Ranking All 68 Teams In The Big Dance
Selection Sunday has come and gone, the 2018 NCAA Tournament field is set and your annual bracket pool is up. (If it's not, start one or compete in the CBS Sports contest here.) So it's time to get your own picks ready.
But before you do that, take a stroll through this colorful field of teams. CBS Sport's Matt Norlander ranked every school in the Big Dance based on who he thinks is strongest heading INTO the tournament, not necessarily the strength of their resume. Basically, this is a judgment call on every team at their absolute, hypothetical best.
I was on hand in Brooklyn to watch UVA complete a historic season. Best defense in the nation. Best coach in the country? The Cavaliers force teams to bend to their will. This is the best team in college basketball heading to the NCAA Tournament and a no-doubt-about-it No. 1 overall seed.
Probably has the National Player of the Year in Jalen Brunson. Yet, there are nights when Brunson doesn't even look like the best guy on his team. Villanova might wind up having Brunson win NPOY and Mikal Bridges win Final Four MOP. Wouldn't be shocking at all. Wildcats have the No. 1-rated offense in the country.
Their best is better than everyone else's best. But Duke hasn't been at its best for most of the season. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter are the most imposing frontcourt duo in the sport, though. This team's rebounding is unnaturally good above the rim. Will Grayson Allenbookend his college career with national titles? How long ago does that 2015 Duke title seem?
4 MICHIGAN ST.
One of the four best teams, even if the seed lines don't reflect that. The Spartans have had plenty of time to rest. From a physicality and body-to-body standpoint, Michigan State is my choice for the second toughest team to face on defense, only bested by Virginia. The Spartans lead the country in block percentage (18.8) and 2-point field goal percentage defense (38.4).
Hasn't made a Final Four since 1980. The Boilermakers have a great shot this season to end the drought because of their veterans, their big men, their well-rounded offense and a steady, pragmatic coach in Matt Painter. Have a chance to win the national title because of five players that shoot 39 percent or better from 3.
This is arguably the greatest season in school history -- yet it's got to get to the Elite Eight to match last year's surprise run. The Musketeers have one of the clutch killers in college basketball in Trevon Bluiett, who's regarded already as a top-five player in program history. J.P. Macura is a long-armed instigator and excellent wingman to for Bluiett.
The Bearcats do not get enough respect for how good their program is year over year over year. At 30-4, Cincinnati is in its eighth straight tournament. But it must make a deep run to earn mainstream respect. Fortunately, it has the No. 2-rated defense in college basketball and a STUD in Gary Clark.
Sure it's a 1 seed, but this is not a vintage, dominant Kansas squad. Good team, but still has to prove it's a great one. Bill Self's done an incredible job guiding this group to a sweep of Big 12 titles. Devonte' Graham is the star point guard, the senior, the guy who's good enough to give us a great March moment.
Simply incredible that Mark Few lost Nigel Williams-Goss, Prezemek Karnkowski, Zach Collins and Jordan Mathews from a 37-2 team ... and the Bulldogs are only just a little less good than last season. Watch for Killian Tillie, who has breakout star potential this upcoming weekend.
10 N. CAROLINA
The Tar Heels are one of the better 10-loss teams to enter the NCAA Tournament in recent years. Almost half of their wins cam from Quadrant 1. They're great on the boards. Joel Berry II at point and Theo Pinson on the wing will give them a shot at going to a third straight Final Four. And yet, this team also lost at home to Wofford.
Wolverines might be a chic Final Four pick because of the way they ran through the Big Ten tourney. This team is fun because of an ironic reason: It's the best defensive team John Beilein's ever had at a high-major program.
12 W. VIRGINIA
If you like to have fun with dark horse Final Four picks, the Mountaineers are as good a pick as any. Yes, inconsistent at times, but that Press Virginia defensive style is a horrendous scouting assignment for any team on a two-day turnaround. Strangely, WVU's offense rates better than its D, significantly, in the last six weeks. Jevon Carter might be the best two-way player in the country.
What team will bring more curiosity than this one? It's been a controversial season for the Wildcats. At one point, Sean Miller wasn't expected to coach this team ever again, and Deandre Ayton (illegal payment allegations) and Allonzo Trier (failed drug test) were up in the air about their eligibility. Yet all are in action. And they're angry. This is where I remind you Sean Miller's never made a Final Four.
