NCAA Tournament: Previews For All 68 Teams
After what feels like an eternity, we have college basketball back in March, and the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament field is set! For those researching teams in order to fill out their bracket, here are previews for all 68 teams (in alphabetical order):
Abilene Christian (23-4, Southland Champions)
The Wildcats are shaping up to be one of the more dangerous mid-majors in this tournament, for a number of reasons. They are the only team from the Southland to rank in the top 100 in AdjEM, and their defense ranks 46th in the nation in AdjD. They force 20 turnovers per game, which was easily the most in their conference. If they face a turnover-prone team, they can make things interesting.
Alabama (24-6, SEC Champions)
If you are looking for exciting teams to watch, the Crimson Tide should be towards the top of that list. They have the nation’s most efficient defense, and have a plethora of talented players both in their starting lineup as well as their bench. Herbert Jones had a spectacular SEC Tournament, and he is joined by guys such as Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, and John Petty Jr. They also have 16 wins from Quad 1 and 2 combined, and have a very good chance to mount a deep run.
Appalachian State (17-11, Sun Belt Champions)
It’s been 21 years since the Mountaineers were in the NCAA Tournament, and their win against top seed Georgia State topped off an incredible Sun Belt Tournament run. Their roster features four guards that average double-figures in points, but they don’t get a lot of production from their bench. As a result, they don’t show up towards the top of the Sun Belt in a lot of offensive categories. Their defense on the other hand does, as they rank second in scoring defense (64.5) and third in turnovers forced (14.1).
Arkansas (22-6, SEC At-Large)
The Razorbacks have almost quietly climbed the national rankings, due to a lot of the attention going to conferences such as the Big Ten and Big 12. Eric Musselman has quickly built this program into a very successful power, and they will be very difficult to stop in the tournament. They had the SEC’s best offense during the regular season, and played at one of the faster tempos in college basketball. Arkansas is a potential second weekend team with their offensive firepower.
Baylor (22-2, Big 12 At-Large)
Let’s first remember that the Bears have only lost two games, so it is unfair to drop them out of the tier that hosts Gonzaga, Illinois, and Michigan. They are still one of the best teams in the nation, and are still regaining their momentum following their COVID-19 pause. They won eight of 10 Quad 1 games, and also feature the Big 12’s best offense in terms of point production and field goal percentage. The more games they play, the closer they will get to their pre-pause form which ran through teams. Don’t be surprised if they make the Final Four.
BYU (20-6, WCC At-Large)
The Cougars are a good team, and have been for the past few years. They play a very solid brand of basketball, and have versatility on the wing. In the paint, they have Purdue transfer Matt Haarms, who provides a very good defensive presence around the rim. They ranked within the top 30 in all three efficiency metrics, and are looking to take the program to the next level. The one drawback, however, is that they were unable to beat Gonzaga in three attempts.
Clemson (16-7, ACC At-Large)
The Tigers are a very strange team to evaluate. They got off to an incredible start, winning nine of their first 10 while being one of the better defensive teams in the nation. Since, they have slowed down a bit, and suffered two rough losses to Syracuse and Miami, with the latter coming in the ACC Tournament. They suffer from a lot of turnovers, and are right on the edge of being outside the top 100 in AdjO. Their defense, however, still grades out well and is their best trait.
Cleveland State (19-7, Horizon League Champions)
The Vikings retained essentially their entire roster from last year, and that continuity paid off. With a lot of players taking the next step, including their leading scorer Torrey Patton, they vaulted themselves right to the top of the Horizon League, and were one of the few one seeds that survived their conference tournament. Although 21 of their games came against Quad 4 opponents, they took care of business, especially on the defensive end (second in the Horizon in scoring defense).
Colgate (14-1, Patriot League Champions)
The Raiders are one of the most dangerous mid-major teams in this field. They feature one of the nation’s top offenses, scoring at a blistering pace all season long. If you look at the NET rankings, they currently sit ninth in the entire country, despite having no Quad 1 games played, which shows just how well they grade out statistically. Jordan Burns has been one of the most exciting mid-major players this season, averaging 17 points, four and a half rebounds, and five and a half assists per game. They are a tough team to beat.
