SEC Basketball Tournament - Championship
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Now that the 2024 NCAA Tournament bracket has been revealed, the time has come to figure out different ways to crunch numbers and analyze the 68-team field for one of the greatest events in American sports. There is still plenty of time to update your bracket picks before they lock on Thursday at the start of the first round. To provide some assistance, we've got expert brackets, region-by-region breakdowns, potential Cinderella teams to watch and so much more. 

Now, we turn our attention to the entire field of 68, looking to identify the best team on all 16 seed lines. 

The selection committee has already made its opinion clear with its 1-68 seed list, but there are a few spots where the seed list doesn't really equate to "best team" as we get set for the start of the tournament. Matt Norlander also offered his 1-68 ranking, but today we're only looking at sorting the groups by seed. In terms of the grading standard, we're looking at overall team strength and ability to advance, not leaning exclusively on a power rating or resume but rather blending the information available to determine the team you would want to invest in from each respective seed line. 

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Running this exercise always delivers interesting observations on the bracket, and this year that includes confirmation of what's believed to be the toughest region in the field. The East Region has the top team on each of the top four seed lines with all four teams winning power conference tournament championships and entering March Madness as a top-10 team in the KenPom ratings. The East also has, according to our analysis, the best No. 6, the best No. 10 and the best No. 14 seed in the field. 

What a great reward for UConn as the No. 1 overall seed to land in a region that includes the strongest team in seven of the 16 seed lines. The committee also did No. 2 overall seed Houston no favors with its draw as the South Region also wound up with seven teams picked for this exercise, while the West and Midwest Regions had only one team each with both representatives among the double-digit seeds.  

Let's have a look at our picks for the best team on each seed line in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. 

No. 16 seeds 

Stetson | Longwood | Montana State/Grambling | Howard/Wagner 

Top team — Longwood, South Region: The Lancers are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years following a roller coaster season that saw a hot 12-1 start, a midseason skid (10 losses in 12 games) and then a strong finish to win the Big South Tournament after taking down 1-seed High Point and 2-seed UNC Asheville. Longwood is a strong rebounding team that tested itself in nonconference play against Dayton and St. Bonaventure, losing both and hanging within single digits on the final margin.

No. 15 seeds 

South Dakota State | Western Kentucky | Saint Peter's | Long Beach State  

Top team — Western Kentucky, South Region: I hope Marquette's collective shooting hands are warm because Western Kentucky is showing up looking to get buckets. The Hilltoppers averaged 80.6 points per game in the first year under coach Steve Lutz, who is making his third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after leading Texas A&M Corpus Christi to back-to-back Southland titles in 2022 and 2023. WKU plays at a blistering pace, utilizes a deep rotation of contributors and flipped its season around in the Conference USA Tournament after closing the regular season on a four-game losing streak.

No. 14 seeds 

Morehead State | Oakland | Akron | Colgate  

Top team — Morehead State, East Region: From one of the top scoring offenses in the field on the 15-line to one of the top scoring defenses in the country, Morehead State allowed just 62.8 points per game this season (8th nationally) and ranks fifth in the country in opponent field goal percentage (.389). But what makes the Eagles dangerous is being able to pair that top-notch defensive execution with individual offensive excellence from Riley Minix. The former NAIA All-American was named the OVC Player of the Year after a campaign that saw him average 24.0 points per game since Feb. 1 and finish with the third-most points in a single season in program history (706). Minix is a double-double machine, and Morehead State is a dangerous foe for Illinois in the first round.

No. 13 seeds 

Yale | Vermont | Samford | Charleston  

Top team — Samford, Midwest Region: The Bulldogs' brand of basketball, dubbed "BuckyBall" in honor of three-time SoCon Coach of the Year Bucky McMillan, is an exhilarating watch as a fan and terrifying to play against as an opponent. Samford has one of the highest bench scoring averages in the country (33.4 points per game) as a result of its high-octane, up-tempo attack that regularly results in eight or nine players all finishing with double-digit minutes. Its defense attacks the ball relentlessly to force steals and turnovers, and they're a good three-point shooting team, checking in at 39.3% from behind the arc (8th nationally). There are a couple of great options for teams with Cinderella possibility on this 13-line, but BuckyBall stands out as the best.

