NCAA Tournament 2017: The best team on every seed line in the bracket
From 16 to 1, we give you the best team, line by line, in the 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket
Here’s a twist on the power-ranking concept. Let’s look at the best team on each seed line. From coaching to personnel to how they’re placed in the bracket, there are some interesting choices to make. We’ve got 16 teams listed. I’m setting the over/under on total tournament wins for this group at 25.5.
You taking the over or the under?
A few of these were pretty tough decisions. But here we go. If you’re curious, the accepted strongest region -- the South -- has the fewest teams listed, with three. The accepted weakest region -- the West -- has the most teams listed, with five.
So how about that? All a matter of perspective.
Here are the best teams across the board, throughout the bracket.
The best No. 16:
North Carolina Central (25-8)
Beat Missouri, plus had more road victories than any of the other No. 16s. LeVelle Moton, the coach of the Eagles, could be in line for a promotion. He’s taken the program to the NCAAs twice in the past four years. The Eagles have the second-best 3-point defense of any team in the tournament, only behind URI. NCCU’s opponents make just 29.1 percent of their 3s.
The best No. 15:
Troy Trojans (22-14)
A tough call, as Troy also has the toughest No. 2 seed in Duke. The Blue Devils are Las Vegas’ favorite to win it all. The Trojans rank 130th in KenPom, which is pretty solid for a 15 seed. They’re 22-14 and experienced. Senior point guard Jeremy Hollimon is also a bucket-getter.
The best No. 14:
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-7)
An easy pick for me. The Eagles nearly beat Michigan State on the road and also played Baylor well. Joe Dooley has a team that goes 10-deep and can score in bunches around the rim. This is one of the biggest mid-major teams out there. Florida State got a tough draw here. Dunk City is capable of being Cinderella again.
The best No. 13:
Vermont Catamounts (29-5)
John Becker’s team hasn’t lost since the week before Christmas. This is the second-best UVM team ever, only behind that 2004-05 team that won against Syracuse. You know what seed that UVM team was? Yes indeed: a 13. Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes are a great duo. The Catamounts ranked 62nd at Kenpom, a tremendous number for a team from the America East. UVM is solid on both ends of the floor.
The best No. 12:
A mis-seeded team, no question about it. Middle Tennessee is actually favorited by a point over Minnesota at some sportsbooks now. The Blue Raiders, who are one of the 40 best teams in college basketball, play responsibly and work well in the key. Kermit Davis brings back a lot of guys from last year’s team that won as a 15 over No. 2 Michigan State. The twist: That team was reliable on 3-point shooting. This year, MTSU isn’t as prone to beat you from deep. But Reggie Upshaw, Giddy Potts and Jacorey Williams will give Minnesota all it can handle.
The best No. 11:
Rhode Island Rams (24-9)
The most talented team in the Atlantic 10 is making its first Big Dance appearance since 1999. E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell are just the start of it. Kuran Iverson, Jeff Dowtin, Stan Robinson and Jarvis Garrett also contribute heavily. I like URI to make the Elite Eight. This is the best 3-point defense and second-best blocking defense in the field. Dangerous team.
The best No. 10:
Wichita State Shockers (30-4)
And would be the best No. 9, the best No. 8 and the best No. 7. The Shockers rank eighth at KenPom. Gregg Marshall says this is the most well-rounded, reliable starting five he’s ever had on offense. The numbers bear that out. Wichita State scores 119.6 points per 100 possessions, the most efficient rate by this program in the modern era. It’s also a top-20 team on defense. Few people are picking Wichita State to reach the Final Four, but it’s not that wild of an idea. The fact this group is a 10 seed remains hilarious.
The best No. 9:
Michigan State Spartans (19-14)
Very tough call. But I like Michigan State’s talent. In fact, I think Michigan State is better than most other 8 seeds. It’s just, MSU is going up against the second-best 8 seed in Miami. So I have the Spartans losing to the Canes. But here’s the deal: Tom Izzo’s group has a lot of talent, a flashing beast in Miles Bridges, and an emerging force in Nick Ward. Cassius Winston is the freshman point guard you don’t hear enough about. MSU is certainly tested enough for its region.