Colorado (22-8, Pac-12 At-Large)
McKinley Wright IV is outstanding, and it is great to see him playing in the NCAA Tournament. Colorado is having a historically good season from the free throw line, shooting a nation-leading 83 percent. That is a trait that will benefit them in any close game, especially in the high pressure situations. Their defense also ranked atop the Pac-12, so the combination of free throws and defense will be what they throw at teams in the tournament.
Creighton (20-8, Big East At-Large)
Don’t forget this was a team that many had towards or in the top 10 at the beginning of the season. Yes, they had a bad loss in the Big East title game against Georgetown, but that needs to be quickly erased from memory. They have an outstanding guard in Marcus Zegarowski, and have some very talented shooters around him. If they make a run, it will be their offense that will propel them, ranking 14th nationally in AdjO.
Drake (25-4, Missouri Valley At-Large)
Many wondered if the Bulldogs would still make it after falling in the MVC title game, but their overall body of work seemed to be the difference-maker, which is big for mid-majors. They ranked 19th in AdjO, and fared pretty well in NET with a ranking of 45th. They have a lot of really good players, and if ShanQuan Hemphill is able to return (it has been speculated for weeks), then that would add another dimension to their chances.
Drexel (12-7, Colonial Athletic Champions)
Zack Spiker’s team has had quite the season. They had 10 games cancelled due to COVID-19, including four of their last five scheduled games before the CAA Tournament. On top of that, they entered their conference tournament with a 4-5 record, and then proceeded to win three games in three days. Their roster features four double-figure scorers, led by outstanding guard Camren Wynter, who finished fourth in the conference in scoring.
Eastern Washington (16-7, Big Sky Champions)
Shantay Legans has done an incredible job with this program, and is rewarded with a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles narrowly missed out on the number one seed in the Big Sky after being considered by many as the preseason favorites. They are very deep and balanced on the offensive side of the ball, led by five players who average 10 or more points per game. Two of them, Tanner Groves and Kim Aiken Jr., average close to a double-double. They won’t be an easy team to beat.
Florida (14-9, SEC At-Large)
The Gators have been a pretty steady team all season long, and have pieces to win a game or two in March. Tre Mann has been fantastic this season, averaging 16 points per game. Other players such as Colin Castleton, Tyree Appleby, and Noah Locke also average double-figures, but the x-factor will be Scottie Lewis. If Lewis plays well, it will give Florida a very strong chance to make some noise.
Florida State (16-6, ACC At-Large)
Leonard Hamilton has used the same formula for years, and it continues to generate results. Their roster is one of the deepest in the entire field, and they can all guard each position, making it very hard for opponents to generate any kind of run. They have length, size, and versatility, and can hit you in a number of ways offensively. Teams like this are built for tournament settings, and this could very well be the year that the Seminoles make it past the second weekend.
Georgetown (13-12, Big East Champions)
The Hoyas are easily one of the most riveting stories of March so far. The program has lost a lot of talent recently, and did not have high expectations this season (or even in the Big East Tournament). They responded with an incredible late-season run, capped off with two wins over ranked opponents at Madison Square Garden. Don’t be fooled by their record, they aren’t just a Cinderella team. Patrick Ewing’s team was a very tough group to beat in February, and gave a lot of the league’s best some trouble. It wouldn’t be surprising if they made things interesting in Indianapolis, either.
Georgia Tech (17-8, ACC Champions)
For the first time in 11 years, the Yellow Jackets are going dancing. After a 7-3 start, they lost five of seven early on in ACC play, and any hopes of a tournament berth were in question after a hopeful preseason. Since that point, they have won eight in a row, led by ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright. His 17 points and eight rebounds per game mean a lot to the team, but others, such as Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe, and Jordan Usher give them a lot of options to score the ball. Depth might be a question, but their starters have a lot of talent and give them a great chance to win a game or two.
Gonzaga (26-0, WCC Champions)
The lone unbeaten team in the nation, Mark Few’s squad will look to win that elusive first National Championship. Pretty much any statistic that you look at, it is pretty good for Gonzaga. They are number one in AdjEM and AdjO, and 11th in AdjD, along with the top spot in the NET rankings. Their roster is deep, talented, and versatile, with a plethora of options offensively. The one thing people always like to say about Gonzaga is their weaker conference, but contrary to popular opinion, the WCC has some talented teams. Gonzaga will be ready to play once the tournament starts.
