Power Rankings: The gang’s all here — but who’s pick of the litter?
We’ve wiped the board clean and started over. It seems the right thing to do. The regular season is behind us, and we’ve given a tip of the hat to Wichita State, our former No. 1 with the perfect record going into the NCAA tournament. Factoring in the conference tournaments, the seeds (both good and bad) from the NCAA committee, the brackets and the pairings, we would like to present the NCAA tournament field, ranked from 1-64 after the First Four.
Nothing against the Shockers; there might be 10 or 12 teams capable of winning it all right now. But at the moment Florida is playing like the favorite.
Here are the Power Rankings, heading into Thursday’s games:
1. Florida — The Gators are the team to beat in 2014. Florida got the No. 1 overall seed by blending offensive efficiency with tremendous defensive skills and starting four talented seniors. Billy Donovan’s team has a championship look.
2. Arizona — Despite the loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, the Wildcats appear in good shape for a Final Four run. Arizona’s defense will keep opponents under wrap. Nick Johnson sparks the offense.
3. Wichita State — The NCAA committee didn’t do the Shockers any favors. We really can’t imagine Wichita State come out of a region with Michigan, Louisville, Duke, Saint Louis, Massachusetts, Texas and Kentucky.
4. Virginia — The Cavaliers rose up to win the ACC regular-season and tournament championships. Michigan would have had the No. 1 seed with a win in the Big Ten tournament championship game, however.
5. Louisville — The committee didn’t feel good about Louisville’s record in nonconference play. But the Cardinals deserved a better fate than the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, and they will prove it.
6. Michigan — The Wolverines had their seven-game win streak snapped by Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament title game. Nik Stauskas figures to be one of the stars in the NCAA field.
7. Kansas — If the Jayhawks get center Joel Embiid healthy enough to play again, they could block Florida’s path to the Final Four. But Bill Self also needs consistent play from his point guards. How will Andrew Wiggins go out?
8. Villanova — If Jay Wright’s team can win two games, Villanova can return to Madison Square Garden and make amends for losing early in the Big East Conference tournament.
9. Iowa State — The Cyclones played some of their best basketball of the season during the Big 12 tournament. Iowa State spreads the floor on offense, making the Cylones hard to defend.
10. Creighton — Here’s hoping Doug McDermott goes out with a nice, long run in the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a pleasure watching him and the other Bluejay seniors.
11. Duke — The Blue Devils did not play well offensively in the ACC championship game against Virginia. Duke scored just 25 points in the first half. Another lull like that will end its season.
12. Wisconsin — The Badgers have made headlines with their high-scoring offense at times this season. But don’t forget that Bo Ryan’s defense went into Charlottesville and beat Virginia 48-38 back on Dec. 4.
13. Michigan State — Everyone has been waiting for the Spartans to get healthy and it appears that time has arrived. Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson led the way as Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament. Tom Izzo’s team could run the table.
14. Syracuse — Which Syracuse team will show up for the NCAA tournament? Will it be the Orange who beat Villanova 78-62 on Dec. 28 or the Orange who lost to Georgia Tech 67-62 on March 4?
15. San Diego State — The Aztecs have only four losses this season and two of them have been to New Mexico since Feb. 22. The others were to Arizona and Wyoming. How far can defense carry Steve Fisher’s team?
16. UCLA — The Bruins received the No. 4 seed in the South, behind Florida, Kansas and Syracuse, after sweeping Oregon, Stanford and Arizona in the Pac-12 tourney. But UCLA fell to Washington State 73-55 as recently as March 8.
17. North Carolina — Roy Williams doesn’t want to remember the Alamo or anything else about San Antonio, where the Tar Heels lost to Kansas in the 2008 Final Four. North Carolina could have its hands full with No. 11 seed Providence.
18. Connecticut — The Huskies lost to Louisville for the third time in the championship game of the American. The problem with the No. 7 seed is going against the rugged inside game of Saint Joseph’s.
19. Cincinnati — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats pride themselves on rugged defense but Sean Kilpatrick has been asked to shoulder the offensive load. Tommy Amaker’s Harvard squad could be smart enough to exploit all of that.
