Now that the NCAA field is set, you’ll need the right information to make the right picks in your bracket. We’re here to help with our annual 68-team preview. Here’s your first look at the 2019 NCAA tournament.
Zion Williamson is the most dominant player in college basketball since Anthony Davis led Kentucky to the national title in 2012. In the 17 games in which he has played at least 30 minutes, the Blue Devils have lost just twice (against Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational in November and versus Syracuse in January, when Cam Reddish didn’t play because of illness and Tre Jones played just six minutes after suffering a shoulder injury early in the first half). This Duke squad has three potential top-five picks (Williamson, Reddish, RJ Barrett) and a talented nucleus that has led the team to wins over Auburn, Texas Tech, Florida State (twice), Louisville, Virginia (twice) and North Carolina. The Blue Devils should be favored to be the last team standing in Minneapolis next month.
Many have pointed to the loss against rival Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament title game as proof that the Bulldogs did not deserve a top seed. But that’s a shortsighted take on a Gonzaga squad that has boasted the nation’s most efficient offense for the bulk of the season. Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan State? All below Gonzaga, a squad that’s led by a pair of potential All-Americans in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. The Bulldogs are a scary, elite squad that could leave this tournament with their school’s first NCAA championship.
Two years ago, North Carolina won a national title with big bodies and paint production. This year’s team still does its best stuff in the post, but Roy Williams has a collection of fascinating athletes who can play inside and outside. Cameron Johnson stretches the floor with a 47 percent success rate from the 3-point line. Luke Maye is an effective free throw shooter who uses his big frame to get to the rim. Nassir Little and Coby White are both legit NBA prospects. The Tar Heels, who own a win over Gonzaga, battled Duke to the final seconds in the ACC tournament semifinals on Friday. They fly around the court, but they’ve still managed to rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency this season.
It’s really up to you. You can assume Virginia will follow the same underwhelming path it has traveled in past NCAA tournaments under Tony Bennett when the team has had a top seed, including last season’s first-ever loss to a 16-seed (UMBC). Or you can take a hard look at this year’s squad, a group that features a pair of NBA prospects in Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter. Kyle Guy is one of the best guards in the country. The Cavaliers have one of the five most efficient offenses and defenses in America. They’ve made nearly 41 percent of their 3-pointers. Virginia has everything you’d want in a champion this season. But Friday’s loss to Florida State in the semifinals of the ACC tournament conjured up memories of last year’s (and previous years’) early exit. Hard to blame anyone who doubts this team.
John Calipari doesn’t get enough credit for molding his young teams over the course of a season. But the Wildcats, who lost to Duke by 34 points in the Champions Classic in November, have matured as a team and reached this point as the best version of themselves. They defeated Louisville, North Carolina, Kansas and Tennessee. PJ Washington (14.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG) has made 42 percent of his 3-pointers. Tyler Herro has evolved into a reliable contributor. Keldon Johnson has averaged 13.4 PPG. And a post presence that features Washington, Reid Travis, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery has more depth than any frontcourt in America.
John Beilein’s squad possesses a collection of big wings who can spread the floor with their shooting ability, while suppressing opposing offenses with top-five defense. Heard this before? It’s the same formula (and largely the same personnel, with the swap of Mo Wagner for Ignas Brazdeikis) the Wolverines used to reach the national title game last season. Charles Matthews (12.5 PPG, 1.1 SPG) recently missed three games with an ankle injury, but he’s back and ready to join Brazdeikis (15.0 PPG, 42 percent from the 3-point line) and Jordan Poole (12.9 PPG) for another shot at the title.
Tom Izzo is a national coach of the year candidate after a difficult season that still featured a Big Ten championship. Joshua Langford suffered a season-ending foot injury weeks into the regular season. Then, Nick Ward missed five games in late February and early March with a fractured hand. The Spartans showcased their depth, however, as Cassius Winston (18.9 PPG, 41 percent from beyond the arc) became one of the nation’s top five players. The resiliency of this Spartans squad is unrivaled. Izzo has a team that’s stacked with capable role players who’ve helped the squad navigate its challenges.
