Sports

March Madness 2021 predictions: 8 staunch NCAA title contenders

A twelve months previously we rolled out the annual version of Sports activities Illustrated’s Magic Eight—a pool of eight groups from which that spring’s males’s nationwide title winner will advance—nonetheless for the first time since its inception, there became as soon as no . The NCAA tournaments were canceled, leaving each person to shock what would’ve been, and the Magic Eight with out a plan to be validated or no longer. So I’m help this twelve months with one more are attempting.

For the total madness of March, the previous couple of champs actually haven’t been all that dramatic. A No. 1 seed has gained the final three nationwide titles, and four of the final five (the quite loads of became as soon as a No. 2 seed). Genuinely, since 2000, 14 of 20 champs were a No. 1 seed, and 19 of 20 were a No. 1, 2 or 3 seed (the lone exception became as soon as 2013–14 UConn, a No. 7 seed that broke several “principles” on what the profile of a newest champ appears to be like as if.

On the other hand, there are certainly “principles,” and these principles prolong a overwhelming majority of the time. This century, a males’s nationwide champ is generally elite on no longer decrease than one end of the ground (whereas being no scurry on the quite loads of), no longer overly reliant on the three (unless you’re 2017–18 Villanova) and stable on the internal defensively. This twelve months two groups possess clearly earned the placement of cream of the cleave (extra on them below). But they wouldn’t be the first heavy favorites to stumble below the Substantial Dance’s radiant lights.

The Magic Eight has principles in addition. At least two of the end eight groups in the fresh males’s AP Prime 25 pollshould be excluded, and no longer decrease than one option must advance from outdoor the ballot’s top 15. At least, what are predictions with out a limited bit spice?


SI's 2021 Magic Eight includes Illinois, Virginia and Baylor

All stats and rankings are as of Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021

Gonzaga (17–0, 8–0 WCC)

No shock right here. The undefeated Zags are in location to recede the table heading into March Madness, at which point they’d perhaps well be the match’s No. 1 total seed. This crew facets a juggernaut offense that doesn’t rely on any one participant—four Bulldogs sensible no longer decrease than 11 functions per sport, led by All-The US candidates Corey Kispert (20.2 ppg) and Drew Timme (18.7 ppg). Dynamic freshman Jalen Suggs, junior Joel Ayayi and sixth man Andrew Nembard are all a handful in the backcourt, whereas rising 6′ 8″ sophomore Anton Watson presents depth in the frontcourt.

Designate Few’s walk-to rotation doesn’t recede deep, nonetheless it contains so many offensive weapons it will throw at opponents that it on the total doesn’t topic. When Gonzaga has the ball, it rankings with ruthless tempo and efficiency; per KenPom, it’s third nationally for the shortest sensible offensive possession dimension. As lethal because it’s in transition, it’s even better in the half court docket, rating first nationally in functions per possession in those scenarios, in response to Synergy Sports activities knowledge. The Bulldogs don’t on the total strive to beat you from the outdoor, nonetheless they can (detect their 13-of-26 performance from three against Iowa, or 10-for-20 mark against Virginia). As an alternative, right here is a throwback offense that is currently on the true song for the ultimate two-point taking pictures share of the KenPom generation (since 2001–02), making 64.3% through the arc. The most productive right thing to supply end about, offensively, is that its 34.9% three-point taking pictures mark, whereas legitimate, is currently the program’s worst in Few’s 22 years in Spokane.

SI COVER STORY: How Gonzaga Zagged

Despite how fickle and unpredictable the NCAA match can also honest even be, Gonzaga appears like a stable wager to walk deep. If there’s a weakness, it’s on the defensive facet—particularly if its opponent can slack down the sport and limit the Zags’ offensive possessions. While its total No. 6 snide on KenPom’s defensive efficiency is impressive, four of the five Energy 5 groups it faced scored no longer decrease than 1.0 point per possession, and there’s no elite shot blocker on the internal. If Few’s program lastly cuts down the nets, this can also honest likely be on the help of its offense.

