9. Villanova (20-13)
The Wildcats beat Syracuse, Louisville, and Georgetown, when those teams were ranked in the top five nationally. Villanova also lost to Columbia at home by 18.
10. Oklahoma (20-11)
The Sooners are back in the tournament for the first time since 2009. Forward Romero Osby led the team in scoring (15.8) and rebounding (7.0).
11. Minnesota (20-12)
Hard to believe, but the Gophers haven’t won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 1997. Minnesota opened 15-1 and looked like a team that could be in the mix for a high seed. Instead, it stumbled to a 5-11 finish.
12. Akron (26-6)
The Zips’ Keith Dambrot, who coached LeBron James in high school, guided his team to a 19-game winning streak before dominating the MAC tournament. The Zips have a big-time center in 7-footer Zeke Marshall (13.0 ppg, 65 percent shooting, 7.1 rpg, 3.7 bpg).
13. South Dakota State (25-9)
The reason the Jackrabbits are in the NCAAs for the second straight season is Nate Wolters (22.7 ppg), a 6-4 senior guard and NBA prospect.
14. Northwestern State (23-8)
The Demons from Natchitoches, La., are the highest-scoring team in the country at 81.5 points per game. Coach Mike McConathy goes 10 deep and presses full court for 40 minutes.
15. Florida Gulf Coast (24-10)
Perhaps a rooting interest for Boston fans since this school is located in Fort Myers. The Atlantic Sun champion beat Miami in November.
16. Western Kentucky (20-15)
For the second straight season, the Hilltoppers were surprise winners of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Their best player is 6-4 guard T.J. Price (15.3 ppg).
Upset specials: Northwestern State over Florida, South Dakota State over Michigan
Sweet 16 picks: North Carolina, VCU, UCLA, Georgetown
Regional champion: Georgetown
Midwest: Louisville has plenty of prime competition
1. Louisville (29-5)
When the Cardinals press and run, they’re maybe the best team in the country. You might know about point guard Peyton Siva; you should know about Russ Smith, who leads the Cardinals in scoring (18.1), and Gorgui Dieng, who nearly averages a double-double (10.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
2. Duke (27-5)
This is pretty much a five-man team, but they’re all good, and all average in double figures. Ryan Kelly (14.3 ppg) missed 13 games with a foot injury, but he’s back.
3. Michigan State (25-8)
Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans to six Final Fours since 1999, but none since 2010. Guard Keith Appling (13.6 ppg) leads three players who average in double figures.
4. Saint Louis (27-6)
Rick Majerus was supposed to coach this team but he died early in the season. The Billikens are the nation’s best defensive team; they don’t just make it hard to score, they disrupt opponents.
5. Oklahoma State (24-8)
There might not be a better freshman in the country than Marcus Smart, who averages 15.4 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.9 steals. Oklahoma State has wins over Kansas and N.C. State, and lost to top-ranked Gonzaga by 1.
6. Memphis (30-4)
The Tigers ran roughshod over a weak Conference USA, going 19-0 counting the tournament. When challenged out of conference they came up short, so they’ve got a lot to prove.
7. Creighton (27-7)
The Bluejays are led by 6-8 forward Doug McDermott, who averages 23.1 ppg while shooting 56 percent overall and 50 percent on threes and grabbing 7.5 rebounds.
8. Colorado State (25-8)
The Rams lead the nation in rebounding margin at an amazing plus-12.1. The outside threat is constant motion guard Dorian Green (12.8 ppg).
9. Missouri (23-10)
Six players average in double figures, so the Tigers don’t have much trouble scoring. They also are second in the country in rebounding, and outrebound opponents by nearly 10 per game.
10. Cincinnati (22-11)
The Bearcats’ top three scorers are upperclass guards: Sean Kilpatrick (16.9), Cashmere Wright (12.6), and JaQuon Parker (11.3).
11. Middle Tennessee (28-5)/Saint Mary’s (27-6)
For the second straight year the Blue Raiders blew it in the Sun Belt tournament after dominating the regular season. They got a surprising at-large bid . . . Half of the Gaels’ losses were to Gonzaga so they’ll prove to be a difficult opponent.
12. Oregon (26-8)
The Ducks might be peaking at the right time, winning three games in three days to win the Pac-12 tournament. Oregon relies on E.J. Singler (11.5 ppg), but super sub Carlos Emory (11.0 ppg) provides instant offense off the bench.
13. New Mexico State (24-10)
The Aggies won 18 of their last 20 games en route to the WAC title. They have eight foreign players; the most imposing is Canadian Sim Bhullar, a 7-5, 360-pound center.Continued...