Rick Barnes has one of the most complete teams in the country and an impressive slate of victories: Louisville, Gonzaga and Kentucky (twice). Grant Williams (19.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.2 SPG), the back-to-back SEC Player of the Year, might finish second behind Zion Williamson in the Wooden Award race. Admiral Schofield (16.4 PPG, 41 percent from beyond the arc) might play for an NBA team next season. The Vols, anchored by an eight-man rotation, had the SEC’s best offense and its No. 2 defense during the regular season.
Kelvin Sampson’s squad was consistent throughout the season, losing just two games on its way to the American Athletic Conference tournament title game. His team swept Cincinnati in the regular season and beat LSU, Utah State and Oregon (with Bol Bol) in the nonconference season. The Cougars have held their opponents below a 43 percent clip inside the arc. Corey Davis Jr. (16.8 PPG) and Armoni Brooks (13.6 PPG) are dependable leaders for this team.
Tony Benford will lead the SEC champion, into the NCAA tournament after coach Will Wade was indefinitely suspended earlier this month for his alleged ties to a pay-for-play scheme that reportedly involved Javonte Smart. With the return of Smart (11.5 PPG), who was sidelined for a game while the school investigated him, LSU — which has wins over Kentucky and Tennessee — has one of the most talented rosters in the field. Naz Reid and Tremont Waters lead a crew that’s stacked with six former ESPN top-100 recruits.
Matt Painter emerged as a trendy national coach of the year favorite as he steered a Purdue squad that had lost a talented senior class to a slice of this season’s title in the Big Ten, the consensus top conference in the country. The Boilermakers led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting and Carsen Edwards solidified himself as a Wooden Award candidate after averaging 23.5 PPG. But Edwards’ 11-for-48 clip in a pair of losses to Minnesota in a recent 10-day stretch showcased Purdue’s limits when its best player struggles.
Texas Tech’s list of achievements is long. A year after they lost first-round pick Zhaire Smith to the NBA, the Red Raiders secured a slice of the Big 12 championship. They played America’s best defense, per ESPN Analytics. Chris Beard moved to the top of the national coach of the year lists. Jarrett Culver (18.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 SPG) turned himself into a lottery pick. Texas Tech will be tough for any opponent in the field. The Red Raiders had won nine in a row before a loss to West Virginia in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
Leonard Hamilton’s squad is blessed with a collection of long athletes who anchored the ACC’s best defense inside the arc (41.9 percent mark allowed) and helped the team reach the ACC tournament title game after a win over Virginia in the semifinals. Their résumé is boosted by wins over a fleet of NCAA tournament teams: Florida, LSU, Purdue, Louisville and Virginia Tech (twice). But FSU’s dominant victory over Virginia (1.17 points per possession against a top-five defense) on Friday demonstrated Florida State’s postseason promise.
Bill Self had one of his most turbulent seasons, only the second of his tenure that ended without a Big 12 championship. The Streak ended after Kansas lost Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending injury as well as Lagerald Vick, the team’s best shooter (45.5 percent from the 3-point line), to a leave of absence that ultimately extended through the rest of the season. But Dedric Lawson (19.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG) is an All-American who is doing everything he can to carry a Kansas squad that finished sixth in the Big 12 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom for the first time in 15 years.
This is not the déjà vu Bruce Weber anticipated. A year after reaching the Elite Eight without star Dean Wade, another Wildcats team will enter the NCAA tournament with its veteran leader nursing a foot injury that could impact his playing time. He missed the bulk of last year’s postseason with a foot injury, too. But the Big 12’s co-champions, who’ve played top-five defense this season, succeeded without him a year ago. Still, Wildcats have averaged 106 points per 100 possessions and held opponents to just 86 points per 100 possessions in the regular season with Wade on the floor, numbers that dramatically changed for the worse when he was on the bench.
Buzz Williams’ squad will enter the NCAA tournament ranked within the top 10 in 3-point shooting. Justin Robinson‘s presence has helped boost that ranking, and his expected return after missing 12 games to a foot injury could be big. Per hooplens.com, the Hokies have made 42.2 percent of their 3 attempts with Robinson available and 36.4 percent when he’s on the bench. It’s unclear how much he’ll contribute, but Kerry Blackshear (14.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG) is one of the nation’s most underrated talents, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a serious NBA prospect.
