Power Pyramid: Building the final version for this season

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Welcome to the final edition of the Power Pyramid for this season. Why is now the last one? Because by this time next week, we'll have some auto bids locked up, other teams still fighting for them, and the scene in general will be getting quite hectic. I like to judge based on the last week of the regular season where everybody is playing regular-season games. Now, the schedules fracture between postseason and regular season slates. Like how the MVP is judged only off regular-season play, the Pyramid gets its final compilation now.

These are the standing 15. And the few left out? They'll be in the Big Bracket. That's the way things crumble this time of year. Let me add a few more predictions (and I'll follow up on this after the season ends).

Teams from this Pyramid that make the NCAAs: 13
Total NCAA tournament wins: 12
Elite Eight teams: One
Sweet 16 teams: Three
Average seed: 10

Now, your final rankings.

Top Tier

1. Gonzaga (29-2)
Why it's here: The Bulldogs will most certainly earn their first No. 1 AP ranking in school history when the polls are released Monday afternoon. Now comes the question of if Gonzaga will be a No. 1 seed. If it happens, Gonzaga is on pace to have the third-weakest strength of schedule for a No. 1 seed since 2000. As of Sunday night, Gonzaga's SOS came in at 71st overall despite playing five Big 12 teams, Butler, Illinois and Davidson out of conference. Speaks to the WCC's general weakness. KenPom ranks Gonzaga's overall SOS 93rd overall and 50th in non-con.

Something you should know: Gonzaga has never won 30 games in a season, something that is almost definitely coming. Mark Few has coached this program to six stand-alone league titles in the regular season. Just, bravo, Gonzaga.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 1 seed in the West. (Last week: same)

Up next: No. 1 seed in WCC semifinals on Saturday, 9 p.m. ET.

2. New Mexico (25-4)
Why it's here: New Mexico is the runaway winner in the Mountain West, a matter of fact that I didn't think was possible as recently as three weeks ago. Before the season, I thought if any team could be the clear-cut champ, it'd be UNLV. But it's UNM with two more games to go that has already clinched a title, its fourth in the past five years.

Something you should know: Kendall Williams' 46 points from more than a week ago could very well be the big performance that UNM is remembered for this year. But the team is now top 10 in defensive efficiency, averaging an adjusted 86.4 points per 100 possessions. Lobos win with defense and foul shooting. By the way, big man Alex Kirk, who averages 12 points and eight rebounds, has put up 20 points on average in his past three games. Fledgling fella!

Jerry Palm says: A No. 2 seed in the West. (Last week: No. 2 in the South)

Up next: Wednesday at Nevada; Saturday at Air Force.

Josh Pastner could be headed to the 8/9 game again, but this is his best Memphis team. (Getty Images)

3. Memphis (25-4)
Why it's here: Basically, read this.

Something you should know: D.J. Stephens is the most intriguing player that Memphis has. He doesn't factor into a lot of plays. But when he does, he's efficient. His offensive rating on KenPom is 131.4, the fifth-most efficient clip in the nation. Stephens is as athletic a player as C-USA has. He's a senior who has had to work his way toward minutes. He's playing 22 a game, up from nine last year. To me, he remains a vital piece to determining if Memphis can win a game in the NCAA tournament.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 9 seed in the East. (Last week: No. 8 in the West)

Up next: Tuesday at UTEP; Saturday vs UAB.

A Cut Below

4. Akron (23-5).
Why it's here: I can't be expected to downgrade a team because it has a 19-game winning streak come to an end with a road loss in the conference. Akron fell 81-67 at Buffalo on Saturday, possibly taking the Zips out of the at-large picture. Keith Dambrot's team is in the 40s in RPI. If it reaches the MAC title game, the discussion will get interesting. I think if it loses close in the final, it's getting to Dayton for the First Four. And won't that be an interesting scenario. Zips fans will flood the place.

Something you should know: I've got a story on Akron coming to the site later Monday. Figured, instead of a stat to know here, I'd go anecdotal/inside hoops. Dambrot told me this of the streak: when it was 19 games long and before the team lost to Buffalo, there wasn't pressure. He also maintains that his 2006-07 Akron team that missed the NCAAs and went 26-7 was his best. Said this team can pass that but isn't there yet.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 13 seed in the South. (Last week: No. 12 in the East)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Miami (OH); No. 1 seed in MAC tournament, beginning Friday.

5. Middle Tennessee State (27-4).
Why it's here: Congratulations to the Blue Raiders, who haven't lost in two months, for breaking through Pyramid's walls a few weeks back and finish at No. 5. MTSU was a solid club last year that fell in the Sun Belt tourney, had six losses and missed out on the NCAAs. If this team loses No. 5, it might be dealt the same fate. Why? Might be so good, should they go undefeated in the Sun Belt, a case can and will be made to put them as high as a No. 11 seed.

