The season is over, the conference tournaments are over, and now we are officially in March Madness season; the 700 day wait for the NCAA Tournament is nearly over. Such a special time brings a special edition to the Power 16. This isn’t just the current power rankings, it’s an NCAA Tournament preview. Here are the 16 teams with the best chance to cut down the nets in Indianapolis considering all factors such as talent, recent form and potential tournament schedule.
1. Gonzaga (26-0) #1 West
This should be no surprise to anybody. Gonzaga is the clear frontrunner to win it all this season. Not only are the Zags the best team, they have one of the easier rides to the Final Four. The Bulldogs have already beaten Iowa, Kansas and Virginia this season… and those are the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in their side of the bracket. This team will be expected to win each and every game, it’s just a matter of if they can handle the pressure. They have the taeltn to beat these teams even on an off night. perhaps their biggest challenge will come in the Final Four, where playing their A game will be imperative.
2. Baylor (22-2) #1 South
Baylor is probably the best team in the country aside from Gonzaga, but the Bears have a tougher road than the others. The possibility to play North Carolina in the second round makes for what would be an extremely interesting game. UNC’s size alone makes for a tough matchup and could see Baylor bounced early in the tournament. With that said, Ohio State is the only other real threat in the South with teams like Villanova, Arkansas and Purdue being relatively inconsistent throughout the year. Despite having a tougher road than Illinois, baylor has a team best equipped to knock off Gonzaga with their guard play and ability to get hot from the perimeter.
3. Illinois (23-6) #1 Midwest
The FIghting Illini can make a claim for having among the best resumes in the field. With the most quad-one wins in the country and a current win streak that holds names like Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State (twice), it’s tough to find teams that figure to match up with Illinois. No one enters the Big Dance hotter than the Illini. The Midwest has the weakest No. 2 seed in my opinion in Houston, and otherwise just needs to pass through a couple of Big 12 teams in Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
4. Texas (19-7) #3 East
The first surprise on the list will probably be this pick right here. Texas closed out the season on a seven-game win streak and as Big 12 champions as well. With Alabama and Michigan ranked ahead of the Longhorns in the East, the challenge won’t be easy, but at the same time it could certainly be tougher. With two solid bigs, respectable guards and solid wings, this team has it all. I’ve been saying for a while that Texas is built well for a postseason run and I still firmly believe it.
5. Michigan (20-4) #1 East
Michigan ended the season on a bit of a sour note. In the month of March alone, the Wolverines got blown out by Illinois, lost to Michigan State and lost in the Big Ten semifinal to Ohio State. Even though the team had just one loss entering the month, there’s a decent reasoning for concern. Scoring leader Isaiah Livers is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot and his availability will be a huge factor for them. However, when at full strength, we know that Michigan is one of the best teams in the country.
6. Ohio State (21-9) #2 South
The Buckeyes are the first No. 2 seed to appear on this list for a couple of reasons. They have a pretty easy ride to the Elite Eight that would likely be Oral Roberts, Florida, and Arkansas, there’s a real chance that Baylor get knocked off by UNC and Ohio State had beaten Purdue and Michigan before losing to Illinois in overtime in the Big Ten championship.
7. Oklahoma State (20-8) #4 Midwest
Oklahoma State is simply one of the hottest teams in the country right now. Only Illinois has more quad-one wins and the Cowboys have beaten Texas Tech, Oklahoma (twice), West Virginia and Baylor in the last four weeks alone. Assuming that Oklahoma State meets Illinois in the Sweet 16, look for the winner of that game to eventually reach the Final Four.
8. Alabama (24-6) #2 East
The Crimson Tide ended their season as SEC champs, but the SEC was super weak this season so I’m not sure how much to put into that. I do know that Alabama has only had one bad performance in the last couple of months and that’s a majority of what March Madness is all about; not having bad performances.
9. Florida State (16-6) #4 East
If you haven’t noticed yet, I think the East is the side of the bracket that is most up for grabs. Don’t get me wrong, Michigan should be able to get through everybody on paper, but there’s no truly dominant team in the East which leaves the door open for a couple of teams to make a run. I do think the bracket is top-heavy, meaning that I expect very few upsets until the Sweet 16.
10. Iowa (21-8) #2 West
Let me get something straight, I think that Iowa is one of the best teams in the country. However, being paired up in a region with Gonzaga is a whole test in itself. If the Zags were to get knocked off somehow, Iowa instantly becomes one of the teams with the best chance to win it all. I think it’s unfortunate that the Hawkeyes are in the West because I think this team is built phenomenally well for a good postseason push.
11. West Virginia (18-9) #3 Midwest
West Virginia might not seem like a team that has a chance to run the table, but they at least have a good chance of making a late push to the point where anything can happen. The Mountaineers open with Morehead State, would then play either a mid-major SDSU or a bubble team Syracuse, would then get a (in my personal opinion) weak Houston team before finally meeting an Illinois/Oklahoma State/Tennessee.
12. Virginia (18-6) #4 West
I feel like it’s kind of going under the radar that Virginia probably should’ve won the ACC this season. Just like Duke, UVA had to forfeit their conference tourney due to COVID concerns. I’ve been unwilling to give up on the Cavaliers all season long, but this is another team who just happens to be on the wrong side of the bracket. Virginia would have to play Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, a team they’ve already lost to by double digits.
13. Arkansas (22-6) #3 South
The Razorbacks are a good team in a weak conference. Before losing to LSU in the conference championship, Arkansas hadn’t lost since Jan. 30. I still cast some doubt towards any team from the SEC, but Arkansas has shown the ability to straight up win games and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
14. Virginia Tech (15-6) #10 South
I was surprised to see VTech be ranked so low. I think that the Hokies will actually be the favorite in the opening matchup over Florida and should win the game. After that, Ohio State would be a tough challenge, but one that could be accomplished. I’ve been high on Virginia Tech for a while and think that they are better than what they are being represented as in the bracket.
15. Kansas (20-8) #3 West
The Jayhawks started off the year hot and established themselves of the best teams in the country early on. After a midseason breakdown, Kansas has now won eight of the last nine games and seem to be back on track. There is a concern of COVID issues that could potentially keep multiple players from playing and could also force the team to forfeit completely. Kansas is a wildcard this postseason.
16. North Carolina (18-10) #8 South
I’ve mentioned a couple of times already that UNC poses a serious threat to any team. This team is loaded in the frontcourt with 4 players of at least 6’10” that can provide useful minutes. Size like that can flat out overwhelm teams on any given night. The Tar Heels are a streaky three-point shooting team which will likely determine just how far the team can go, but having such a dominant rebounding ability can cover up some other holes on the team.
Possible Cinderella Stories
Winthrop (23-1) #12 South
We all know about the yearly 12-over-5 pick. This year there are some enticing matchups, but I believe Winthrop is in a great position to make a run. Villanova is struggling extremely bad at the moment having lost three of its last 4, and Winthrop has flown under the radar with one of the best records in college basketball. If the Eagles get past Nova, it’s likely Purdue would be waiting, and I’m simply not too impressed with the Boilermakers this year. Winthrop would then have the winner of Baylor and UNC/Wisconsin, which I’ve been over how things could be shaken up there. Is this scenario likely? No. But possible? Definitely.
Clemson (16-7) #7 Midwest / Rutgers (15-11) #10 Midwest
I truly think that this round of 64 game is a true flip of the coin. However, I think that whichever team happens to win, has a good shot to take down Houston in the second round. Add on the fact that it’s within the realm of possibility that Syracuse could be the Sweet 16 matchup, and either of these teams could find themselves just a game away from the Final Four.