With the field of 68 set, let’s talk tournament title. Who’s going to win it? Who’s most likely? I’ve ranked out the field in power-ranking terms, but specifically, the teams I like — in order — to win it all. And there is a difference. Because you know what? I think Gonzaga’s the best team in college basketball.
But I like Kansas’ chances more than anyone else. Maybe even more so after the loss to TCU.
Villanova’s the reigning champ and ever so closely behind. From there, things get really fun. This top eight is so enticing, and I could easily say any of the top 14 making the Final Four. So here’s one humble man’s view of the field as we have it, a 1-68 ranking not in terms of resume but respect to their championship capability.
It’s not just about bracket placement, either. It’s about team ability. A true power ranking. Let’s take a stroll.
1. Kansas: Speaks to the balance at the top that Kansas is No. 4. That loss to TCU was weird, but Josh Jackson didn’t play. Jayhawks have the best backcourt in college basketball.
2. Villanova: Reigning national champions are rightfully the No. 1 overall seed. Wouldn’t it be something if Kris Jenkins had another huge March moment?
3. Duke: Given the ACC tournament performance and the talent here, it’s impossible not to have Duke in the top five despite its missing out on a 1-seed. I happen to think this team is a firm No. 3. Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard have been incredible in March.
4. Gonzaga: The best team in program history, the Bulldogs have size, length, experience and are balanced on both ends. As well-rounded as any team in the country.
5. North Carolina: Not quite as good as last year’s team that made the championship, but still terrific. Justin Jackson has been a top-10 player of impact in college basketball this season.
6. Arizona: Allonzo Trier returning changed Arizona’s endgame. This team can win the national title. Lauri Markkanen is 7 feet and impossible to guard at the third level.
7. UCLA: Lonzo and that offense vault the Bruins this high. The defense is wishy-washy, but UCLA’s the most entertaining team in college basketball. Remember, T.J. Leaf was a top-10 freshman, Bryce Alford is a top-10 all-time scorer in school history, and the Bruins have options on top of options.
8. Kentucky: Haven’t been as good as expected, but De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk were two of the top six freshmen in the country. If Monk’s hitting shots and UK is defending, Calipariwill go to his fifth Final Four in seven seasons.
9. Louisville: Should have defeated Duke, and if that happened, would be perceived by more people as a Final Four threat. Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel are overshadowed by the Cards’ reputation on D.
10. Baylor: Started strong, have stumbled, but still warrant top-10 status. Few teams have more good wins than Baylor. Johnathan Motley is the latest athletic freak who’ll be a first-round pick.
11. Iowa State: Monte Morris is the best point guard in college basketball. His assist-to-turnover ratio is out of this world. Deonte Burton makes for a great wingman. Cyclones are a Final Four dark horse.
12. West Virginia: Have an anonymous roster, but this is one of the three or four best teams Huggins has ever coached. Will the offense show up to get them to an Elite Eight?
13. Wichita State: Highly rated in the metrics and absolutely brutally under-seeded by the committee. This actually could be the best Shockers team in history, which is obviously a heavy statement. Kentucky can’t be happy, and neither can Dayton.
14. Purdue: Caleb Swanigan is the best big in college hoops, but Purdue is more versatile than given credit for. The Big Ten’s best. Can get to Phoenix. Here’s why it’s different from any team in college basketball .
15. Oregon: A knee injury to Chris Boucher bumps the Ducks down considerably. Dillon Brooks is a borderline-great college player, but it’s going to be tough to ask Oregon to make back-to-back Elite Eights without Boucher.
16. Florida: A year ahead of schedule in the Mike White era. No stars, but good guards and the most overlooked team in college hoops in terms of its defensive prowess. Unless it’s playing Vanderbilt.
17. Cincinnati: The best Cincinnati team since Bob Huggins was on the sidelines . The great news for Bearcats fans: This team can shoot and puts five players on the floor who can score.
18. SMU: Tim Jankovich took over for Larry Brown last summer after Brown abruptly quit. Hasn’t fazed the most talented team in the AAC. Darkest of the dark-horse Final Four picks.
19. Virginia: Not a vintage year for the Cavaliers, who rank high in predictive metrics but have been tripped up too often to trust for a big run. London Perrantes’ hair makes its farewell tour. Kyle Guy’s hair is about to go viral.
20. Wisconsin: A matchup problem. The intrigue: Does Bucky break through to the second weekend again because of its experience? Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig looking for one more strong run.
21. Saint Mary’s: Something of an enigma, SMC wasn’t on TV much this year, but when it was … it was losing to Gonzaga. Jock Landale is permitted to school you in 43 states.
22. Notre Dame: Had the Irish pulled it out against Duke, perhaps they’d be a little bit higher. The fact ND is slotted at 22 should tell you about the depth of the 1-5 seeds this year. Irish have make back-to-back Elite Eights.
