Rooters' interest: Breaking down all 68 NCAA teams

Rooters' interest: Breaking down all 68 NCAA teams

Illinois isn’t in the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season. So who should you root for once March Madness tips off tonight? College basketball writer SCOTT RICHEY has the lowdown:

1. Murray State (West, No. 12)

Why root for the Racers: Murray State winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament assured all of America the opportunity to watch point guard Ja Morant play on the biggest stage of them all. #Blessed

The downside: There's no downside to Morant dunking on anyone and everyone, but if a team can slow him down, Murray State doesn't have much else in the tank.

Projection: Morant pushes Murray State through two rounds, but even he doesn't have enough firepower in a Sweet 16 matchup with Gonzaga.

2. Duke (East, No. 1)

Why root for the Blue Devils: It goes against everything you want to be about, but how can you not excited when Zion Williamson is on the court? He's a veritable human tank — with a 40-inch vertical.

The downside: Feels a little bit like selling your soul, doesn't it? What's next? Giving up your favorite teams to start following the Yankees, Patriots and Lakers?

Projection: Embrace the dark side. A healthy Williamson (plus R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones) is the next Duke team to win a national title.

3. Nevada (West, No. 7)

Why root for the Wolf Pack: How can you not with Jordan Caroline on the roster? The Champaign native, son of Illini great Simeon Rice and grandson of Illini great J.C. Caroline, has made the most of his final year at Nevada by putting up 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

The downside: As much talent as the Wolf Pack have — notably Caroline and the Martin twins — it's arguable that Eric Musselman's squad underachieved this season even with 29 wins. Two losses to San Diego State kind of bear that out.

Projection: Getting past Florida in the first round shouldn't be a problem. Doing the same against Michigan will be.

4. Buffalo (West, No. 6)

Why root for the Bulls: The prospect of C.J. Massinburg doing to some team in the tournament what he did to West Virginia in early November (43 points, including 9 of 15 three-three-point shooting) is intriguing.

The downside: You're a real Buffalo fan, and this could be it for the Nate Oats era. Sure, he just signed an extension through 2024 making him the highest paid coach in the MAC, but some power conference team will pay his buyout.

Projection: The Bulls have one win in them, but matching Texas Tech's firepower in the second round could be a tall task.

5. Tennessee (South, No. 2)

Why root for the Volunteers: Rick Barnes turning Tennessee into a legitimate national power has to be seen as promising for the Illinois faithful. He turned undervalued prospects like Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams into stars and is now landing five-star talents like 2019 guard Josiah James.

The downside: Were losses to Kentucky and LSU in February and then losses on consecutive weekends to Auburn the old Barnes coming out? His Texas teams uniformly underachieved when it mattered most, and the Volunteers lost out on both the SEC regular season and tournament titles after winning 23 of their first 24 games.

Projection: National title aspirations aren't unreasonable given Tennessee's talent. Actually winning the national title, however, means the Vols have to go through Duke, which is easier said than done.

6. Wofford (Midwest, No. 7)

Why root for the Terriers: Wins matter, and Wofford has a lot of them. After losing at Mississippi State on Dec. 19, the Terriers stayed unbeaten in Southern Conference action and enter the NCAA tournament on a 20-game winning streak.

The downside: Wofford also scheduled three non-Division I opponents this season. You're better than that Mike Young. Plus, all four of the Terriers' losses came to eventual NCAA tournament teams. That's an omen — and probably not a good one.

Projection: Yep, bad omen indeed. Wofford's winning streak comes to an end in the first round when it can't figure out how to slow down Seton Hall's Myles Powell.

7. Temple (East, No. 11)

Why root for the Owls: Fran Dunphy is the Philadelphia Big 5. He's spent the last 35 seasons of his career in the heart of that rivalry (and with three different teams). He's headed for retirement at the end of this season, and the Owls landing an at-large berth is an appropriate send-off.

The downside: The best Temple team of Dunphy's career bowed out in the first round in 2010 when Cornell pulled its first of two major upsets. This Temple team — led by senior guard Shizz Alston — isn't as good.

Projection: Dunphy's retirement starts pretty soon. Like today, with Belmont landing the First Four win in Dayton.

8. Old Dominion (South, No. 14)

Why root for the Monarchs: This one's easy. Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones announced last fall he had a recurrence of prostate cancer he was initially diagnosed and treated for in 2015. Still, Jones coached the Monarchs to their first tournament berth since 2011.

The downside: No downside for cheering on the Conference USA champions from a non-basketball standpoint. On the court, though, ODU doesn't exactly play the most exciting brand of offense.

Projection: It's going to be a quick stay for the Monarchs, given first-round opponent Purdue is just as good defensively and immeasurably better on the offensive end.

