1. Villanova: The top overall seed. Despite the team’s placement in the toughest region (the East, with matchups against Duke and SMU looming), Villanova’s three-man offensive core of Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins has the potential to repeat as national champions.
2. Gonzaga: Yes, we know Mark Few has never made a Final Four. This team, stocked with talented scorers that can also lock down opponents, will be his first.
3. North Carolina: Even though the Tar Heels lost in the ACC tournament semifinals, they had Duke on the ropes for much of the first half. Justin Jackson, who has developed a proficient perimeter game, and a foul-free Joel Berry II are the keys.
4. Duke: Harry Giles and Frank Jackson were the difference makers in the ACC tourney. How often will coach Mike Krzyzewski go with his big lineup and pair Giles with Amile Jefferson? During the conference tourney, the group scored a whopping 2.08 points per possession (PPP) on 12 possessions. Small sample size, yes, but still encouraging.
5. Kansas: Frank Mason III has entered the annals of KU GOATs, but a significant lack of depth and interior play could stymie the Jayhawks’ truly efficient backcourt.
6. Wichita State: Thirteen of the past 14 NCAA champs have finished within the top 20 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. Four squads finished the 2017 season within those parameters: Gonzaga, Villanova, the Shockers and Kentucky.
7. Kentucky: Ditto — though make sure to catch De’Aaron Fox’s evolving three-point shot (six of 10 since returning from an injury) and Malik Monk’s roller-coaster-esque offensive game.
8. Arizona: Since Allonzo Trier returned from suspension, this has become a different squad. Everyone focuses on Lauri Markkanen, but the real freshman to watch is Rawle Alkins, who has morphed from a blue chip prospect to a do-it-all defensive stopper who makes 37 percent of his threes.
9. Louisville: The Cardinals have arguably the field’s most talented roster. Rick Pitino’s defense is slightly different from past iterations, focusing more on pressuring the ballhandler but, rather than forcing turnovers, diverting opponents into the interior, where the squad is blocking nearly 16 percent of the opposing team’s attempts.
10. SMU: A Final Four dark horse, led by ex-Dookie Semi Ojeleye, who uses his unconscious scoring ability — an offensive rating of 128.2 bolstered by making 43 percent of his threes — to single-handedly take over games.
11. Notre Dame: We all know Notre Dame can score, and while that hasn’t changed in 2017 (1.18 PPP, 16th nationally), the team is (slowly) becoming stingier on the other side of the ball, holding ACC opponents to under 50 percent in conference play.
12. Purdue: Coach Matt Painter has a lineup dilemma. Does he pair Caleb Swanigan with Vince Edwards, a small-ball lineup with an efficiency margin of plus-0.26 PPP since February? Or does Painter take advantage of Isaac Haas, a 7-foot-2 junior who made nearly 60 percent of his twos, and go insanely big (plus-0.32 PPP). Not a bad dilemma to have.
13. UCLA: Since 2010, only one team has advanced to the Final Four with a defensive efficiency ranked outside KenPom’s top 60 (VCU, 2011). The Bruins are currently allowing teams to score 0.998 PPP, which ranks them 78th nationally.
14. West Virginia: Press Virginia was a catchy moniker, and it’s held true in 2017, but this Mountaineer offense should get more credit for how dominant the team has been this season: not only is the squad grabbing nearly 40 percent of its own misses, but WVU is making 50 percent of its twos and 36 percent from deep.
15. Virginia: With the upcoming graduation of London Perrantes, the future of UVA’s backcourt will be on display this tourney. Kyle Guy has emerged as one of the country’s most efficient bench players, converting 45 percent of his threes in ACC play, while Ty Jerome — a fellow freshman — plays just a third of the Cavaliers’ minutes yet has a box score plus-minus of 8.9 (third on the squad).
16. Rhode Island: The Rams have a defense that could jump start a Sweet 16 run, holding opponents to 0.95 PPP and blocking 16 percent of teams’ attempts.
17. Middle Tennessee: This isn’t the Blue Raiders squad you remember from a year ago, but it might be a better version of the team that shocked No. 2 Michigan State. Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw return, and the auto-bid from Conference USA is far less three-point dependent, preferring to score from within the arc (58 percent of their points are twos).
18. Iowa State: Monte Morris is the key. The senior guard has been on a tear throughout the second half of Big 12 play, posting an effective field goal percentage of 52.1 percent while continuing his torrid streak of handing out an assist on 34 percent of ISU’s buckets.
19. Nevada: The Wolf Pack doesn’t go to its bench . . . ever. Just 18 percent of the team’s minutes are allocated to subs, which means more playing time for Marcus Marshall and Cameron Oliver, the squad’s top offensive options.
