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NCAA Tourney Watch: Analyzing the Favorites

Ryan Bishop

Ryan Bishop

Ryan Bishop writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

With Selection Sunday almost upon us, it's time to size up the contenders and the pretenders for the Final Four. Which teams have a chance to cut down the nets in Houston and which might go home early? Which teams should you peg in your upcoming tournament pools? What follows is a look at the nation's top teams and their chances for tournament success.

1. Duke (27-4) -
Heading into Thursday's ACC tournament, Duke's confidence has to be shaken following an 81-67 loss to rival North Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels now have the tournament's No. 1 seed while the Blue Devils fall to the second seed. Duke struggled with its three-point shooting, and Nolan Smith and Seth Curry were the only consistent scorers on the night. Duke will still capture a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it wins the conference tournament. But the Blue Devils only will go as far as senior leaders Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler take them. If it doesn't improve its frontcourt scoring and toughness with the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly, Duke might not make it past the Sweet 16.

2. Kansas (29-2) -
The Jayhawks won the Big 12 outright Saturday after a road win against rival Missouri and seem to be clicking on all cylinders. Regardless of what happens in the conference tournament Kansas should be locked in as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks overcame the adversity of losing starting guard Tyshawn Taylor to team violations, winning 11 of their last 12 games. Coach Bill Self has his team poised for another run at the Final Four, and his senior leaders Marcus and Markieff Morris have led the charge. Forward Thomas Robinson is a beast inside, pulling down 13 rebounds and scoring 15 points against Missouri. And three-point shooters Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are deadly when left open. The Jayhawks have a complete team that is one of the favorites for a Final Four run.

3. Purdue (25-6) -
The Boilermakers suffered an excruciating defeat to last-place Iowa on Saturday that clinched the Big Ten title for Ohio State. The loss could be a big blow for their chances of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the loss, the team still finished 14-4 in the Big Ten, good enough for second. Purdue's role players have stepped up in the absence of all-conference player Robbie Hummel, and star players E'Twaun Moore and JaJaun Johnson have been sensational all year for coach Matt Painter's team. Purdue has Final Four potential led by seniors Johnson and Moore, while D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith have provided toughness and clutch shooting. If Purdue plays the tournament close to home in Chicago, it would be a big boost for its chances of advancing to the Sweet 16 and beyond.

4. Pittsburgh (27-4) -
The Panthers won the Big East regular-season title Saturday with a 60-50 home victory over Villanova. The Panthers should be locked in for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In winning the best conference in Division I basketball this year, Pitt set a school record for most league wins. Seniors center Gary McGee, forward Gilbert Brown, guard Brad Wannamaker provided the leadership and playmaking ability to vault the Panthers to the top spot in the Big East. The Panthers will be a tough matchup for anyone in the NCAA Tournament because of their versatility in the backcourt and frontcourt.

5. Ohio State (29-2) -
The top-ranked Buckeyes closed out the regular season with a 93-65 victory over No. 10 Wisconsin on Sunday on Senior Day. The Buckeyes, who won the conference thanks to a Purdue loss, dominated the Badgers and finished with an undefeated home season. They set an NCAA Division I record by connecting on 14-of-15 three-pointers and shot 68 percent from the field for the game. The Buckeyes will be a very dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament as oppponents must stop the deadly three-point shooting of John Diebler and the low-post presence of potential Big Ten player of the year Jared Sullinger. Fifth-year senior David Lighty has been the glue of the team all year, and William Buford is a matchup nightmare for opponents. What's more, coach Thad Matta has championship game coaching experience that will help the young Bucks advance.

6. BYU (28-3) -
The Cougars have been the talk of the college basketball nation this year, clinching a share of the Mountain West conference in a 102-78 home victory over Wyoming on Saturday. Player of the year candidate Jimmer Fredette led the Cougars in scoring as he usually does, going for 38 points in the blowout win. The Cougars have a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they can win the conference tournament this weekend. In a big blow to the team last week, second-leading scorer Brandon Davies with kicked off the team for violating the school's honor code. The team will have to ride the hot hand of Fredette and role players Jackson Emery and Charles Abouo if it is to make a Final Four run.

7. Texas (25-6) -
The Longhorns grabbed a huge road win Saturday night against the Baylor Bears, putting them in a position to recieve a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they win the Big 12 tournament. The victory against Baylor tied the Longhorns for the second-most regular season wins in program history with 25. In addition, they held Big 12 opponents to only 55.8 points per game this season. The Longhorns have an outstanding inside-outside game with Jordan Hamilton at the point and Tristan Thompson on the block. The Horns will go far if they keep up their defensive intensity, as they did most notably in their 74-63 victory at No. 2 Kansas on Jan. 22.

8. San Diego State (29-2) -
The San Diego State Aztecs started the season winning their first 20 games on the way to a 29-2 regular-season record and a share of the Mountain West championship with BYU. BYU is the only team this year to beat the Aztecs, a team blessed with tremendous athleticism. Sophomore star player Kawhi Leonard leads the team in points and rebounds with 15.2 and 10.8, respectively, and coach Steve Fisher won his second conference title in 12 seasons. If the Aztecs, who are sure to be underestimated, get the right matchups and play their up-tempo game that is so hard for opponents to stop, they could be headed to a trip to Houston.

9. Notre Dame (25-5) -
The Fighting Irish have been the surprise of the Big East this year, finishing second to Pitt. Big East player of the year candidate Ben Hansbrough has been spectacular as the floor general this year for the Irish, averaging 18.5 points and 4.2 assists per game as well as shooting 45 percent from behind the arc. Fellow senior Tim Abromaitis averages 15.2 points per game on 45-percent field goal shooting. Power forwards Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott combine for 13 rebounds a game and are an imposing presence on the front line. If the Irish can execute their burn offense and continue their stifling defense they can make a run at the Final Four.

10. Wisconsin (23-7) -
The Badgers defeated the Buckeyes earlier in the year, but Ohio State returned the favor in grand fashion Sunday in 93-65 blowout. Despite the loss, the Badgers finished third in the Big Ten and should get a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament depending on what happens in the conference tournament. All-Big Ten guard Jordan Taylor led the Badgers to another 20-plus win season and senior forward Jon Leuer was second on the team in scoring at 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Badgers held opponents to 62.4 points a game this year, and Bo Ryan's teams are notorious for their tenacious defense. Taylor and the Badgers will go as far as their three-point shooting and interior defense take them. If they keep their opponents in a half-court game and limit transition chances, they could advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond.

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