Jared Harper might be the fastest guard in America. He’s the maestro for an Auburn team that has made 38 percent of its 3-pointers. After a 3-5 stretch that extended into February, Auburn lost just one game (against Kentucky, 80-53 on Feb. 23) prior to its SEC tournament title game matchup against Tennessee on Sunday. It has forced more turnovers than any team in the country and has the offensive firepower (Bryce Brown is a 40.1 percent shooter from the 3-point line) to turn that skill into buckets in transition. But it will be in trouble against any opponent if Chuma Okeke gets into early foul trouble.
Markus Howard (25.1 PPG) is a prolific scorer who might put together a Kemba Walker-like stretch in the NCAA tournament and lead Marquette on a run. But Sam Hauser (39.5 percent), Joey Hauser (44.4 percent) and Sacar Anim (39.1 percent) are all dangerous 3-point shooters who find space in part because opponents adjust to corral Howard. The team finished second in defensive efficiency in league play, but they’re not always careful with the ball, proved by the 63 turnovers the team committed in their last four regular-season games.
The Bulldogs made 37 percent of their 3-pointers in SEC play (third) and secured wins over Saint Mary’s, Clemson, Cincinnati and Wofford before finishing 10-8 in the SEC. However, Auburn is the best team they defeated in league play. Quinndary Weatherspoon (18.2 PPG) and his teammates have the talent to advance beyond the first round, but this is also one of America’s most turnover-prone (46 in their past three losses) teams.
After withdrawing from the NBA draft last season, Ethan Happ put together a rare stat line for a big man: 17.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.1 SPG. The Badgers, not the Wolverines, played the best defense in Big Ten play this season. With limited offensive options on offense beyond Happ, however, Wisconsin finished 2-7 against the best teams on its schedule: Virginia, Marquette, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue.
How many teams will be waiting to steal Nate Oats from Buffalo whenever his team exits the NCAA tournament? He’s entering his second consecutive NCAA tournament as one of the most coveted young coaches in the country. The Bulls have carried the momentum from last season’s upset of Arizona in the NCAA tournament into this season, which started with CJ Massinburg‘s 43-point effort in a win over West Virginia. Buffalo also beat Syracuse. The Bulls will be a trendy upset pick once again.
This is one of the nation’s most perplexing groups, talented and deep but not consistently effective or efficient. But the Cyclones, a middle-of-the-pack defensive team in Big 12 play, impressed with their run to the conference tournament title after a dominant win over Kansas. Marial Shayok (18.7 PPG) leads a team with four scorers who averaged double figures and employs key reserves Tyrese Haliburton and Nick Weiler-Babb in a strong rotation that fueled wins over Kansas (twice), Texas Tech and Kansas State (twice).
There is a lot to like about Mark Turgeon’s team. Maryland point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. is averaging 16.0 PPG and 4.3 APG. Bruno Fernando is an all-Big Ten first team selection who is averaging a double-double (13.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG). And the Terps finished in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency in the Big Ten. But they also committed turnovers on one-fifth of their possessions in league play. This is a 22-10 team that beat Wisconsin and Purdue but also lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament to Nebraska. Good luck figuring them out.
A year after securing his team’s second national title in three years, Jay Wright’s squad still managed to win the Big East regular-season and tournament titles after losing three first-round picks and Wooden Award winner Jalen Brunson. This team lacks last season’s talent pool, although Phil Booth (18.7 PPG) and Eric Paschall (16.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG), an NBA prospect, both cracked the all-Big East first team. This is the time of year when the Wildcats do their best work. Bet against Wright at your own peril.
Mick Cronin has quietly molded the Bearcats into an imposing team in a Purdue-like rapid rebuild. For the ninth consecutive season, the Bearcats finished within the top 30 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. Wins over Ole Miss and UCF anchored their résumé prior to Sunday’s American Athletic Conference title matchup against Houston. It’s clear that Jarron Cumberland is an underrated guard who has averaged 18.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.7 APG and 1.2 SPG.
The Cardinals are one 10-minute stretch (Duke overcame a 23-point deficit in a February loss) from being on a different seed line. That matchup for Louisville was one of six games that it lost by five points or fewer (three overtime games). The Duke loss highlighted the highs and lows of Louisville. The Cardinals have an inconsistent offense and top-20 defense. Jordan Nwora (17.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG) has to be great to give Louisville a chance to make a run after the Cardinals finished 4-7 in their last 11 games entering the NCAA tournament.
