Welcome to The Bilas Index, the most comprehensive and complete examination and evaluation of college basketball proficiency and ability on this, or any, planet. The Bilas Index is not just a metric, it is the metric that is compiled through the analysis of data, the meticulous review of film, and in-depth scouting of teams, players and coaches, all of which is run through the massive brain of The Bilastrator, which is the most precise, accurate and powerful instrument in the history of basketball. The beautiful bald dome of The Bilastrator, which can be seen weekly on Bald Men on Campus, 9 p.m. ET Fridays on the ACC Network, houses the only gray matter that matters, the thoughts and judgments of The Bilastrator himself.
The 2019-20 season has been fabulous, largely because it has been about showing consistency rather than overwhelming force. Freedom of Movement is dead; therefore, teams may now hand check, armbar, clutch, grab and throw their chests into ball handlers, cutters and shooters to impede or otherwise foul the &$%# out of people. Scoring is way down, and the advantage goes to the most physical and abusive defensive teams. If your team can guard people and is physical, your team has a chance. If your team is skilled and plays pretty, it might not be around for long.
That stated, we have some very good teams that have proved their mettle by consistency rather than power. Records at the top of the heap are not different this season as compared to most, but how those records have been compiled is quite different. There are more teams that can lose to a team from the pile of unwashed, which is not the norm. Everybody is capable of losing. But don’t buy into this “anybody can win” nonsense. If anybody could win, they would win. They cannot. An outstanding team can lose, but a team that is not outstanding cannot win multiple games in the NCAA tournament (unless several outstanding teams fall down in its path).
As we approach the NCAA tournament, which funds the NCAA’s lobbying efforts, i.e., spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to keep from sharing any money with the players, The Bilas Index will put teams into tiers, which will reflect capabilities and ceilings. While The Bilastrator understands that wagering is an American staple and a major reason the NCAA tournament is so popular, The Bilastrator urges you to use this valuable information for good rather than evil. Enjoy The Bilas Index, and, as always, you’re welcome.
Tier 1: National title favorites
1. Baylor Bears
The No. 1 Bears have proved to be an outstanding defensive team with excellent guard play. The Baylor offense might give some pause as to invincibility and a destination of the Final Four, but perhaps the best attribute of this team is the toughness necessary to find ways to win when scoring is not easy. That will serve Scott Drew’s team well in postseason play.
Few can match the inside-outside combo of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, arguably the best point guard and the best low-post big man in the Big 12 and perhaps the nation. Kansas is one of the nation’s best defensive teams, protecting the lane and the rim without fouling. To win it all, the Jayhawks need more consistent production outside of Dotson and Azubuike, specifically Ochai Agbaji, who can be a star-caliber player. If Agbaji can blossom even more in the final month of the season, Kansas can cut nets down.
How does Mark Few continue to do this? Gonzaga has only one loss, scores at will, and has a ridiculous combo of big men in Filip Petrusev and Killian Tillie. Ryan Woolridge is one of the most underrated guards in America, and Corey Kispert is one of the best open shooters in the country. The only thing that limits Bulldogs is the vulnerability to a physical, clutch-and-grab defensive team that will be allowed to foul the bejesus out of Gonzaga while three whistles are swallowed. And they will be.
The more you watch the Cards play, the better you should like their chances in March. David Johnson makes a huge difference in this team because he is so dynamic at the point. What was thought to be a weakness is becoming a strength. Louisville checks every box: coaching, guards, big men protecting the lane and a star in Jordan Nwora (ranked in the ACC’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.)
Tre Jones was renamed “Tre Stones” after his mind-blowing second-half and overtime performance at North Carolina. By the way, Duke-Carolina always delivers. Jones was the first player to put up 28 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds in this rivalry since Michael Jordan did it in 1983, and no player will ever duplicate the “bullet off the rim and chase it down” play to send the game to overtime. Stones, indeed. Duke is far from perfect, but close enough that it can reach Atlanta and win there. With Wendell Moore Jr. back and healthy, Duke has five athletes and handlers it can use at the same time, and that will serve the Blue Devils well.
This is the best San Diego State team since Kawhi Leonard was there, and even better. Why? Because the Aztecs defend almost as well but score far better from more spots on the floor. Don’t be fooled by the lack of exposure; San Diego State can play, and can beat anyone. Anyone.
