NCAA Tournament power rankings: Top contenders stay safe in Round 1


The full NCAA Tournament bracket has been released with UConn leading the way as No. 1 overall.

(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

Given how much parity there was in college basketball this season, the first round of the NCAA Tournament figured to provide its share of close games and upsets. And while there were some notable upsets for the little guys (hello Oakland, Yale, James Madison, Grand Canyon and Duquesne), all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds made it through unscathed, as did 14 of the overall top 16 teams.

As the second round commences, here are the top 16 national title contenders in our latest NCAA Tournament Power Rankings. We will update this ranking after every round and until the Final Four begins. Already, there has been movement with a couple of new teams breaking into the mix. And with the potential for more upsets, this list will continue to change.

The No. 1 seeds of UConn, Houston, Purdue and North Carolina all played like it in dominant wins to show why they’re among the favorites. Those four teams beat their opponents by a combined 135 points, and none  won by fewer than 28 points. Will there be more chalk? Here’s a look at where things stand entering the second round on Saturday:

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The No. 1 overall seed played like it in a 91-52 annihilation of No. 16 seed Stetson. The game was over midway through the first half when the Huskies led by 20 on the way to a 52-19 halftime advantage. All five starters scored in double figures, with Donovan Clingan dropping 19 points and eight rebounds. UConn’s path to a repeat national championship runs up against No. 9 seed Northwestern in the second round.

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Houston put a hurting on No. 16 seed Longwood, leading by 27 points at halftime and cruising to an 86-46 victory. If the Cougars were smarting from scoring just 41 points in a Big 12 Tournament title game blowout loss to Iowa State, they took it out on their first-round opponent. Four players scored in double figures, led by 17 points apiece from L.J. Cryer and Damian Dunn. Houston leads the nation in scoring defense, which means the Cougars frustrate opponents and can grind out wins against any team in the country.

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Given the fact that Purdue lost its opening-round game as a No. 1 seed last year in the NCAA Tournament, the Boilermakers had plenty of eyes on them to see how they’d respond in the same position this time around. They more than passed the test. Purdue dominated Grambling State 78-50 to set up a second-round matchup against No. 8 seed Utah State. Zach Edey, the 7-foot-4 two-time national player of the year, had his way with 30 points and 21 rebounds. Purdue also got a double-double from point guard Braden Smith (11 points, 10 assists). He has at least 10 assists in eight games this season. This team has national championship aspirations, and handily winning a first-round game — as simple as it sounds — was a step in the right direction.

No. 16 Grambling State

78-50

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North Carolina dominated No. 16 seed Wagner 90-62. RJ Davis, the team’s top scorer, once again paced UNC with 22 points, while two players — Armando Bacot (20 points, 15 rebounds) and Jae’Lyn Withers (16 points, 10 rebounds) — recorded double-doubles as the Tar Heels hammered the glass. Now comes a second-round showdown against No. 9 seed Michigan State and Tom Izzo.

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Tennessee pulverized No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s 83-49 to set up a second-round showdown against No. 7 seed Texas — where Vols coach Rick Barnes won 402 games as coach from 1998-2015. Dalton Knecht tallied 23 points and eight rebounds, while Zakai Zeigler notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Only one starter played 30 minutes, so Tennessee should be as well-rested as possible for its second-round game.

No. 15 Saint Peter’s

83-49

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Arizona actually trailed by one point late in the first half of its opening-round game against No. 15 seed Long Beach State. Then came 16 consecutive points over the end of the first and beginning of the second half to put the game away during an 85-65 victory. Kylan Boswell scored a career-high 20 points, while Caleb Love (18 points, 11 rebounds) and big man Oumar Ballo (11 points, 13 rebounds) both went for double-doubles. Arizona faces No. 7 seed Dayton in the second round.