Baylor (17–0 9–0 Substantial 12)

No shock right here, either. The Bears are the most productive crew with a chance to usurp Gonzaga for the No. 1 total seed in March, and they’ve been honest there with Few’s program all season (unfortunately for varsity hoops fans in each location, the planned meeting between the colleges in December became as soon as canceled on account of COVID-19 cases). Earlier this month, my colleague Pat Forde described the Bears as a crew that “plays the type Joe Frazier boxed: hit them in the face 15 times and they gained’t even draw back; they’ll honest protect coming after you.” That’s about as honest a description because it’s likely you’ll perhaps well maybe also gain for Scott Drew’s crew, which has by hook or by crook gotten even better since its extremely successful 2019–20.

If there’s an edge that Baylor has on paper over its counterpart Gonzaga, it’s this: The Bears are a bit extra well-rounded and consistent on the defensive end, boasting no longer honest the No. 3 KenPom offense, nonetheless the No. 3 protection in addition. Junior guard Jared Butler is a National Player of the Yr candidate, and when he’s no longer deciding on your pocket or main the Substantial 12 in relieve price, he’s scoring on you from in each place the ground. Astoundingly, Butler is one of 4 main rotation gamers sinking no longer decrease than 44% of their threes, which is why Baylor leads the nation in outdoor taking pictures. But the crew’s three-point price is most productive a bit elevated than the D-I sensible, a healthy number that enables space for it to beat you in assorted ways even on the uncommon evening its outdoor shot isn’t falling.

Above everything, the scariest thing about Baylor goes help to the type Forde described them. This community has amazing poise and by no plan lets itself bag accelerated, rattled or knocked off kilter. The Bears don’t awe, and if they possess got an off evening on the offensive end, the protection—which is led by the tenacious Davion Mitchell and Designate Crucial and puts a top price on keeping the ball in front—can guide them. And when you wish a spark from the bench, there’s sharpshooters Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler or heart Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to provide it. Lawful now, the most productive right question about Baylor is how this can also honest answer after its second COVID-19 end of the season—and how many video games this can also honest must squeeze in between its Feb. 20 return date and the birth of the postseason.

Michigan (13–1, 8–1 Substantial Ten)

The Wolverines haven’t performed since Jan. 22 on account of a COVID-19-related college athletics end, nonetheless up till that point, they’d looked stronger than ultimate-looking well-known somebody no longer named Baylor or Gonzaga. Genuinely, Michigan is the most productive crew to affix the two titans after all 10 of every and each KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency rankings, making them a intelligent chance to somebody buying for an different champ possess in their bracket pool. Crucially, the Wolverines are also top-10 nationally in each and each two-point offense and protection, and can reliably shoot the ball from deep in addition. This crew tests loads of containers for the profile of a conventional champ, though it’s structured considerably otherwise. In March, you in total command guard play rising to the end, nonetheless Michigan’s ultimate strengths are on the internal. Mike Smith has done an admirable job taking the reins of a Substantial Ten offense after four years in the Ivy League, nonetheless the 5′ 11″ point guard is the crew’s sixth-main scorer and no longer precisely a likely candidate to take over NCAA match video games in crunch time.

As an alternative, for offensive manufacturing the Wolverines largely rely on their wings and astronomical males—particularly 6′ 7″ Isaiah Livers, 6′ 9″ Franz Wagner and 7′ 1″ freshman Hunter Dickson, the final of whom is the crew’s main scorer (15.1 ppg) nonetheless had perceived to hit pretty an offensive wall in the video games directly earlier than the end. Getting Dickinson help on the true song will be one of many end priorities for Michigan upon its return, as will navigating what stays a tricky Substantial Ten agenda—plus no topic makeups the convention chooses to agenda.

The Wolverines are maybe due for pretty regression, and it gained’t be unpleasant if they, like many groups who possess had their seasons interrupted, advance help rusty. Their five Quad 1 video games are fewer than half of what fellow Substantial Ten contenders Illinois and Ohio Train possess performed, so this crew aloof has plenty to point out. And then there’s Juwan Howard, who has done a superb job in Yr 2 already to possess built a nationwide title contender in Ann Arbor, nonetheless will be making an are attempting to affix Kevin Ollie because the most productive coaches this century to lessen down the nets in their first NCAA match. It gained’t be easy, nonetheless Michigan’s first 14 video games were too stable to leave them off right here.