No. 12 seeds 

UAB | James Madison | McNeese State | Grand Canyon  

Top team — James Madison, South Region: No one in the country has more wins (31) than James Madison heading into the NCAA Tournament — UConn has an identical 31-3 record — and no one in the country has a longer active winning streak than the Dukes' current 13-game run. JMU started the year with a bang knocking off Michigan State in the season opener, but given everything we've seen from both teams, that result seems somewhat less shocking months later. The Dukes separated themselves from nearly everyone else in the Sun Belt and finished with one of the top scoring margins in the country, defeating opponents by an average of 15.2 points per game.

No. 11 seeds

Duquesne | NC State | Oregon | New Mexico 

Top team — New Mexico, West Region: Predictive metrics and power ratings love New Mexico way more than the selection committee, which said the Lobos were set to be left out of the field until they claimed the auto-bid with a thrilling Mountain West Tournament title game win against San Diego State. This is a team with more high-end backcourt talent than maybe anyone else with a double-digit seed, riding the guard trio of Jaelen House, Donovan Dent and Jamal Mashburn Jr. to an 18-3 start before things started to sputter in February. Now, the Lobos have found their rhythm again. It's a team that seems dramatically under-seeded, making Richard Pitino's group an easy pick for the 11-line.

New Mexico v San Diego State
 New Mexico was on the outside looking in before making a run to the MW Tournament title.  Getty Images

No. 10 seeds 

Drake | Boise State/Colorado | Virginia/Colorado State | Nevada  

Top team — Drake, East Region: The battle at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference was fierce all season, and while one of the big Bracketology storylines of the last week was whether Indiana State would make the field as an at-large, it seemed like the celebration of Drake's success was slightly overlooked. This is the third NCAA Tournament appearance in four seasons for the Bulldogs, and the maintained success came with plenty of roster turnover with Drake losing three starters to graduation from a team that had a six-point lead with five minutes to go against eventual Final Four team Miami in last year's first round. While there are new pieces in the lineup, Tucker DeVries remains and the two-time MVC Player of the Year is the engine for the team offensively averaging 21.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. 

No. 9 seeds 

Northwestern | Texas A&M | TCU | Michigan State  

Top team — Texas A&M, South Region: The margins here are pretty slim with the selection committee and predictive metrics leaning towards Michigan State, while TCU has the most wins and Northwestern has the fewest losses. Ultimately landing on the Aggies is giving a nod to the recent form of Buzz Williams' team, which is 5-1 since the start of march with wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State and only a five-point loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinals. Texas A&M overcomes dreadful shooting numbers by taking care of the ball and being one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the entire country. While the shooting numbers as a whole aren't strong, they do have an option for crucial possessions with All-SEC guard Wade Taylor, a player with 600-plus points and 100-plus assists this season. 

No. 8 seeds 

FAU | Nebraska | Utah State | Mississippi State  

Top team — Nebraska, South Region: Nebraska was picked to finish 12th in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll but finished third in the standings after a breakthrough Year 5 with Fred Hoiberg in charge. Now, the program is looking for its first-ever NCAA Tournament win with its strongest team in years led by the electric playmaker Keisei Tominaga (14.9 points per game, shooting 37.2% from three). The Cornhuskers went 18-1 at home this season, including wins over Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, but now they have to replicate that success away from Pinnacle Bank Arena in the tournament. 

No. 7 seeds 

Washington State | Florida | Texas | Dayton  

Top team — Florida, South Region: We're in lock step with the selection committee on this one, tapping the Gators as the top 7-seed in the field. While the committee might have its own quadrant-based analysis, our tiebreaker is riding with a team that's dropped more than 100 points on Alabama twice in the last two weeks. When the Gators are playing fast, crashing the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line with regularity, they can hang with anyone in the country. The profile does have some hiccups to suggest a letdown is possible, but there is not another team on this seed line that is without flaws.