No. 15 Long Beach State

85-65

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Marquette trailed by seven points at halftime against No. 15 seed Western Kentucky before blowing the doors off the Hilltoppers in an 87-69 victory. Kam Jones did his usual thing by leading the team in scoring with 28 points. But the best news for the Golden Eagles was the return of Tyler Kolek, who missed the previous six games with an oblique injury. Not only did he start, but he finished with a double-double: 18 points and 11 assists, 10 of which came after halftime. This could be the Marquette team to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

No. 15 Western Kentucky

87-69

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Illinois beat No. 14 seed Morehead State 85-69, and there were several notable performances that show why the Illini have a chance to go deep in this tournament. Terrence Shannon Jr. continued his torrid scoring pace with 26 points. Marcus Domask became just the ninth player in history to record a triple-double in the NCAA Tournament, joining players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Draymond Green and Ja Morant. Domask finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Throw in a solid all-around showing from 6-10 forward Coleman Hawkins and Dain Dainja coming off the bench to score 21 points on 9-of-9 field goal shooting, and it’s easy to see why Illinois has won eight of its last nine games.

No. 14 Morehead State

85-69

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The Cyclones rank fourth in the country in scoring defense (61.4 points per game), which is a big reason they’re capable of frustrating so many opponents. But they can also play some pretty good offense, which they did in shooting 57.9 percent from the field during an 82-65 victory against South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State established a double-digit lead early and led wire to wire, with Milan Momcilovic (19 points) and Tamin Lipsey (17 points) pacing the team. Up next: A second-round game against No. 7 seed Washington State.

No. 15 South Dakota State

82-65

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Baylor easily handled Colgate 92-67, but a big story was that star center Yves Missi played just 16 minutes because he has been dealing with what Scott Drew said is a back injury. Still, Baylor has six players averaging double figures in scoring, including Missi, so there is good offensive balance. Four players scored at least 10 points against Colgate, led by Jalen Bridges (23 points) and Ja’Kobe Walter (19 points). Baylor will play No. 6 seed Clemson in the second round.

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Creighton is the only team in the country with three players averaging at least 17 points per game, and that’s what helped the Blue Jays pull away for a 77-60 victory against Akron. Ryan Kalkbrenner, the three-time Big East defensive player of the year, led the way with 23 points. Trey Alexander scored 19 and Baylor Scheierman added 15 points to go with 13 rebounds. Creighton has a date in the second round with 11th-seeded Oregon, which stayed hot after winning the Pac-12 tournament by beating sixth-seeded South Carolina.

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Duke pulled away in the middle of the second half for a 64-47 victory against No. 13 seed Vermont. It’s not ideal that leading scorer Kyle Filipowski didn’t make a shot from the field (and only attempted one), but he did add 12 rebounds and the four starters around him all scored in double figures. Teams often need to overcome a shaky performance early in the NCAA Tournament, and the Blue Devils managed to do so. They advance to the second round to play No. 12 seed James Madison.

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We knew Alabama could score. And, boy, did the Crimson Tide score during a 109-96 victory against No. 13 seed Charleston in the first round. Mark Spears went for 30 points, Latrell Wrightsell Jr. scored 17 points and Aaron Estrada added 13 points. If you want to beat Alabama, you’re going to have to engage in a track meet because the Tide average more than 90 points per game. The road to the Sweet 16 goes through No. 12 seed Grand Canyon, which knocked off fifth-seeded St. Mary’s.

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Gonzaga beat a 30-win McNeese team and made it look easy by building a 23-point halftime lead and never looking back in an 86-65 victory. The Bulldogs have played some of the best basketball in the country of late, winning 15 of their last 17 games, which includes a February win at Kentucky. Gonzaga has amazingly made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last eight tournaments it has played in and can do so again by beating Kansas.

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The outcome of KU’s first-round game could have been different if officials hadn’t called a foul on a clean Stetson block of Nicolas Timberlake with 19.9 seconds remaining and the Jayhawks leading by a point. But in the survive-and-advance world of the NCAA Tournament, Kansas managed to hang for a 93-89 victory. With leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr. missing the tournament due to injury, Kansas’ rotation is even more thin. The good news is big man Hunter Dickinson returned from a shoulder injury and tallied 19 points and 20 rebounds. Timberlake, a Towson transfer, scored a season-high 19 points, with all five starters scoring in double figures.

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San Diego State reached the second round thanks to a 69-65 victory against No. 12 UAB. Jaedon LeDee had his way for the Aztecs with a game-high 32 points, while Lamont Butler added 15 points. San Diego State reached the Final Four as a No. 5 seed last year and will try to prevent another underdog — No. 13 seed Yale — from making it out of the first weekend.

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(Photo of Houston’s Ramon Walker Jr.: Petre Thomas / USA Today)





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