Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports

This is the fourth of five articles covering the best teams in college basketball. While there will be 64 teams entered into the NCAA Tournament, half of them won’t make it through to the second round. Here are the upper-echelon teams, all of which have the potential to make a deep run into the tournament this year.

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(Note: All rankings are based on AP Poll as of March 2)

16. Louisville – 23-7

It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Rick Pitino and Louisville but even amid all of the internal strife Louisville still has won some big basketball teams and could be a dark horse to win it all.

Coach/Conference – Rick Pitino (14th season) – ACC

Recent Tournament History – 2013 National Champions – 2012 – Final Four – 2014 – Sweet 16

Best Players – Terry Rozier, Montrezl Harrell – Harrell is a junior who will all but certainly be heading to the NBA after this season while Rozier, a sophomore, might be right behind him. The two eat the most minutes for Louisville while Rozier leads the team in scoring with 17.4 points per game and Harrell leads in rebounds with 9.3 per game.

Important Victories – (19) University of North Carolina – Louisville’s 18-point comeback against UNC was one of the most memorable games of the year and was a huge win for Louisville. 

Important Losses – (12) Notre Dame – If Louisville were looking to make a statement that they will be a force in the NCAA and ACC tournaments they didn’t exactly get that point across on Wednesday. They played the Irish tough, but the end result still wasn’t good enough and won’t be good enough in a one-and-done tournament environment.

Big Question – Can they make up for the loss of Chris Jones – Jones was a huge part of the program and Louisville is going have to make up for his absence against great programs night in and night out if they want a shot at repeating 2013. I don’t think anybody’s going to count out a Pitino-coached team in the NCAA Tournament so they’re definitely a team to watch. 

17. Iowa State – 21-8

It might surprise a lot of casual fans that Iowa State have made it to the Big Dance the last three years in a row and it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll keep the streak alive this year. 

Coach/Conference – Fred Hoiberg (5th season) – Big 12

Recent Tournament History – 2014 – Sweet 16 – 2012, 2013 – Eliminated in third round

Best Player – Georges Niang – Niang is the team’s leading scorer averaging 15.2 points per game but is also one of the teams leaders in both rebounds and assists as well.

Important Victories – (15) Oklahoma – What a comeback and what a finish by Iowa State the other night against the Sooners. Doesn’t matter whether you’re playing a ranked team or a Div. II one, coming back from down 21 in the second half is impressive. 

Important Losses – (14) Baylor – Losing the first time around on the road to the Bears by one point was heartbreaking but then the Cyclones got beaten by Baylor again at home by a wider margin.

Big Question – Can they make a run in the Big 12 tournament? – The most important thing for Iowa State is to show strongly in the Big 12 tournament, secure a solid seed in the Big Dance and simply see how far it takes them.

AMES, IA - JANUARY 20: Bryce Dejean-Jones #13 (L) of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates with teammates Clayton Custer #3 and Naz Long #15 of the Iowa State Cyclones after defeating the Kansas State Wildcats in the second half of play at Hilton Coliseum on January 20, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State defeated Kansas State 77-71. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

18. Arkansas – 23-6

Arkansas has one of the finest offenses in college basketball lead by Bobby Portis and can seemingly score at will – a good trait to have when the intensity gets ratcheted up in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach/Conference – Mike Anderson (4th season) – SEC

Recent Tournament History – Haven’t made tournament since 2008

Best Player – Bobby Portis – Not only can Portis score with the best of them (he’s averaging 17.5 points per game), he also leads the Razorbacks in rebounds averaging 8.5 per game.

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Important Victories – Alabama – The overtime thriller against the SEC foe was a huge win for the Razorbacks who were on their heels a bit after losing two in a row prior to this game.

Important Losses – (1) Kentucky – Unfortunately Kentucky are the litmus test by which all other teams are measured and Arkansas quite simply didn’t make the grade.

Big Question – Can they make their first Sweet 16 since 1996? – It would be a huge accomplishment for Arkansas and for basketball in the SEC if Arkansas can put together a decent tournament run.

19. University of North Carolina – 21-9

Don’t be fooled by their ranking, North Carolina is as capable as any team of going on a run this March.

Coach/Conference – Roy Williams (12th season) – ACC

Recent Tournament History – 2009 National Champions – 2011, 2012 – Elite Eight – 2013, 2014 – Eliminated in third round 

Best Player – Brice Johnson – The 20-year-old forward has been dominant more often than not for the Tar Heels this season and as a result is averaging 12.5 points per game to go with 7.9 rebounds per game.

Important Victories – (16) Louisville – It’s slightly disconcerting that North Carolina haven’t won a “big game” since very early in the season but beating Louisville when Louisville were ranked No. 5 in the nation is still impressive any way you cut it. 

Important Losses – (3) Duke – It’s hard not to look back at this game and imagine what could have been for UNC. They were up by 17 points on arch-rival Duke and let the lead slip away and let the Blue Devils celebrate. 

Big Question – Can they get their revenge on Duke? – This rematch is bigger than just a rematch for the Tar Heels. Confidence wise and seeding wise they really need to take it to Duke on their home floor on Sunday evening. 

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 24: Brice Johnson #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after making a three-point basket against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 24, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

20. West Virginia – 22-7

West Virginia weren’t touted as a top 25 team early in the year but played themselves into the rankings and haven’t looked back since.

Coach/Conference – Bob Huggins (8th season) – Big 12

Recent Tournament History – 2010 – Final Four – 2011 – Third Round

Best Player – Juwan Staten – Staten has been the primary scoring threat for the Mountaineers all season and will have to be if they are going to make some noise in the tournament. 

Important Victories – (9) Kansas – WVU’s one-point victory over Kansas was easily their most impressive victory of the season.

Important Losses – (14) Baylor, (9) Kansas – Losing to Kansas and Baylor back-to-back was painful for the Mountaineers but they were without Staten when that happened. 

Big Question – Can they get healthy and make a run? – Staten and fellow guard Gary Brown are both banged up but aren’t considered to be ruled out for the Big 12 tournament. If they can get healthy a West Virginia run isn’t out of the question. 

That concludes our top 20 teams in the nation. We’ll round out the top 25 tomorrow and then look forward to some great conference tournaments before the Big Dance. 

More from Bryan? You can email him or find him on Twitter @bcaltman.

 

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