23. Florida State: Long, talented, but can they share the ball enough to break through? Will be hard for many to adopt FSU as a top-15 team because it hasn’t been good in March.
24. Butler: Can beat anyone (Villanova), can lose to anyone (Indiana State, Georgetown). The Bulldogs are as tough to project as almost any team in this tournament. Kelan Martin is the name to know.
25. Michigan: Roaring up the rankings thanks to their play in the Big Ten tournament. Yes, there is a little recency bias in this list, but tell me, would you be eager to have your team play Michigan right now?
26. Minnesota: One of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball this season. Let’s see how they do on the big stage. A lot to prove. But play well as a team, certainly on defense.
27. Maryland: It’s not Melo Trimble or bust, but it’s likely Maryland only gets a win or two if Melo steps up. The freshmen crop is strong. Perhaps Justin Jackson makes a name for himself.
28. Rhode Island: The talent that so many talked about for two years, well it won out in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Absolutely has the coaching and roster to upset a couple of teams and make the Sweet 16. Rhody’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the charmed 1999 run to the Elite Eight.
29. Dayton: Archie Miller’s back in the tournament again, coaching a rugged Dayton team that’s not been given the seed it deserved. Flyers were the A-10’s best team from start to finish this season.
30. Miami: Long, strong, athletic, a team full of “dudes,” as they say. Very enticing Sweet 16 sleeper choice here. Jim Larranaga has altered the perception and standing of the Hurricanes’ program.
31. Creighton: Made the Big East title game then got handled by Villanova. Justin Patton’s a fun prospect, and Marcus Foster can fill it up. Will need to get hot to win a game or two.
32. Wake Forest: John Collins is the best player in this tournament you don’t know about. Will be a top-20 pick. Has a talented teammate in Bryant Craward. Wake is dancing for the first time since 2010!
33. Michigan State: Still have talent. Lots of it. Miles Bridges is a freak’s freak. Nick Ward has grown into a really good big down low. Cassius Winston is the freshman point guard that got no pub this year, but could push Izzo to a couple of wins.
34. Oklahoma State: Jawun Evans is an absolute stud at the point. Brad Underwood is the coach now. You remember him: He led Stephen F. Austin to the NCAA Tournament the three previous seasons.
35. Arkansas: Got handled by Kentucky in the SEC final, but the Hogs did win 25 games this season, including at South Carolina. Big man Moses Kingsley was the preseason SEC Player of the Year.
36. South Carolina: Have been inconsistent and might skid out of the dance right away, but we’ll see. Sindarius Thornwell was the SEC Player of the Year, though, and the defense is top-three in college hoops.
37. Northwestern: The best story of this year’s tournament. (New Orleans, you’re right there, too.) Now, let’s see if the Wildcats are merely satisfied with being in. Bryant McIntosh leads the way at point guard.
38. Xavier: Missing its best player to injury (Edmond Sumner) but still have another terrific guy in Trevon Bluiett. X was a 2 seed last year and got knocked out at the buzzer by Wisconsin. A lot of people selling on this team. True sleeper pick. The roster is still solid.
39. Marquette: The best 3-point shooting team in the field has to be in the top 40. Marquette owns a win over Villanova. Coached by Steve Wojciechowski. Might be the team you’re most convinced you’ll get wrong in your bracket, I know.
40. UNC Wilmington: Dangerous team led by a really good young coach, Kevin Keatts, who has tremendous players and a viciously fun offense. Experiened squad, doesn’t turn the ball over.
41. Vanderbilt: Bryce Drew gets Vandy to the NCAAs in his first year in Nashville. That’s impressive. Really impressive. At 19-15, Vandy is singlehandedly in the field because it beat Florida three times.
42. VCU: The Rams have promise but have stumbled against good teams as of late. Will Wade’s group is still talented, though. Probably just a smidge below Rhode Island in terms of talent in the A-10.
43. Kansas State: Speaks to the depth of the Big 12, the quality of teams in that league (it rates at the toughest conference, yes, ahead of the ACC) that K-State managed to get in. Now that it’s there, I think.
44. Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams, in his third season with the Hokies, has Virginia Tech dancing for the first time in a decade. Zach LeDay and Seth Allen are the names to know. Williams has had good March runs before.
45. Middle Tennessee: Kermit Davis and the Blue Raiders got past Michigan State last year as a 15. This team is even better. By far the best in Conference USA, I think their Sweet 16 chances are being underrated. I might even have them too low here.
46. USC: Went undefeated in conference play, then took on some losses when big man Bennie Boatwright went down. But the Trojans have him, Jordan McLaughlin and well-rounded freshman De’Anthony Melton. An underachieving team that could find a spark.
47. Nevada: Hard to overstate how good a job Eric Musselman has done in two years in Reno. The Wolf Pack have two frontcourt studs, Jordan Caroline and Cameron Oliver, that are just so hard to match up with. Can the rest of the team keep playing at a high level?
