Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a bracket. It’s the most exciting week of the season for college basketball fans, so if you’re looking for any edge in your bracket pools and want to learn a bit about some of the best teams, check out our take on the 16 best teams heading into the NCAA Tournament!

1. UConn (31-3)

Any doubt about who the best team in college basketball is went out the window with a wild, upset-filled weekend in the biggest conference tournaments. UConn was the only top-tiered team to exit with a championship and will now enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and favorites to repeat as champions.

2. Houston (30-4)

A blowout loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship is a complete aberration from Houston’s body of work this season. I’d warn anyone considering picking the Cougars to be an early exit to evaluate more than just this most recent loss. Despite some recent injuries, this team is built for a deep run in March with a “traveling defense”, reliable guard play and the experience to carry on in tight contests.

3. Purdue (29-4)

Here’s where Purdue’s season really starts to matter. The Boilermakers haven’t shown up in March since Carsen Edwards went ballistic and in Zach Edey’s final season, they’ll need to take advantage. Their draw in the Midwest region is a great start and as long as they get past the 16-seed, I like their chances to do just that.

4. North Carolina (27-7)

The final top-seed doesn’t have the same kind of favorable draw but Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels won’t mind one bit. He did lead an 8-seed to the National Championship game two years ago, so a tough draw as a top-seed won’t be any more challenging.

5. Iowa State (27-7)

How Iowa State wasn’t at least the top second seed is a mystery to me because the Cyclones had quite an argument to take the final one seed from North Carolina. A beatdown of Houston in the Big 12 Championship showed just how dangerous this team could be and if I were UConn, I’d be hoping someone else takes them out before having to face off in the Elite Eight.

6. Tennessee (24-8)

It could be an interesting reunion for Rick Barnes with Texas in the second round, especially if his team plays like they did in an early exit at the SEC Tournament. We hadn’t seen that side of Tennessee all season, but March is Madness for a reason. I doubt there’s a whole lot of confidence in the Volunteer fanbase, but this is still one of the most talented teams in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament.

7. Kentucky (23-9)

I’ve got Kentucky as the top three seed in this field with a great chance to get out of the South region led by Houston and Marquette. The Golden Eagles love to run and nobody runs better than the Wildcats. Especially with Tyler Kolek’s health in question, Kentucky has a terrific chance to get to the Elite Eight and hope Houston isn’t waiting for them there.

8. Arizona (25-8)

Everyone in the country will be begging for a Caleb Love and UNC reunion in the Elite Eight but the Wildcats have some things to figure out to make that a reality. They are playing their worst basketball at the worst time, which won’t instill a lot of confidence in their fans after losing to No. 15 Princeton a year ago.

9. Marquette (25-9)

Tyler Kolek needs to get healthy for the Golden Eagles to have a chance this March and the committee did them no favors for the second straight season. Florida is the toughest seven seed in the field and could easily send Marquette home early as Kolek tries to get back up to speed following his injury.

10. Auburn (27-7)

That was some impressive run by the Tigers to capture an SEC Tournament championship with the reward being a half of a bracket with the favorites in UConn and two other reigning Final Four teams in San Diego State and FAU. If Auburn is going to make a run similar to 2019, they’ll have gone through quite the gauntlet to do so.

11. Illinois (25-6)

The winner of the Big Ten Tournament is typically a popular pick to make a run in March (see Iowa in 2021), but after a year of doubting the Illini, I’m ready to buy into that trend and send them to at least the Elite Eight. It will be an interesting contrast of styles should they meet Iowa State in the Sweet 16 but with Terrence Shannon (pictured) on their side, anything is possible for Illinois.

12. Creighton (23-9)

People will talk about the guards of Creighton all day long but the anchor and most important player for the Blue Jays is easily Ryan Kalkbrenner. The big man will protect the paint as well as anyone and is a force to be reckoned with offensively as well. Akron is much better attacking the basket than letting it fly from the perimeter, so Kalkbrenner’s presence will be critical in this first round matchup.

13. Duke (24-8)

A dreadful end to the season has Duke fans looking to 2025 before the 2024 NCAA Tournament even begins. The Blue Devils are on serious upset alert in the first round and need to show up as a completely different team to have a chance at making a run this season. The good news is they have the talent to do it – just maybe not the mindset.

14. Baylor (23-10)

Baylor fans should be pretty excited with their half of the West region, except for a very difficult first round matchup with No. 14 Colgate. If the Bears avoid the upset there, don’t be surprised to see them in the Elite Eight and even the Final Four given Scott Drew’s track record in March.

15. Saint Mary’s (26-7)

The Gaels got revenge on Gonzaga in the WCC Championship but the party is over now that Grand Canyon is next on the schedule. The Antelopes could be the most talented team in the field at the 12-line and above and will provide a scare at the very least for the WCC Champions on Friday.

16. Gonzaga (25-7)

Speaking of the Zags, they’ll also face off with an uber-talented 12-seed in McNeese State but if they can get through that matchup, Mark Few’s group has a decent chance to knock off Kansas and Purdue to get to the Elite Eight. Even with one of the tougher first-round matchups, Gonzaga is one of the middle of the pack seeds to watch in this year’s tournament.

Next 5 (Sleepers): Florida, Mississippi State, New Mexico, Samford

Players of the Week:

Terrence Shannon, No. 13 Illinois Fighting Illini

Shannon is the most dynamic player in college basketball right now who is surging at the perfect time. The Fighting Illini are one of the most exciting, and unpredictable, teams in the country because of it with the southpaw who dropped 40 in the Big Ten semifinals poised to be the next superstar of March Madness if they can go on a run.

DJ Burns, NC State Wolfpack

DJ Burns was the biggest fan favorite of the week while leading NC State to five wins in five days to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament field. The senior big man scored, created, defended and did just about everything for the Wolfpack to complete a dream week that saved Kevin Keatts’ job.

N'Faly Dante, Oregon Ducks

Dante and the Ducks were already having a great week before Saturday’s Pac-12 championship that the team needed to win to earn a spot in the Big Dance. The highly touted recruit from four years ago delivered again in the title game with a perfect 12-12 shooting performance, nine rebounds and four stocks to defeat Colorado and earn an automatic bid.

AJ Storr, Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin’s run to the Big Ten championship does not happen without St. John’s transfer AJ Storr. The sophomore averaged 24.7 points in the final three games of the tournament, including a terrific 30-point performance to sneak past Northwestern. The Badgers must be feeling good after a great run in the Big Ten Tournament and Storr is a huge reason why.

Jaelen House, New Mexico Lobos

How ‘bout those Lobos? Jaelen House’s play, and his father’s reaction to it, went viral this past week and helped New Mexico steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a win over San Diego State in the MWC Championship. They’ll be a popular upset pick on the 11-line this week, and rightfully so, with an elite backcourt led by House.

Play of the Week

It might not be a terrific play, per se, but any buzzer-beater that punches a ticket to the NCAA Tournament is worth recognizing. That’s exactly what Yale did on Sunday afternoon and the celebration alone earns the Bulldogs the play of the week. Check it out and Happy March everyone!

Video Credit: ESPN


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