The best No. 8:
Wisconsin Badgers (25-9)
Easy, easy call. Wisconsin has veterans who’ve made deep runs in the NCAAs, and the Badgers should be on the 6 line, really. UW has a top-10 defense and a top-15 player in Ethan Happ. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig: fairly good college basketball players. Very few people are picking Virginia Tech, and with good reason. This isn’t a great Wisconsin team, but it’s firmly better than any other 8 seed.
The best No. 7:
Saint Mary’s Gaels (28-4)
Tough to evaluate because three of SMC’s four losses came to Gonzaga by an average of double digits. But the Gaels are probably better than their seed indicates. Looking at the other 7s (Dayton, South Carolina, Michigan), I think this is the best team. But it’s close. Michigan has a strong case. SMC is dangerous because it’s great on the offensive boards and also hits a lot of 3s. Talk about reliability. Then when you factor in that Randy Bennett coaches a slow-tempo offense, your chances to beat this team diminish greatly. Every possession is valued.
The best No. 6:
SMU Mustangs (30-4)
Another seed victim. The Mustangs should be on the 4 line. They’re better than the company they keep on the 6, including Cincinnati, which they beat twice this season. Tim Jankovich’s team is loaded with talent, ranks 11th at KenPom and shoots 41 percent from 3-point range. Might want to consider the Ponies for a Sweet 16 appearance. They didn’t get a lot of pub this season, but this team is one of the 15 best in the tournament.
The best No. 5:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9)
Terrific offensive club that almost won the ACC tournament title. I think Notre Dame outclasses every other 5 seed. The Fighting Irish have defeated Louisville, Northwestern, Florida State twice, Virginia, Miami and Virginia Tech. Bonzie Colson is the next coming (strictly at the college level) of Draymond Green. Steve Vasturia hits big shots. Matt Farrell hits big shots. V.J. Beachem is one of the most athletic players in the sport. No team turns it over less, and is better at the foul line, than Notre Dame. Those are facts.
The best No. 4:
West Virginia Mountaineers (26-8)
Check this out: WVU, a 4 seed, is the No. 5 team at KenPom. Even if you want to dismiss that high of a ranking, fine. Drop WVU down five or six spots. It would still be 3-seed quality. At 30/1 to win it all, WVU is a great value pick. The Mountaineers turn teams over more than anyone in college basketball (28.1 percent). You might not be able to name a player on this team, but it’s the best one Huggins has had since he got to WVU -- and there’s good competition for that title.
The best No. 3:
UCLA Bruins (29-4)
The Bruins have a feel-good offense that should be good enough to overcome their so-so defense. UCLA’s so good as a No. 3, many people are picking the Bruins over No. 1 UNC and No. 2 Kentucky in that South region. Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford, T.J. Leaf and Aaron Holiday are all capable of going for 20-plus. So is Isaac Hamilton. The most efficient team from 2- and 3-point range. Easy call. Bruins should get to the second weekend without much resistance.
The best No. 2:
Duke Blue Devils (27-8)
Duke has beaten more good teams (read: top 50-quality) than anyone, has the most potential of anyone, has the best coach in the sport and is finally blooming with a healthy roster. At this point, it’s harder to figure how Duke won’t win it all. There’s a reason it’s the favorite. The Blue Devils are coming off an unprecedented four-wins-in-four-days run in the ACC tournament, becoming the first team to ever go four straight to take the league’s bracket title. This team has teased us all season, but after beating Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame -- and coming back in the second half of each of those games -- Duke has put on the full display of why it’s unlike any other team in college basketball. Do you dare pick against this team right now?
The best No. 1:
Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-1)
Gonzaga’s road to a Final Four combined with its overall team quality puts the Bulldogs at No. 1 here. I don’t care that the committee put Villanova as the No. 1 overall seed (Nova earned it, with the most wins vs. teams in the field of any team in the tourney) or that Kansas is a popular pick to win it all. Gonzaga is, definitively, rated as the best team in college basketball by every major sophisticated metric available. It is the strongest No. 1 seed. And with its relatively interesting path in the West, this sets up as the year for the Bulldogs to break through. Everything has fallen into place. Gonzaga doesn’t have the most talent, but it is the best team of all the 1 seeds. Empirical data and the eye test confirm that.
Speaking of tournament seeds, our SportsLine Upset Bracket last year predicted 8 out of 9 First Round upsets correctly, including 6 of 7 double-digit seeds. Click here to check out the full bracket
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