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March Madness: Ranking all 68 NCAA tournament teams by upset potential

The Mountaineers’ stay in the bracket may be a short one. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Placing your faith in the wrong team can cost you in your bracket pool. Back the wrong squad and your bracket, and the hopes of finally scoring that sweet March Madness supremacy in your office pool, will crumble in your waste basket. Just look at last season when Final Four favorite Iowa State bowed out in the first game.

If you don’t want to bust your bracket before the start of Round 2, here’s our ranking of all 68 teams in order of our confidence they will advance to the round of 32.

1. Kansas: The top overall seed this March Madness, Kansas won’t become the first number one to ever lose to a 16.

2. Virginia: This regional match-up will be a primer in the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense.

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3. North Carolina: Though the Tar Heels might face Dunk City, UNC is trending to its small ball lineup, which means less dunks for Brice Johnson (who should still dunk on the Atlantic Sun champ quite often).

4. Oregon: Oregon might be the weakest of the number one seeds, but Chris Boucher and Dillon Brooks have the athleticism to compete with the slow-down Holy Cross and the fast(ish) paced Southern.

5. Oklahoma: For the sake of this tournament, Buddy Hield needs to keep dancing for as long as possible.

6. Michigan State: The Spartans are the field’s most dangerous two seed, and the committee really must have something against UVA’s Tony Bennett to keep pairing the two squads in the same region.

7. Villanova: Kris Jenkins is a Draymond Green-lite. The 6-foot-6 junior has made 43 percent of his threes in Big East play.

8. Xavier: At one point, the Musketeers seemed Final Four bound. They might not get there, but XU has the frontcourt to keep Joel Bolomboy, WSU’s lengthy and rebounding vacuuming big, off the glass.

9. Kentucky: Arguably the hottest team in DI at the moment.

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10. Utah: Jakob Poeltl, the Utes’ Austro-American, is playing in front of a prime time audience for the first time in months. Count on more of what he did in the Pac-12 tournament: 61 percent from within the arc.

11. Miami: Despite facing a Buffalo team that has NCAA tournament experience, Miami should advance, but a sustained push will depend on which Angel Rodriguez takes the court in future rounds.

12. Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy’s squad has the length, physicality, and (most importantly) depth to keep up with Green Bay.

13. Stephen F. Austin: Not only is coach Brad Underwood a branch off Bob Huggins’ coaching tree, SFA has been to three straight NCAA tournaments and feature Thomas Walkup, a 6-foot-5 forward/point guard who doesn’t turn the ball over and makes 64 percent of his twos.

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14. Maryland: Against, say, Chattanooga, and the Terps would be slotted much further down on this list.

15. Hawaii: A tough match-up for California. Hawaii forces opponents to commit a turnover on nearly 20 percent of their possessions, led by Roderick Bobbitt and Quincy Smith, two guards that have steal rates of more than 3.5 percent.

16. Indiana: Indiana’s ball handling isn’t the tightest, and the Mocs are known to swipe often, but IU’s offensive spacing should help avoid the first-round upset.

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17. Texas: Shaka Smart has had a week to gameplan.

18. Seton Hall: Though Gonzaga is one of just two NCAA tournament teams that rank in the top 20 of Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage, the Hall’s defense since February has been vice-like.

19. Wichita State/Vanderbilt: Both teams are way underseeded.

20. Wisconsin: Ethan Happ is becoming a budding defensive star before our eyes — a 6-foot-9 big that posts a 3.5 percent block rate, 4 percent steal rate, and grabs a quarter of opponents’ misses.

21. VCU: Melvin Johnson is having the most prolific shooting season for anyone not named Buddy. The senior has attempted 266 threes, converting 39 percent of those shots.

22. Saint Joseph’s: DeAndre Bembry not only has the best Afro to grace a basketball court in decades, but he has an offensive game that pairs long-range shooting with smooth drives to the rim. Plus, it’s my alma mater.

23. Texas Tech: Toddrick Gotcher is one of the nation’s most offensively efficient (and explosive wings)

24. West Virginia: Against any other 14-seed, West Virginia would be much higher. These teams have a nearly identical style of play.

25. UNC Wilmington: Much has been made about Chris Flemmings DII rise to DI walk-on, but the wing has game, and he presents mismatch problems for Duke.

26. Iona: The two teams have a very similar gameplan — lot of possessions and a lot of threes and layups — but the X-factor might be Jordan Washington, a 6-foot-8 big who uses less than half of the Gaels’ minutes (he draws nearly 9 fouls per 40 minutes) and grabs 18 percent of the team’s misses.

27. Yale: The Bulldogs are tough to contain on both the offensive and defensive glass — no other tourney participant ranks in KenPom’s top ten — and when Yale is making their threes, it could be a difficult game for Baylor.

28. Arkansas-Little Rock: If you thought Virginia played a slow, grinding defense, wait until Arkansas-Little Rock, which guards the three-point line, prevents easy buckets, and somehow swipes the ball 21.4 percent of their defensive trips using just 64 possessions.

29. Gonzaga: Even with Seton Hall’s defensive improvement, Damontas Sabonis will be a difficult single-cover for Angel Delgado.