Something you should know: Jerry Palm puts it in perspective.

As you can see, MTSU has a solid RPI but is 1-1 against the top 100. Yeesh. That would be quite a barrier to crack. I can't believe this team -- which is legitimately good/capable of a Sweet 16 Cinderella run -- has a shot at an at-large when it is two wins short of the lowest mark ever for top-100 victories in at-large cases.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 12 seed in the East. (Last week: No. 13 in the South)

Up next: No. 1 seed in Sun Belt tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET.

6. Louisiana Tech (26-3).
Why it's here: The Bulldogs have a tougher task than most in terms of conference domination because the WAC has 18 league games. Two more to go for Michael White's team, and they happen to be the two toughest. On the road against good teams in the league. I'll be truly impressed if La. Tech enters the WAC tourney undefeated. I don't think it will -- but I do think it will win the WAC bracket once it's there.

Something you should know: First off, with Akron losing, La. Tech's 18-game streak is now the longest in the country, and this is the only team not to lose in 2013. The program has also locked up at least a share of the conference title for the first time in 13 years. Get ready for a whole lotta Karl Malone referencing if this club does as it should and takes the auto berth.

Stojan Gjuroski and Louisiana Tech now have the longest winning streak in college hoops. (AP)

Jerry Palm says: A No. 13 seed in the Midwest. (Last week: No. 13 in the West)

Up next: Thursday at New Mexico State; Saturday at Denver.

7. UNLV (22-7).
Why it's here: Beyond New Mexico, the Mountain West has been a somewhat soluble mix of teams, two through four in the standings. I'm going to put UNLV in this spot because, as a reminder, I ultimately rank the squads based on which teams that I would pick over others if they played each other right now on a neutral court in a random city. (Today's choice: Bangor, Maine!) And UNLV's talent has kept me lurking, perhaps ranking them higher than I should. What I do know: If UNLV wins the MWC tournament, it's getting a No. 4 and rightfully so.

Something you should know: Part of why I've been lenient with UNLV is the team has just one starter -- point guard Anthony Marshall -- who has played a full year of college basketball. Anthony Bennett and Katin Reinhardt are frosh. Khem Birch and Bryce Dejean-Jones are both transfers. It's about time that experience, or lack of it, stopped being an excuse, however.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 5 seed in the East. (Last week: No. 5 in the Midwest)

Up next: Tuesday vs. Boise State; Saturday vs. Fresno State.

8. Colorado State (22-7).
Why it's here: Rams have lost three of four, the only win came at home against bad Fresno State, so I'm borderline CSU apologist now. I still think the team has threads of DNA that make it possible to reach the Elite Eight. Not saying it's a high probability. But if you're making me pick one dark horse to go that far, I'm sticking with these guys. CSU gets two softies to round into shape this week before the Mountain West tourney begins in nine days.

Something you should know: CSU is as aggressive and efficient on the glass as you're gonna get, and the benefit to that is also in free throws. Rebounding teams normally can draw fouls. And when CSU gets to the foul line more often than its opponent this season, it's 19-0.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 7 seed in the South. (Last week: No. 6 in the East)

Up next: Wednesday at Wyoming; Saturday vs. Nevada.

9. Saint Mary's (26-5).
Why it's here: The WCC isn't great this season, but Saint Mary's performance should be put in proper perspective. Good team with a future pro at the point and, clearly, if you've seen them play -- they're one of the 68 best in the field. Or one of the 34 best at-larges. However you want to frame it. They get moved up because Creighton got moved up, and SMC isn't that far removed from its clipping of the Bluejays.

Something you should know: Matthew Dellavedova is now the all-time leading scorer in SMC history in addition to holding the most assists. Few schools have the same person holding both marks. Delly got his record, moving past Daniel Kickert's 1,874 points, in the first half of the Santa Clara game on Saturday. Dellavedova is now at 1,892 for his career, meaning he has a faint shot at 2,000, but it would take a berth in the Sweet 16 and at least one game of more than 30 points to do so.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 11 seed in the Midwest. (Last week: Same)

Up next: No. 2 seed in WCC semifinals on Saturday, 11:30 p.m. ET.

10. Creighton (24-7).
Why it's here: The Bluejays did some redeeming over the weekend thanks to Doug McDermott's 41-point output and the no-bones-about-it 91-79 win over Wichita State on Senior Night. The teams split the series, and it's really thin, but I'll take Creighton, both in a hypothetical rubber matchup tomorrow -- or in the inevitable Missouri Valley title game.

Something you should know: Creighton's 17.4 assists per game remains the best of any Pyramid team (Memphis isn't too far behind at 17.2) and is No. 4 nationally. When the offense flows, it's so fun. And CU played some D for about 25 minutes of that WSU game, too. More of that, please.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 9 seed in the Midwest. (Last week: No. 11 in the South)

Up next: No. 1 seed in MVC quarterfinals on Friday, 1 p.m. ET.