Illinois (13–5, 9–3 Substantial Ten)

With five losses, the Illini’s file can also honest no longer shout “nationwide champion” to you merely now. But take into story that they’ve performed one of many nation’s hardest schedules, and most productive one of those losses (Maryland) came to a crew no longer in the fresh top 25 of the NET rankings. They’ve risen from 17th on KenPom to birth out the season the total plan to No. 4, boasting a top-10 offense and top-15 protection. They’ve two of the country’s top gamers in Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, a punishing internal-out duo who combine to sensible 38.4 functions and 16.8 rebounds. They can throw two astronomical males at you on the ground together in 7′ 0″ Cockburn and 6’ 9″ Giorgi Bezhanishvili, or can encompass Cockburn with a smaller lineup from the likes of Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Andre Curbelo, Da’Monte Williams and Adam Miller.

Illinois became as soon as an valid crew a twelve months previously, nonetheless its ceiling became as soon as restricted on account of subpar taking pictures. It has fully remodeled that weakness in 2020–21, remarkably going from rating 235th nationally in efficient enviornment goal share and 310th in three-point taking pictures to rating ninth and 11th in those areas, respectively, this season. Its protection isn’t a tension one which’s going to manufacture havoc, nonetheless it seeks to remove easy alternatives in the paint and does a ultimate-looking staunch job at forcing opponents into isolation ball. The Illini possess earned their position on this checklist, even though they (like others) face an uphill fight must Baylor (which they faced Dec. 2, getting overwhelmed in the second half to lose by 13) or Gonzaga stand in their plan.

Virginia (14–3, 10–1 ACC)

The Cavaliers are pretty a vexing case, largely on account of the truth that they haven’t performed an extremely complicated agenda and flopped against their one elite opponent so some distance, Gonzaga (which, to be aesthetic, has made many groups judge about silly). They’ve gained 10 of 11 since, nonetheless fully 1 (Clemson) became as soon as against an opponent in the KenPom top 50. Indirectly, Virginia made the slash again for three causes: 1) Tony Bennett, 2) its revamped offense and 3) steadiness. Honest correct six of KenPom’s fresh top-20 offenses are also amongst the end-20 defenses, and Virginia is one of them. Why is this so necessary? Since 2002, 11 of 18 (61%) nationwide champs entered the NCAA match after all 20 of every and each, and 15 of 18 (83%) entered after all 30 of every and each—and, as soon as more, that’s getting into the match, so any presumed enhance from previous champs over those six tourney wins isn’t a factor.

Let’s bag help to the revamped offense, though: After being indecent on that end final season, UVA has turned into issues round astronomical time, on account of the additions of transfers Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy and an even bigger honest for 7′ 1″ senior heart Jay Huff, one of many most productive taking pictures astronomical males in the country. Kihei Clark is the lone starter left from the 2018–19 championship crew, nonetheless he’s aloof operating the offense, and Tomas Woldetensae presents sharpshooting capability off the bench. The Cavs’ ability to shoot, rebound their have basket and care for the ball makes them unhealthy in any matchup—and they’re on the true song for a top-three seed in the dance—nonetheless backers must aloof be cautious in response to the (fresh) lack of genuinely quality wins.

Ohio Train (16–4, 10–4)

The Buckeyes possess one of many most impressive résumés in the country, including extra Quad 1 wins (eight) than somebody. While they’ve advance on a bit leisurely to the title contender conversation, it’d be remiss to exclude a crew with that mixture of physique of work and shot at a No. 1 seed (consider: 14 of the final 20 champs were a No. 1). The offense is what stands out right here—No. 4 on KenPom, it’s led by guard Duane Washington Jr. and forward E.J. Lidell, who can also honest no longer be Dosunmu–Cockburn nonetheless are a ultimate-looking darn staunch duo in their have honest. Justin Ahrens, meanwhile, is hitting 48% of his threes, and senior Kyle Younger is quiet a glue man who does a limited bit bit of everything.