20. Oklahoma — Lon Kruger is the first coach to lead five programs to the NCAA tournament (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV, Oklahoma). Cameron Clark has become the Sooner to watch.
21. Baylor — Remember when everyone had relegated the Bears to the NIT? After soaring into the top 10 early in the season, the Bears opened the Big 12 with a 2-8 record. But Scott Drew’s team finished strong enough to earn a No. 6 seed.
22. New Mexico — Cameron Bairstow is the name to remember. The 6-foot-9 senior forward averaged 20.3 points and 9 rebounds as the MVP of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
23. Ohio State — This is the last go-around for Buckeye seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. They have a ton of NCAA tournament experience, but is that good enough for a deep ride this season?
24. Virginia Commonwealth — The Rams fell short in the conference championship game against Saint Joseph’s but still became one of six Atlantic 10 teams to reach the field. The Rams and Stephen F. Austin could produce a highly entertaining opener.
25. Saint Louis — The Billikens lost some of their momentum late in the season, losing four of their last five games. But North Carolina State will face a big challenge against a team that rebounds well and limits teams to 61.2 points per game.
26. Memphis — The Tigers did not please their fans by losing to UConn 72-53 in the American tournament — on their home floor! Memphis dropped to a No. 8 seed by losing three of its last five games.
27. Oklahoma State — With Marcus Smart back in the lineup, this is a dangerous Cowboys team capable of making a deep run in the tournament. A showdown with Syracuse in the third round would be must-see TV if you can’t get to Buffalo.
28. Kentucky — Coach Cal’s young bunch entered the season with great expectations. The Wildcats have been inconsistent, but seemed to be coming together in the SEC tourney. They just couldn’t get past Florida — again.
29. Kansas State — Wildcats against Wildcats. Kansas State vs. Kentucky. This truly feels like a No. 8 vs. a No. 9, always an entertaining tournament matchup. Keep an eye on K-State freshman Marcus Foster.
30. Gonzaga — Once again, the Bulldogs took care of business in the West Coast Conference tournament, beating rival Saint Mary’s and a good BYU team. Gonzaga has tournament experience and that might help against Oklahoma State — but not vs. Arizona.
31. Texas — Reaching the tournament was a triumph for the Longhorns, but coach Rick Barnes won’t be satisfied just being there. Texas had Big 12 wins over Iowa State, Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas.
32. Oregon — The Ducks started the season 13-0. Then they lost 8 of their next 10. When they lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 tourney, it snapped an eight-game winning streak. Good luck to BYU with that scouting report.
33. Colorado — Credit coach Tad Boyle for keeping the Buffs together and reaching the NCAA tournament despite losing leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie to injury in January. If Colorado gets past Pitt, the reward is playing Florida.
34. Saint Joseph’s — Hawks coach Phil Martelli is a good buddy of UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma, but Saint Joseph’s doesn’t have to face Geno’s top-ranked women. The Hawks have overcome a lot of adversity to get to this point.
35. Stanford — Stanford picked up 21 wins while playing a schedule that ranked 21st in strength. The Cardinal won five games against teams in the RPI top 50, including a road win over Connecticut before Christmas.
36. BYU — As the Cougars boarded their plane for Milwaukee, their best player was having knee surgery. BYU will miss sophomore Kyle Collinsworth, the second-leading scorer for the Cougars, when they take on Oregon on Thursday.
37. Harvard — Tommy Amaker’s program rose to a new level last season when the Crimson upset New Mexico in their NCAA opener. Harvard won’t sneak up on anyone this time around. Neither will guard Siyani Chambers.
38. UMass — The committee surprised some people by giving the Minutemen a No. 6 seed. UMass could catch another break on Friday playing against Tennessee — who needed OT to win in Dayton in the First Four on Wednesday.
39. George Washington — Can someone show the Colonials a little love? A shirt for sale on the NCAA’s official online store carries the Georgetown logo where George Washington’s should be represented. GW is making its first appearance since 2007.
40. Arizona State — Coach Herb Sendek has the Sun Devils dancing again. ASU finished in that third-place logjam behind Arizona and UCLA in the Pac-12 standings. That earned them the right to play Texas.