Obi Toppin is the best player in the country and an NBA lottery pick. Watch Toppin run the floor and establish position early (around the foul line). It is a nightmare to contain. Yet Dayton is much more than Toppin. Anthony Grant plays two legit point guards in Jalen Crutcher and Rodney Chatman, has three “complementary stars” in Ibi Watson, Ryan Mikesell and Trey Landers, and the Flyers lead the nation in 2-point field goal percentage. Does anyone ever say, “Live by the 2, die by the 2?” No.
The Seminoles have an impressive array of long, athletic and tough defenders who absolutely choke off anything you want to run on the offensive end. Where Leonard Hamilton gets all of these unselfish, unquestioning, relentless workers is anybody’s guess. But his depth and defensive mindset are the difference between “good” and “good enough to reach the Final Four.” Plus, Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest are winning guards who play both ends of the floor. Florida State can go quiet on the offensive end at times, but defense will keep the Seminoles in any game.
If Obi Toppin is not the best player in the country, then Myles Powell is. Despite an off night against Creighton on Wednesday, the senior is the most dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands in the country, and he has weapons around him, too. Having Sandro Mamukelashvili back and healthy means Seton Hall can reach a Final Four for the first time since P.J. Carlesimo was roaming the sideline in a sweater vest.
The Terps are quietly getting better. Like Kansas, Maryland has an inside-outside combo that is tough to match. Jalen Smith is the inside (although he can step out and nail a 3) and Anthony Cowan Jr. is the outside, and Cowan will go down as one of Maryland’s all-time most productive players and winners. The Terrapins have toughened up and played grittier defense, but still have not shot the ball the way they are capable of. Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell are all better shooters than this season’s numbers indicate. The metrics tell you what Maryland has done but not what Maryland is capable of, and the Terps are capable of far better.
Tier 2: Elite Eight possibles
11. Auburn Tigers
Tigers are cats, and these cats definitely have nine lives. Auburn was dead in the water against LSU, but J’Von McCormick put on one of the best clutch performances of the season, nearly putting up a triple-double in the overtime win. Bruce Pearl has been a very sweaty Houdini this season, and he has a bunch of fighting believers on his roster. Isaac Okoro is the best freshman you’ve not heard enough about, and the only thing that will derail Auburn is shooting (from the field and the foul line). The Tigers put their heads down and attack the basket, then gang-rebound the miss until they make it and wear you down.
Lamar Stevens has been a gem for the Nittany Lions program and should have his number retired in Happy Valley. If he stays healthy, Stevens will be the leading career scorer at Penn State, and he has led a resurgence of the program to challenging for the Big Ten title. That does not happen overnight. Stevens stayed to see it through, and he is leading a team that can beat almost anybody. It is a great story.
If we’re drafting a list of the nation’s best point guards, Collin Gillespie has to be on it. If we’re drafting a list of the nation’s best and most complete players, Saddiq Bey has to be on it. If we’re drafting a list of the best offensive teams in the country — from scheme and execution — Villanova has to be on it. If we’re drafting a list of the best defensive teams in the country, well, that is the lone area where Villanova fails to stand out. There is no question that the Wildcats can score enough points to reach the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. But when not shooting well, or getting manhandled when officials allow that, can Villanova get enough stops to win anyway? So far, it doesn’t seem so.
The Cats have guards who can play with anyone, and a big man in Nick Richards who is as good as any big man in the nation. But does Kentucky have the wings and other scorers to add to the talents of Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans? Kentucky needs to have the complementary players be more consistent in their roles. There is still time to establish that.
15. Oregon Ducks
The perimeter is terrific; the interior is capable but not consistent on either end of the floor. Yet, as long as Payton Pritchard wears green, don’t count out Oregon. That dude is a baller, and a winner.
16. LSU Tigers
The Tigers have three players who can go get you a bucket whenever you need one, which very few teams have. Skylar Mays, Javonte Smart and Trendon Watford can create on their own, and Watford, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days can go get the ball off the glass and finish plays. LSU is not as efficient as a contender needs to be, but it is as talented as anyone.
17. Butler Bulldogs
If you didn’t see the Butler-Villanova game in which a red bucket was the most important technological development since the breakaway rim, you missed one of the best games of the season. Butler does not have size or interior strength, but as long as Sean McDermott and Kamar Baldwin are hunting shots and aggressive, the Bulldogs have a chance. The Elite Eight is generous for Butler, but it’s possible.