Eric Musselman’s squad had a shot at the Elite Eight after amassing a significant lead over Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 last season before its then-porous defense betrayed the program. But this year’s Wolf Pack boosted its defense — they’re ranked in the 30s in efficiency — and added impactful players like Portland transfer Jazz Johnson (45.2 percent). But Jordan Caroline (17.3 PPG) missed Nevada’s Mountain West tournament loss to San Diego State with an Achilles injury. He’d gone 6-for-29 from the 3-point line in seven games prior to that, a stretch that made both he and Nevada look vulnerable.
Mike Young’s squad played its way into the at-large conversation with a 20-game winning streak that continued with a double-digit win over UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference tournament title game. Wofford doesn’t have the athletes some of the Power 5 schools possess. But the Terriers have made 41.6 percent of their 3-pointers, ranking No. 2 in the country. Four players on the roster have made more than 41 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc this season, too.
Kermit Davis made immediate changes in his first season with Ole Miss, a squad that beat Baylor in the nonconference season and swept Auburn in SEC play. But the Rebels are 2-5 in their past seven games. They’ll need Breein Tyree (18.2 PPG, 39 percent from the 3-point line) to be Shabazz Napier to advance.
Syracuse’s opponents in ACC play made just 33.4 percent of their 3-point attempts against its zone. In last season’s NCAA tournament, TCU, Michigan State and Duke all shot under 22 percent from beyond the arc against the Orange, which reached the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed. The formula remains for Boeheim’s team, which finished 4-7 in its past 11 games and will need another breakout effort by Tyus Battle (17.2 PPG) — who missed the ACC tournament with a back injury — to launch another shocking run.
Craig Smith’s team was projected to finish ninth in his first season at the school after making the move from South Dakota. Instead, Utah State shared the Mountain West title with Nevada before defeating San Diego State in the conference title game. Sam Merrill (21.2 PPG) is a star, and Utah State is a sleeper team you should know.
A first-round loss to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 tournament didn’t ruin VCU’s NCAA tournament dreams. Wins over Temple, Hofstra, Texas and Wichita State (all top-100 teams in the NET rankings) and a 16-2 record in league play was enough to uphold its résumé.
Scott Drew’s team endured a multitude of injuries throughout the season. Tristan Clark, the top scorer on the team at 14.6 PPG, suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. King McClure missed five games with a knee injury, and Makai Mason, tied with Clark at 14.6 PPG, has been hindered by a right toe injury. That all contributed to the team’s four-game losing streak prior to the NCAA tournament. At their best, however, the Bears swept Iowa State during the regular season and beat Texas Tech by double digits.
Life without Trae Young has been different for Lon Kruger’s team this season. Only Oklahoma State was a worse offensive team in Big 12 play, but solid defense led to résumé-altering wins over Kansas, Wofford and Florida. Christian James led the team with 14.4 PPG.
Tacko Fall is averaging 10.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 2.5 BPG for Central Florida’s squad, a team that has defeated Cincinnati and Houston but has also lost to Florida Atlantic. The Knights put up just 55 points in Friday’s 24-point loss to Memphis in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament. The Knights have played top-40 defense but they’ve scored more than 70 points only twice in the past seven games.
The Pac-12 has been a mess all season. But Washington surged to the top of the subpar conference. The Huskies will go as far as Matisse Thybulle, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, takes them. During the regular season, UW forced turnovers on 25 percent of its opponents’ possessions when he was on the floor.
Mike White has found a future star in Andrew Nembhard, who scored 20 points in a win over LSU in the SEC tournament, a victory that sealed Florida’s at-large status. KeVaughn Allen & Co. endured two three-game losing streaks in SEC play alone. But they also excelled late by limiting their own turnovers and forcing an abundance of them in league play.
The Hawkeyes were the kings of clutch wins in the closing seconds (three wins by two points or less). But Fran McCaffery’s squad has been in a free fall since mid-February, going 2-6 in its last eight games — a byproduct of a defense ranked 13th out of 14 Big Ten teams. Can Tyler Cook and Luka Garza restore a squad with wins over Oregon, Iowa State and Michigan?
