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From 1-68, handicapping your NCAA tournament field

by | CBSSports.com
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Forget the RPIs, forget the top-50 wins, forget the bubble. The NCAA tournament is finally here and the focus turns from "who's in and who's out?" to the actual pairings and match-ups. We can put aside questions and concerns about the field and concentrate on what really matters -- the Final Four and the national championship. Here's a look at how the field stacks up.

Note: The following is not an "S-curve" and it does correlate directly to the actual bracket. It is a ranking of all 68 teams in the field, based on qualitative and subjective observations.

1. Ohio State: The most complete team in the country, the Buckeyes have all the pieces necessary to win a national championship.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks are hitting their stride at the right time; their depth separates them from most opponents.

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3. Pittsburgh: Despite their loss in the Big East quarterfinals, this might be the year the Panthers break through to the Final Four.

4. Notre Dame: If the Irish are knocking down their 3-pointers at a high rate, they’re as good as anyone in the country.

5. Duke: The biggest question for the Blue Devils is Kyrie Irving and his return. If he comes back at full speed, Duke might become the favorite.

6. Texas: The Longhorns dropped all the way to a No. 4 seed, but they are the best defensive team in the country and have options offensively.

7. Purdue: With E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, the Boilermakers can beat anyone. Will someone step up as a consistent third option?

8. North Carolina: The Tar Heels received a tough draw, but they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Will the lack of experience be a problem?

9. San Diego State: This ranking hinges on the Aztecs' ability to stop shooting 3-pointers. When they dominate the paint, they usually win.

10. Florida: The Gators fell in the SEC title game, but they were playing as well as anyone before that. Lots of options offensively.

11. Wisconsin: The Badgers aren't easy to prepare for on short notice because of their inverted offense -– Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer are outstanding.

12. Syracuse: Teams that aren't used to the Orange's 2-3 zone are usually in for a tough night. Syracuse has to get more offensive consistency, though.

13. Kentucky: Despite their youth, the Wildcats are a tough draw for anyone. Brandon Knight is developing into an elite point guard.

14. Connecticut: Will the Huskies be tired after their epic run through the Big East tournament? It’s tough to bet against Kemba Walker at this point.

Can Jenkins shoot Vandy into prominence in this event? (Getty Images)  
Can Jenkins shoot Vandy into prominence in this event? (Getty Images)  
15. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have all the pieces to make a run, but they struggle to put it all together. John Jenkins can shoot them to wins.

16. BYU: With Brandon Davies, the Cougars were a legitimate Final Four threat. Without him, they will go as far as Jimmer Fredette carries them.

17. Louisville: The Cardinals don't have any stars, but they are coming together at the perfect time. Peyton Siva could be set for a big tourney.

18. Kansas State: The Wildcats starting living up to expectations late in the season, and they are a tournament-tested team. Very inconsistent, though.

19. Washington: This could be a team that busts brackets, whether you choose them as an upset special or pick them to get knocked out early.

20. Xavier: With Tu Holloway on the team, the Musketeers stand a chance against anyone. He is capable of single-handedly willing them to victories.

21. Georgetown: How will Chris Wright be when he returns? Without Wright, the Hoyas looked disjointed in every facet of the game.

22. St. John's: Another team with injury questions. St. John's' first game without D.J. Kennedy will be against Gonzaga; how will the Storm react?

23. Missouri: The Tigers got a favorable draw against Cincinnati and a tired Connecticut team. Can they win away from home, though?

24. UCLA: The Bruins have as much talent as anyone in the region, but they are inexperienced and developed inconsistencies down the stretch.

25. West Virginia: On paper, the Mountaineers don't look like much, but Bob Huggins is battle-tested and always has his teams prepared.

26. Texas A&M: The Aggies' first-round game against Florida State is going to be a snoozer. With that said, A&M is comfortable with grind-it-out games.

27. Temple: The Owls are capable of beating teams in a variety of ways, but they have struggled in the NCAA tournament in recent years.

28. Arizona: Derrick Williams needs a consistent sidekick if this team is going to make a deep run in the Dance. Who will it be?

29. Old Dominion: One of the more dangerous mid-major teams, the Monarchs are physical and can lock teams down on the defensive end.

30. Marquette: The Golden Eagles played their way into the NCAA tournament, but it wasn't without bumps. Jimmy Butler is a match-up nightmare.

31. George Mason: At one point, the Patriots owned the nation's longest winning streak. Does this team have any NCAA tournament magic left from 2006?

32. Utah State: The Aggies received a tough draw against Kansas State, but they run one of the most complicated offenses to prepare for on short notice.