The Illini are not the pressing, scrambling team of last season but are a far better team because they have size, toughness and a terrific playmaker in Ayo Dosunmu, whose status is uncertain after a scary fall on Tuesday night. The only other issue? Consistent perimeter shooting. The Illini shoot barely 30% from deep, but they chase down and secure their own misses with the best in the business.
The Red Raiders are younger and not quite as good, but this is starting to look a little bit like last season for Texas Tech. With Jahmi’us Ramsey healthy and in the lineup, Chris Beard has a star performer and a lottery pick. Tech defends and plays ridiculously hard, and the young Raiders are getting better and better.
The Bilastrator is not giving up on Michigan State. Losses count, and Michigan State is losing games. But while the Spartans do not have the same offensive firepower of last season and are not the team expected before Big Ten play began, there are enough pieces there to perform in the NCAA tournament. Unlikely? If the Spartans stand pat, yes. But, if Sparty improves down the stretch, there is no reason this would not be a second-weekend team with a shot at more.
Tier 3: Sweet 16 contenders
Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers were not able to get past Kansas on Wednesday, but this program is well coached, has regained its swagger and is going to be a really tough out until further notice. Derek Culver (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) and Oscar Tshiebwe (6-foot-9, 258 pounds) are a big part of the reason WVU ranks No. 1 in the nation in offensive rebound percentage.
The Bluejays’ big win at Seton Hall on Wednesday night did not surprise The Bilastrator — this team proved it was dangerous as early as November, when it took down Texas Tech in Las Vegas. Greg McDermott’s group is one of the most efficient teams in the country offensively. Marcus Zegarowski — who scored 18 points, had eight assists and helped limit Seton Hall’s Myles Powell to 3-of-16 shooting — powers a team that loves to play fast.
23. Iowa Hawkeyes
You’ve heard a lot about big man Luka Garza (23.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG) this season, and rightly so, but this Hawkeyes team has some other weapons to recommend it. The Bilastrator really likes Joe Wieskamp (15.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG) on the wing — he and freshman guard CJ Fredrick (11.2 PPG) have combined to sink 90 3s for Fran McCaffery’s team.
OSU’s troubling 1-6 stretch is a thing of the past. The Buckeyes are 4-1 since then, with Wednesday’s 72-66 victory over Rutgers offering evidence of a team ascending toward March. Kaleb Wesson is a load at 6-foot-9, 270 pounds, and he can also step out beyond the arc — he was 3-for-3 on 3s in the win over the Scarlet Knights.
The Rutgers rejuvenation has been one of college basketball’s best stories this season, and the next step for Steve Pikiell’s emerging program is figuring out how to win outside of Piscataway, New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights are 16-0 at the Rutgers Athletic Center this season and 1-8 away from the RAC, with the only win coming at Nebraska. Winning in March means neutral sites, so that’s an issue Pikiell is going to have to resolve.
26. Arizona Wildcats
Sean Miller’s Wildcats have demonstrated some of the inconsistency you’d expect from a really young team — a home loss to UCLA the most recent evidence — but this group is extremely talented and you should not be surprised to see the Wildcats peak at the right time. You won’t find a better freshman trio than Nico Mannion (14.0 PPG, 5.5 APG), Josh Green (11.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and Zeke Nnaji (16.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG).
27. Houston Cougars
This season’s edition of the Cougars does not have past stars like Corey Davis or Rob Gray, but Kelvin Sampson’s squad is tough and does a lot of little things well. Nate Hinton is a regular double-double candidate for a team that is top five in the country on the offensive glass, and Kansas transfer guard Quentin Grimes is capable but will need to be more consistent in March.
28. BYU Cougars
The Cougars are senior-dominated, and that’s always a difficult proposition for opponents in March. With Yoeli Childs (21.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG) up front and TJ Haws (13.8 PPG, 5.3 APG) and Jake Toolson (15.8 PPG, 4.3 APG) in the backcourt, the Cougars are going to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015 and have a good chance to do some damage once they get there.
The Wolverines followed a hot start with something of a January lull, losing four in a row at one stretch before recovering to go 4-1 in their past five games. Juwan Howard’s squad is not without its flaws, but it takes the floor with five double-digit scorers and is not going to quit as long as senior leader Zavier Simpson is in the lineup.
The Gaels simply didn’t defend well enough in their annual home date with Gonzaga last Saturday, allowing the Zags to make 28 of 38 (73.7%) 2s and 8 of 15 (53.3%) 3s. That’s not going to work, and it’s unlikely to happen again. Jordan Ford (21.1 PPG) & Co. will get another crack at the Bulldogs in Spokane, Washington, on Feb. 29.