Grand Canyon (17-6, WAC Champions)
Bryce Drew’s Antelopes have looked really solid this season. They had the WAC’s second-best offense and best defense, to go along with the league’s top field goal percentage. If that wasn’t enough, they were the WAC’s best offensive and defensive rebounding team. While an upset over a high seed seems unlikely, don’t be surprised if they make things interesting.
Hartford (15-8, America East Champions)
2021 marks the first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Hawks, who are winners of their last five games. The most impressive win of that streak came in the America East semifinals, where they knocked off conference power Vermont on their court. Their defense graded out as the best in their conference, and it was on full display in their last game as they held UMass Lowell to 50 points. A trio of dynamic guards lead the way offensively, but as a whole they ranked towards the bottom of the America East on that side of the ball.
Houston (24-3, American Athletic Champions)
Kelvin Sampson is an incredible coach, and the Cougars seem to be always in the mix in the AAC and in the NCAA Tournament. After falling short to Cincinnati a few times in the AAC Final, they finally got their revenge this season, solidifying yet another stellar season. They are top 20 nationally in all three efficiency metrics, and have eight combined Quad 1 and 2 wins. Four guards lead the way for them, three of which being double-figure scorers. This could very well be the year that the Cougars make a run past the second weekend.
Illinois (23-6, Big Ten Champions)
Brad Underwood’s squad is 100 percent a title contender, and a perfect example of a team that could challenge Gonzaga at the end. They rank third in AdjEM, and have double-digit Quad 1 wins, something only one other school (Oklahoma State) can say. Illinois has a dynamic duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, and a plethora of complementary pieces such as Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier, and Adam Miller. They are a must-watch team this tournament.
Iona (12-5, MAAC Champions)
In a world filled with uncertainty, one thing almost seems guaranteed: Iona winning the MAAC. They might not always be the league’s best in the regular season, but they are always built for March. Rick Pitino is continuing the success that Tim Cluess had with the Gaels, and it really seems like their extended run will be extended even further. Iona’s time missed due to COVID-19 ranks toward the top of the nation, including a layoff right before the conference tournament. They responded with four wins in five days, including a triumph over the league’s top seed Siena.
Iowa (21-8, Big Ten At-Large)
The Hawkeyes have a lot to get excited about. They are one of the best shooting teams not only in the Big Ten but across the nation. Iowa ranked atop the conference in scoring offense, and were top three in both field goal and three-point percentage. They also have one of the best players in the country in Luka Garza, who has been dominating teams in the post and on the boards all season long. Some injuries late in the season have raised some questions about a deep run, but don’t be fooled, they still have the firepower to win games in Indianapolis.
Kansas (20-8, Big 12 At-Large)
There was a point in early February when confidence in the Jayhawks nationwide began to fade, as they had a 6-5 conference record. Since that point, they have really turned things around, with only one loss (and a COVID-19 forfeit) to their name. They have a stellar defense, which ranks sixth in defensive efficiency. Ochai Agbaji has had some really solid games, and he has a lot of good players around him. In a year when the traditional powers are not prominent, the Jayhawks seem to be the best of them.
Liberty (23-5, Atlantic Sun Champions)
Ritchie McCay’s program lost both Caleb Homesley and Scottie James and still won the ASUN auto-bid, which is a testament to the job he has done with this program. Darius McGhee is the player to watch now, ranking third in the ASUN in scoring at 15.6 points per game. The Flames ran through conference play with ease, as nine of their 14 wins (including the tournament) were by double-figures. The Flames will be looking to replicate their magic from the 2019 NCAA Tournament, where they upset Mississippi State and played a close game against Virginia Tech.
Loyola-Chicago (24-4, Missouri Valley Champions)
The Ramblers have been probably the best and most consistent mid-major program all season long. Their best trait is their defense, coming in allowing just 55.5 points per game, which led the MVC. If you factor that into their 71.5 points per game, that comes out to a +16.0 scoring margin, which exemplifies just how dominant their season was. Now obviously, there is a step up in competition, but don’t forget, they were in the Final Four just a few years ago, and multiple pieces remain from that team.
