East: Indiana has talent, but Miami’s time has come
1. Indiana (27-6)
No team spent more weeks at No. 1 this season than the Hoosiers, and no team might be more talented. Junior Victor Oladipo (13.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is the Big Ten defensive player of the year, and has already received national player of the year honors by at least one publication. But those aren’t even the best numbers on Indiana — Cody Zeller is at 16.9 ppg and 8.2 rpg — a sign of how strong the Hoosiers are.
2. Miami (27-6)
Don’t believe in the Hurricanes? They won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles and have four combined wins over Duke and North Carolina. Shane Larkin (Barry’s son) is an underrated point guard.
3. Marquette (23-8)
Buzz Williams has taken the Golden Eagles to the tournament in all five of his seasons, and never won fewer than 22 games. A balanced offense is led by guards Vander Blue (14.3 ppg) and Junior Cadougan (8.7 ppg).
4. Syracuse (26-9)
If James Southerland can keep knocking down 3-pointers, and Syracuse’s zone defense is clicking, the Orange will be a tough out. Jim Boeheim’s team is just 4-5 in its last nine.
5. UNLV (25-9)
The Rebels had the look of a Final Four contender until star forward Mike Moser got hurt and chemistry problems arose. They’re still supremely talented, especially freshman Anthony Bennett (16.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg).
6. Butler (26-8)
Everybody’s favorite underdog has landmark victories over Indiana and Gonzaga this season. Everything goes through guard Rotnei Clark (16.7 ppg), one of the most dangerous shooters in the tournament.
7. Illinois (22-12)
The Illini won the Maui Invitational on the way to a 12-0 start. Illinois also knocked off Gonzaga (one of only two teams to do so) on the road and Indiana at home, so it’s a team that can play well against great competition.
8. North Carolina State (24-10)
The Wolfpack are hoping to build on last year’s Sweet 16 run. All five starters average at least 12 points, led by C.J. Leslie’s 14.9. State can spread the wealth if somebody is hot — or isn’t.
9. Temple (23-9)
The Owls will fly or fall on the play of senior Khalif Wyatt, a remarkable guard with a game that seems about 20 years older than he is.
10. Colorado (21-11)
The Buffaloes got an at-large nod mainly by beating the teams they were supposed to beat, and avoiding bad losses. Junior forward Andre Roberson is second in the country with 11.3 rpg.
11. Bucknell (28-5)
Opponents need to pay attention to this team that plays tremendous defense and unselfish offense. The leader is 6-11 senior center Mike Muscala (19.0 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg).
12. California (20-11)
The Bears tied for second in a very good Pac-12. Guards Allen Crabbe (18.6 ppg) and Justin Cobbs (15.5) do most of the scoring.
13. Montana (25-6)
The Grizzlies lost their leading scorer to injury Feb. 16 but still won the Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles. They hit free throws at 77 percent.
14. Davidson (26-7)
Coach Bob McKillop has got the usual bunch of smart, unselfish players who play good defense. The best is 6-10 senior center Jake Cohen.
15. Pacific (22-12)
The Tigers won the Big West tournament in Bob Thomason’s 25th and final season. They play patiently and unselfishly on offense and sticky man-to-man on defense.
16. James Madison (20-14)/Long Island (20-13)
The Dukes are in the tournament for the first time since 1994. They shoot only 42 percent from the field . . . The Blackbirds are a run-and-gun unit (79 ppg) .
Upset specials: Davidson over Marquette, Montana over Syracuse, Bucknell over Butler
Sweet 16 picks: Indiana, UNLV, Davidson, Miami
Regional champion: Miami
West: An unlikely winner emerges in New Mexico
1. Gonzaga (31-2)
The Zags are one of the best offensive teams in the tournament (77.6 ppg), with multiple weapons. What’s different this season is the defense, holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting. And 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, who’s not only the most improved player in the nation but one of the best, averages 17.5 ppg and 7.2 rpg. There’s also a nifty guard off the bench named David Stockton (that’s right, son of John, Gonzaga’s greatest player).
2. Ohio State (26-7)
The Buckeyes are streaking, winning eight straight games (half over ranked teams) and capturing the Big Ten tournament. Deshaun Thomas has been the primary scoring weapon, averaging 19.7 ppg, but junior point guard Aaron Craft remains the catalyst, especially on defense.
3. New Mexico (29-5)
The Lobos, coached by former Indiana star Steve Alford, had many notable victories this season, including at Davidson, vs. UConn, at Cincinnati, at Indiana State, and New Mexico State (twice).
4. Kansas State (27-7)
Angel Rodriguez has had a solid sophomore season, scoring 11.7 ppg and dishing out 5.3 apg. K-State always looks to senior guard Rodney McGruder (15.7 ppg) for offense.
5. Wisconsin (23-11)
All Bo Ryan’s teams do is win, it seems, especially in the postseason. The Badgers own a streak of winning at least one game in the NCAA Tournament for the last six seasons. Guard Ben Brust (11.4 ppg) leads a balanced offense.