The Buffs are alone at the top of the Pac-12 standings as play begins Thursday, and that’s no accident. The junior combo of Tyler Bey (13.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and McKinley Wright IV (13.8 PPG, 5.2 APG) is as fine a tandem as you’ll find in this league and is a big reason Tad Boyle’s squad is shooting a Pac-12-best 52.3% on 2-point field goals during league play.
The nation’s leading scorer, Markus Howard, is going to be the focal point for every opponent Marquette faces this season, which is why the Golden Eagles are likely to go as far as their secondary options will take them. Sacar Anim, Koby McEwen and Brendan Bailey have all had their moments in the sidekick role this season, and one (or all) is going to have to step up when it matters.
Stanford ranked as one of the surprising teams in college basketball through mid-January, but a 15-2 start has yielded to a 1-5 slide and a scary injury suffered by top Cardinal player Oscar da Silva (15.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG) against Colorado on Saturday. Da Silva is going to be OK, and The Bilastrator thinks Stanford will be, too. Its 37.8% mark from 3-point range has been the best in the Pac-12 during conference play.
Tier 4: Somebody might do it, but everybody here had better get better
At 22-3 after Wednesday night’s win over Illinois State, UNI is atop the Missouri Valley Conference and not going anywhere anytime soon. Sophomore guard AJ Green is a candidate to go for 20-plus every time he hits the floor, and has combined for 61 points (including 11-of-18 from 3) in the Panthers’ two most recent victories.
35. Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers carry a four-game losing streak into Thursday’s matchup with Iowa in Bloomington, shades of the seven-game slide that helped damage IU’s NCAA tournament chances last season. Trayce Jackson-Davis (13.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG) is having a nice freshman year for the Hoosiers, but a team that ranks last in Big Ten play in turnover percentage (19.5) must take better care of the basketball.
The Golden Gophers have some impressive wins, including a home-and-home sweep of Ohio State and victories over Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. But at 12-11, Richard Pitino’s group can’t really afford a bad week, which is why an upcoming two-game homestand against Iowa and Indiana is going to be important. Daniel Oturu (20.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG) is a truly special player.
The schedule sets up nicely for a Mississippi State team that has a big matchup problem in Reggie Perry (17.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG) in the middle. Also serving Ben Howland’s team well: The Bulldogs make free throws. They are 79.9% from the line in SEC play, and that figures to matter in the close games this team is likely to encounter down the stretch.
The Crimson Tide have been right there with a number of top opponents this season, but have had trouble closing. This issue came up again in Wednesday’s 95-91 overtime loss to Auburn, which was the fourth loss in five games for Nate Oats’ team and denied Alabama the home-and-home sweep of its rival. The Tide like to play fast and beat you with their guards — Jaden Shackelford and John Petty combined for 48 points in the Auburn loss, and Kira Lewis had 13 assists.
The Atlantic 10 has been Dayton’s show this season, but there’s a lot to like about a Rhode Island team that saw a 10-game win streak snapped by the Flyers on Tuesday night. Philly native Fatts Russell (20.3 PPG, 4.5 APG) is the league’s best player not named Obi Toppin, and will be playing in the NCAA tournament for the second time in his career.
The Shockers are in the midst of a rut where they’ve lost five of seven games, but an upcoming stretch against UCF, Tulane and South Florida should help build some confidence for the stretch run. Gregg Marshall’s group just simply needs to shoot the ball better. During conference play, the Shockers are last in the American Athletic Conference on both 2s (42.7%) and 3s (28.0%). But The Bilastrator says that 15-1 start was not a mirage, and that Wichita will find itself.
John Brannen’s Bearcats saw a five-game winning streak snapped in overtime at UConn on Sunday, but this team is also recently removed from back-to-back victories over Houston and Wichita State, and is headed in the right direction. Jarron Cumberland (15.1 PPG, 4.6 APG) has been simply terrific since conference play began in the AAC, and Cincinnati can also beat you up on the interior.
After some early-January stumbles, the Aggies are healthy again and could have a major head of steam once March arrives. The trio of Sam Merrill (18.4 PPG) on the wing and Neemias Queta (12.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and Justin Bean (12.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG) on the interior is going to give Craig Smith’s group a chance to win every game it plays — including a potential date with a likely unbeaten San Diego State team in the Mountain West tourney.