LSU (18-9, SEC At-Large)
The Tigers looked very good in the SEC Tournament, and will look to carry that momentum over into the NCAA Tournament. That SEC Tournament run featured wins over Ole Miss and Arkansas, not to mention their victory at Missouri the final day of the regular season. Trendon Watford, Cameron Thomas, and Ja’Vonte Smart make this team a very intriguing and sneaky upset pick against some higher seeds, depending on who they face.
Maryland (16-13, Big Ten At-Large)
This could be a very sneaky good team in the tournament, and it wouldn’t be the first time they win a game or two. Mark Turgeon’s squad has some nice wins over Wisconsin, Illinois, and Purdue, not to mention a sweep of Michigan State. They have a very balanced roster, and a defense that ranked among the Big Ten’s best in a number of categories.
Michigan (20-4, Big Ten At-Large)
The Wolverines have faltered slightly recently, mainly due to Isaiah Livers’ injury, but they still shape up to be one of the best teams in the tournament. They rank second in AdjEM and fourth in NET, featuring eight Quad 1 victories. They also ranked in the top two in both field goal and three-point shooting percentage in the Big Ten, and have proved to be very efficient on that side of the ball all season long. Michigan is a very strong team to follow in March.
Michigan State (15-12, Big Ten At-Large)
Despite a losing record in conference play, the Spartans definitely deserved to be in this field. They have wins over Michigan and Illinois, who are both one seeds. Both of those wins have come in the past few weeks, signaling that they are playing some of their best basketball at the right time. Their wealth of veteran players should give them a boost over some younger teams in the field that have less tournament experience.
Missouri (16-9, SEC At-Large)
Cuonzo Martin has done a great job at Missouri, and brings a solid Tigers squad to Indianapolis. Their seven Quad 1 wins rank towards the top of the nation, and grade out fairly well in terms of efficiency metrics. Their double-digit scoring trio of Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, and Jeremiah Tilmon will make it hard for opponents if all three are on their game. Missouri is a solid team that could win a game or two, depending on the matchups.
Morehead State (23-7, Ohio Valley Champions)
Many considered Belmont to come out of the OVC after dominating the regular season, but the Eagles not only stopped them, but dominated in a 15-point OVC title game victory. Morehead State has their conference’s top defense, suffocating teams on that side of the ball. They limit quality opportunities and force teams into taking difficult shots, leading to poor shooting performances. If they are able to pull off an upset, that will be the main reason why.
Mount St. Mary’s (12-10, NEC Champions)
The NEC Tournament provided the Mountaineers with a wealth of tough tests, and they passed all of them. They knocked off the league’s top two seeds, Wagner and Bryant, on their home courts en route to the NCAA Tournament. NEC First Team member Damian Chong Qui leads the way for a team that has a lot of quality grades on the defensive side of the ball. They held the NEC’s top offense, Bryant, to 12 points under their season average in the championship game. During the regular season they sat atop the conference for defense, allowing just 60.7 points per game.
Norfolk State (16-7, MEAC Champions)
The Spartans rank towards the top in numerous categories in the MEAC, and are led by an exciting guard in Devante Carter. They returned a lot of quality pieces from a solid team last year, and have benefitted from another season together. Their MEAC stats speak for themselves, as they were second in scoring offense, defense, and margin, along with the second-best field goal percentage. They can definitely make it tough for a higher seed.
North Carolina (18-10, ACC At-Large)
They aren’t as dominant as they usually are, but there is still a lot to like about this year's North Carolina squad. They have tremendous size, and it shows on the glass, as they lead the nation in offensive rebounding. Roy Williams’ team is just a solid, stable group, and they will play any team tough. Their ability to rebound the basketball is what keeps them in games, and down the stretch of the regular season and ACC Tournament they were giving teams fits.
North Texas (17-9, Conference USA Champions)
The Mean Green have quietly been a very solid program in recent years. Last season, they finished in the top 20 nationally in all three shooting percentages (2,3, and free throws), and this season they rank within the top 75 in the NET rankings. They came back to force overtime against Western Kentucky in the C-USA title game, knocking off the preseason favorite Hilltoppers. They shoot the ball extremely well, defend really well, and will be an under-the-radar team going into Indianapolis.