No. 6 seeds 

BYU | Texas Tech | South Carolina | Clemson  

Top team — BYU, East Region: The expectation for Year 1 of Big 12 play for BYU was that it would get buried with a step up in competition. Instead, Mark Pope and the Cougars rolled off one of their higher win totals of the last five years (23) and spent 15 weeks ranked in the AP Top 25, the most in a single season in more than a decade. This is a team that can absolutely torch you from deep, ranking second in Division I men's basketball with 11.2 made 3-pointers per game. They share the ball well and have numerous contributors capable of filling it up, as evidenced by seven different BYU players scoring at least 20 points in a game this season.

No. 5 seeds 

San Diego State | Wisconsin | Gonzaga | Saint Mary's  

Top team — Wisconsin, South Region: The Badgers were sliding in the wrong direction after a 16-4 start, dropping eight of the final 11 games in the regular season before righting the ship in the Big Ten Tournament. Impressive wins against Maryland and Northwestern preceded an epic overtime victory against Purdue in the semifinals, only to fall just short in a back-and-forth title tilt against Illinois. If Wisconsin can bottle up that form from Minneapolis and bring it to the Big Dance, it's definitely the top seed. If not, San Diego State or Saint Mary's would have a more-than-fair claim to this honor given Wisconsin's struggles in February.

No. 4 seeds 

Auburn | Duke | Kansas | Alabama  

Top team — Auburn, East Region: The selection committee has Duke and Kansas ahead of Auburn in their seed ranking, but there's no way I would take either team over the Tigers in this moment. Bruce Pearl has -- in his 10th season on the Plains -- a team capable of making another Final Four run like the one in 2019. The SEC Tournament champs can overwhelm opponents with their depth and size, allowing big man Johni Broome to be the star down low on offense and rim enforcer on defense. Predictive metrics and power ratings have Auburn closer to 4th overall than the rankings associated with being a No. 4 seed (Nos. 13-16), and given what we just saw in the conference tournament, it's hard to disagree with the computers on this one. 

No. 3 seeds 

Illinois | Kentucky | Creighton | Baylor  

Top team — Illinois, East Region: This entire group is loaded with high-end offensive talent and big defensive question marks, where each team's ceiling is the Final Four and the floor is not making it out of the first weekend. Our pick is Illinois, the team the committee has last in their rankings, because of the resiliency the Illini showed during their Big Ten Tournament title run. Terrence Shannon Jr. averaged 34.0 points per game and Illinois overcame double-digit deficits in all three of its victories en route to cutting down the nets in Minneapolis. Again, this is an excellent group with strong arguments to be made for each team, but the Fighting Illini are rolling right now, boasting seven wins in their last eight games with the only defeat coming to Purdue by six points. 

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 17 Big Ten Tournament -Illinois vs Wisconsin
 Terrence Shannon Jr. averaged 34 points per game in leading the Illini to the Big Ten Tournament title.  Getty Images

No. 2 seeds 

Iowa State | Marquette | Tennessee | Arizona  

Top team — Iowa State, East Region: If the CBS Sports college basketball braintrust was divided on whether it would be North Carolina or Iowa State as the fourth 1-seed heading into Selection Sunday, you can bet we have a position that the Cyclones are not the lowest 2-seed (as the committee said) but the next-best team after the 1-line. Iowa State apparently got knocked for a nonconference strength of schedule rating, but our analysis focuses far more on accomplishments. In a tough year across the strongest conference, Iowa State routinely won games that other Big 12 teams were losing. The Cyclones went 3-1 against AP Top 10 opponents this year and 10-4 against NCAA Tournament teams, capping their impressive campaign by hammering Houston in the Big 12 Tournament title game by 28 points. 

No. 1 seeds 

UConn | Houston | Purdue | North Carolina 

Top team — UConn, East Region: Debates over the best team in college basketball have been divisive over the last two-to-three months with very little consensus while much of the sport has been acknowledging that UConn, Houston and Purdue occupy space in the top tier. My argument for UConn has been and remains very much in line with a college football-style of analysis: The Huskies pass the eye test. Houston's numbers are great and Purdue's resume is excellent, but when I watch 40 minutes from the best teams in the sport, no one in the country plays more connected and at a higher level than the Huskies. They have multiple scoring options, good size and elite coaching which makes them capable of winning high-scoring track meets and low-scoring grinders. Their odds to emerge were lessened by the teams put in their bracket by the committee, but I think UConn is up for the challenge.