No bubble team did more to eliminate its Selection Sunday suspense than Minnesota, which defeated Purdue, the Big Ten co-champion with Michigan State, twice in a 10-day stretch, including once in the conference tournament on Friday. The Gophers have been up and down throughout the season, which is why they were on the bubble late. But they’re 12-3 when Amir Coffey scores 18 or more points.
It has been an interesting ride for Kevin Willard’s team. The Pirates beat Kentucky, but then they started 3-5 in the Big East. They possessed one of the worst defenses in the league, but they also finished the year with a 3-1 record against Marquette and Villanova in the weeks prior to the NCAA tournament. Myles Powell (22.9 PPG) leads a fascinating squad.
The pros for Bobby Hurley’s crew? Arizona State has Luguentz Dort, the Pac-12’s freshman of the year who averaged 16.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.3 APG and 1.6 SPG. The cons? The Wildcats surrendered a 48 percent clip to their opponents in the lukewarm (see: terrible) Pac-12, which is why the same squad that beat Kansas and Utah State also has a 21-point loss to Washington State on its résumé.
Rick Byrd doesn’t get a lot of calls from Power 5 schools seeking nonconference matchups against his team. But the Bruins secured an at-large berth with an outstanding run in the Ohio Valley Conference that included a win over Murray State on Jan. 24, when Ja Morant went 5-for-19.
The Buckeyes soared in a surprising run in Chris Holtmann’s first season a year ago, but the follow-up did not feature that level of success. The same squad that beat Cincinnati in the season opener lost six of seven in January and never really found itself again. Kaleb Wesson, the team’s top scorer at 14.4 PPG, returned from a three-game suspension in time to drop 17 points in a must-win game over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament. His presence matters.
Chris Mullin is still trying to find the answers for his alma mater, a team with a 3-2 record combined against Marquette and Villanova but a 9-12 finish after it won its first 12 games of the year. Shamorie Ponds (19.5 PPG, 84 percent from the free throw line) is one of the nation’s most explosive scorers, but the Red Storm (sub-100 defense) stumbled into the field of 68.
Some used Saint Mary’s as Exhibit A for their argument against Gonzaga capturing a top seed. But the Gaels have had one of America’s most explosive offenses (top 20, per ESPN Sports Analytics) this season. With 22 seconds to play, Saint Mary’s was down by two against SEC champ LSU in December after Jordan Ford (21.3 PPG) hit a clutch 3-pointer.
Fran Dunphy’s team squeezed into the field with an 8-4 finish in its final 12 conference games. Average in most areas, the Owls split their two games with Houston but also lost to Penn and Tulsa by 25 points combined.
Ritchie McCay’s team’s win at UCLA in December pre-empted the termination of Steve Alford. Today, Scottie James (13.1 PPG) leads a balanced group that knocked out Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament title game.
Ja Morant, a projected top-three pick in this summer’s NBA draft, exploded onto the national scene with one of the most impressive stat lines in NCAA history: 24.6 PPG, 10.0 APG and 1.8 SPG, while making 81 percent of his free throws. He’s the reason Murray State has made more than 57 percent of its shots inside the arc and hasn’t lost since Jan. 31.
Chris Jans’ squad has made 56.5 percent of its shots inside the arc this (top-10 in America). But nearly half of their shot attempts come from beyond the arc, where they’ve made about 34 percent of them. Overall, however, this is one of the most efficient mid-major offenses in the country. This is a balanced team, with no player averaging more than 11.3 PPG.
Of course Oregon is here, since the Pac-12 hasn’t really made any sense this year, so why not? Dana Altman lost Bol Bol, a projected first-round pick, to a foot injury in January. But the Ducks shed their bubble status with a win over Washington in the Pac-12 tournament title game on Saturday night, extending an eight-game winning streak for Altman’s squad. Louis King, the former five-star recruit, has averaged 19 points in his past three games.
The Colonial Athletic Association tournament champion is riding a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. Vasa Pusica (40.1 percent from beyond the arc) scored 20 points in his team’s 16-point win over Alabama in the nonconference season.
Despite finishing sixth in the Atlantic 10 standings, the Billikens steamrolled Davidson in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament before defeating St. Bonaventure in the title game. Javon Bess, who scored 24 points in the upset over Davidson, is the player to watch for Saint Louis.
