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.
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)|
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)|
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.