Why the top four seeds from every region WILL and WON’T make the Final Four

Brendan Schabath, Assistant Sports Director

It’s finally that time again. Where we all dispute the records and capabilities of our picks to make the Final Four and the bubble teams we so passionately rooted for just days ago are washed away as the tournament field slims every day. To celebrate, I wanted to take a look at the overall top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament and review their capabilities and shortcomings when it comes to the possibility of making a Final Four as well as talk about some sleeper picks that you should keep your eye on. Without further adieu… Let’s dance!

West Region:

No. 1 Gonzaga…

WILL make the Final four because they have arguably the best frontcourt in the country in Drew Timme and freshman Chet Holmgren. Combine that with the surrounding cast of great guards Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Andrew Nembhard and you’re looking at a one-two punch that averages a combined 66.9 ppg and is the most efficient offense in the country per KenPom.com. 

WON’T make the Final Four because the Bulldogs have to face a genuinely very tough 16-seed in Georgia State. The Panthers have won 10 of their last 11 games and are quickly becoming a perennial powerhouse among mid-major programs. Gonzaga is awarded a fairly good draw but they are in the same region as the only two teams who beat them in non-conference this season, 6-seeded Alabama and 2-seeded Duke.


No. 2 Duke…

WILL make the Final Four because the college basketball gods just might be on the Blue Devils’ side for Coach K’s final go-round. It doesn’t hurt that Duke is led by a lottery pick in Paolo Banchero and has supporting pieces by the likes of Trevor Keels, Mark Williams and Wendell Moore Jr. 

WON’T make the Final Four because Duke’s dominance this season should be taken with a grain of salt. Duke had four losses in the ACC this season, three of which were at home. That matters because this was arguably the worst season in history for the ACC. Duke is also looking at facing a 7th-seeded Michigan State team in the second round that has won two of the last three meetings with the Blue Devils and is no stranger to upsetting Duke in March. The college basketball gods are toying with us here and that can only mean one thing: don’t pick chalk, some crazy stuff is about to happen. 


No. 3 Texas Tech…

WILL make the Final Four because the Red Raiders boast the No. 1 defense in the nation, allowing just .851 points per possession. Tech ranks in the top-25 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency stats in non-steal turnover %, steal %, two-point % defense, turnover %, effective field goal % and overall defensive efficiency. Mark Adams, in his first season coaching in Lubbock, has led Tech to a 25-win season highlighted by a Big 12 Tournament finals appearance in regular-season wins over Tennessee (neutral), Kansas (home) and season sweeps of Baylor and Texas. 

WON’T make the Final Four because after a likely first-round win the Red Raiders will have to face a very upset-capable Alabama squad or a sleepy Sweet-Sixteen Cinderella in Rutgers or Notre Dame. Texas Tech also has the second-worst offensive efficiency rating of any team in the Ken Pom top 20. Adams’ squad turns the ball over at an alarming rate on 20.3% of its possessions and is outside the top 200 nationally in 3-point percentage and free throw percentage. Defense wins championships but a handicapped offense is never a recipe for success.


No. 4 Arkansas…

WILL make the Final Four because, just like the aforementioned Red Raiders, Arkansas has the length and athleticism on defense to give its opponents 40 minutes of utter hell and chaos. After starting the season 10-5, the Razorbacks finished with a 24-7 regular-season record. They are one of the fastest teams in college basketball in terms of adjusted tempo and average possession length and they force a turnover on about one out of every five of their opponent’s possessions. 

WON’T make the Final Four because Eric Musselman’s squad has innately proven its tendency to play down to the level of its opponents. Remember that 10-5 start to the season I mentioned? All five of those losses are to non-tournament teams including Hofstra and Vanderbilt. Pencil Arkansas in for the Sweet Sixteen, depending on how you feel about UConn. Final Four, though? They might need a little bit of luck. 

South Region:

No. 1 Arizona…

WILL make the Final Four because the Wildcats are and (miraculously) have been one of the hottest teams in college basketball all season. They boast the second-best record in the sport at 31-3 and the fifth-best offensive efficiency rating to go along with a top-20 defense. Arizona does essentially everything well and despite being in the lowly PAC 12, its average scoring margin of +17 can negate what is lost in the quality of its opponents.

WON’T make the Final Four because coach Tommy Lloyd’s point guard and heartbeat of this Arizona team, Kerr Kriisa, was sidelined with an ankle sprain in the PAC 12 quarterfinals against Stanford. Kerr missed the following semi and final games for Arizona but the early reports on his health are optimistic. Arizona is “hopeful” he can return this week but nothing is certain. Even if Kerr does make a return to the floor, it will likely be without any days of practice and who knows how well he’ll perform on a hurt ankle?