33. Michigan State: Was the team that Tom Izzo brought to the Big Ten tournament a threat to return to the Final Four? Or a flash in the pan?

34. Cincinnati: The Bearcats had a great resume and deserved their No. 6 seed, but they will need consistent offensive production to advance.

35. UNLV: The Runnin' Rebels struggled against the top teams in the Mountain West, but they have plenty of talent.

36. Belmont: The Bruins might be the biggest mid-major sleeper out there. They are deep, aggressive, and disruptive defensively.

37. Illinois: The Fighting Illini have the ability to beat anyone because of their shooting, but they tend to lack aggressiveness and toughness.

38. Richmond: The Spiders have one of the best inside-outside tandems in the country in guard Kevin Anderson and forward Justin Harper.

39. Tennessee: No one really knows what to expect from the Volunteers. They have some great wins and some mind-boggling losses.

40. Villanova: Finishing with five losses in a row is no way to enter the NCAA tournament. Can the Wildcats turn it around?

41. Florida State: How will Chris Singleton fare in his return from injury? He is one of the nation’s best defenders and the Seminoles’ top scorer.

42. Gonzaga: The Bulldogs made a late run to get into the NCAA tournament; now, no one wants to draw them. They have size and scoring.

43. Butler: Another team that was left for dead but is back in the Dance, the Bulldogs have veterans who want to relive NCAA glory.

44. Georgia: With Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins on the roster, the Bulldogs can beat anyone in the country. Leadership is lacking in crunch time, though.

45. USC: Don't sleep on the Trojans. Nikola Vucevic is one of the most underrated big men around, and they stifle teams defensively.

46. VCU: The Rams snuck in, but they have the pieces to stay. Their pressing style could cause trouble for USC.

47. Michigan: Surprised some with a No. 8 seed, but Darius Morris and the Wolverines can win a game if they are hitting 3-pointers.

48. Clemson: Proved down the stretch that they can hang with the big boys. However, they didn't prove they could win those close games.

49. Oakland: Keith Benson is one of the best big men in the country; he is capable of taking over the paint and carrying the Golden Grizzlies.

50. Memphis: The Tigers have oodles of talent, but they haven't put it all together. Could the C-USA title be a sign of things to come?

A moment please, Louisville, Morehead State's Kenneth Faried would like a word. (US Presswire)  
A moment please, Louisville, Morehead State's Kenneth Faried would like a word. (US Presswire)  
51. Penn State: The Nittany Lions win ugly, and they know it. They won't be an easy first-round opponent, especially with Talor Battle lighting it up lately.

52. Princeton: The Tigers advanced to the Dance on a buzzer-beater from Doug Davis; can his heroics carry over into a first-round game against Kentucky?

53. Wofford: With Noah Dahlman inside, the Terriers are capable of an upset. They stopped Andrew Goudelock; can they do the same against Jimmer?

54. UAB: Well, the Blazers didn't deserve a bid. With that said, Aaron Johnson is a fantastic guard and will be tough to stop.

55. Morehead State: Kenneth Faried is one of the better big men in the country, at both ends of the floor. With him leading the way, the Eagles are tough.

56. Bucknell: The Bison have won first-round games twice in the past seven years. Mike Muscala and a defensive-minded group are looking for another win.

57. UC Santa Barbara: Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally comprise one of the most explosive scoring duos in the tournament.

58. Long Island: With their high-octane style of play, the Blackbirds are fun to watch. Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere are excellent inside.

59. Indiana State: The Sycamores made a Cinderella run through the Missouri Valley tournament. Will it continue against Syracuse?

60. Boston University: John Holland is the type of player who can carry the Terriers offensively. He scored 29 in the A-East title game.

61. Northern Colorado: The Big Sky champions are led by Devon Beitzel, one of the nation's best scorers. San Diego State is too big for the Bears.

62. Saint Peter’s: The Peacocks beat both Fairfield and Iona to win the MAAC tournament. They slow it down and make life miserable defensively.

63. UNC-Asheville: The Bulldogs have won six in a row, with Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm providing accurate outside shooting.

64. Hampton: The Pirates have a dynamic duo in Darrion Pellum and Kwame Morgan, and they also are a terrific defensive team.

65. Texas-San Antonio: If you haven't seen Devin Gibson play, it is highly recommended. He is one of the best all-around players in the nation.

66. Akron: While not as good as they have been in the past, the Zips are balanced offensively and force tough shots on the defensive end.

67. Arkansas-Little Rock: Solomon Bozeman provided one of the highlights of championship week with his buzzer-beater to send UALR into the Dance.

68. Alabama State: It took winning 12 of their past 13 games to get to .500 heading into the NCAA tournament.

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