9. Texas Tech (West, No. 3)

Why root for the Red Raiders: Texas Tech is actually better offensively after losing first-round draft pick Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans, its leading scorer the past two seasons. Credit one-time Illinois recruiting target Jarrett Culver, who has turned himself into a lottery pick come June.

The downside: How many other modest programs jumping into national relevance can Illinois fans really handle? Chris Beard's success in his first three seasons, including his 71-30 record, is certainly enviable.

Projection: A backcourt with Culver, Matt Mooney and Davide Moretti plus whatever Tariq Owens provides up front is all Texas Tech needs to make a Final Four run. But not enough to beat Duke.

10. Belmont (East, No. 11)

Why root for the Bruins: There always seems to be an 11-seed that makes a run out of the First Four. Belmont can be that 11-seed behind Dylan Windler and his 21.4 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

The downside: Belmont's Rick Byrd is one of five active coaches with more than 500 wins at one school, and he just picked up his 800th career win earlier this season. Still, the knock on Byrd always comes this time in March. He's 0-7 in the NCAA tournament with the Bruins.

Projection: Could two wins actually be possible? After taking down Temple in the First Four, Belmont gets a beatable Maryland team in the first round. Shoutout to the OVC.

No. 11 Gonzaga (West, No. 1)

Why root for the Bulldogs: It's been several years since Gonzaga has been a scrappy underdog. A second No. 1 seed in three years has changed the narrative, but a national champion out of the WCC for the first time since Bill Russell led San Francisco to consecutive titles in 1955 and 1956 would be something.

The downside: Can the Bulldogs really trust Josh Perkins at the point? He's been turnover prone (see the WCC tournament title game or Gonzaga's near miss against Illinois in the Maui Invitational), and if he's off, it doesn't matter how good the Bulldogs' frontcourt is.

Projection: Perkins holds it together long enough to get Gonzaga to the Elite Eight, where Texas Tech's backcourt proves to be way too potent to handle.

No. 12 Cincinnati (South, No. 7)

Why root for the Bearcats: They're reliable. It took Mick Cronin a few years to get things going after he left Murray State for Cincinnati, but the Bearcats have reached the NCAA tournament each of his nine seasons.

The downside: Skyline chili might not be as bad as its reputation, but Google it at your own risk (i.e. a March 2017 Deadspin article). Cast your lot with better food and a better team.

Projection: A matchup with Iowa is imminently winnable in the first round. Tennessee in the second? Not so much.

No. 13 Utah State (Midwest, No. 8)

Why root for the Aggies: You're all about exceeding expectations. Utah State was picked to finish ninth in the Mountain West in coach Craig Smith's first season. Instead, the Aggies shared the Mountain West regular season title and won the conference tournament.

The downside: Hard to forget the scene after Utah State's home win against Nevada, where members of the Aggies' staff sparked it off with some less-than-sportsmanlike words in the handshake line.

Projection: The Aggies pounce all over Washington in the first round, but the talent gap gets too wide in the first weekend against North Carolina.

No. 14 Seton Hall (Midwest, No. 10)

Why root for the Pirates: Too many dynamic guards this season has deflected some rightful attention Myles Powell's way. The Seton Hall junior is scoring more, rebounding more and playing better defense this season than last as the Pirates got back to the NCAA tournament despite some heavy roster turnover.

The downside: Can't forget that Seton Hall lost to DePaul this season. Twice, in fact.

Projection: The Pirates' regular out in the NCAA tournament has been the second round. That they'll have to beat Kentucky — again — to advance further this year makes it pretty unlikely.

No. 15 New Mexico State (Midwest, No. 12)

Why root for the Aggies: New Mexico State has a Lou Henson Court, too. Fine taste for those folks in Las Cruces, N.M.

The downside: Part of you was pulling for Centennial grad and former Illini Michael Finke to make it to the NCAA tournament — something that would only have happened if New Mexico State didn't beat Grand Canyon for another WAC tournament title.

Projection: The Aggies don't exactly blow teams away offensively (even if they are efficient in their low-scoring ways), so not enough firepower means a first-round exit this year.

No. 16 Florida State (West, No. 4)

Why root for the Seminoles: No one on the Florida State roster exactly wows you, but that just makes what Leonard Hamilton continues to do in Tallahassee that much more impressive.

The downside: It's a three-way toss-up for the Seminoles' best player, but sophomore big man Mfiondu Kabengele is certainly a contender. Trying to come up with chants for him will be tough when you can't pronounce his first or last name.

Projection: Florida State reached the Elite Eight last season with an equally unassuming team. This year's run ends two rounds earlier in a serious upset against Murray State.

No. 17 Marquette (East, No. 5)

Why root for the Golden Eagles: How many three-pointers is too many? That's a question Marquette guard Markus Howard would never ask. He's attempted 284 this season and made 40.8 percent of them.