Despite all that, if Ohio Train is to acquire the total thing, it’s got some work to dwell on the defensive end. Since 2002, the lowest an eventual nationwide champion ever entered the match on KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating became as soon as No. 37, the place each and each 2014–15 Duke and 2008–09 UNC were. The Buckeyes’ fresh snide is 64th, by some distance decrease than the leisure of the Magic Eight’s, and they hardly ever force turnovers, putting extra tension on the aforementioned offense. There is, obviously, aloof time to toughen that mark, nonetheless over the final month, Ohio Train dropped eight spots (and on T-Rank, its protection since Jan. 1 ranks 59th). No topic what the math says, Ohio Train is included because it’s earned it thru its staunch on-court docket wins.

Houston (17–2, 11–2 AAC)

The Cougars can also appear like pretty an irregular different right here, and certainly there are issues. For one thing, it’s immensely complicated for groups outdoor the Energy 5 and Substantial East to acquire the total thing (UConn, obviously, did it out of the AAC though in 2014), and Houston’s taking pictures numbers are nearly ample to fright you off: a No. 206 rating in efficient enviornment goal share and a No. 246 mark on two-pointers. But right here is the case for Kelvin Sampson’s crew: For one thing, its protection is elite. It fully shuts down opponents in the half court docket, boasting the country’s most productive mark for defensive enviornment-goal share in those scenarios. In the final match we had, a Texas Tech crew that ranked No. 2 in the equivalent stat rode that protection the total plan to the title sport. The Cougars are retaining opponents to a paltry 26.9% mark from three, and their athletic guards are consistently a threat to force turnovers, which in flip spark the extra or less offense the place the crew is at its most productive: in transition.

Offensively, Houston is led by its backcourt trio of Quentin Grimes (sure, the earlier Kansas guard), Marcus Sasser and DeJon Jarreau, and the three of them are a handful. While the crew’s collective taking pictures stats dwell walk away one thing to be desired, it has an ace in the gap to relieve mitigate it: Houston is the end offensive rebounding crew in the country, grabbing 40% of its misses, on account of senior forwards Justin Gorham and Brison Gresham. Consider what I became as soon as announcing about steadiness? The Cougars are one of those six groups nationally in the KenPom top 20 on each and each ends—genuinely, they’re currently amongst each and each’s top 15.

Tennessee (14–4, 7–4 SEC)

For the final position, which must walk to a crew outdoor the fresh AP top 15, I’m taking a flier on a community that is aloof very well-known organising nonetheless is oozing with capability if it will position it all together over the next month and a half. The Vols had the most productive protection in the country till having fun with without anchor Yves Pons on Wednesday evening vs. Georgia (they’re now No. 2) and honest a suffocating half-court docket D that puts astronomical tension on opponents (Tennessee is one of honest two groups nationally after all 15 for every and each defensive turnover price and block price, the quite loads of being VCU).

It’s the offensive facet keeping this crew from being viewed as a Final Four accepted honest now. The Vols are 62nd nationally on KenPom and taking pictures honest 32.1% from three in SEC play, and after they war on that end, they war (detect: their fresh 52–50 loss to Ole Omit). Seven assorted Vols are averaging between 8.9 and 11.7 functions per sport, which helps with steadiness nonetheless is surely the bother in itself. They want extra consistency out of proficient newcomers Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, and particularly want extra manufacturing out of senior heart John Fulkerson. Johnson and Springer are showing indicators of breaking out, which could maybe well switch this crew’s fortunes down the stretch. There’s loads that needs to walk honest right here, nonetheless Tennessee appears like a good inclusion to wrap the Magic Eight.