6. Arizona (25-7)
Late road losses to UCLA and Southern Cal cost Arizona a shot at the Pac-12 title, but the Wildcats were a perfect 12-0 out of conference, with wins over Florida and Miami.
7. Notre Dame (25-9)
Like many of Mike Brey’s teams, the Irish are super efficient on offense, shooting nearly 47 percent overall and more than 37 percent from behind the 3-point line.
8. Pittsburgh (24-8)
The Panthers won 11 of their last 14 conference games, a turnaround that was sparked by defense. Pitt is a deep, balanced team, with 10 players averaging from 4.2 ppg to senior point guard Tray Woodall’s team-leading 11.8.
9. Wichita State (26-8)
One result says it all for the Shockers: they beat hyperactive VCU in Richmond, 53-51, dictating pace and making it the half-court, defensive game they prefer.
10. Iowa State (22-11)
The Cyclones were fourth in the country in scoring at 79.6 per game. But Iowa State allows more than 71 a game.
11. Belmont (26-6)
The Bruins switched from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley this season but still got their sixth NCAA bid in eight years. This guard-oriented team is led by Ian Clark (18.1 ppg) and Kerron Johnson (13.7).
12. Mississippi (26-8)
The Rebels took what could have been a difficult bubble decision out of the selection committee’s hands by winning the SEC tournament.
13. Boise State (21-10)/La Salle (21-9)
This is the first at-large bid for the Broncos, who fought hard in the highly competitive Mountain West. Boise won at Creighton . . . The Explorers return to the tournament for the first time since 1992. La Salle averages 72 points per game and chucks up 20 threes per game.
14. Harvard (19-9)
The Crimson lost their two best players in the school’s academic scandal but the season was saved by freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who made first-team All-Ivy after averaging 12.9 ppg and 5.8 apg.
15. Iona (20-13)
The runnin’ Gaels average 80.7 points per game, third in the country.
16. Southern (23-9)
Malcolm Miller comes off the bench and averages 15.8 ppg.
Upset specials: Mississippi over Wisconsin, Belmont over Arizona
Sweet 16 picks: Gonzaga, Kansas State, New Mexico, Ohio State
Regional champion: New Mexico
South: Georgetown the class of bracket with pedigree
1. Kansas (29-5)
The Jayhawks tied Kansas State for the regular-season Big 12 title, then beat the Wildcats in the tournament final. Keep an eye on Ben McLemore: He leads Kansas in scoring as a freshman (16.4 ppg), but this is a senior-dominated team. Talented 7-footer Jeff Withey (13.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Travis Releford (11.5 ppg), and Elijah Johnson (10.1 ppg) give KU tournament experience.
2. Georgetown (25-6)
The Hoyas were rewarded for a solid season featuring one of the country’s best players. Otto Porter Jr. (16.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg) was the Big East player of the year and should be on the short list for national honors.
3. Florida (26-7)
St. Mark’s graduate Erik Murphy is one of three seniors who score from 12.1 to 12.7 ppg, giving the Gators a level of on-court productive experience few teams can match. Their wins are by an average of 24 points.
4. Michigan (26-7)
Once ranked No. 1 in the country, the Wolverines stumbled, going 6-6 over their last 12 games. Michigan has one of the best guards in the country in Trey Burke (19.2 ppg).
5. Virginia Commonwealth (26-8)
“Havoc” is what Shaka Smart calls his full-court press, and it’s aptly named as the Rams average nearly 12 steals per game and force nearly 20 turnovers. VCU averages 78.2 ppg.
6. UCLA (25-9)
Shabazz Muhammad has mostly lived up to the hype as a freshman, leading the Bruins in scoring (17.8). But how far UCLA goes will likely depend on its complementary parts.
7. San Diego State (22-10)
The Aztecs lost five of their last nine, and were beaten soundly by New Mexico in the Mountain West semis. They’ll look to regain the magic that helped them win 14 of their first 16.
8. North Carolina (24-10)
The Tar Heels haven’t done a whole lot to impress, and not a whole lot to be dismissed. They will need strong play on the perimeter from P.J. Hairston, Dexter Strickland, and Marcus Paige to advance.
9. Villanova (20-13)
The Wildcats beat Syracuse, Louisville, and Georgetown, when those teams were ranked in the top five nationally. Villanova also lost to Columbia at home by 18.
10. Oklahoma (20-11)
The Sooners are back in the tournament for the first time since 2009. Forward Romero Osby led the team in scoring (15.8) and rebounding (7.0).
11. Minnesota (20-12)
Hard to believe, but the Gophers haven’t won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 1997. Minnesota opened 15-1 and looked like a team that could be in the mix for a high seed. Instead, it stumbled to a 5-11 finish.