No. 2 Villanova…

WILL make the Final Four because guess what? They’re coached by Jay Wright and when Wright is your head coach, seeding, record or injuries don’t matter; you’re always in the running for a national title. Nova is one of the most battle-tested teams in the country and despite what non-conference losses to UCLA and Baylor might insinuate, the Wildcats are damn good and rolling of late. Wright has his team shooting free throws, which are ever so important in March, at the best clip in the country (82.3%). Not to mention Villanova simply does not turn the ball over and mental mistakes are few and far between. The Wildcats are led by Collin Gillespie who is experienced in the NCAA Tournament and is on a pseudo revenge tour after being sidelined with an MCL tear just before last season’s tournament.

WON’T make the Final Four because they actually have a rather tough draw in the South region this season. A second-round matchup with either Ohio State or Loyola Chicago screams possible upset and if Villanova makes it out of the first weekend it’s looking at a possible date with Tennessee in the Sweet 16. And if you know anything about college basketball, you’ll know the old adage about beating a team twice. Hint: it’s hard to do.


No. 3 Tennessee…

WILL make the Final Four because, oh, hey! We were just talking about you. This is not the same Tennessee team that lost to Villanova 71-53 back on Nov. 20. No, this Tennessee team just won the SEC Tournament and has won 12 of its last 13 games. That includes wins over Auburn, Arkansas and two against Kentucky. Zakai Zeigler is one of the best point guards in the country and good guard play almost always equals some success in March. Add in the fact that Tennessee owns the third-best defense in the country (.862 points per possession) and voila! We’re starting to cook up a Final Four casserole over here.

WON’T make the Final Four because they actually are objectively terrible at shooting 2-pointers. The Vols rank 246th in the nation in 2-point % and while they sort of make up for it by shooting 35.1% on the season from deep, Tennessee has a recipe for disaster on its hands if it has an off-shooting night and can’t rely on the three-ball. Which side of that fence will Tennessee sit on? I don’t want to be the one to find out.


No. 4 Illinois…

WILL make the Final Four because it possesses the only player in the nation averaging 20+ points per game and 10+ rebounds per game in Kofi Cockburn. The Illini are also looking to prove themselves after being a Final Four favorite in last season’s tournament before flaming out in the second round to Loyola Chicago. They’ve got a great point guard in veteran Trent Frazier and perhaps the best transfer portal get of the season in Alfonso Plummer who shoots the three at a whopping 41.3% (on 225 attempts too, so don’t give me any grief about low volume).

WON’T make the Final Four because Brad Underwood’s squad is described using everyone’s favorite bad word: inconsistent. It’s true, though. Six wins in a row are required to win the NCAA tournament and Illinois has only accomplished that once this season. Oh, and five of those wins were against opponents outside the top 80 in KenPom. Illinois is too reliant on ONE person to do one or two things right. If Cockburn isn’t shooting well, or Frazier is turning the ball over or Plummer isn’t knocking down shots, Illinois doesn’t have much elsewhere to look for help in surviving to the next round. 

Midwest Region:

No. 1 Kansas…

WILL make the Final Four because Ochai Agbaji is straight-up one of the best players in the country. Averaging almost 20 points per game in arguably (not really) the most difficult and top-heavy conference in the country is nothing to sneeze at. Dajuan Harris Jr. is a true point guard in every sense of the word and knockdown shooters like Christian Braun and former PAC 12 POY Remy Martin lead to the Jayhawks’ impressive ability to space the floor and make life hell for opposing defensive coaches.

WON’T make the Final Four because whatever you may think of this take, there is some truth to coaches and teams who often underperform in the tournament. How many times have you seen Kansas as a No. 1 seed not make it to the Final Four? Well, I’ll tell you. Under coach Bill Self (2003-present) KU has been a No. 1 seed eight times. Final Four appearances in those years? Two. It’s hard to make the Final Four in college basketball, don’t get me wrong, but something about Self and his teams just doesn’t work out every season. They’re the fastest team in the country and don’t do anything poorly other than give up offensive rebounds. That’s kind of important, though. Who knows, maybe that will be the undoing of this season’s team. 