Distinguished Omissions:

Alabama (16–5, 11–1 SEC)

The Crimson Tide are an inviting crew and were perhaps the hardest one to leave off the Magic Eight. Alabama’s offense is what will get the excitement, nonetheless its protection is what stirs the drink. No. 1 on KenPom, the D has been stifling SEC opponents for the length of its 11–1 recede in the convention, including retaining opposing groups to a 25% mark from three. Getting stops permits the Bama offense to, in flip, dwell its thing, having fun with in the Nate Oats “recede-and-gun” sort that, well, involves having fun with snappily and hoisting loads of threes. The Tide’s 30-point road rout of LSU in January represented the most productive of what this crew can also honest even be: an absurd 23-for-43 performance from three and 22 snappily-ruin functions, whereas retaining the Tigers to below 1.0 functions per possession.

This Tide must be viewed as barely unhealthy in March, particularly when you’re taking into story they’ve been having fun with without heart Jordan Bruner for eight video games and that dwell-everything senior Herbert Jones has been banged up of leisurely. Their protection has in total been consistently shapely, nonetheless the offense has been extra volatile. No crew in the country is extra midrange-shot-averse than Alabama, which puts a top price on photography from deep and up shut. That’s a neat approach, nonetheless its fresh numbers at the rim gentle in comparability with those of a newest champ: Since Hoop-Math started monitoring in 2011–12, all 16 groups which possess performed in the nationwide championship sport possess shot no longer decrease than 60% at the rim on the season—and 15 of 16 shot no longer decrease than 64%. Alabama is currently taking pictures 55.7% at the rim, staunch for 284th nationally, despite rating 43rd in photography attempted there. Evaluate Alabama’s FG% at the rim to that of top contenders Gonzaga (73.9%), Michigan (72.7%) and Baylor (68.3%), and that you just must maybe also detect the bother over the six-sport gantlet that is an NCAA match title recede.

Villanova (13–2, 8–1 Substantial East)

Hey, what’s the Magic Eight without some contentious choices, honest? Leaving out a Jay Wright crew is … complicated. It’s been a consuming twelve months for ’Nova—after a 7–1 birth that included a possess at Texas, the crew had nearly a month off for a COVID-19 end earlier than coming help to walk 4–1 so some distance. The Wildcats’ offense, led by a senior point guard in Collin Gillespie, is precisely what you’d count on—very efficient, shapely perimeter taking pictures on a excessive three-point price and a low turnover price. It’s a crew in a position to operating you out of the gym, because it did to Marquette on Wednesday evening.

Defensively, though, one thing hasn’t barely clicked with this community. It lacks a deterrent in the paint—none of 6′ 9″ Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 6′ 9″ Cole Swider or 6′ 7″ Jermaine Samuels is some distance of a shot-blocking off threat—and is sub-200 nationally in each and each two-point and three-point protection, with a particular vulnerability in transition and on opposing position-ups, per Synergy Sports activities knowledge. The chance in leaving Villanova off—and I acknowledge there’s absolutely a chance—is that it very likely hasn’t hit its ceiling yet. But after all, it lacks the stage of wins of a crew (Ohio Train) with a equivalent defensive efficiency rating, and, in an erratic twelve months, I’m selecting the elevated-quality résumé.

Iowa (14–6, 8–5 Substantial Ten)

Despite their fresh scramble, the Hawkeyes possess a superb crew—No. 5 on KenPom, skilled, fight-tested, deep and that contains each and each Luka Garza and total offensive firepower that competitors Gonzaga’s. And it’s well-known that sharpshooting guard CJ Fredrick neglected three of their final four losses. But despite fresh have, Iowa isn’t in the Magic Eight for one easy reason: Its protection currently tests in at No. 120 on KenPom’s efficiency rankings.

This became as soon as a astronomical effort for Iowa heading into the season, as final twelve months its very equivalent roster performed 97th, and it’s been five seasons since a Fran McCaffery crew performed within the end 90. The Hawkeyes’ offense has gotten even better this twelve months, nonetheless its protection stays a limitation—whereas it’s well-known-improved through the arc, it ranks sub-200 nationally in three-point protection, defensive rebounding, obtain share and defensive turnover price, and is terribly inclined in transition. Again, no nationwide champion in the KenPom generation has ever entered the match ranked worse than 37th defensively. Iowa has a lengthy, extremely no longer likely road to bag there—or else it needs to totally ruin the mold on the help of its offense.