20. Oregon: How will Chris Boucher’s injury affect the squad? Absent the shot-blocker, their defense figures to suffer.
21. South Carolina: Frank Martin’s squad doesn’t play with grace, but Sindarius Thornwell is one of the tournament’s most physically dominant — and efficient — guards, bulldozing his way to the rim and scoring nearly 60 percent of his attempts around the bucket.
22. Florida State: A team that could make the Final Four or get bounced in a blowout during the tournament’s first day. It’s impossible to know the Seminoles’ ceiling, despite the team’s three-seed.
23. Cincinnati: A perpetually stingy defense paired with an offense that is dependent on scoring within the arc. Sounds like every squad Mick Cronin has taken to the tournament.
24. East Tennessee State: TJ Cromer is a name to know from the Buccaneers’ mix of transfers (Tevin Glass and Hanner Mosquera-Perea). The 6-3 guard dominates the offense, connecting on more than 40 percent of his threes.
25. Baylor: The play of Scott Drew’s backcourt, and in particular, his guards’ inability to limit turnovers (committing a giveaway on more than 20 percent of its possessions), will determine how far Baylor dances.
26. Xavier: No Myles Davis (suspension) or Edmond Sumner, but no matter, Xavier still dances thanks to how much Trevon Bluiett is a defensive mismatch — a 6-6 stretch four who doesn’t turn the ball over and makes 37 percent from deep.
27. Butler: Kamar Baldwin is the truth. No matter how far Butler dances, the 6-foot Baldwin was the Big East’s best freshman, particularly on defense, where he used prescient anticipation and quick hands to grab a steal on four percent of his defensive possessions.
28. Michigan: Another Final Four dark horse. If Zak Irvin and DJ Walton continue to play as they did during the Big Ten tournament, it’s hard to disrupt the Wolverines’ constantly moving offense.
29. Oklahoma State: This tournament should be a breakthrough moment for Jawun Evans, the country’s top guard who has somehow escaped national attention.
30. Wisconsin: In early February, opposing teams realized mixing up their double-teams of Ethan Happ could cause havoc to Wisconsin’s offense. Unless Wisconsin’s guards begin to hit their threes and force those same teams to single-cover Happ, the same could happen in the NCAA tournament, and bounce the Badgers early.
31. Creighton: Forget Mo Watson, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament midway through Big East play. The team has rebounded by alternating its ballhandlers and spread out backcourt duties to Davion Mintz and Isaiah Zierden.
32. Florida: With John Egbunu on the court, this team had Elite Eight potential. Now, a lack of interior depth could doom the Gators.
33. Marquette: No other team has undergone as much of a startling perimeter transformation as the Golden Eagles. More than 40 percent of the team’s attempts are from beyond the arc (up from 30.3 percent in 2016) and the squad makes 43 percent of those looks (up from 34 percent in 2016).
34. VCU: Virtually the entire squad returns from nearly upsetting Oklahoma in the round of 32 last season. Doubt the Rams at your bracket’s peril.
35. Saint Mary’s: Have opponents figured out the Gaels’ perimeter-laden offense and split cuts? Maybe only Gonzaga has, since the WCC rival beat SMC three times in 2017.
36. Seton Hall: Angel Delgado’s growth during his junior season has been staggering. The 6-10 is the only player ranked within KenPom’s top-15 for offensive rebounding percentage (16.3 percent) and defensive rebounding percentage (28 percent).
37. Michigan State: How Cassius Winston plays is key. On the road, the freshman guard has an effective field goal percentage of 42.3 percent in Big Ten play.
38. Northwestern: Even if the Wildcats don’t escape the first round, isn’t enough that the team finally made it to the Dance after 79 years?
39. Kansas State: A toss-up game between two teams that didn’t beat any notable foes during nonconference play, aren’t particularly efficient on defense, and have offenses ranked within KenPom’s top 50 efficiency ratings.
40. Wake Forest: Same as their opponents’ above, but at least the Demon Deacons have John Collins, a 6-10 big that provides a bit of energy, making 62 percent of his twos, into the team’s old school post sets.
41. Miami FL: It seems as if every time one watches Miami, the team is up by double digits before it all comes crashing down. Though, against the field’s weakest top seed, maybe the eight seed can pull the upset.
42. Maryland: The team’s freshmen have greatly progressed throughout 2017, and they are why the Terps could win at least one NCAA tourney game. Justin Jackson is a beast on both the offensive and defensive glass who makes more than 40 percent of his threes.
43. Princeton: The Tigers run virtually the same offensive system as Notre Dame, its first-round opponent. Can Princeton run it better for 40 minutes?
44. Bucknell: Against any other team in this field, Bucknell would be the popular 4-13 upset — the team makes 55 percent of its twos and 37 percent from beyond the arc. But against West Virginia, the defensive pressure might be too intense.