The downside: The Golden Eagles aren't exactly entering the NCAA tournament with their best foot forward. They had the Big East regular season title sewn up until they lost four straight games to end the season before bowing out after two games in the conference tournament.

Projection: Marquette has more overall talent, but in a one-on-one matchup between Howard and Murray State's Ja Morant, the electric guard that has no fear in dunking on anyone in his way has the first-round advantage.

No. 18 LSU (East, No. 3)

Why root for the Tigers: Not every player on the LSU roster was added by alleged nefarious means. Root for those guys, who put together one of the best seasons in program history and haven't — and won't — be able to fully enjoy the end.

The downside: Just how quickly can LSU get the banner raised for its SEC regular season title? The Tigers better enjoy it while they can since Will Wade's alleged "strong-ass offer" for a still unnamed recruit wasn't very Smart.

Projection: There's enough talent to win a game or two, but eventually not having the head coach in charge will become too steep a hill to climb. Like in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State.

No. 19 Mississippi State (East, No. 5)

Why root for the Bulldogs: Few teams can match Mississippi State's backcourt depth. Senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon leads the way averaging 18.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists, but he's just one of many options that also includes younger brother, Nick.

The downside: The Bulldogs beat three eventual NCAA tournament teams in nonconference play — Saint Mary's, Cincinnati and Wofford — but SEC play turned into wins against teams they were expected to beat and losses to everybody else. Doesn't bode well for an extended March run.

Projection: Mississippi State will get a glimpse at its future in a second-round loss to Virginia Tech and coach Buzz Williams, who may well rejoin the SEC next season with the Texas A&M job open.

No. 20 St. John's (West, No. 11)

Why root for the Red Storm: Every St. John's game — and every shot of Chris Mullin and his crew cut — delivers a small dose of nostalgia. The '92 Olympic team is the Dream Team and no other group compares. Also, Shamorie Ponds.

The downside: The Red Storm are one of the bubbliest bubble teams. A 12-0 start to the season came during an incredibly soft nonconference schedule, and then St. John's was swept by both Providence and DePaul in Big East play.

Projection: Does it really matter if St. John's beats Arizona State in the First Four? The Red Storm will just be Buffalo's first victim when the tournament actually starts.

No. 21 Ole Miss (South, No. 8)

Why root for the Rebels: Have to hand it to Ole Miss. Even though a portion of the fan base wants Colonel Reb back as a mascot, Ole Miss has leaned all the way in on something new — twice — Landshark Tony replacing Rebel the Black Bear in 2018. Maybe there's hope yet for Alma Otter.

The downside: Kermit Davis inherited a broken program after Andy Kenndey announced midseason last year he was done. Davis immediately got the Rebels back into the NCAA tournament, but they came in the back door after losing 10 of their last 17 games.

Projection: Davis' last two tournament teams at Middle Tennessee reached the second round. His first Ole Miss squad won't.

No. 22 UCF (East, No. 9)

Why root for the Knights: Tacko Fall is the only reason you need. The 7-foot-6 center is the biggest player in the nation, and he's put it to good use shooting 74 percent from the field for his career.

The downside: Malcolm Hill's Illinois career came to an end more than 1,000 miles from home against UCF, and the NIT quarterfinals loss was a rather ignominious way for the No. 3 scorer in program history to go out.

Projection: What's the over/under on the number of times Zion Williamson will dunk on Fall when Duke blows the Knights out of the water in the second round?

No. 23 Syracuse (West, No. 8)

Why root for the Orange: One team beat a fully healthy Duke this season, and it was Syracuse. That happened despite 58 combined points from Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, as Tyus Battle (32 points) had his best game of the season.

The downside: Battle will be back after missing Syracuse's two ACC tournament games with a back injury. Even so, the 6-foot-6 wing returned to the Orange to improve his draft stock this season and mostly hasn't throughout an inconsistent junior year. If he's not on, the Orange are in a pickle.

Projection: One win will have to be enough for the Syracuse faithful because that's all they're going to get.

No. 24 Virginia (South, No. 1)

Why root for the Cavaliers: These aren't your typical boring offense Cavaliers. The stingy defense is still the same, but this Virginia team — led by Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De'Andre Hunter — can actually score.

The downside: The possibility of a low-scoring rock fight is still out there. Virginia won three times this season without scoring 60 points.

Projection: No embarrassment in the first round this time. Virginia actually makes it to the Elite Eight before an equally physical Tennessee sends the Cavaliers back to Charlottesville.

No. 25 Virginia Tech (East, No. 4)

Why root for the Hokies: Justin Robinson is back. The senior guard missed the last 12 games (making just a token appearance on senior night) with a foot injury. His return adds a double-digit scorer back to an already potent offense.

The downside: There must be something in the water in Virginia. While their in-state rivals play at the slowest tempo in the nation, the Hokies aren't far behind, ranking among the 20 slowest teams in the country.