Texas (12–5, 6–4 Substantial 12)

It’s laborious to know precisely what to manufacture of the Longhorns’ fresh scramble. After starting the season 10–1, they’ve lost four of six, the lone wins each and each coming against a corrupt Kansas Train squad. One day of that span, Texas has handled COVID-19 issues that included canceled video games, coach Shaka Trim and extra than one starters’ missing no longer decrease than one sport, and lost precious discover time as others were held out on account of contact tracing. While it’s tempting to supply the Longhorns an whole mulligan for the final month, it’s more uncomplicated acknowledged than done to merely hang they’re going to bag help to the have they were in in the first half of the season.

The ultimate enviornment has been Texas’s drop-off defensively, which has lasted nearly a month and a half. From opening evening till its Jan. 2 shellacking of Kansas, it became as soon as retaining opponents to 42.3% taking pictures from two and 24.8% from three. Since then, opponents possess shot 47% from two and 36.3% from three. About a of that is absolutely on account of the roster and agenda interruptions, nonetheless given the uncertainty and harmful fashion, I’m staying away.

Missouri (13–4, 6–4 SEC)

The Tigers were one of many surprises of the season, mountain climbing the total plan to No. 10 in the fresh AP ballot. Even earlier than Wednesday evening’s blowout loss to Ole Omit put a damper on that, below the hood, that rating looked inflated: They sensible out to No. 40 on five school hoops analytics sites (KenPom, T-Rank, ESPN BPI, Sagarin and Haslametrics). Here’s a tricky, passe community that facets several succesful scorers (particularly Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon) and owns wins over Illinois, Tennessee and Alabama. But extinct perimeter taking pictures (291st nationally at 30.7%) and a fresh propensity to war to shut out video games are each and each Achilles’ heels that fabricate it tricky to envision Mizzou going the total plan.

West Virginia (14–5, 7–3 Substantial 12)

The Mountaineers are rounding into have at an valid time. Were they 16th as a replacement of 14th on this week’s AP ballot, they likely would’ve made the slash again because the sub-15 crew. Alas, there’s no longer barely ample right here to make clear putting them above about a of the quite loads of contenders. West Virginia has adapted well after the midseason transfer of astronomical man Oscar Tshiebwe, and it’s seriously starting to search out extra consistent scoring outdoor guard Miles McBride and heart Derek Culver. This isn’t Press Virginia—genuinely, this iteration of WVU is completely O.Okay. defensively, and isn’t the threat in the paint as about a of Bob Huggins’s groups in the previous. It continues to toughen offensively, currently rating 10th on KenPom on that end, nonetheless is hindered by miserable taking pictures through the arc (including rating final in Substantial 12 play). If it lands on the 4–5 seed line, it would also honest even be a tricky climb out of the space.

Texas Tech (14–6, 6–5 Substantial 12)

The Red Raiders are No. 7 in the AP polldespite a 6–5 convention file, which speaks to how unfolded their losses are. This isn’t barely a vintage Chris Beard protection, as Texas Tech’s three-point D particularly has fallen off a cliff (Substantial 12 groups are taking pictures a whopping 41.3%, which is likely partly execrable success). Mac McClung has match into Lubbock like a glove, nonetheless the Red Raiders lack an valid sharpshooter (Kyler Edwards is the most productive participant above 35% from three) and are only 4–5 in Quad 1 video games. A stable squad with capability to walk deep, nonetheless likely no longer a nationwide champ.

Florida Train (10–3, 6–2 ACC)

The Seminoles were given serious consideration for the position outdoor the AP top 15. The size, physicality and acumen of Leonard Hamilton’s FSU groups possess given them a fresh historical previous of success in March, even though he’s by no plan gained it all. Here’s one more astronomical and athletic Florida Train crew. It would shoot each and each internal and outdoor the arc and facets a likely NBA lottery possess in Scottie Barnes, a 6’ 9” playmaker who’s third in ACC play in relieve price. But the Seminoles possess performed most productive 13 video games so some distance, and it’s laborious to bag a elephantine gauge on their ceiling.

