mike krzyzewski
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

ESNY puts all 68 NCAA Tournament teams into a distinct category before the Big Dance starts.

The NCAA Tournament officially starts on Tuesday night with the First Four games. There are 68 teams with a chance to win it all, but not every Tournament team is created equal.

Let’s take a look at all 68 teams by category. Each team is listed with their overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and overall record.

Championship Contenders

1. Gonzaga (26 – 3)
2. Arizona (31 – 3)
3. Kansas (28 – 6)
4. Baylor (26 – 6)
5. Auburn (27 – 5)
6. Kentucky (26 – 7)
7. Villanova (26 – 7)
9. Wisconsin (24 – 7)
10. Tennessee (26 – 7)
11. Purdue (27 – 7)

These are the big dogs. There are plenty of teams that could fill the role of Cinderella and there are a handful of teams that could make a deep run into March. But there are only a few teams that are legitimate championship contenders. These are the cream of the crop in college basketball and while anything can happen, we expect all 10 of these teams to make a run into the Sweet 16, at the very least.

Prime Upset Territory

12. Texas Tech (25 – 9)
13. UCLA (25 – 7)
14. Illinois (22 – 9)
15. Providence (25 – 5)
16. Arkansas (25 – 8)
17. UConn (23 – 9)
18. Houston (29 – 5)
19. Saint Mary’s (CA) (25 – 7)


“Prime Upset Territory” features a bunch of high-profile teams that could be leaving the NCAA Tournament after one or two rounds. Providence has been unreal in close games this year, but they might be flying too close to the sun.

UConn, Houston, and St. Mary’s are all five-seeds, which means they are in that all-important 5v12 matchup. We have seen 12-seeds pull off upsets year after year, which makes that five-seed a dangerous place to be.

Early Exits

22. LSU (22 – 11)
25. Southern California (26 – 7)
31. San Diego St. (23 – 8)
33. Creighton (22 – 11)
34. TCU (20 – 12)
38. Miami (FL) (23 – 10)
41. Iowa St. (20 – 12)
47. Notre Dame (22 – 10)

This handful of schools mostly come from power conferences. Although these teams earned their way into the NCAA Tournament, it’s tough to see any of these teams making deep runs over the next few weeks. A first or second-round loss seems to be the most likely scenario for this group of teams.

Potential Cinderellas

48. UAB (27 – 7)
51. Chattanooga (27 – 7)
52. South Dakota St. (30 – 4)
53. Vermont (28 – 5)
57. Colgate (23 – 11)

This is the category that is the hardest to predict. Every year, someone emerges as the darling of the NCAA Tournament, but it’s no easy task picking out who that team will be.

Vermont and Colgate are two mid-majors who looked fantastic in conference play and their conference tournaments. However, we don’t love their matchups against Arkansas and Wisconsin, respectively.

South Dakota St. can score with anyone in the country. They are going to be a tough matchup for the slow, plodding style of play that Providence employs.

Dangerous Mid-Majors

24. Colorado St. (25 – 5)
26. Murray St. (30 – 2)
37. San Francisco (24 – 9)
40. Davidson (27 – 6)
50. New Mexico St. (26 – 6)

Some people might call these teams “Cinderella” but that seems like the wrong way to describe this group. This handful of mid-majors belong in the same conversation as the teams from power conferences.

Colorado St. and Murray St. put together incredible years and earned their high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. But don’t sleep on San Francisco or Davidson making a run into the Sweet 16 or further, either.

Hot at the Right Time

20. Iowa (26 – 9)
29. Boise St. (27 – 7)
36. Memphis (21 – 10)
39. Loyola Chicago (25 – 7)
44. Rutgers (18 – 13)
46. Virginia Tech (23 – 12)
49. Richmond (23 – 12)
54. Akron (24 – 9)

This might be my favorite category in the entire field of 68. “Hot at the Right Time” teams are going to be trendy picks in everyone’s bracket. Iowa took out Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game on Sunday and now the Hawkeyes have become a popular Final Four pick.

Virginia Tech, Loyola Chicago, Richmond, Akron, and Boise St. all won their conference tournaments as well.

As for Memphis and Rutgers, they put together strong in-conference resumés down the stretch to secure their place in the NCAA Tournament.

Cooling Off

8. Duke (28 – 6)
23. Texas (21 – 11) (3-5 in last eight)
28. Ohio St. (19 – 11) (1-4 in last four)
32. Seton Hall (21 – 10)
43. Wyoming (25 – 8) (4-5 in last nine)

If “Hot at the Right Time” is a category, it only felt right to include a “Cooling Off” section. Duke is scuffling to end the year as the pressure to win in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season appears to be mounting on his young team.

Texas has lost five of their last eight while Ohio State is 1-4 in its last five games. Wyoming, on the other hand, lost five of their last nine games and needed to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

As for Seton Hall, injuries have taken a toll on the Pirates. They are not the same team without Bryce Aiken in the lineup. Anything can happen in March, but these teams may have peaked early.

Talented But Inconsistent

21. Alabama (19 – 13)
27. Michigan St. (22 – 12)
30. North Carolina (24 – 9)
35. Marquette (19 – 12)
42. Michigan (17 – 14)
45. Indiana (20 – 13)

“Talented But Inconsistent” could be construed as a compliment or an insult. Let’s just say it’s a backhanded compliment for now. Most of these schools are college basketball blue bloods who can recruit top-tier talent.

However, that top-tier talent hasn’t translated into great seasons. These teams have been up and down all year, but they have enough talent to go on a deep run. On the flip side, they could lay an egg in the first round and go home early.

Cannon Fodder

55. Longwood (26 – 6)
56. Yale (19 – 11)
58. Montana St. (27 – 7)
59. Delaware (22 – 12)
61. Jacksonville St. (21 – 10)
63. Georgia St. (18 – 10)
64. Norfolk St. (24 – 6)
65. Wright St. (21 – 13)
66. Bryant (22 – 9)
67. Texas Southern (18 – 12)
68. A&M-Corpus Christi (23 – 11)

First things first, I should apologize to the players, coaches, and fans of all these teams. We would love to see you guys make a deep run, but the fact of the matter is that there are a handful of teams who are lambs to the slaughter in the NCAA Tournament.

These are the bottom of the barrel seeds who are simply cannon fodder for the big boys in the NCAA Tournament. Congrats on making it this far, though!

Please Be Cinderella

60. Saint Peter’s (19 – 11)
62. Cal St. Fullerton (21 – 10)

For similar reasons, we are praying that these two teams become Cinderella. Seeing either team win its first round game would honestly be enough for me to call this a successful March Madness.

Saint Peter’s is a New Jersey school that is going up against Kentucky and John Calipari. Seeing the Peacocks take down a National Championship contender would be a major step forward for the program and the MAAC as a whole.

As for Cal St. Fullerton, there is no local connection to this team. The only reason why we are praying for them to win a game this week is because of who they are facing. There would be no more fitting tribute to Coach K than his team losing to a 15-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in his final game as a college basketball coach.

If there are March Madness gods out there, please answer these prayers.

Knicks, Nets, NY/NJ college hoops, and sports betting reporter. Mostly basketball, but a little bit of everything when it comes to NY sports. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.