Projection: Two winnable games put Virginia Tech into the Sweet 16 where it will have to do something it didn't in the regular season — beat Duke. Don't count on it.

No. 26 Villanova (South, No. 6)

Why root for the Wildcats: The defending national champs lost four of their six best players from last year's team, dropped nonconference games to Furman and Penn, struggled late in Big East play and still swept the conference regular season and tournament titles.

The downside: There's no national player of the year on this Villanova team. No Donte DiVencenzo coming off the bench to light up opponents and ignite the fan base. These Wildcats are grinders.

Projection: That grind still gets Villanova to the Sweet 16 before a grind-ier Tennessee team prevails.

No. 27 Northeastern (Midwest, No. 13)

Why root for the Huskies: Vasa Pusica. Remember the name. The 6-foot-5 Serbian guard has lit teams up from three-point range the past two seasons after transferring from San Diego. Plus, former Illini Greg Eboigbodin (redshirting this year) might get some screen time celebrating on the bench.

The downside: Double-digit seeds looking to pull upsets can't afford mistakes. Northeastern's propensity to send its opponents to the free throw line won't help its cause.

Projection: Kansas hasn't been Kansas this season, but the Huskies still probably don't have enough to get out of the first round.

No. 28 Gardner-Webb (South, No. 16)

Why root for the Runnin' Bulldogs: First, because they're not just regular bulldogs. It's not the world's most original nickname, but at least they put in a little extra effort.

The downside: First, Gardner-Webb doesn't actually play all that fast. Not so Runnin' it seems, with a tempo that puts them in the slow half of the country.

Projection: While UMBC gave hope to every No. 16 seed — particularly the ones that face Virginia — the Cavaliers aren't going to make that type of history twice in two years.

No. 29 Northern Kentucky (West, No. 14)

Why root for the Norse: Perhaps you remember an innovative baseline out of bounds play from mid-January. Northern Kentucky went with a four-four-receiver formation to sew some dysfunction and seal its win against Wright State. An A-plus for creativity.

The downside: Gimmicks probably won't work quite as well in the NCAA tournament, and as good as big man Drew McDonald has been this season, neither does a one-man show for a double-digit seed.

Projection: The Norse already have two NCAA tournament berths in seven seasons as a Division I team, but this one ends like the last — in a first-round loss.

No. 30 North Carolina Central (East, No. 16)

Why root for the Eagles: Because it means something to the people involved. Just check out the video of coach LeVelle Moton's son, VJ, after N.C. Central's senior night. Those tears for his favorite players were real.

The downside: Life as a No. 16 seed has been rough for the Eagles the past two seasons, with losses to UC Davis and Texas Southern in First Four games — as in before the tournament really even started.

Projection: History could well repeat itself Wednesday against North Dakota State. It saves the Eagles from having to face Duke, though.

No. 31 Vermont (West, No. 13)

Why root for the Catamounts: They've been awfully successful at their level, with this year's 27 wins marking their eighth straight 20-win season under John Becker and 11th consecutive overall.

The downside: Becker's teams have let you down before. Vermont's made the tourney two other times under his guidance and never followed through on their upset potential.

Projection: That doesn't change this year either. Florida State is too much in the first round.

No. 32 Saint Mary's (South, No. 11)

Why root for the Gaels: These aren't the Jock Landale-led Gaels (Jock Perry has been a poor substitute), but any team that can hold Gonzaga to 47 points can make things weird enough in the NCAA tournament to keep it interesting.

The downside: Pulling for Saint Mary's feels a little like cheering for the Australian National Team. The Gaels have five Aussies on their roster — plus two Kiwis, an Estonian, a Brit and Latvian for good measure.

Projection: Odds are that Gonzaga upset was a one-shot thing. A team that lost to both Harvard and Pepperdine won't get out of the first round against Villanova.

No. 33 VCU (East, No. 8)

Why root for the Rams: The "Havoc" defense captured the nation's attention — and put VCU basketball on the map — with a Final Four run that made the Rams a trendy upset choice the next seven seasons.

The downside: It's not 2011 anymore, and VCU is on its second coach since Shaka Smart left for Texas. Mike Rhoades got the Rams back to the tournament this year after missing in 2018, but they've lost their luster.

Projection: Like Will Wade and Smart before him, Rhoades bows out in the first round to UCF.

No. 34 Montana (West, No. 15)

Why root for the Grizzlies: Bombs away! Montana might only be in the middle of the Division I pack when it comes to three-pointers attempted this season, but connecting on 38.1 percent of them puts the Grizzlies in the top 10 percent in the country.

The downside: Montana would be a lot better off if senior big man Jamar Akoh — the team's leading scorer — hadn't missed the last dozen games with a knee injury.

Projection: History repeats itself, with the Grizzlies falling in another first round 2 vs. 15 game to Michigan.