30. Iowa: Despite the team’s slide, Iowa has the talent that justified a top 10 national ranking.

31. USC: Despite the team’s slide, USC has the talent to be in conversations about the best west coast-based team.

32. Michigan/Tulsa: The pod we are most unsure about. Which Michigan, Notre Dame, or Tulsa will show up?

33. Notre Dame: Bonzie Colson is a high-major anomaly. A 6-foot-5 big who lives in the paint, makes 54 percent of his twos, and grabs defensive rebounds (19 percent) and blocks shots (4 percent) like a player several inches taller.

34. California: This game will depend on how Ivan Rabb matches up with Hawaii’s Stefan Jankovic. Rabb has an inside-mid-range game and might be physical enough to boost Cal into the round of 32.

35. Arizona: Sean Miller deserves national coach of the year recognition for the job he did with these jack of all former five star recruits and Allonzo Trier, an offensively precocious and defensively erratic wing.

36. Baylor: Johnathan Motley will be the next Baylor big to shine. His length helps him sky over opponents in the paint, and he blocks 6.6 percent of attempts on the defensive side of the ball.

37. Purdue: Isaac Haas has seemingly figured out the foul issues that have dogged the sophomore at Purdue. He has cut his fouls committed per 40 minutes by nearly two fouls, and has continued to post the same defensive rebounding and block rate as he did his freshman season.

38. Colorado: According to some, Josh Scott is a hidden talent. Not really — the senior has been using his old-school back to the basket game to carve up Pac-12 defenses since 2013.

39. Connecticut: If Jalen Adams didn’t hit that three-quarter court shot in the American tournament, UConn would be NIT bound.

40. Cincinnati: The Selection Committee really overvalued the AAC.

41. Providence: Kris Dunn assists on 42 percent of Providence’s field goals.

42. Green Bay: No other team in DI has undergone a possession jump from last season to this one like Green Bay (more than 11 possessions per 40 minutes).

43. Duke: When Duke goes small with Grayson Allen at the point and Matt Jones at the 3, they score more than 1.20 points per possession. But can they sustain that level of offensive efficiency for 40-plus minutes without any bench?

44. Northern Iowa: UNI will beat Texas if the team can convert as well as they have from beyond the three-point arc this season — 37.2 percent, the third best three-point percentage for a Ben Jacobson-coached team.

45. Oregon State: Gary Payton II swipes 4.2 percent of opponent’s possessions, which ranks 15th nationally.

46. Butler: These Bulldogs won’t remind you of Brad Stevens’ tenure as coach. The team uses more than 68 possessions per game, which is practically a roadrunner pace in Indianapolis.

47. Iowa State: This should be a track race between Iona and Iowa State, but the real match-up to watch will be whomever guards Georges Niang.

48. Fresno State: Unlike Josh Scott, Marvelle Harris is the real hidden talent in the field. He uses more than 30 percent of the team’s shots and still posts an offensive rating of 106.

49. Pittsburgh: Michael Young and Jamel Artis are loads on the offensive interior. Pitt does much of its scoring in the paint.

50. Dayton: A few weeks ago, the Flyers would have been much higher on this list, but they slumped into March Madness.

51. Temple: Again, the selection committee really liked the AAC.

52. Syracuse: Only one other NCAA tournament participant uses more minutes than Michael Gbinije (93.6 percent of the Orange’s playing time).

53. Buffalo: The Bulls will try to outpace Miami — the Bulls produce 73 possessions a game.

54. South Dakota State: Mike Daum will be fun to watch the next four NCAA tournaments (including this one). The freshman is extremely efficient from both inside and outside the arc, and he draws more than seven fouls per 40 minutes.

55. UNC Asheville: A team that relies on a defensive cocktail, alternating between man and 2-3 zone, sometimes within the same possession.

56. Weber State: Joel Bolomboy has been quietly efficient on the boards. The 6-foot-9 senior has grabbed 30 percent of opponents’ misses, a career high.

57. Chattanooga: Facing any other No. 5 seed than Indiana and Chattanooga would be paired with Stephen F. Austin as a 12 seed moving on.

58. Stony Brook: Jameel Warney should put on a show against the Kentucky bigs — he scored 43 points in the America East championship game, and dropped 22 points against Vanderbilt and 16 vs. Notre Dame earlier this season. Maybe we’ll also finally find out why he constantly pre-games tweets at Mark Morrison (of ‘Return of the Mack’ fame).

59. Cal State Bakersfield: Rod Barner was a happy man when his team made the NCAA tournament, but it’ll be a brief stay.

60. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have arguably the toughest matchup of any non-16 seed.

61. Holy Cross/Southern: If Holy Cross pulls off the 16-seed upset, Bill Simmons might just hire Bill Carmody to coach his ZogSports team.

62. Hampton: Even with a lot of Pirates’ friends and family watching this nearby game in Raleigh, N.C., Hampton won’t continue dancing.

63. Florida Gulf Coast/Fairleigh Dickinson: The two teams have just two players combined who top 6-foot-8. UNC has six.

64. Austin Peay: The Governors are facing the tournament’s top overall seed in Kansas.

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