14 TEXAS TECH
Two years ago Chris Beard coached Little Rock to a 12-over-5 upset of Purdue. Now he's got TTU as one of the 15 best teams in the country. Name you must know: Keenan Evans. The senior guard has been an All America-type of player this season. If he's fully healthy (foot issue), the Red Raiders are good enough to make the Final Four.
Volunteers nearly stole the SEC tourney title from Kentucky. They did finish atop the standings in the league in the regular season, though. At 25-8, this is the best season for UT since 2007-08, when it was a 2 seed under Bruce Pearl.
16 OHIO ST.
You'll notice a lot of uncommon programs ranked in the top 25 of this list. Ohio State's not totally uncommon, but it wasn't expected to be here. Chris Holtmann's done a ridiculous job getting the Buckeyes back to the tournament. Keita Bates-Diop has been one of the best players in America this year.
Spotty 20-12 record, but the Gators have a lot of good wins and are really dangerous once they are clicking. If the 3-pointer is falling, forget it. It's a top 10 team if that's the case. Remember, Chris Chiozza has already come up big in this tournament; he hit the buzzer-beater to beat Wisconsin in last year's Sweet 16.
Bruce Pearl's got a go-to guy in Mustapha Heron, but this team is lacking size. At 25-7, the Tigers are a top-three surprise in college hoops this season. They're gonna wanna run. Given Pearl's sideline demeanor, this team is must-watch.
19 WICHITA ST.
The Shockers didn't have to sweat about a bid this season, unlike the previous two in which they ranked highly by metrics but were given double digit seeding by the committee. Now in the American Athletic Conference, Wichita State's 25-7 season was a good debut year. Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie and Shaq Morris make up a nice trio. Honestly, I kind of feel like this team is going to threaten for the Elite Eight.
The SEC doesn't have a dominant team, but Kentucky's obviously the hottest. Playing well and guided by freshman? Yes -- but let's also note that sophomore Wenyen Gabriel went 7 for 7 from 3-point range in UK's win over Alabama in the league semifinals. If that kind of stuff is going to continue, John Calipari's probably going to pull off another deep tournament run.
The Tigers are back in the field for the first time since 2011. Brad Brownell has a veteran-laden, defense-first team that's taken out Ohio State, Florida and North Carolina.
Will enter this tournament undervalued by the public. Eric Musselman's three-man attack of Jordan Caroline and the Martin brothers (Caleb and Cody) is a load of talent in the frontcourt. All three are 6-7. Wolf Pack rank top-10 in offensive efficiency.
The Cougars' run to the American title game caught everyone up to speed on the talent of senior shooting guard Rob Gray. But the reason UH is a top-25 team is because it has good -- not great -- balance on both ends. It rarely has a really bad game on offense or a poor effort on defense. Beatable, but seldom beats itself.
24 RHODE ISLAND
The Rams are sliding but I still maintain this team's roster is one of the 25 best in college hoops. With a six-guard attack, URI has the deepest deployment in this tournament. There are three good point guards on this team. Will win if it gets the right matchups. Is now playing with the distraction of Dan Hurley's name being connected to the Pitt and UConn job openings.
LaVall Jordan's done well in his first year at coach of his alma mater. Kelan Martin, a senior forward, is half of a fun 1-2 combo that involves sophomore dynamo Kamar Baldwin. Yet you know who might make a name for himself? Junior Paul Jorgensen, whose light is always green.
Hey, Horned Frogs! Welcome back for the first time in 20 years! Jamie Dixon has turned the ship in just two years. The Frogs do it with offense; they're a top-10 team on that side of the floor and rank seventh in assist ratio in college hoops.
Senior shooting guard Marcus Foster and junior wing Khyri Thomas are good enough to make Creighton a second-weekend story. The Bluejays move fast on offense.
28 TEXAS A&M
Talented but inconsistent team. Hard to say if this group can get to the second weekend or not. It was thought, in the preseason, that the Aggies would be the best in the SEC. Instead, they went 9-9.