48. Seton Hall: The Pirates roared into last year’s tournament as a six-seed after winning the Big East tournament championship. Now, well rested, this year’s team has a monster in the post in Angel Delgado, the best double-double man in college hoops not named Caleb Swanigan. SHU gets good inside-out balance with Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell.
49. Vermont: Catamounts haven’t lost since mid-December and are owners of the nation’s longest winning streak. This a dangerous team, led by stud freshman Anthony Lamb. Coach John Becker will be a hot candidate for a bigger job once UVM’s tourney run ends. The second-best UVM team in history, only behind the 2004-05 team that beat Syracuse in the first round.
50. Providence: The Friars defeated Vermont, Rhode Island, swept Marquette and won over Seton Hall and Xavier. Defense-first. Ed Cooley is a very good coach, having rallied this team to the Big Dance a year after losing two NBA draft picks, Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Rodney Bullock is the go-to scorer.
51. Princeton: The Tigers won the first Ivy League tournament in that conference’s history, getting past Penn, then Yale. The Tigers did not lose a game against league competition. They’re very good, and back in the NCAAs for the first time since 2011. Don’t turn it over. Haven’t lost since Dec. 20. Chic upset pick, for sure.
52. East Tennessee State: Steve Forbes does not mess around. His team is great on the defensive end and unafraid around the rim. I talked to a lot of coaches this week, and the two mids they told me they wanted to dodge most: Wilmington and ETSU.
53. Bucknell: The Bison are led by second-year coach Nathan Davis, and have a talented mid-major player in Nana Foulland. The best team in the Patriot League, Bucknell is notable for having won at Vanderbilt in November, and also defeated Richmond, in addition to fellow tournament team Mount St. Mary’s. A somewhat young team, but a smart one, too.
54. Florida Gulf Coast: Dunk City is back, and well-prepared. Joe Dooley’s team nearly won at Michigan State earlier this year and played Baylor close. Goes 10 deep. Yes, you should consider picking the Eagles for an upset.
55. New Mexico State: Paul Weir has had the best season of any first-year coach this year in college basketball. The Aggies are good on the offensive boards and reliable at the foul line. Braxton Huggins and Ian Baker make for a fun backcourt combo.
56. Winthrop: Pat Kelsey is a coach on the rise. Winthrop last made the NCAAs in 2010. This is a small-major team that will not be afraid to push it with big boys. Don’t expect a grind-it-out game.
57. Iona: Tim Cluess runs a beautiful offense and is a great scouter. He’ll have his team ready. Not his best Iona team, but certainly one that will have a chance to pull an upset if it hits more than 10 3s, something the Gaels have done often this season.
58. North Carolina Central: LeVelle Moton has taken NCCU to the Big Dance for the second time in his tenure. Opponents make just 29 percent of their 3s against the Eagles, ranking third-worst in the sport.
59. North Dakota: The Fighting Hawks (man, do I wish this team was the Sundogs or the Nodaks) are first-time invitees. They like to push the ball and have three guys who can bury 3s.
60. Kent State: Golden Flashes upset Akron to get here. Did not defeat a tournament team this year, but won at Texas. Remember, this team had one of the coolest moments in college basketball earlier this season .
61. Texas Southern: Mike Davis has this team in the NCAAs for the third time in four years. What he’s done, and his career arc, is fascinating. A really strong team out of the SWAC.
62. Troy: Haven’t been in the bracket since 2003. Was the No. 6 seed in the Sun Belt tournament, and it’s a big turnaround. This team won just nine games last year. Now has 22.
63. New Orleans: Incredible story, as this program left D-I in 2011 and 2012, then returned, and now is in the Big Dance for the first time since 1996. The Privateers!
64. South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits have become the owners of the Summit League, as they’ve made the NCAAs four times in six season. Mike Daum is the name to know. He’s a stretch-type 4 who might put up 30 points in the first round.
65. Northern Kentucky: The Norse (love the moniker) are in their first NCAA Tournament in program history. This school went D-I only five years ago. NKU came out of the Horizon League as a four-seed and loves to launch 3-pointers.
66. UC Davis: This group is all defense. Got by Cal State Fullerton in OT of the Big West semis, then beat No. 1 seed UC Irvine by three points in the league title game. Coached by Jim Les, who was previously at Bradley. First time in the tourney.
67. Jacksonville State: Another one of the first-timers to the NCAAs. There are two Gamecocks in this year’s field (South Carolina being the other). Hats off to Ray Harper, who has won national championships at the D-II and NAIA levl.
68. Mount St. Mary’s: Incredible season for the Mountaineers, who began 1-11 due in large part to playing buy games against major-conference competition. This team had 19 road games in the regular season. It is defense-oriented and tends to play slow. At least MSM won’t be afraid -- it had a top-10 non-conference strength of schedule.