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

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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

NTSB cites mechanical issue in Michigan plane incident

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YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) A preliminary investigation into the runway accident involving a plane carrying the Michigan men’s basketball team cites a mechanical problem.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday issued an update about the March 8 crash at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Township, near the Ann Arbor school. The aborted takeoff caused extensive damage to the aircraft but only one minor injury during evacuation.

The report does not list a likely cause of the incident, but it says flight data recorder shows the right elevator – the primary mechanism controlling an airplane’s pitch – didn’t move during the attempted takeoff.

The plane carrying 109 passengers and seven crew members skidded 1,000 feet past the runway. The team was headed to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten Tournament. They flew the next day and won the tournament and are now in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler, Purdue use true grit to get programs into Sweet 16

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Coach Matt Painter kept believing in his team even as he watched Purdue fritter away a 19-point lead.

He did, after all, recruit these players to excel in tough times. And he did spend two years using the lessons from consecutive overtime losses in the NCAA Tournament to show his team what it took to survive in March.

So when the Boilermakers steadied themselves, retook the lead and reached their first Sweet 16 in seven years, Painter wasn’t surprised. He simply knew the Boilermakers, finally, were tough enough.

“No question, having that grit back after not having it for a couple of years helps,” Painter said. “We put a lot of skill on the court, but we also have guys who are competitive.”

Painter, after all, grew up a fan of former Hoosiers coach Bob Knight, went on to play for Gene Keady and then served on Keady’s staff briefly before succeeding his former coach.

Experience has taught Painter just how delicate it can be to find the proper balance.

After finishing last in the Big Ten in 2013-14 with guys who were content to rely more on their athleticism than mental toughness, Painter changed course.

He brought in gritty overachievers who embraced old-school principles built on effort and led Purdue to its first outright conference title since 1996. Nothing reinforced those beliefs more than last weekend’s comeback against Iowa State.

“Leads are blown throughout March Madness, which is all about close games. I always tell the guys, `If it’s not a blowout, then it is a close game,”‘ junior forward Vince Edwards said Monday. “We have learned to be able to take a run – like Iowa State’s – and be able to withstand it.”

The best teams always do, which is why fourth-seeded Purdue will now face top-seeded Kansas (30-4) in one of Thursday night’s Midwest Regional semifinal games .

Finding players who are the right fit is a challenge for every coach and program.

At Butler, it’s a tradition that has been passed down through nearly a half-dozen coaches over a span of two decades. Former coach and current athletic director Barry Collier started the process by turning the Bulldogs from perennial also-ran into a regular conference contender and NCAA Tourney hopeful.

Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter kept the momentum going before taking other jobs, and Brad Stevens perfected the script as the Bulldogs posted consecutive national runner-up finishes.

Things didn’t always go smoothly. Fans still remember watching the Bulldogs blow an upset against Florida in the 2000 tourney and the inexplicable 2002 tourney snub.

Eventually, though, those painful moments gave way to a litany of program-defining memories.

Against Louisville in the 2003 tourney, a teammate handed his dry shoes to the late Joel Cornette so Cornette could help close out an upset against Louisville in 2003. In the 2010 title game, junior center Matt Howard had the foresight to set a pick and give Gordon Hayward a clean look on his half-court heave that just missed.

The next year, Howard managed to draw a foul in the waning seconds against Pittsburgh to keep Butler’s postseason run alive.

“The stories are unbelievable,” point guard Tyler Lewis said. “That was a special group because they really made the community believe Butler was not just some small school. Butler was a school you didn’t mess around with.”

Stevens and his predecessors moved the school up the pecking order by recruiting late-bloomers or players who were often overlooked by bigger schools. They asked them to play selflessly, a style that defines The Butler Way.

While that philosophy worked well in the Horizon League and the Atlantic 10, Chris Holtmann needed to make some adjustments to thrive in the stronger Big East. Holtmann has recruited better athletes and is looking for more physical players, but the same basic philosophy hasn’t changed.

“I think it (toughness) has been valued here at a really high level, from those who came before me,” Holtmann said. “I just hope I’m doing my job to carry it on.”

The good news is he hasn’t had do too much.

Here, players like leading scorer Kelan Martin don’t complain about coming off the bench if asked. Grad transfers like Avery Woodson and Kethan Savage are both happy to help any way they can in their first and only NCAA appearance.

And it will be that way again when fourth-seeded Butler (25-8) tries to upset top-seeded North Carolina (29-7) in the South Region on Friday night.

“What makes us so tough is that we believe in each other,” said Lewis, who started his career at North Carolina State. “It’s an honor putting on this Butler uniform because it reminds us of what the guys did that came before us.”

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org