45. USC: Bennie Boatwright is the type of player that can carry a team in March, a 6-10 sophomore who makes 36 percent from deep and whose perimeter touch opens seams within an opponent’s defense.
46. Florida Gulf Coast: This isn’t Dunk City, but it’s worth noting that FGCU lost by just single digits to both Baylor and Michigan State during the nonconference slate. Coach Joe Dooley’s team chases teams off the three-point line and uses an aggressive man defense to hold teams, per Synergy Sports, to just 0.83 PPP in the halfcourt.
47. Providence: Kyron Cartwright was this season’s most surprising player. Following the tradition of Kris Dunn, Bryce Cotton and Vincent Council, Cartwright rarely left the floor, handed out an assist on more than 40 percent of Providence’s baskets (fourth most in Division I), and connected on 38 percent of his threes.
48. Virginia Tech: Coach Buzz Williams has used a two-point guard strategy (of Seth Allen and Justin Robinson) to collapse opposing defenses all season.
49. Dayton: The Flyers are ranked within KenPom’s top 50 for offensive and defensive efficiency, but a dreadful first-round pairing with Wichita State could bounce the A-10 team early.
50. Arkansas: The team didn’t have the field’s worst nonconference strength of schedule, but it was close (203rd in Division I).
51. Minnesota: Richard Pitino’s squad is full of athletic wings who can hold their own defensive in isolation, but are more likely to filter opponents to the paint, where Reggie Lynch, arguably the nation’s best shot-blocker (14.6 percent, second in Division I), waits.
52. Vermont: A popular upset favorite (versus Purdue), it’s unclear how (and whether) the Catamounts can contain Caleb Swanigan.
53. New Mexico State: Under new coach Paul Weir, the WAC tourney winner takes advantage of its dominance over the offensive glass (grabbing 36 percent of its misses) and aggressiveness (44 percent free throw rate) to convert 55 percent within the arc. Unfortunately for the Aggies, Baylor has one of the nation’s best shot-blocking squads (that also affects opponents’ attempts without fouling).
54. UNC Wilmington: An upset darling from a year ago, UNC Wilmington — on paper — is a bad matchup with Virginia, a team that controls the defensive glass and doesn’t take defense lightly.
55. Vanderbilt: Without the SEC tournament win against Florida, the Commodores would be in the NIT this week.
56. Iona: Coach Tim Cluess slowed down his Gaels’ game plan, but the team is still very much dependent on three-point shooting and a squad full of undersized mobile bigs and jet-quick penetrating guards.
57. Winthrop: Even if it is just for one game, get to know Keon Johnson, a 5-7 guard whose electrifying play justifies your attention. A 40-percent three-point shooter whose range extends to halfcourt and who can split double teams with the quick turn of his hips, the senior could cause defensive issues for Butler.
58. Kent State: The matchup between Jimmy Hall, the Golden Flashes’ do-it-all big, and UCLA’s TJ Leaf will be entertaining.
59. North Dakota: If UND and its scintillating guard Quinton Hooker weren’t playing Arizona, a team with a pack-line defense meant to contain a guard with Hooker’s skill set, this could have been an upset.
60. Northern Kentucky: The NCAA Selection Committee was very cheeky with their picks this year, sending South Carolina to Greenville, S.C., slating Wichita State for a possible second-round game versus Kentucky, and starting the Wildcats’ tourney with a game against in-state Northern Kentucky.
61. Mount St. Mary’s: Rarely does a team flounder on both the defensive and offensive glass, but the Mountaineers don’t pursue caroms . . . ever. Both rates are in the bottom third of the NCAA.
62. UC Davis: After shocking UC Irvine in the Big West tournament finals with a suffocating defense, can Jim Les’s squad score another upset? Not likely, though the team does force turnovers at a frequent rate (20 percent).
63. N.C. Central: At one point during the season, the MEAC squad looked capable of pulling the 16-1 upset. The Eagles have such a constricting defense that could cause top-seed Kansas a bit of agitation.
64. Texas Southern: North Carolina’s bigs will be options A, B, and C against TSU’s undersized front line.
65. New Orleans: The feel-good story of the tournament, the Privateers grab 36 percent of their boards, which could skyrocket against glass-adverse Mount St. Mary’s.
66. South Dakota State: Mike Daum is too good to have his one and only NCAA tournament game be against Gonzaga. Daum is instant offense, and Mark Few will have to be creative in planning a defense for the sophomore.
67. Troy: Duke should carve up the Trojans’ defense, which ranks third-worst in the field (per KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings).
68. Jacksonville State: The Gamecocks play super slow, but won’t be able to generate enough offense to counter Louisville’s defensive intensity.