Virginia Tech (14–4, 8–3 ACC)

Mike Younger has done a commendable job in Blacksburg to bag the Hokies to a top-20 rating in Yr 2, and Keve Aluma has been a revelation, nonetheless a nationwide title in 2021 seems a bridge too some distance. Virginia Tech tests in at No. 34 on KenPom, with neither its offense nor protection rating elevated than 36th. While time stays to toughen that, every champ in the KenPom generation has entered the match within the end 21 on no longer decrease than one end.

USC (16–3, 10–2 Pac-12)

The Trojans are quietly rising as perhaps the class of the Pac-12. Winners of 11 of their final 12, they fabricate their bones on the defensive end, particularly through the paint. USC is retaining opponents to merely 41.5% taking pictures for two, staunch for fourth nationally, on account of the defensive anchor of 7-footer (and capability No. 1 NBA draft possess ) Evan Mobley. The Trojans possess a pleasant profile, nonetheless they lack a top-30 KenPom possess, and No. 27 BYU is their most productive such possess in the NET. To boot they lack an valid perimeter threat (Drew Peterson, at 38%, is their most productive three-point shooter, nonetheless on most productive 50 attempts) and war as a crew at the free throw line. USC’s most productive chance is to know piling up wins, play itself into a top-three seed and plod its protection to a deep recede in March.

Oklahoma (12–5, 7–4 Substantial 12)

The Sooners were one of many ultimate risers since mid-January. They’re equivalent to Virginia Tech in that they’re stable on each and each ends nonetheless no longer particularly elite on either, which traces up ultimate-looking well-known with their 4–5 mark in Quad 1 video games. Oklahoma takes mighty care of the ball, which has helped offset its 31.9% three-point taking pictures in Substantial 12 play (nonetheless, junior Umoja Gibson has been a radiant position at 44.3% from deep). In its settle on, Lon Kruger’s crew has performed itself into contention for a No. 3 seed, and getting out of the 4/5 line could maybe well maybe be a astronomical enhance—nonetheless it’s going to take extra wins.

Creighton (15–5, 11–4 Substantial East)

The Bluejays are a wonderfully stable crew, particularly on the offensive end—the place they’re no longer barely as explosive as they were a season previously, nonetheless aloof plenty unhealthy. Creighton could maybe be well-known extra than honest Marcus Zegarowski; genuinely, five Bluejays sensible double figures. Greg McDermott starts three seniors and two juniors, that can fabricate for one of many match’s most skilled units. But Creighton is barely a No. 6 seed in each and each SI’s most in sort projection and the Bracket Matrix, and unless it sweeps Villanova this month, its sensible most productive-case scenario appears like the Elite Eight.

Wisconsin (15–6, 9–5 Substantial Ten)

The Badgers were pretty a disappointment this season—no longer decrease than in addition-known as they are going to also honest even be whereas aloof being a top 10–20 crew on nearly every school hoops analytics checklist. They were a extremely tempting chance to acquire because the crew outdoor the AP top 15, nonetheless by hook or by crook it came down to this: Wisconsin has had its probabilities this season against the elite, and it’s 3–4 in Quad 1 video games. The sizzling three-point taking pictures that carried it to the Substantial Ten title final season and to an 8–1 mark to birth out this twelve months has dissipated; since Dec. 28 it’s shot honest 32% from deep and long gone 7–5. As skilled and proficient as this crew is, it’s complicated to belief one whose ceiling seems to vacillate so broadly reckoning on whether the outdoor photography are falling.

Loyola Chicago (17–3, 12–1 Missouri Valley)

Certain, the Ramblers bag a mention right here. Don’t judge about now, nonetheless they head into this weekend’s astronomical double-showdown with Drake ranked 15th on KenPom and 12th in the NET. They appear destined to be well underseeded this March, and heart Cameron Krutwig is having fun with like an All-American, nonetheless they’d face a steep climb to genuinely slash backpedal the nets on April 5. On the other hand, they dwell possess Sister Jean on their facet.

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