No. 35 UC Irvine (South, No. 13)

Why root for the Anteaters: Few teams were quite as dominant in their respective conference tournaments as Irvine, which beat UC Riverside, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton by a combined 55 points.

The downside: The Big West has just one NCAA tournament win in the last 10 years that didn't come in a play-in game between No. 16 seeds, with Hawaii's first-round victory against California in 2016.

Projection: The Anteaters held opponents to 67 points or fewer in the Big West tournament, including 44 to Riverside. They'll be on the receiving end of that in a first-round loss to Kansas State.

No. 36 Iona (Midwest, No. 16)

Why root for the Gaels: They won seven straight games to end the regular season and claim that MAAC title and then added three more for the conference tournament title and automatic bid. Tim Cluess' team is on a roll.

The downside: That roll came against teams ranked between 215th and 323rd nationally, per KenPom. There's not much exciting about Iona other than the potential junior guard E.J. Crawford goes off.

Projection: At least they avoided a play-in game just for the opportunity to lose to North Carolina in the first round.

No. 37 Yale (East, No. 14)

Why root for the Bulldogs: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Yale leading scorer Miye Oni a "first-round pick" after the Blue Devils crushed the Bulldogs 91-58 in early December. Oni, who had 12 points, nine rebounds and five assist in that game, would be the first first-round pick out of the Ivy League since Princeton's Armond Hill in 1976.

The downside: Let's be honest. Yale is known better for its famous alums like former president George H.W. Bush, Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis and inventor Eli Whitney than its basketball team.

Projection: The Bulldogs actually know who their coach will be (James Jones), but that won't be enough to get past LSU in the first round.

No. 38 Abilene Christian (Midwest, No. 15)

Why root for the Wildcats: Part of the charm of March Madness is underdogs, and Abilene Christian fits the bill. The Wildcats are in just their sixth year as a Division I program and will make their NCAA tournament debut this week.

The downside: Being the best defensive team in the Southland Conference, which the Wildcats are thanks to a propensity to force turnovers, is still kind of like being the smartest kid in summer school.

Projection: It's a battle of the Wildcats in the first round, and Abilene Christian is going to get mauled by Kentucky.

No. 39 Colgate (South, No. 15)

Why root for the Raiders: Rapolas Ivanauskas not only has a cool name, but he also has Illinois ties. Colgate's leading scorer is a Barrington native and started his career at Northwestern where injuries limited him to just three games in two seasons.

The downside: Hard to imagine a team that lost to Army, Navy, Loyola Maryland and Boston in Patriot League action as a team that could do much of anything in the NCAA tournament.

Projection: Turns out, they won't. The Raiders had the misfortune of drawing Tennessee in round one, and that's where their seasons ends.

No. 40 Georgia State (Midwest, No. 14)

Why root for the Panthers: Sure, Georgia might have only won 11 games this year, but that still counts as a huge win for Georgia State. It was also the Panthers' first win against a high-major team since they upset Baylor in the 2015 NCAA tournament.

The downside: That 2015 Georgia State team was legit, with R.J. Hunter regularly dropping 20-plus on opposing teams. This year's team? D'Marcus Simonds should be that guy, but he's been wildly inconsistent.

Projection: No upset this time for the Panthers. They can't get past Houston in the first round.

No. 41 Prairie View A&M (West, No. 16)

Why root for the Panthers: A resurgence in southeast Texas is underway. This season's winning record is Prairie View A&M's first since 2010 and just its third this millennium.

The downside: If a team plays in a 16-16 game in the First Four and loses, did it actually play in the NCAA tournament? Technically yes, but throwing support behind the Panthers might be a fool's errand.

Projection: Too many easy looks around the basket for Fairleigh Dickinson (Prairie View A&M ranks 302nd in two-point defense) means a First Four exit for the SWAC champs.

No. 42 North Dakota State (East, No. 16)

Why root for the Bison: A little luck can go a long way in March. So far, the ball has bounced in North Dakota State's favor given it didn't have to face South Dakota State and Mike Daum to win the Summit League tournament.

The downside: The Bison would have a much better chance if this was a football tournament. That program has won eight straight conference championships, going 112-8 in that span. Alas, this is basketball. See you in the fall.

Projection: North Dakota State's reward for beating North Carolina Central in the First Four is the opportunity to get dunked on by Zion Williamson — a lot — in a first-round exit.

No. 43 Fairleigh Dickinson (West, No. 16)

Why root for the Knights: Fairleigh Dickinson isn't going to stop anybody — not with one of the least efficient defenses in the country — but the Knights can hit enough three-pointers to hang around with teams as a 40.5 percent shooting team from beyond the arc.

The downside: Fairleigh Dickinson isn't going to stop anybody. Defense wins championships might be horribly cliché, but it's not wrong. The Knights don't play near enough of it.