Ohio (16-7, MAC Champions)
Jason Preston is the real deal, and the All-MAC First Team member will lead the Bobcats into their first NCAA appearance since 2012. It has been an exponential climb for Ohio, as they were picked last in the MAC preseason poll just a few years ago, and now they are champions of the conference. They have a top 30 offense in regards to efficiency, and they have a plethora of scoring options. Just because they weren’t a top team in the regular season doesn’t make them a pushover, and their back-to-back wins over Toledo and Buffalo exemplify that.
Ohio State (21-9, Big Ten At-Large)
There was a point in the season where the Buckeyes were regarded as a one seed, but they have since fallen down to the two-line following a four-game losing streak to end the regular season. Their run to the Big Ten title game helped restore national confidence, taking Illinois to overtime in the final game before the Selection Show. Their offense ranks fourth in AdjO, mainly due to players such as E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington Jr., and Justice Sueing. Don’t let their brief losing streak fool you, they are for real.
Oklahoma (15-10, Big 12 At-Large)
The Sooners were gaining national recognition in late-January, collecting wins over three-straight top 10 teams, vaulting themselves up the Top 25 poll. They are trending in the wrong direction however, having lost five of their last six games, with the lone win coming against 2-22 Iowa State. They do have the second-highest scorer in the Big 12 in Austin Reaves, along with some solid pieces around him. It will require a team effort, however, to turn around their recent struggles.
Oklahoma State (20-8, Big 12 At-Large)
The Cowboys are a very intriguing team heading into the NCAA Tournament. Cade Cunningham is shining like many expected, averaging 20 points per game, and his supporting cast has done a spectacular job. They are one of just two programs with 10 or more Quad 1 victories this season, with a lot of them coming in the past few weeks. Very few teams can say they have been tested more than Oklahoma State, a team that has played eight-straight games against ranked opponents (and won six of them). Keep an eye on them for a potential second weekend appearance.
Oral Roberts (16-10, Summit League Champions)
The nation’s leading scorer headlines the Golden Eagles, a program that has seen a dramatic improvement in numerous statistical categories over the past few seasons. Max Abmas is a perfect example, going from averaging 14.5 points last season to a nation-leading 24.2 this year. He will be a must-watch this March. It doesn’t end there, as they also have Kevin Obanor, who averaged 18 points and close to 10 rebounds per game.
Oregon (20-6, Pac-12 At-Large)
Every year it seems the Ducks get healthy as the season goes on, and build momentum going into the tournament. They shoot the ball extremely well, as they ranked at the top of the Pac-12 in both field goal and three-point percentage. Oregon has five double-digit scorers, with one of them being stellar guard Chris Duarte. Teams that can shoot the way the Ducks can usually have success this time of year. They will make it hard for any defense they play to guard them for 40 minutes.
Oregon State (17-12, Pac-12 Champions)
The Beavers are easily one of the coolest stories coming out of championship week (except if you were a bubble team). After being picked last in the Pac-12 preseason poll, they went into this past week with something to prove, and they certainly did. Over the span of three days, they knocked off three NCAA Tournament teams, including their red-hot rival Oregon just one week after losing to them by double-digits. Ethan Thompson, a prolific guard, is the player to watch here.
Purdue (18-9, Big Ten At-Large)
The Boilermakers grade out pretty well, considering that their preseason expectations were exceeded this season. They rank 22nd in NET and 13th in AdjEM, but did not fare well against the top teams in the conference. With that being said, they have a lot of talent, led by outstanding forward Trevion Williams, who is averaging close to a double-double this season. This could be the year they make some noise in the second weekend.
Rutgers (15-11, Big Ten At-Large)
For the first time since 1991, the Scarlet Knights are going dancing, and have a team hungry to put the program on the national radar. They have a lot of dynamic players that can make a difference, such as Ron Harper Jr., Jacob Young, and Geo Baker. While their team last year might have made a deeper run, still expect this team to play teams tough in Indianapolis.
San Diego State (23-4, Mountain West Champions)
The COVID-19 shutdown robbed the Aztecs of finishing one of their best seasons in program history, but they are back in the mix with another fantastic season. In a strong Mountain West, they won eight combined Quad 1 and 2 games. They also have the league’s Player of the Year Matt Mitchell, who finished eighth in the Mountain West in scoring. In terms of team grades, they had the league’s best three-point percentage, along with the top defense in multiple categories.