No. 2 Auburn…

WILL make the Final Four because at one point the Tigers were 22-1 and it didn’t look like they’d ever lose again. Jabari Smith (future Piston, fingers crossed) is almost certainly a top TWO pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Surround him with the steady Wendell Green, dynamo KD Johnson and the nation’s best shot-blocker in Walker Kessler (1st in block percentage swatting 18.9% of shots) and Auburn is a team that nobody wants to see on its schedule. Bruce Pearl just took this team to the Final Four two seasons ago and if it weren’t for a questionable foul call in the final seconds, Auburn might be the SEC’s most recent title winner.

WON’T make the Final Four because, despite everything Auburn does right, there are a few things they do very wrong, mainly 3-point shooting. The Tigers are 258th in 3-point percentage this season and for just as many shots they block with Kessler and Smith, they get blocked a ton, too. Give up steals and offensive rebounds like Auburn does and you’re looking at any of the seeds 3-6 upsetting them before the trip to New Orleans. 


No. 3 Wisconsin…

WILL make the Final Four because it knows how to do one of the most important things in college hoops. Hang onto the basketball. The Badgers are second in the country in turnover percent as they only give the ball up on 12.7% of their possessions. Johnny Davis looks like an All-American and Brad Davison’s leadership and 3-point shooting ability make Wisconsin a heavy threat to be one of the last teams with its dancing shoes on. 

WON’T make the Final Four because, other than Providence, they are the lowest-ranked overall top-16 seed on KenPom at No. 34 in adjusted efficiency. Davis struggled against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament (shooting 3-for-19 from the floor) and one can only wonder how much that ankle sprain he suffered two games ago against Nebraska will affect his play moving forward. Wisconsin’s frontcourt is underwhelming and it does not shoot the ball well at all (259th effective field goal percentage, 291st 3-point percentage, 210th two-point percentage). When Wisconsin lost this season, it lost badly (average margin of defeat: nine points) and when it won, it squeaked by, winning eight games by only four points or less. 


No. 4 Providence…

WILL make the Final Four because (pause: we keep doing this, we were JUST talking about them by pure happenstance, anyways) the Friars have one of the best coaches in the country in Ed Cooley. They also make a lot of free throws, don’t turn the ball over too much and have zero bad losses this season. 

WON’T make the Final Four this season because they’re simply not ready. Nothing Providence does (other than draw a lot of fouls) jumps off the page. That trend applies to all the bad stats, too. They’ve miraculously been a middle-of-the-pack team statistically all season but found a way to win the Big East regular-season title and 25 games along with it. They just got puffed to the tune of 27 points versus Creighton in the Big East Tournament, though, and I won’t be surprised if South Dakota St. is one of the favorite 13 vs. 4 upset picks. 

East Region:

No. 1 Baylor…

WILL make the Final Four because despite losing over 40% of its scoring from last season’s title-winning team, Baylor came back this season with just as much firepower and swag as the year before. James Akinjo is a steady guard averaging 13.4 points per game to go along with 5.7 assists. Baylor also crashes the boards like madmen, forces a bunch of steals and defends the three very well. The Bears have the third-most Quad 1 wins in the country with 10 and thrive on the big-game energy that tournament play presents. 

WON’T make the Final Four because of something out its control: injuries. LJ Cryer, the Bears’ leading scorer at 13.5 points per game on 47.6% shooting, has been sidelined since January with a foot injury. Cryer has played in one game since Jan. 25 and it was a 15-minute performance in a loss to Texas Tech. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua had season-ending knee surgery a month ago after damaging multiple ligaments in his left knee. Tchamwa Tchatchoua provided a scoring punch off the bench for Baylor at 8.4 points per game and was Scott Drew’s leading rebounder with 6.8 rebounds. Losing your leading scorer and rebounder in the final two months before the tournament? Pass.


No. 2 Kentucky…

WILL make the Final Four because metrics love Kentucky. The 4th best offense and 27th best defense in the country total up to the Wildcats having the No. 3 ranked team on KenPom. Kentucky REBOUNDS the ball thanks to West Virginia transfer, Oscar Tshiebwe, and his alarming 15.1 rebounds per game. Offensive boards mean a lot of second-chance opportunities and basketball is a game of possessions. The more possessions you have, the more chances you have to score. 

WON’T make the Final Four because John Calipari’s team got a really tough draw in this East region despite being awarded a 2-seed. Whichever team they’ll face in the second round, Murray State or San Francisco, is more than capable of pulling off the upset. In fact, Murray State will be a “sleeper” pick for many people to go far in the dance. Add in the likes of Purdue, Texas, Marquette and the No. 1 seed Baylor? Those hills are not only tall but the terrain is rough, too. 