41. Nebraska — And you thought the Cornhusker state only cared about football. Tim Miles has changed the culture in Lincoln. The Huskers are in the field for the first time since 1998. Hang on tight if Nebraska plays Creighton in the third round.
42. Providence — Raise your hand if you thought Providence would be the automatic qualifier out of the Big East — before this season started. This gives senior guard Bryce Cotton a chance to make a name for himself on the national stage.
43. Pittsburgh — The weak nonconference schedule put together by Jamie Dixon almost cost the Panthers a spot in the field. Consecutive wins over Clemson, Wake Forest, and North Carolina probably made the difference.
44. Dayton — There was a fascination for many who thought Dayton might draw one of the First Four games — in Dayton. The committee avoided that by sending the Flyers to Buffalo for a second-round game against Ohio State.
45. Tennessee — The Vols have finished the season strong, winning five straight before losing to Florida in the SEC tournament, and then beating Iowa Wednesday night. Cuonzo Martin’s team could be a problem for UMass in the second round.
46. North Carolina State — Sophomore T.J. Warren has been a monster lately. He didn’t have a 40-point game against Xavier in the First Four, but he was 10 for 18 from the field and scored 25 points as the Wolfpack advanced to the main bracket.
47. Tulsa — Danny Manning has won a national championship as a player (under Larry Brown) and an assistant coach (under Bill Self) at Kansas. Now he is making his tournament debut as a head coach at Tulsa.
48. North Dakota State — The Bison are back. The Summit Conference champions last appeared in the Big Dance in 2009. Senior Taylor Braun leads the Bison in scoring (18.2 points), rebounds (5.5) and assists (3.9).
49. Stephen F. Austin — They’re the Lumberjacks, and they’re OK. They’ve won 29 straight and hope to make it 30 against VCU.
50. New Mexico State — This is the third straight season that both New Mexico and New Mexico State have advanced to the NCAA tournament. The Aggies are led by center Sim Bhullar, who is 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds.
51. Manhattan — Somebody had to play Louisville. Don’t forget your parting gifts on the way out.
52. Delaware — Delaware coach Monté Ross is a Philly guy and a former aid of Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli. The committee sent his team to Spokane to play Michigan State.
53. Western Michigan — The Mid-American champs have won 12 of their last 13 and are led by a pair of seniors — guard David Brown and center Shayne Whittington — who combine to average almost 36 points per game.
54. Mercer — Mercer hasn’t been dancing since 1985, but the Bears went into Dunk City and defeated last year’s Cinderella, Florida Gulf Coast, to win the Atlantic Sun.
55. Louisiana-Lafayette — It’s just fun to say Ragin’ Cajuns, isn’t it? The champs of the Sun Belt Conference have struggled defensively a bit. So they get to guard the ever-efficient Creighton Bluejays.
56. North Carolina Central — The Eagles have won 20 straight but they haven’t encountered any Cyclones along the way. Now they’ll try to guard Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and DeAndre Kane from Iowa State.
57. Eastern Kentucky — The Colonels won 24 games, have a great shooting team and point guard Glenn Cosey. Will that be enough to knock off Kansas and Andrew Wiggins? Let’s just say it would be a sizable upset.
58. Milwaukee — The Brewers break spring training camp just in time to join the fun. No, no, just kidding. The Horizon champs get to travel to Buffalo and meet Villanova as the No. 15 seed in the East.
59. Wofford — Wofford enjoys a good game from long range. To stay with Michigan, the No. 15 seed may have to hit quite a few 3-pointers.
60. American — The Eagles are a defensive-minded team, just like Bo Ryan’s Badgers, American’s opponent in the second round. Wouldn’t it be typical of Wisconsin if this one stayed close all the way to the end?
61. Coastal Carolina — The Chanticleers get to play the Cavaliers, from Virginia. We doubt the ACC champs will have much trouble with the Big South champs.
62. Weber State — The Big Sky champions aren’t strong on the defensive end. Did you hear that, Arizona?
63. Albany — The Great Danes gave UConn a scare in 2006 and lost to Duke by only 12 last season. After winning in the First Four, their reward is a shot at top-seeded Florida.