St. Bonaventure (16-4, Atlantic 10 Champions)
With no seniors on the roster, the Bonnies will be a team to follow for the foreseeable future. This season, they were able to come out of the A-10 victorious, which should be considered a great accomplishment considering just how deep and tough that conference was. They have five double-digit scorers, led by the talented guard Kyle Lofton. It would not be a surprise at all to see them give power conference teams fits, or even potentially snagging a win.
Syracuse (16-9, ACC At-Large)
It seems like they sneak in as a bubble team every single season, but the Orange can be very dangerous. What was puzzling this year, however, was their 1-7 Quad 1 record (the one win being by two points). With that being said, their zone is something most teams don’t see regularly (if at all) during the regular season, which is what makes them so dangerous in March. It isn’t as strong as past years, but depending on how well they can compensate offensively, they can be a team that upsets a few high seeds.
Tennessee (18-8, SEC At-Large)
The Volunteers are a confusing team going into the tournament. They began the season being regarded as one of the best teams in the nation, having very high expectations. Some losses during conference play knocked those expectations down a bit, but they still have the talent to win. The duo of Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson will be the players to watch here.
Texas (19-7, Big 12 Champions)
In terms of being within the nation’s top tier, the Longhorns have been pretty consistent all season long. They have a plethora of quality wins, which is a product of the conference that they’re in. Shaka Smart’s squad is top 50 in AdjEM, AdjO, and AdjD, and like a lot of other teams this time of year, they are hot at the right time, winning eight of their last 10. Their roster is deep with a vast array of talent at multiple positions. If they are shooting it well from beyond the arc (third in Big 12), they will be a tough out for whoever they play.
Texas Southern (16-8, SWAC Champions)
The SWAC’s best offense prevailed in its conference tournament, and the Tigers have the resources to keep up on the scoreboard. Three players ranked in the league’s top 15 for points per game, led by Michael Weathers, who made the SWAC First Team and was named Newcomer of the Year. If the school’s name sounds familiar, it is because they have made the tournament four times since 2014. So this is familiar territory for this program.
Texas Tech (17-10, Big 12 At-Large)
Chris Beard’s squad is a very dangerous team, and don’t forget just a few years ago they were playing in overtime of the National Championship. There are a lot of stellar players to watch on this team, such as Mac McClung and Terrence Shannon Jr. The Red Raiders also feature the Big 12’s best defense, forcing 16 turnovers a game while holding opponents to 63 points per game. They have the experience and talent to go on another deep run like 2019.
UC Santa Barbara (22-4, Big West Champions)
A win over UC Irvine in the Big West title game capped off an incredible season for Joe Pasternack’s team. UC Irvine had been the dominant team in the conference in recent years, but the Gauchos knocked them off by double-digits after dropping both regular season meetings in December. UC Santa Barbara is led by JaQuori McLaughlin, the Big West Player of the Year, and conference first team member Amadou Sow, who is regarded as one of the strongest players in that conference. This team can be a dangerous one in March.
UCLA (17-9, Pac-12 At-Large)
It will be very strange to see a team of UCLA’s caliber in the First Four, but they have been on a downward trajectory over the past few weeks. After a four-game winning streak, they have lost their last four, including an overtime loss to Oregon State at the Pac-12 Tournament. They don’t have a defense that we are used to seeing with Mick Cronin teams, but they pack a lot of offensive punch. There are a plethora of players who average double-digit points on their roster, and they get steady point guard play out of All-Pac-12 selection Tyger Campbell. If they are solid defensively, they can win a few games.
UConn (15-7, Big East At-Large)
The Huskies are back in the Big East and are looking good going into the NCAA Tournament. They are led by one of the better guards in the nation in James Bouknight, who averaged 19 points per game this season. Isaiah Whaley and Tyrese Martin both average at least eight points and six rebounds, and R.J. Cole leads the way in three-point percentage. Despite their Big East Tournament loss, they are still hot, winners of seven of their last nine.
UNC Greensboro (21-8, Southern Champions)
The Spartans have been doing this for a while, and a lot of the credit should go to Wes Miller, who has built this program into a consistent SoCon power. Isaiah Miller is the player to watch, averaging just under 20 points per game to lead the conference. Their defense ranks in the top 75 in AdjD, and among the best in their conference. They also had the smallest turnover average in the conference, so they took care of the ball well. That efficient defense, as mentioned earlier, was among the SoCon’s best in generating turnovers, so that will be a big factor in whether or not they can pull off an upset.