The Anteaters produced the most dominant performance in a conference tournament this season by securing the Big West title via three wins by a combined 55 points. Elston Jones (1.6 BPG) and Jonathan Galloway (1.1 BPG) have been critical contributors for America’s top interior defense (40.6 percent clip inside the arc allowed).
The Catamounts played competitive matchups against Louisville and Kansas long before they dominated the America East and won the tournament title with a win over UMBC, the 16-seed that made history against Virginia after beating Vermont in last year’s conference tournament title game. John Becker’s squad has relied on Anthony Lamb (21.1 PPG) and his team’s defense, which has held nine opponents under 60 points in league play.
For the second season in a row, Georgia State led the Sun Belt by connecting on at least 39 percent of its 3-point attempts. But the Panthers will need D’Marcus Simonds, who is 19-for-64 in the last five games, to shake his slump to have a shot in the opening round
Jalen Tate has registered at least 14 points in seven of his team’s past nine games. Plus, John Brannen’s squad was the Horizon League’s best 3-point shooting team (37.3 percent).
The Monarchs, who defeated Western Kentucky in the Conference USA tournament title game on Saturday, hovered around the 50s in defensive efficiency this season. That’s the foundation of a program with an unreliable offense (64.7 percent from the charity stripe in league play) but victories over Syracuse and VCU.
The Bulldogs shared the Ivy League regular-season crown with Harvard before defeating the Crimson in the conference tournament title game. When Yale lost to Duke earlier this season, Mike Krzyzewski said the Bulldogs’ Miye Oni (17.6 PPG) “will be a first-round pick.” High praise for an Ivy League star.
Six years into its Division I transition, Abilene Christian, the Southland Conference’s best defensive team, will participate in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Jaren Lewis scored 20 points in his team’s win over New Orleans on Saturday and kept the season alive for a squad that has made 38.4 percent of its 3-pointers this season.
Brian Wardle has led his team to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 13 years, a significant moment for the Bradley brand. If you’re wondering why Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean aren’t coming to this year’s NCAA tournament, it’s because Bradley (wins over SMU, Penn State) made 39 percent of its 3-pointers and eliminated the Ramblers in the semifinals of the MVC tournament.
Matt Langel has led this group to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996 via its victory over Bucknell in the Patriot League title game. Like some of the other mid-majors on this list, Colgate finished in the top 20 in 3-point shooting this season (39.1 percent), a mark led by Rapolas Ivanauskas (16.4 PPG, 43 percent from the 3-point line).
Travis DeCuire has led his alma mater to its second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance after defeating Eastern Washington in Saturday’s Big Sky Conference tournament championship game. The Grizzlies have made nearly 38 percent of their 3-point attempts this season and advanced to the NCAA tournament despite missing leading scorer Jamar Akoh, who has been injured since mid-February.
If you’re looking for a team that probably can’t get stops against a high seed in the opening round but might keep its dream alive with a hot hand, then you might want to check out Fairleigh Dickinson, a team that made 41 percent of its 3-pointers, a top-10 mark nationally. Darnell Edge (16.4 PPG) is one of five players on the roster who have averaged in double figures.
Tim Craft’s team finished seventh and fifth, respectively, in offensive and defensive efficiency during league play. But Gardner-Webb, which scored nonconference wins over ACC reps Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, connected on 61 percent of its shots inside the arc on its run to its league’s tournament championship.
Nearly four of every 10 shots for Iona are 3-pointers. And that can make things tricky for a Tim Cluess-led team that shoots about 35 percent from beyond the arc. But E.J. Crawford (17.9 PPG, 39 percent from the 3-point line) and his teammates are fun to watch.
LeVelle Moton has led his alma mater, which was a Division I independent seven years ago as it transitioned from Division II, to four NCAA tournament appearances in six seasons. Raasean Davis is averaging 14.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 1.2 BPG for a team that led the MEAC in offensive rebounding percentage.
The Bison avoided rival South Dakota State in the Summit League tournament, but they also won two games by double digits on their way to the title. Vinnie Shahid (12.8 PPG) & Co. got hot at the right time.
The SWAC regular season and conference tournament champions have lost just one game in 2019 (at Texas Southern on Feb. 9). Gary Blackston dropped 18 points in a loss to Baylor in November.