29 SETON HALL
Similar to Texas A&M in that it has three quality players who, when at their best, make their team one of the top 20 in college hoops. Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are playing in their third straight NCAA Tournament.
30 VA. TECH
The Hokies have wins over North Carolina, Virginia and Duke. That's really good! They also went 21-11 and sometimes lack consistency on defense. One of the toughest reads in this field.
Razorbacks are a true dark horse because they don't get a lot of attention despite the talent on the roster. They've got this 6-11 freshman named Daniel Gafford who is oozing with potential. Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon are a handful in the backcourt.
32 ST. BONA.
You're going to read and hear a lot about all of the teams with good 1-2 guard combos in this tournament. The Bonnies absolutely have to be in the top five of any such discussion. Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams have finished their careers by giving Bonnies fans one of the best seasons in school history.
33 MIAMI (FLA.)
Hurricanes are hampered because they don't have future pro, sophomore Bruce Brown, available. However, you'll want to watch this team for its pair of freshman: 5-7 Chris Lykesand 6-5 Lonnie Walker. The former is a classically entertaining tot of baller, while Walker is probably off to the NBA in a few weeks.
At 28-5, is a milestone season for the Ramblers, who haven't danced since 1985. Coached by Porter Moser, this team wins a lot with defense -- and then closes the deal with four 3-point shooters who average 38 percent or better.
The Friars probably should have beaten Villanova to win the Big East title. That didn't happen, but still, with Kyron Cartwright suddenly transforming into one of the 25 best players in the sport, PC is in a groove and looking primed for at least one win.
The Tigers hope to stick around for a while now that Michael Porter Jr., a likely top-10 pick come June, is actually playing. His involvement makes for one of the most intriguing storylines of the first weekend.
The Sooners are a polarizing group because of the coverage of Trae Young. It's not his fault that he was ridiculously good to start the season. Team defense is a problem, though. The Sooners can't expect Young to carry this team, and they know it. If Oklahoma has any shot of recapturing its November and December magic, Young will need competency around him.
38 MURRAY ST.
Say hello to a trendy Cinderella pick, and with good reason. Why should you take the Racers so seriously? They've got Ja Morant and Jonathan Stark in the backcourt. A freshman-senior combo. Racers haven't lost since Jan. 18.
Few players looked better in the last week than Collin Sexton. The bullish point guard is the key to Alabama's tournament chances. Alabama's 15 losses tie the record for most defeats by a team with an at-large bid.
40 NC STATE
Great job by Kevin Keatts to get the Wolfpack to the NCAAs in his first season. It's an offense-first group that has managed to beat UNC, Duke and Clemson.
Aaron Holiday has quietly had a season nearly as good -- if not better -- than what Lonzo Ballpulled off last season. He's the first UCLA guard to average more than 19 points and five rebounds in a season since Reggie Miller. The Bruins also have 7-foot mid-range sniper Thomas Welsh.
The Longhorns battled in a tough Big 12, but they belong in the field. If I were to rank the top 10 players you must see in this tournament, freshman center Mohamed Bamba would be on the list. Born to block shots, he's also got 3-point range and is key to UT's upset hopes.
43 ARIZONA ST.
A debatable resume, but the Sun Devils are in the field thanks to a road win against Kansas and a neutral court victory over Xavier. Bobby Hurley's team is guard-heavy and a lot of fun. Dangerous group, but could also lose by 15.
Bob McKillop's team is worth mulling over for a first-round upset because of its offensive acumen and its personnel, which includes Peyton Aldridge (best player in the A-10) and Kellan Grady (future best player in the A-10).
45 S. DAK. ST.
You may already know the name Mike Daum, but if you want to get inside info as to why the Jackrabbits have a shot to be a Cinderella: David Jenkins Jr. He was a top-20 freshman in college basketball this season and is a future Summit League Player of the Year.
46 FLORIDA ST.
The Seminoles aren't that inspiring as an at-large team. The resume was totally worth including in the field, but it's not a group that looks set to make noise in this year's field. Terance Mann, a junior forward, is a fine player.
Been a long time since the Spartans made the NCAAs (2001). This team is the rep out of the SoCon. It won at North Carolina State and nearly defeated Wake Forest.