Projection: A play-in game victory against Prairie View A&M is immediately followed by a crushing defeat at the hands of Gonzaga.

No. 44 Houston (Midwest, No. 3)

Why root for the Cougars: This year's Houston team isn't remotely close talent-wise to the Phi Slamma Jamma squad of the mid-1980s, but the Cougars being good again brings back some nice memories of one of the more exciting national champions of all time.

The downside: Kelvin Sampson's NCAA violations of too many phone calls seem fairly innocuous now considering all that has transpired in the last two years in college basketball. That doesn't mean you've forgotten how he stole Eric Gordon away from Illinois, though.

Projection: Guard play has been Houston's forte all season. It'll be enough to get out of the first round before Iowa State counters with its own standout backcourt in the second round.

No. 45 Florida (West, No. 10)

Why root for the Gators: Guard play is important come March — especially at the point. Florida runs out a true freshman in that spot, but Andrew Nembhard is an elite passer and a potential star in the making.

The downside: An NCAA tournament run would be much more believable if Jalen Hudson hadn't gone completely in the tank in his final season. The 6-foot-6 guard saw his scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and shooting (both inside and beyond the arc) drop in his final season.

Projection: All of Nevada's long, physical wings make for a nightmare matchup for the Gators. Mark Mike White's team down for a first-round loss.

No. 46 Oregon (South, No. 12)

Why root for the Ducks: Bad high-major basketball is your thing and it doesn't bother you that Oregon was swept by both Oregon State and UCLA

The downside: It's just not worth investing in any Pac-12 team this season. Now, if Bol Bol was healthy and playing, it would be a different story. You haven't lived until you've seen a skinny 7-foot-2 giant hit the East Bay Funk.

Projection: Just like Bol, Oregon's stay in the NCAA tournament is going to be one and done with a first-round loss to Wisconsin.

No. 47 Louisville (East, No. 7)

Why root for the Cardinals: You're all about horse racing, baseball bat manufacturing, bourbon — mint juleps at any time of the year, in fact — and maybe even a little basketball, too.

The downside: Chris Mack is not Rick Pitino and the alleged sins of his predecessor don't belong to him, but they do hover over the program. Hard to forget the scandal involving strippers hired for recruit and the Brian Bowen debacle.

Projection: This might be the last time in a while Mack's team is upset in the first round. Louisville has a top 10 class coming next season loaded with one five-star and four four-star recruits on the way.

No. 48 Liberty (East, No. 12)

Why root for the Flames: Defense wins championships, and Liberty might play just enough. The Atlantic Sun champions rank seventh nationally in two-point field goal defense, and they don't foul much either.

The downside: A team that schedules Maine Fort Kent, Trevecca Nazarene and Kentucky Christian in the same season should probably be disallowed from NCAA tournament consideration for that alone.

Projection: The Flames didn't fare well against SEC opponents in the regular season with losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama. Mississippi State makes them 0 for 3 in the first round.

No. 49 Saint Louis (East, No. 13)

Why root for the Billikens: You like a team more concerned about offense than defense, which fits Saint Louis to a "T" given its laissez faire attitude about defending the three-point line (or really any spot on the court).

The downside: You're going to spend some time trying to figure out what a Billiken is and not get much satisfaction for your research. Plus, one-time Illinois target Jordan Goodwin in the NCAA tournament stings.

Projection: Travis Ford's bunch used up all their March mojo to win the Atlantic-10 tournament. It runs out against Virginia Tech in the first round.

No. 50 Arizona State (West, No. 11)

Why root for the Sun Devils: It's an all-name team in Tempe, Ariz., between Luguentz Dort, Remy Martin and Zylan Cheatham, who also double as Arizona State's top three scorers.

The downside: Arizona State managed to lose to a 23-loss Vanderbilt team, fall to Princeton at home and then bungle its way through the decrepit Pac-12 and still got an at-large bid. For shame, NCAA selection committee. For shame.

Projection: Bobby Hurley turns an interesting shade of purple as the Sun Devils don't make it into the NCAA tournament proper with a First Four loss Wednesday.

No. 51 Oklahoma (South, No. 9)

Why root for the Sooners: You're part of the (admittedly small) portion of the Oklahoma fan base that prefers better defense over the Trae Young experience last season. The Sooners are significantly better defensively and a lot less exiting on offense.

The downside: Lon Kruger's been gone long enough that any hard feelings have since passed, but how is it that every former Illinois coach (almost, sorry John Groce) is in the NCAA tournament on a yearly basis?

Projection: A defensive advantage in the first round helps Oklahoma get past Ole Miss, but that disappears in a hurry when the Sooners fall to Virginia in their second game of the tournament.No. 52

Maryland (East, No. 6)

Why root for the Terrapins: It's all about the future. Bruno Fernando likely won't return next season, but Anthony Cowan and Co. should be even better in 2019-20.