Base Blocks

11. Wichita State (24-7).
Why it's here: Reasons above basically explain it. Let's talk bubble. As of Sunday night, Wichita State was chilling in the low 40s in Sagarin and only mid-30s in KenPom; it was No. 40 in RPI. And, if you missed it, fortunately, the NCAA tourney chair uses those metrics to consider teams' cases. Thank you. But it does bring their case up for some real debate. I think the Shockers will be shaking if they can't get into the MVC title game. With a berth there, then a berth to the Dance should follow.

Something you should know: Of concern: Scoring, rebounding, assists, 3-pointers made, field goals made, steals, blocks, free throws made -- WSU doesn't rate in the top 40 in any of those categories, the only team in this Pyramid that's true of. Can you be really good overall if you're not really good at even one major thing? The 75.6 defensive rebounding rate is by far the Shockers' best quality, good for fourth in the country.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 11 seed in the West. (Last week: No. 10 in the Midwest)

Up next: No. 2 seed in MVC quarterfinals on Friday, 7 p.m. ET.

12. San Diego State (20-8).
Why it's here: Like Wichita State, SDSU does not truly do anything exceptionally well. It also hasn't earned a legitimately good victory since home win over Boise State on Feb. 6 -- if you want to count that -- or if you don't, home vs. New Mexico on Jan. 26. I can't shake the feeling that SDSU is fated for a forgettable loss in an 8/9 game. But I'm an idiot and will bathe in my stupidity happily when this team proves me wrong and reaches the second weekend.

Something you should know: SDSU Athletics sends along the impressive note that the Aztecs' hoops and football teams have won 106 games between both sports since the beginning of the 2010-11 academic year. That's tops in the nation. Weird stat but impressive!

Jerry Palm says: A No. 8 seed in the Midwest. (Last week: No. 6 seed in the Midwest)

Up next: Wednesday vs. Air Force; Saturday at Boise State.

13. Belmont (24-6).
Why it's here: Bruins finished out their first year in the Ohio Valley at 14-2, easily won the league and became a guard-oriented, really good shooting team in the process. That's not normally Rick Byrd's style; he likes to feed out from big men in the post and run more motion than high-ball-screen O. Yet he adapted to his personnel, and Belmont is really good again.

Something you should know: It's not all offense. Byrd's team can pluck one from a higher seed if they get to the Dance because Belmont's 9.73 steals per game is highest among all Pyramid teams and is No. 6 is the nation.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 12 seed in the West. (Last week: No. 12 seed in the Midwest)

Up Next: No. 1 seed in OVC semifinals on Friday, 7 p.m. ET.

14. Bucknell (25-5).
Why it's here: Bucknell has been a Pyramid staple the entire season, something only few others in this space can claim. The Bison were never elite but always in the fold. Finishing 12-2 in the Patriot, the third straight regular-season title, and now comes the pressure of needing some offense to outrun the rest and get a rightful spot in the NCAAs. No bubble prospects for the Bison, even with just five losses so far.

Something you should know: If you need perspective on how rare a team like Bucknell is in the Patriot, consider: It's the first to win three straight outright regular-season titles and is the first to take home 12 league victories in three straight seasons. The Patriot normally has turnover at the top. Cycles. Bucknell has put a stop on that for now.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 13 seed in the East. (Last week: Same)

Up next: No. 1 seed vs. Navy in Patriot League quarterfinals on Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET.

15. Stephen F. Austin (24-3).
Why it's here: Let the record show that 14 and 15 remained as is, but the teams listed below are basically on the same level. SFA earned its keep, and having seen the style of play, it's deserving. I worry about it losing in the Southland tourney, though. Just an odd hunch.

Something you should know: Awesome: Stephen F. Austin and Wisconsin: the only two programs in the nation to be ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (average) each of the last five seasons, according to SFA Athletics. Also, SFA hasn't let an opponent crack 70 points in 731 days.

Jerry Palm says: A No. 13 seed in the West. (Last week: No. 13 in the Midwest)

Up next: Thursday vs. Sam Houston State; Saturday vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.


Outside the Pyramid:

-- 23-7, 17-1 Davidson is the team that I feel I'll regret for not including here. I love their talent, coaching, winning streak, offense. Davidson can make Steph Curry proud again. It looked good in the first weekend in Portland last year. And if it gets back, an upset could be coming.

-- Weber State at 22-5 might be the most truly overlooked team in the nation right now. The Big Sky doesn't offer up a lot of talking points, but few programs could lose a future perennial NBA All-Star and hardly miss a beat.

-- My credit, again, to 22-6 Stony Brook, slayers of the America East. This must be the year the Seawolves break through.

-- Valpo won the Horizon League over the weekend, is 24-7, and I think Bryce Drew will be returning to the NCAA tournament. This time as a coach.

For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed and college hoops newsletter. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.

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