No. 3 Purdue…

WILL make the Final Four because they’re perhaps the absolute best seven-loss team in all of America. The Boilermakers have suffered three losses at the horn and only one of Purdue’s seven losses have been by double figures. Matt Painter is one of the best and most underrated coaches in the dance and he’s patiently waited his turn to put a banner in Mackey Arena. This might just be the year for Painter as he’s equipped with likely All-American Jaden Ivey, one of the largest humans in the league (7’4”, 295 lbs) in starting center Zach Edey and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, Trevion Williams. Purdue is the fourth-best 3-point shooting and 12th best 2-point shooting team nationally. They total the third-best offensive efficiency rating in the country and they’re plainly fun to watch. 

WON’T make the Final Four because Purdue is one of the best offensive teams in the country but it is also one of the worst defensive teams in the country. Purdue is ranked 100th in defensive efficiency on KenPom and if the Boilermakers were to make it to New Orleans, they’d be the worst-rated team defensively to make the Final Four since KenPom started recording such stats in 2002. Purdue will face some quality defensive teams in this region as well and when Painter’s squad fails to score 70 this season they are 3-7 overall. 


No. 4 UCLA…

WILL make the Final Four because UCLA returned every key piece from its Final Four run last season and even added Rutgers transfer, Myles Johnson. None of UCLA’s losses are bad (except for a season sweep at the hands of Oregon and triple OT thriller at Arizona State) and they are in the top 15 of both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom. We counted UCLA out last season when they first faced off against Michigan State on Wednesday in a First Four battle. That team shocked us all and did crazy things on the backs of Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez and I don’t see a reason UCLA can’t repeat that same magic. Mick Cronin is a tournament-experienced coach (13 appearances) and for all the same reasons everyone slept on UCLA last season, they’re tucking themselves in bed again this year. 

WON’T make the Final Four because the Bruins for some reason struggled to get up for the big games this season. Other than an early-season win against Villanova in overtime, the Bruins have been just ok in all the games that mattered this season. The PAC 12 struggled mightily this season and only sent three teams to the big dance. Even then UCLA only managed to get a 5-4 record in Quad 1 with three of its seven total losses falling in either Quads 2 or 3.

Sleeper Picks:

No. 6 Alabama – Nate Oats and the Crimson Tide are one of the weirdest, wildest, craziest, most baffling teams in college hoops this season. Let’s just check the schedule sheet. Wins over: Gonzaga, Houston, Tennessee, LSU, Baylor, Arkansas. Losses to: Iona, Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt. Ultimately Bama is 8-8 in Quadrant 1 and has three losses in Quad 2 and two losses in Quad 3. They have a special ability to both play down to the level of their opponent one night and look like arguably the best team in college basketball the next night. Can they get on the right track and do the latter? I don’t know but I wouldn’t want to play them. 


No. 9 Marquette – Shaka Smart has hair and he has a good college basketball team, too. Coincidence? Nah, definitely a positive correlation. In all seriousness, Marquette is a team that I’m fond of and have followed relatively closely this season. For the first time in program history the Golden Eagles swept Villanova in the regular-season series, they beat Illinois early in the season and also beat Big East champion Providence. There’s a lot on Marquette’s team sheet that gives reason to pause and perhaps even look the other way. But the eye test tells a different story and if you’re feeling particularly risky, take a closer look at the possible matchup with Baylor in the second round. 


No. 5 Iowa – The Hawkeyes are, believe it or not, better than the team last season that was led by Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp and fell flat on its face to Oregon in the second round. Second-best offense nationally, third-best turnover percentage, first in non-steal turnover percentage and Iowa is actually playing better defense of late. The similarities are striking between last season’s team under Fran McCaffery and this season’s team except for one key player and that’s Keegan Murray. Garza was a relatively one-dimensional big man who played much better with his back to the basket than face-up. Murray is dynamic, poses a lot of threats and shoots the ball exceptionally well with splits of 62% field goal, 40.5% 3-point field goal and 74.1% free throw. They’ve won 12 of 14 and give me this gut feeling that they’re going to make a run. Take note.


No. 11 Iowa State – Hey! Look at the corn state representing. The Cyclones have flown completely under the radar since the turn of the calendar year. They were once an AP top 25 team but in 2022 they’ve gone completely by the wayside (8-12). But this team is in the best conference in the country and they lock down on defense. The offense needs MAJOR work, but a top-10 defense in the country bodes well to slowing down some juggernauts in the tourney. The Cyclones might scare some people here. 

If you made it this far, kudos, you’re a true college basketball nerd like myself. Happy bracketing! One more thing, seriously, look out for Georgia State. And I’m not just saying that because their starting center is one of my best friends from high school. Maybe I am, but look out.