The downside: Mark Turgeon has led Maryland to now four NCAA tournament appearances in his eight years as coach. Just once did the Terps make it out of the first weekend. His Texas A&M and Wichita State teams never got past the second round in five combined tries.

Projection: Maryland looked like it wanted to be anywhere but Chicago when it got blitzed by Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament. Don't count on the NCAA tournament being any different than another one and done.

No. 53 Minnesota (East, No. 10)

Why root for the Gophers: The NCAA will say it doesn't take storyline into account when it seeds the tournament and fills out the bracket. The fact Minnesota's Richard Pitino will coach against the team that fired his father would seem to imply differently.

The downside: A quick look at the last 10 national champions reveals one defining trait — a true point guard to lead the offense. The Gophers — with 6-foot-8 Amir Coffey running the point out of necessity — don't have that.

Projection: The Pitinos get a little family vengeance in the first round before ultimately bowing out to Michigan State (albeit by a closer score than the 24-point beatdown in East Lansing, Mich., in early February).

No. 54 Michigan State (East, No. 2)

Why root for the Spartans: For all his success, this might have been Tom Izzo's best coaching season of his career. Injuries decimated Michigan State's rotation, but the Spartans just kept winning.

The downside: Cassius Winston is tough, but at some point carrying this team the entire season might end up weighing too heavily on the headband-wearing junior point guard.

Projection: Winding up as the No. 2 seed in Duke's quadrant of the bracket was rough, and a loss to the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight only furthers the resentment in East Lansing.

No. 55 Iowa State (Midwest, No. 6)

Why root for the Cyclones: Bank on the team that can get hot at the right time. Iowa State might have lost six of its last eight regular season games, but Steve Prohm's bunch rallied for a Big 12 tournament title.

The downside: Watching former Simeon star Talen Horton-Tucker play in the NCAA tournament just twists the knife a little further after the peculiar end to his recruitment.

Projection: Two wins isn't out of the question for the Cyclones, but three very well could be with Kentucky potentially looming in the Sweet 16.

No. 56 Kentucky (Midwest, No. 2)

Why root for the Wildcats: The idea of a revolving door of one-and-done, five-star recruits is appealing. Sure, roster continuity from year to year is one way to build a program, but landing some legit dudes each offseason seems to be working in Lexington, Ky. Kahlil Whitney anyone?

The downside: Following the one-and-done path means everybody thinks you cheat to do it. That seems to be the public's consensus about John Calipari at Kentucky. Of course, he actually did have Final Four appearances wiped from the record books at UMass and Memphis.

Projection: Kentucky will be rooting for Seton Hall in the first round only to ensure an opportunity for some redemption after its early December loss to the Pirates at Madison Square Garden en route to an Elite Eight finish.

No. 57 Kansas State (South, No. 4)

Why root for the Wildcats: The type of basketball that leads to games where neither team scores 50 points is right up your alley. Getting rid of the three-pointer and going back to actual peach baskets sounds pretty good to you, too.

The downside: Bruce Weber is a swell guy. You don't harbor too many bad feelings. Still, the fact Illinois is out of the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season while Weber has Kansas State in its third straight and fifth in seven seasons doesn't sit well.

Projection: These very same Wildcats reached the Elite Eight last year with Dean Wade playing eight total minutes in four games, so maybe it doesn't matter he's questionable to play this year with a foot injury.

No. 58 Kansas (Midwest, No. 4)

Why root for the Jayhawks: It turns out Kansas isn't just a Big 12 title winning basketball robot. These Jayhawks are vulnerable as evidenced by their six conference losses and no regular season title. It humanizes them — a little.

The downside: The reason hasn't changed in 16 years. Sure, Bill Self left the Illini for what was his dream job, but imagine what he could have done at Illinois and all the five-star recruits he might have landed. Sigh.

Projection: The Jayhawks' draw isn't too bad ... until they hit the Sweet 16. Then it's another of the earlier-than-expected losses to North Carolina.

No. 59 Ohio State (Midwest, No. 11)

Why root for the Buckeyes: The idea of a Tate Martell-Justin Fields quarterback competition at least offered some intrigue to spring football. That evaporated when Martell bolted for Miami, leaving Ohio State basketball as the only thing that might still surprise.

The downside: Watching E.J. Liddell win another state title with Belleville West and what he did in the championship game — 24 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks — leaves a knot in the pit of your stomach.

Projection: The Buckeyes limped into the NCAA tournament with a 7-13 record since January. They don't make it to eight wins with Big 12 tournament champs Iowa State waiting in the first round.

No. 60 Washington (Midwest, No. 9)

Why root for the Huskies: You're a masochist. Plain and simple. Other than Matisse Thybulle's abilities as a lockdown defender, Washington has no redeeming qualities. A top 20 2019 recruiting class — that could get better with five-star Jaden McDaniels — at least paints a brighter picture of the future.

