College Basketball: 30 Facts You Should Know Before the NCAA Tournament
The college basketball regular season has come to a close, but the excitement is just ramping up as March Madness approaches.
While many people plan on filling out a bracket next week, the vast majority will be winging it like a test based on a book they did not read. Treat this like that study guide you always wish you could get your hands on.
If you love the NCAA Tournament, but just do not have the time to commit to the college basketball regular season, this is just about everything you need to know about what happened on the court this year.
1. Gonzaga nearly made it through undefeated until they lost their final game of the regular season to BYU. With the pursuit of perfection over, the Zags are our top-ranked team in nERD and will try to reach their first Final Four in school history after claiming the WCC title.
2. According to our numbers, Gonzaga, Wichita State, and Saint Mary's (CA) are the only teams in the country to rank top 10 in both offense and defense. None are entering the tournament with more than four losses.
3. Reigning champion Villanova is back in national title contention and rank second in nERD after losing two starters from last season's team. The Wildcats look to become only the third team since 1999 to reach the Final Four the season after a national championship.
4. The rest of the Big East has had a successful campaign, with Butler, Creighton, and Xavier being ranked for most of the season. Creighton and Xavier both lost their point guards to season-ending injuries, causing their stocks to fall since being in the top 10 earlier in the season. Providence, Marquette, and Seton Hall have also put together strong performances, likely giving the conference 7 teams out of a total of 10 in the NCAA Tournament.
5. Despite a slew of off-court issues, Kansas has won their 13th straight Big 12 regular season title and have a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament all but locked up. The Jayhawks finished the regular season 28-3 despite their 97th ranked defense, according to our metrics.
6. Baylor started the season 15-0 and was ranked number one in the country for the first time in program history. Since then, the Bears are 10-6, including two losses to Kansas, which ended their shot at taking down the Jayhawks for the Big 12 crown.
7. West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State join Kansas and Baylor as Big 12 teams that rank in the top 25 in nERD, with West Virginia having hovered around the AP top 10 all season. The Big 12 as a whole ranked second in conference RPI, one year removed from being the top-ranked conference.
8. Last season's runner up, North Carolina has bounced back nicely this season, claiming their eighth ACC regular season title in the past 13 years. A strong showing in the conference tournament will likely land the Tar Heels their seventh 1 seed during that same stretch.
9. UNC's conference title was made more impressive by the ACC's top ranking in conference RPI. That has helped the case for as many as 11 ACC teams to be in the field or currently on the bubble.
10. That projected field includes Duke, who was the preseason number-one team, but had a tough time overcoming injuries to key players and even to Coach K. The Blue Devils did turn it around by winning 8 of their final 11 regular season games, but 23-8 and a projected 3 seed falls short of their expectations.
11. UCLA jumped onto the national scene rather unexpectedly behind senior leaders and a talented freshman class. While the Bruins lead the country in scoring (91.3 points per game) and rank first in offense, their 130th ranked defense can lead to their demise in the tournament.
12. Joining UCLA at the peak of the top-heavy Pac-12 are Oregon and Arizona. With each of these three teams having only lost three times or less in league play, the Pac-12 tournament should be entertaining and hard to project. The winner is likely to grab the 2 seed in the West region, which will help them stay close to home.
13. Kentucky has once again loaded up on star freshmen and are in the hunt for their second national title under John Calipari. The Wildcats rank 11th in the country in pace, the highest of any team we project to make the tournament.
14. Florida gave Kentucky a run for their money in the SEC and split the season series with the Wildcats. The Gators will be without their starting big man for the postseason run, but will be back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2014. It's also the first time since Billy Donovan's departure to the NBA.
16. As for the rest of the Big Ten, it was a down year for the typical upper crust of the conference. Indiana started out 10-2, including wins over Kansas and North Carolina, before being hit with the injury bug and losing 12 of their last 19. Michigan State scheduled a little too tough for their young squad, needing a 10-8 conference record to scrape their way onto, what appears to be, the right side of the tournament bubble.
17. On the bright side, Northwestern looks to be headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, breaking an 82-year drought. They were the only power conference team to never qualify for the Tourney.
18. To keep the American Conference out of the following conversation, it appears the league will only get two teams into the NCAA Tournament. SMU and Cincinnati have completely separated themselves from the pack and will have a shot at the second weekend of the tournament. However, the only other American team with an outside chance of qualifying is Houston, and that will probably take a lot of work.
19. It once again looks like it will be tough for mid-majors to earn at-large bids into the field.
20. The Atlantic 10 as a whole has given the top of their league the best chance of getting at-large bids. They rank eighth in conference RPI, which is best for any conference outside of the power six basketball conferences and the American.
21. From the A-10, perennial conference leaders Dayton and VCU look to safely be in the field, regardless of what happens this week. Despite their preseason top-25 ranking and solid metrics, Rhode Island finds itself squarely on the bubble, and currently the first team out, according to Bracket Matrix.
22. In a similar position, because of their loss to Wichita State on Sunday, is Illinois State. Our bracketology currently has the Redbirds dancing next week, but not everyone feels the same way. Of the 57 brackets updated by Bracket Matrix on Tuesday, only 22 had them in the field.
23. It has been a bit of a struggle to get the best mid-majors in the tournament via automatic bid. Successful teams like Monmouth, Belmont, Oakland, and Valparaiso all got clipped in their conference tournaments while having the best record during the regular season. Princeton went undefeated in league play and hope they don't have the same fate in the inaugural Ivy League tournament.
24. The nation's leading scorer was Marcus Keene of Central Michigan, averaging 30 points per game -- 5 more than anyone else. The Chippewas' guard had seven games of 40 points or more and a season-high 50 against Miami (OH). We should expect to see him back in action next year, as he is only a junior.
25. For the second consecutive year, the projected top pick in the draft will not be in the NCAA Tournament. Despite leading the team in points (23.2) and assists (5.9) in his 25 games, Washington's Markelle Fultz was not able to help the Huskies finish any better than 9-21.
26. Other prospective lottery picks to keep an eye on this March include UCLA's Lonzo Ball and Kentucky's Malik Monk. Monk has posted several impressive games, including a 47-point effort against UNC in December. Ball has been the main cog in the nation's best offense, averaging 14.9 points, 7.8 assists, and 6.2 rebounds, all while shooting 42 percent from three. His 7.8 assists is tops in the country.
27. Ball is also one of the finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year Award. He is one of two freshman on the list, with the other being Josh Jackson of Kansas.
28. Kansas is the only team with two representatives on this list with senior guard Frank Mason III joining Jackson. Mason is also one of two seniors on the list with Villanova's Josh Hart being the other. The two have been considered favorites throughout the season.
29. Three sophomores are on the list; Wisconsin's Ethan Happ, Duke's Luke Kennard and Purdue's Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan recorded four games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds this season.
30. The juniors that round out the list are North Carolina's Justin Jackson, Baylor's Johnathan Motley, and Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss. All 10 of the Naismith finalists will be playing in the NCAA Tournament, giving you that much more reason to watch.