Earl Grant is on the short list of the game's best young coaches. The Colonial champs are led by Grant Riller and Joe Chealey, either of whom could score 25 points in the first round. Bill Murray, who lives in Charleston, often attends Cougars home games.
49 KANSAS ST.
Bruce Weber has the Wildcats in the NCAAs for the fourth time in six years. Dean Wade and Barry Brown combined to average more than 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Went 10-8 in a loaded Big 12.
50 NEW MEX. ST.
Chris Jans has gotten it done in year one. The 28-5 Aggies won the WAC yet again, and rank 55th at KenPom. Very tough team.
The Orange are the shocking inclusion to this year's field. Syracuse, at 20-13, was the last team in, according to the committee. Jim Boeheim's team is young, but it's been in this position before. It got in two years ago as a 10 when some thought it should have been in the NIT. Then it made the Final Four.
Nate Oats is a coach on the rise. Buffalo won the MAC with a high-tempo offense and a deep roster of veterans. Wes Clark is one of the top mid-major players in this tournament.
53 SAN DIEGO ST
A lot of coaches in their first year running a team are in this year's NCAA Tournament. Brian Dutcher is one of them. The Mountain West has two teams in the field thanks to SDSU playing bid thief and beating out Nevada for the automatic ticket.
The Grizzlies are really good. At 26-7 out of the Big Sky, they are a rare team that wins not by relying too much on the 3-point shot. Now we see if that strategy works in the first round.
The Bison are back in the bracket for the second straight season. They're 25-9 overall and went 16-2 in the Patriot League. Nana Foulland, a 6-foot-10 senior, can match up with almost any big man in this tournament.
Conference USA offers up the Thundering Herd, which hasn't been to the tourney since the 1980s. Love when schools either get to the Dance for the first time ever or break a long drought. Everyone on this team is allowed to shoot 3s. Its game will be nuts.
57 WRIGHT ST.
There are a lot of really good coaches at the mid-major level who do not get their due nationally. Scott Nagy is among them. He took the Wright State job after guiding South Dakota State into Division I. Now, year two, he has the Raiders as the champions out of the Horizon League.
Tim Cluess has the Gaels in the NCAAs for the fifth time in seven seasons. Iona's always known for its offense, but this isn't a vintage Gaels club. They'll look to push pace behind the play of point guard Rickey McGill.
59 SF AUSTIN
The Lumberjacks are back after a one-year hiatus. This program made three straight Big Dances from 2014-16. It has the top-ranked turnover defense in college basketball.
60 GEORGIA ST.
Ron Hunter back in the tournament! His fall-off-the-stool moment from 2015 is an all-timer. The Panthers are the auto bid out of the Sun Belt.
The Quakers are back in the field for the first time in 11 years. All in all, this is a strong tournament crop. If Penn's ranked 61st.
Want a reason to consider the Bisons (yes, plural) for an upset? Coach Casey Alexander runs true motion offense, one of the few coaches in Division I still deploying the revolutionary scheme pioneered by Bob Knight. This is the school's first bid in program history.
Surprise entrant from the Big West. Here's what the Titans do best: get to the foul line. Forty-six percent of their total attempts on goal come from free throws. That's tops in the country.
The Highlanders won the Big South on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. It was one of the best moments of March so far.
Derek Kellogg coached UMass to one NCAA Tournament in nine seasons at UMass. In his first year with the Blackbirds, he's 1 for 1. LIU Brooklyn was the surprise winner of the NEC tournament.
The Retrievers! They're dancing for the second time in program history, led by coach Ryan Odom, who is a rising star in the business. Name to know: senior point guard Jairus Lyles, who hit the winning 3-pointer to stun Vermont in the America East final.
67 TEXAS SO.
Mike Davis has created a dynasty in the SWAC. The program is a powerhouse in that league. Wonder if Davis gets a bigger job this offseason because of how good he's done there.
68 N.C. CENTRAL
Third appearance in five seasons for the Eagles, who won the MEAC tournament as the No. 6 seed -- upsetting No. 1 Hampton -- thanks to 22 points off the bench from Pablo Rivas. LeVelle Moton's done really good work with this team.