountaineers won’t be busting any brackets this month. Here’s the shot that took them down and sent Arkansas State to the Sun Belt Championship game!

Video Credit: @MarchMadnessMBB on Twitter


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