A 2-6 stretch of basketball has cast doubt on the Razorbacks’ chances of getting to the NCAA tournament in coach Eric Musselman’s first season. There are still a couple of things to recommend the Razorbacks down the stretch, however. One is a 3-point defense that ranks No. 1 in the country (opponents are shooting just 25% from distance). The other is Mason Jones (20 PPG, 6 RPG), who has hit a mini-slump but figures to turn it back on sooner rather than later.
The Badgers (14-10) haven’t won or lost more than two straight since December, but have some solid victories over the likes of Michigan State and Ohio State over that stretch. The big problems for Greg Gard’s squad? It hasn’t won away from Madison in over a month, and it hasn’t developed a consistent No. 2 scoring option behind 6-foot-11 forward Nate Reuvers (13.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG).
45. VCU Rams
The Rams lack a truly signature win since they took down LSU back in November, but will have a chance to make some noise in the coming weeks thanks to an extremely veteran group. The current core of Marcus Evans, De’Riante Jenkins, Issac Vann, Mike’L Simms and Marcus Santos-Silva were all there when VCU lost to UCF in the NCAA tournament last season, and is hungry to get back.
This is not a vintage Matt Painter team but has some really impressive victories (a 29-point win over Michigan State and 36-point win over Iowa among them), and The Bilastrator appreciates its ability to hang in there in a rugged Big Ten. The Boilermakers’ willingness to hit the offensive glass — No. 1 in Big Ten conference games and top 20 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage — is a characteristic that will serve them well in March.
47. Syracuse Orange
The Orange have hit a troubling stretch with three losses in their past four games, but Jim Boeheim & Co. still have a really good chance to finish in the ACC’s top four. Having Elijah Hughes back and healthy would be a great start — Hughes missed all but three minutes of Tuesday’s loss to NC State with a groin injury, but is expected to be OK long term.
The Fighting Irish missed a chance to run their winning streak to five games in a gut-wrenching 50-49 overtime loss at Virginia on Tuesday night, but all is not lost in South Bend, Indiana. The schedule sets up favorably beyond Saturday’s trip to Duke, and any team with John Mooney (16.3 PPG, 13.0 RPG) on it is going to have a chance to reel off some wins.
49. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners find themselves in the top half of a good Big 12, and Saturday’s decisive win over West Virginia was a good indication of what OU can do when things are going according to plan. Kristian Doolittle logged 27 points and 12 rebounds in that game and appears intent on finishing out a great four-year career in Norman on a high note.
50. Florida Gators
The Gators have been disappointing, but expectations might have been too high for a group that — even with Kerry Blackshear Jr. in the fold — is one of the youngest teams in the country. If key backcourt freshmen Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis can elevate their games over the final few weeks of the regular season, Mike White’s crew could begin to deliver on that preseason promise.
The Musketeers received an apparent wake-up call in a double-overtime home loss to Marquette on Jan. 29, a game the Golden Eagles won despite being without Markus Howard for the latter stages. Since then, Travis Steele’s team has gone 3-1, including a road win at Seton Hall that looked more like what The Bilastrator expected at the beginning of this season. A team led by Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones ought to win more than it loses the rest of the way.
Last time we saw the Cavs, they scored 50 points against Notre Dame … in overtime … and won. Mamadi Diakite (13.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG) scored 20 of those points. It’s no secret that Tony Bennett’s group is challenged offensively — 28.5% from 3 is one of the worst numbers in the country — but Virginia is going to be in every game, and win a bunch, because its defense and rebounding is a given.
ETSU already owns an impressive and decisive victory over LSU earlier this season, and looks like the team to beat in a strong-at-the-top Southern Conference. Bo Hodges (13.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG) has been really good for the Buccaneers, but Steve Forbes’ group might benefit most if it can get top rebounder Jeromy Rodriguez back from a foot injury that has kept him out of the past 10 games.
54. Yale Bulldogs
Yale got The Bilastrator’s attention with an 11-point road win at Clemson early this season, and tight losses at Penn State and North Carolina are a good indication of what this program can do. Most significant, the Bulldogs shoot it well from range, connecting on 42.1% of their 3s in Ivy League play. Junior Azar Swain has connected on a team-high 68 shots from beyond the arc.