The downside: The Huskies' losing to California on Feb. 28 was the first step in completely de-legitimatizing the Pac-12 as a conference. The Pac-12 was bad all season. That loss simply locked down that idea.

Projection: Utah State beating Washington in the first round won't be an upset in any way, shape or form. Let that sink in.

No. 61 Purdue (South, No. 3)

Why root for the Boilermakers: Even Purdue's Big Ten rivals have to give Matt Painter kudos for how he rebuilt his rotation on the fly and into nearly as good a seed as last season despite losing four senior starters.

The downside: Carsen Edwards can change the dynamic of a game by himself. He's that good. He can also be hard to watch on nights where he gets shot happy but not shot makey. Like that loss at Minnesota that cost Purdue a solo Big Ten title when Edwards was 7 of 31 from the field.

Projection: One off night from Edwards and it's over for the Boilermakers. That night comes in the second round.

No. 62 Michigan (West, No. 2)

Why root for the Wolverines: Lockdown defense is your favorite thing about basketball, and Michigan assistant Luke Yaklich (and de facto defensive coordinator) is your spirit animal.

The downside: You're vehemently anti-khaki, and it doesn't matter that' it's the football coach's preferred apparel. Plus, "Hail to the Victors" on repeat is your idea of torture.

Projection: The only team to enter the NCAA tournament with a better defense than Michigan is Texas Tech's. Turns out, that's who will end the Wolverines' season in the Sweet 16.

No. 63 Wisconsin (South, No. 5)

Why root for the Badgers: Ethan Happ's college career will finally be finished as soon as Wisconsin's tournament run ends.

The downside: The longer the Bagers stick around the more Happ free throws you have to suffer through and the more opportunities "Buzzcut" Brad Davison (hat tip to The Ringer's Mark Titus) has to flop for some terrible foul calls.

Projection: Bruce Weber was the last Illinois coach to beat Wisconsin and actually won 10 times against the Badgers in his time in Champaign. He gets another win in the second round.

No. 64 Iowa (South, No. 10)

Why root for the Hawkeyes: The possibility that Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has a complete and total meltdown — we're talking FranCon 1 level sideline rage — makes any Iowa game worth watching.

The downside: Two losses by 43 combined points on 62.8 percent three-point shooting. Iowa more than had Illinois' number this season. Add in a 63-0 loss on the football field, and the dislike for the rivals to the west has only grown.

Projection: What the Hawkeyes can't do is much of anything consistently. A solid Cincinnati defense will make sure of it in the first round.

No. 65 Baylor (West, No. 9)

Why root for the Bears: Offensive rebounding is your jam, and only Portland State hauled in a higher percentage than Baylor this season. Sophomore wing Mark Vital isn't a household name, but he's a beast on the offensive glass at 6-foot-5.

The downside: Just tough to get behind an athletic department that had a basketball coach (Dave Bliss) try to portray one of his murdered players (shot by another player) as a drug dealer. Or an athletic department that mishandled allegations of at least 52 rapes by 31 football players.

Projection: Not enough shooters will hurt Baylor when it comes to figuring out Syracuse's 2-3 zone and will send the Bears home with a first-round loss.

No. 66 Auburn (Midwest, No. 5)

Why root for the Tigers: They're on a roll, having won their last eight games between the end of the regular season and the SEC tournament. That included two wins against Tennessee, including Sunday's tournament championship blowout.

The downside: As always, Bruce Pearl.

Projection: After narrowly avoiding the 12-5 upset to New Mexico State, Auburn falls in the opening weekend to Kansas.

No. 67 North Carolina (Midwest, No. 1)

Why root for the Tar Heels: Your entire wardrobe is Carolina blue argyle — from your socks to your sweaters and everything else in between. It's not just a fashion statement. It's a daggum way of life.

The downside: Does the 2005 national championship game and some ridiculous fouls on James Augustine guarding Sean May need mentioning again? That's a rhetorical question. Illinois fans will never forget.

Projection: Fans outside of Tobacco Road would probably cringe if it's a Duke-Carolina rubber game with the national title on the line. Shoutout to Tennessee for stopping that from happening in the Final Four.

No. 68 Bradley (East, No. 15)

Why root for the Braves: As the only team from the state of Illinois in the tournament, your sense of home compels you to jump on the Bradley bandwagon (even if everyone else bailed in the last 96 hours).

The downside: Oh, the back pedaling in Peoria this weekend. Locking out longtime Peoria Journal Star beat writer Dave Reynolds for not being supportive enough of the program had the Braves trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons, so they quickly, and publicly, mended fences.

Projection: You know who really won't do much for the "Bradley brand" in round one? Michigan State, who is projected as an early 18-point favorite.