12. Akron (26-6)
The Zips’ Keith Dambrot, who coached LeBron James in high school, guided his team to a 19-game winning streak before dominating the MAC tournament. The Zips have a big-time center in 7-footer Zeke Marshall (13.0 ppg, 65 percent shooting, 7.1 rpg, 3.7 bpg).
13. South Dakota State (25-9)
The reason the Jackrabbits are in the NCAAs for the second straight season is Nate Wolters (22.7 ppg), a 6-4 senior guard and NBA prospect.
14. Northwestern State (23-8)
The Demons from Natchitoches, La., are the highest-scoring team in the country at 81.5 points per game. Coach Mike McConathy goes 10 deep and presses full court for 40 minutes.
15. Florida Gulf Coast (24-10)
Perhaps a rooting interest for Boston fans since this school is located in Fort Myers. The Atlantic Sun champion beat Miami in November.
16. Western Kentucky (20-15)
For the second straight season, the Hilltoppers were surprise winners of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Their best player is 6-4 guard T.J. Price (15.3 ppg).
Upset specials: Northwestern State over Florida, South Dakota State over Michigan
Sweet 16 picks: North Carolina, VCU, UCLA, Georgetown
Regional champion: Georgetown
Midwest: Louisville has plenty of prime competition
1. Louisville (29-5)
When the Cardinals press and run, they’re maybe the best team in the country. You might know about point guard Peyton Siva; you should know about Russ Smith, who leads the Cardinals in scoring (18.1), and Gorgui Dieng, who nearly averages a double-double (10.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
2. Duke (27-5)
This is pretty much a five-man team, but they’re all good, and all average in double figures. Ryan Kelly (14.3 ppg) missed 13 games with a foot injury, but he’s back.
3. Michigan State (25-8)
Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Fours since 1999, but none since 2010. Guard Keith Appling (13.6 ppg) leads three players who average in double figures.
4. Saint Louis (27-6)
Rick Majerus was supposed to coach this team but he died early in the season. The Billikens are the nation’s best defensive team; they don’t just make it hard to score, they disrupt opponents.
5. Oklahoma State (24-8)
There might not be a better freshman in the country than Marcus Smart, who averages 15.4 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.9 steals. Oklahoma State has wins over Kansas and N.C. State, and lost to top-ranked Gonzaga by 1.
6. Memphis (30-4)
The Tigers ran roughshod over a weak Conference USA, going 19-0 counting the tournament. When challenged out of conference they came up short, so they’ve got a lot to prove.
7. Creighton (27-7)
The Bluejays are led by 6-8 forward Doug McDermott, who averages 23.1 ppg while shooting 56 percent overall and 50 percent on threes and grabbing 7.5 rebounds.
8. Colorado State (25-8)
The Rams lead the nation in rebounding margin at an amazing plus-12.1. The outside threat is constant motion guard Dorian Green (12.8 ppg).
9. Missouri (23-10)
Six players average in double figures, so the Tigers don’t have much trouble scoring. They also are second in the country in rebounding, and outrebound opponents by nearly 10 per game.
10. Cincinnati (22-11)
The Bearcats’ top three scorers are upperclass guards: Sean Kilpatrick (16.9), Cashmere Wright (12.6), and JaQuon Parker (11.3).
11. Middle Tennessee (28-5)/Saint Mary’s (27-6)
For the second straight year the Blue Raiders blew it in the Sun Belt tournament after dominating the regular season. They got a surprising at-large bid . . . Half of the Gaels’ losses were to Gonzaga so they’ll prove to be a difficult opponent.
12. Oregon (26-8)
The Ducks might be peaking at the right time, winning three games in three days to win the Pac-12 tournament. Oregon relies on E.J. Singler (11.5 ppg), but super sub Carlos Emory (11.0 ppg) provides instant offense off the bench.
13. New Mexico State (24-10)
The Aggies won 18 of their last 20 games en route to the WAC title. They have eight foreign players; the most imposing is Canadian Sim Bhullar, a 7-5, 360-pound center.
14. Valparaiso (26-7)
Second-year coach Bryce Drew got Valpo to the tournament just like his father Homer did. He mostly relies on two imports, 6-7 Aussie Ryan Broekhoff (15.9 ppg) and 6-8 Dutchman Kevin Van Wijk (12.7).
15. Albany (24-10)
The Great Danes won the America East tournament by upsetting top-seeded Stony Brook and then winning at Vermont, taking the school’s third NCAA bid. Two small guards, Mike Black (14.9 ppg) and Jacob Iati (12.1), lead the attack.
16. North Carolina A&T (19-16)/Liberty (15-20)
The top four seeds in the MEAC tournament lost in the quarterfinals. That left it wide open and the Aggies took it . . . Only the second team with 20 losses to reach the NCAAs, the Flames qualified by winning the Big South tournament.
Upset specials: Oregon over Oklahoma State, Cincinnati over Creighton
Sweet 16 picks: Louisville, Saint Louis, Michigan State, Duke
Regional champion: Louisville