55. Memphis Tigers
Division I’s youngest team has played like it at times, with a turnover percentage that ranks near the bottom of the country a telltale sign of where this team needs to grow. But Penny Hardaway & Co. still have games against Houston (twice), Cincinnati and Wichita State in which they’ll have golden opportunities to improve and impress The Bilastrator.
56. USC Trojans
The Trojans are carrying a three-game losing streak into Thursday’s game against Washington but remain talented enough to get better when it matters. Onyeka Okongwu (16.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG) has been among the country’s most impressive freshmen and is a consistent problem on the interior at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds.
57. Georgetown Hoyas
Some people wrote off the Hoyas after James Akinjo left the program seven games into the season, but not The Bilastrator. In fact, without both Akinjo and star guard Mac McClung (foot), Patrick Ewing coached this team to a key victory over DePaul on Saturday. Jahvon Blair‘s 30 points was a big reason, and Blair is among those who will have to remain consistent for Georgetown to keep winning.
Bobby Hurley & Co. have turned it up a notch during the Pac-12 season, winning five of their past six to increase the chances of a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. When Remy Martin (19.3 PPG, 4.0 APG) has it going for a team that likes to play fast, the Sun Devils are as dangerous as any team in this league.
The Bulldogs have a fighting chance to reach what would be the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1991, but will have tough competition in Conference USA from North Texas and Western Kentucky, in particular. Eric Konkol’s well-coached group has been C-USA’s most efficient team defensively, and senior guard DaQuan Bracey (12.6 PPG, 3.0 APG) has been a catalyst.
The Wolfpack’s back-to-back road wins at Miami and Syracuse offered some much-needed momentum, especially going into a concluding stretch of games that includes Duke (twice), Florida State and a North Carolina team that beat the Pack by 10 in Raleigh without Cole Anthony. Seniors Markell Johnson (13.0 PPG, 6.7 APG) and C.J. Bryce (14.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG) are going to have to find an extra gear if Kevin Keatts’ squad is going to reach the NCAA tournament.
At 2-9 in the Pac-12 entering Thursday night’s meeting at USC, the very young but very talented Huskies are running out of time to turn the corner. But again, the only team in college basketball to defeat Baylor this season is mega-talented, with freshman duo Isaiah Stewart (17.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG) and Jaden McDaniels (12.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG) forming a front line that will give you fits.
The Vols have struggled with injuries this season, as guard Lamonte Turner is out for the year with a shoulder problem and freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James has missed four games due to a groin injury. But Rick Barnes’ group is always dangerous because it’s tough defensively, and has also gotten a big lift of late from freshman guard Santiago Vescovi (38 points and 10 assists in his past two games).
63. Richmond Spiders
The Spiders hung in there during a six-game stretch without guard Blake Francis, a transfer from Wagner who was out with a fractured sternum. Chris Mooney’s crew has a chance with Francis back in the lineup, and because it does little things well like take care of the basketball and convert from the free throw line (top 10 nationally in both areas).
Ed Cooley’s group has had its highs (road wins over Marquette and Butler and a home blowout of Creighton) and lows (losses to Long Beach State, Charleston and Penn), but what’s consistent about the Friars is they’ll make you work for everything you get. Senior guard Alpha Diallo (12.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG) is a major handful at 6-foot-7.
65. Liberty Flames
Ritchie McKay’s team isn’t as hot now as it was during a 14-0 start — the Flames lost to both North Florida and Stetson in a three-day span last month — but this is still the odds-on favorite to represent the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA tournament. Liberty will slow you down — its 21.2-second average possession length is the slowest in Division I, per KenPom — and makes life extra difficult by shooting it well inside the arc (55.8%).
John Becker’s Catamounts are on track to represent the America East in the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past four years. Once they get there, it will be all about 6-foot-6, 227-pound senior forward Anthony Lamb. Lamb leads Vermont in scoring, rebounds and blocks, and shoots it well from the floor and at the line.
67. Furman Paladins
Bob Richey’s Paladins shoot the ball very well — they are top 10 in all of Division I in both effective field goal percentage and 2-point field goals. Top scorer Jordan Lyons recently became the winningest player in school history and is the face of this team’s effort to deliver Furman to its first NCAA tournament since 1980. This squad has a great chance to get there.
Isaiah Miller is one of the best guards in the country, and will be a problem for anyone the Spartans face in March. UNCG has quality wins over Georgetown and Vermont, and will join East Tennessee State and Furman as teams to beat in what will be a very strong Southern Conference tournament.