2017 NCAA Tournament: Power Rankings the 68 teams in the bracket

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Who doesn’t love a good set of Power Rankings?

With that in mind, let’s dive into the Field of 68 Power Rankings, but instead of breaking down who the best teams in the field are, let’s take a look at the most like teams to win the national title. It’s not simply about how good they are. How good is their path to the Final Four? How likely are they to get picked off by the No. 10 seed that didn’t deserve to be a No. 10 seed? Who was given the gift of being the No. 1 seed guaranteed to face a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16?

The best part about this?

I think you can make an argument for any of the top five to be No. 1, any of the top eight teams on this list can win the national title and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least, and there are a good 17 or 18 teams that I think have a good shot to get to the Final Four.

The tournament this season is going to be a whole lot of fun.

Here are the Power Rankings:

RELATED: Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a No. 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

THE CONTENDERS

1. Kansas: The No. 1 seed in the Midwest, the Jayhawks, for my money, are the best team in college basketball when no one is suspended. There is no one in the country I trust more in the final minutes of a close game than Frank Mason III, and he’s not even the best player on the team. That would be Josh Jackson. A potential Iowa State matchup in the Sweet 16 could slip them up, but I think drawing Louisville and Oregon is a good break for the Jayhawks.

2. North Carolina: People don’t remember this, but North Carolina was running Duke off of the floor in the ACC tournament semifinals when Joel Berry II picked up his fourth foul. If Berry stays out of foul trouble, the ‘Is Duke a No. 1 seed?’ thing never becomes a thing.

3. Duke: The Blue Devils are streaking. They seem to have hit top gear during the ACC tournament, and there’s a good chance that they’ll get to the Elite 8 before they play a game where they don’t have the two or three best players on the floor. I bet on talent in March.

4. Villanova: I’ve seen people trying to explain why Duke is better off as the No. 2 seed in the East than the No. 1 seed in the South, because they think Kentucky and UCLA are better than Villanova. Let me explain something to you: Villanova is awesome. I don’t think this way, but it’s not wrong to have the Wildcats No. 1 on this list.

5. Gonzaga: The Zags don’t have the same upper-echelon talent as some of the other teams that are title contender, but their weaknesses are as limited as any title contender’s weaknesses.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats are young and have point guard issues. We know that. They also are loaded with talent and are playing their best basketball at the right time. Allonzo Trier was terrific in the Pac-12 tournament.

7. UCLA: When the Bruins kick into high gear, when they play their best basketball, I don’t think there is anyone in the country that is going to be able to beat them. The concern is what happens on the nights when they don’t play that way.

8. Kentucky: Like UCLA, on the nights where Malik Monk goes bonkers, Kentucky can beat anyone in college basketball. What happens when Monk doesn’t go bonkers? The good news for the Wildcats is that, during the SEC tournament, it looks like Monk’s supporting cast found their groove again.

9. Louisville: I’m worried about Louisville’s ability to score. I’m not worried about their ability to defend, and I’m certainly not concerned about their coaching. Rick Pitino is as good as it gets in NCAA tournament situations.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

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THEY CAN GET TO A FINAL FOUR

10. Oregon: They lost Chris Boucher, but they still have Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell is still one of the best defenders in the country and this team looked pretty good playing down the stretch against Arizona on Saturday in the Pac-12 final.

11. Iowa State: The Cyclones are coming off of a win in the Big 12 tournament and also own a win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse this season. They are dangerous, they are peaking at the right time and they can matchup with all the elite teams that thrive playing small-ball.

12. West Virginia: West Virginia’s press is awesome and they’re highly rated on KenPom. Those get me intrigued. The fact that a pressing team is in a region where the top three teams all have one form of point guard issues or another has me thinking they can make a run.

13. Purdue: The Boilermakers were the best team in the Big Ten and have one of the best players in the country in Caleb Swanigan. Combine that with the fact that they surround a pair of dominant low-post scorers with a bevy of sharp-shooters, and I think Matt Painter’s club has a puncher’s chance of getting out of the Midwest.