USC (22-7, Pac-12 At-Large)
The Trojans quietly put together a very good season, and are one of the sneaky deep run picks in this field. Evan Mobley is one of the best players in the country, and the Pac-12 Player of the Year is surrounded by really good pieces. USC is good on both sides of the ball, placing second in both scoring offense and defense in the Pac-12. They have a lot of athleticism, and are one of the more efficient defensive teams in the nation. Don’t be surprised if they make a run.
Utah State (20-8, Mountain West At-Large)
The Aggies played themselves into the tournament with a very solid showing at the Mountain West Tournament, defeating fellow bubble team Colorado State in the semifinals. They also have two wins over San Diego State, and some other quality wins sprinkled into their conference schedule. They have the nation’s eighth-most efficient defense, but are missing some key offensive pieces from a year ago. Neemias Queta is the player to watch here.
VCU (19-7, Atlantic 10 At-Large)
There is a lot to be excited about with this VCU team, especially on the defensive end. They rank 12th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, a trait that has been present in VCU teams of the past. Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland was the best player in the conference during the regular season, and the A-10 Player of the Year will look to help the Rams steal a game.
Villanova (16-6, Big East At-Large)
Although they still have a lot of talent, it cannot be stated enough just how impactful Collin Gillespie was to this team. Without him, their tournament outlook looks very different. They are now led by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels, and will need really solid play out of Justin Moore as Gillespie’s replacement in order for them to win a few games. It is hard to imagine Jay Wright being one-and-done, but a second weekend run seems like a tall task as of now.
Virginia (18-6, ACC At-Large)
Something that seemed impossible came true this season - Virginia’s offense is more efficient than their defense. They rank 12th nationally in AdjO compared to their rank of 33 for AdjD, so it is a much different formula for success this year. The addition of Sam Hauser certainly helped, as he averaged 16 points and close to seven rebounds during the regular season, and he is complemented by guys such as Trey Murphy III, Jay Huff, and Kihei Clark. They were hit with COVID-19 issues right before the tournament, but don’t forget they are still the defending champions.
Virginia Tech (15-6, ACC At-Large)
Mike Young will be looking to replicate some of the NCAA Tournament magic that he had at Wofford, and it is definitely doable with this roster. They are very athletic, and like North Carolina, they rebound the basketball at an efficient level. The Hokies have three players that average six or more rebounds per game, with the leader being former Wofford Terrier Keve Aluma. Aluma leads them in both points and assists, and can very easily turn the tide of a game in Virginia Tech’s favor.
West Virginia (18-9, Big 12 At-Large)
With the Big 12’s second-best offense (77 points per game), the Mountaineers have shown that they aren’t just known for their defense. Players such as Miles McBride, Derek Culver, Taz Sherman, and Sean McNeil have helped boost the offensive firepower, all averaging double-digits. This is a well-coached team that can easily make a run deep into the tournament, and with a bolstered offense, it is an even greater possibility.
Wichita State (16-5, American Athletic At-Large)
It was surprising to some to see the Shockers still make the field of 68 after falling in the AAC Semifinals. The Shockers in many ways quietly won the regular season title as Houston garnered a lot of the national attention, and they will look to prove they belong. While some of their metrics don’t grade out the same as other tournament teams, they have some dynamic players, headlined by Tyson Etienne.
Winthrop (23-1, Big South Champions)
In terms of dominant mid-majors, the Eagles have to be in the conversation. Their one loss was by just two points, and they have some quality out-of-conference wins against UNC Greensboro and Furman. They have a lot of dynamic players, led by Chandler Vaudrin, Adonis Arms, Charles Falden, and D.J. Burns. Having that plethora of offensive firepower will give them a chance in most games. Depending on the matchup, they could be a popular upset pick.
Wisconsin (17-12, Big Ten At-Large)
The Badgers were regarded by many as one of the best teams in the country during the preseason, but they have had to endure one of the nation’s toughest schedules this season. Their opponents have an average AdjEM of +18.06, and their 10 Quad 1 losses have dropped them down a bit not only in the Big Ten but also in the national tiers. Their wealth of experience will give them a shot, however, being one of the older teams coming out of the Big Ten.
(Cover Photo: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)