14. Notre Dame: I love this Notre Dame team. Love them. They’ve now been to back-to-back Elite 8s and have a team this season that may be Mike Brey’s best coaching job to date. You are going to love Bonzie Colson.

RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

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SECOND WEEKEND TEAMS

15. Baylor: Yup. I said it. I don’t think Butler can get to a Final Four, although I will freely admit that has more to do with the fact that they are in the same region as Duke and Villanova as it does anything to do with this team. But I will say this: They haven’t looked like the same team for more than a month. Have they been figured out?

16. Butler: The Bulldogs are a weird group. They have the talent of a bubble team, but they’ve swept Villanova and beaten Arizona on a neutral court that was anything but neutral. I do like Butler, but I don’t think they can get past North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

17. Wichita State: The single-most egregious mis-seed. The Shockers rank 8th on KenPom. They are a No. 10 seed in the South. Kentucky is going to have their work cut out for them if they square off in the second round. Just an interesting thing to think about: If the Shockers are going to get to a Final Four, they’re probably going to have to do it by knocking off Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina.

18. SMU: The Mustangs are another team that got a raw deal on seeding. This is a team that is 11th on KenPom but finds themselves as a No. 6 seed in the Big Dance despite winning the AAC regular season and tournament titles.

19. Florida: I want to rank Florida higher than this because I really like that team, but the problem is that A) they are without starting center John Egbunu, who tore his ACL, and B) they probably need to beat both Villanova and Duke to get to the Final Four. That’s a big ask.

20. Florida State: Florida State is the most talented team that I trust the least. I think that their matchup with FGCU in the first round is really quite intriguing.

21. Virginia: Virginia is still just as good defensively as they were the last three seasons. Their issue? They cannot score at the same level. They got a good matchup in the first round against No. 12 seed UNC Wilmington, one that should keep them from getting picked off early.

22. Wisconsin: I think the Badgers are probably seeded too low at No. 8. They finished second in the Big Ten regular season race and reached the Big Ten title game. Good luck with that second round matchup against Villanova.

23. Maryland: The Terps got a really nice draw. They get a Xavier team that doesn’t have either of their point guard in the first round and then, if seeds hold, face-off with Florida State in the second round

24. Michigan: The Wolverines were the best story during Championship Week, overcoming a plane crash to win the Big Ten tournament despite being the No. 8 seed and playing their opening game in practice jerseys just two hours after landing in DC. They’ve been hot for two months now.

25. Minnesota: I think the Gophers have been undervalued all season long. Their biggest issue this month? They get Middle Tennessee State in the first round.

26. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are a weird team to peg. They have size, experience and toughness, but they’ve been handled the last two times they’ve played a real opponent, both of which were SMU.

27. Oklahoma State: The Pokes are dangerous. Jawun Evans is a top eight point guard in college basketball, Phil Forte is a sniper and head coach Brad Underwood is no stranger to winning in March.

28. Middle Tennessee: I think Middle Tennessee State has the best chance of any mid-major to get to the Sweet 16. They can handle Minnesota, and Butler is probably the best No. 4 seed to be matched up with in this tournament. Remember, this is a team that beat Vanderbilt by 23 and was up by 30 at halftime at Ole Miss.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

A WIN WOULD BE NICE

29. Saint Mary’s
30. Miami
31. Vanderbilt
32. Dayton
33. Michigan State
34. Seton Hall
35. Virginia Tech
36. Nevada
37. Marquette
38. Wake Forest
39. Rhode Island
40. Creighton
41. South Carolina
42. Arkansas
43. Northwestern
44. UNC Wilmington
45. VCU
46. Vermont
47. Xavier
48. East Tennessee State
49. Providence
50. Southern Cal
51. Princeton
52. Kansas State
53. Bucknell
54. Winthrop
55. New Mexico State
56. Florida Gulf Coast
57. South Dakota State
58. Kent State
59. Iona
60. Northern Kentucky
61. Troy
62. Jacksonville State
63. North Dakota
64. Texas Southern
65. UC Davis
66. North Carolina Central
67. New Orleans
68. Mount St. Mary’s

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.