Happy March Madness, everyone!
The reason the NCAA basketball tournaments resonate so much with fans across so many sports is rampant gambling. And also that there are universal themes among the participants: heroes, villains, favorites, underdogs and also Virginia.
For this week’s NHL Power Rankings, we’ve decided to match each hockey team with its college basketball proxy. Some of these are spot-on, while others strain the premise to its breaking point. Let’s see if you can tell which is which.
How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits polls ranking teams 1-31, and those results are tabulated to the list featured here. Teams are rated through Tuesday night’s games, taking into account overall record, recent success and other factors such as injuries.
Previous ranking: 1
Baylor women’s team. They went 31-1, claimed the top seed in the tournament and are on a 23-game win streak, extending a reign of dominance that extends beyond 2019. Now, if they could just get another championship.
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Aside from hometown fans, most of us want to see close matchups that go seven games. Here are the potential first-round series that fit the bill.
Are there actual lottery balls? Why is there a lottery to begin with? Is Gritty allowed to represent the Flyers? We answer all the big questions.
Previous ranking: 3
North Carolina. A storied, championship program that always has a ton of talent flowing through its pipeline, but can it get past its conference rival, potentially its biggest roadblock to a championship?
Previous ranking: 4
Michigan State. It has been a minute since they won a championship, and Cassius Winston is very much a Johnny Gaudreau type: a star player but one who shines outside of, say, the top five in the league.
Previous ranking: 2
Gonzaga. A team that is perennially in the bracket but doesn’t always do much. It went to the championship round in 2017 and blew it.
Previous ranking: 6
Purdue. They’ve been around forever and have never played for a national championship. Heck, they’ve never even made it to the Final Four.
Previous ranking: 7
Villanova. A defending champion that hasn’t inspired overwhelming confidence in a repeat.
Previous ranking: 5
Ohio State. Fan bases that are enormous and enormously frustrated, plus an air of pretentiousness despite having not won anything since the 1960s.
Previous ranking: 9
Kansas State. Did you know that Kansas State has made the Elite Eight exactly 13 times, the Final Four four times and the championship game once, and it has never won the big prize? This is a team that’s frequently in the postseason but never breaks through to win it all. Hmm …
Previous ranking: 12
Texas Tech. For a long time, there was no Texas Tech in the NCAA tournament. Then all of a sudden, the Raiders showed up. Then they were in the Elite Eight, and now they’re a No. 3 seed, and we might not get rid of them anytime soon.
The 2019 NHL draft is June 21-22 in Vancouver. Get ready with the latest prospect rankings and our mock draft.
Previous ranking: 8
Oklahoma. The Sooners were a No. 10 seed with Trae Young. He left for the NBA. Now, they’re a No. 9 seed without Trae Young. (No word if fans have burned his jersey in effigy or placed it on the road to be run over or any of the other nutty things Islanders fans did with their John Tavares gear.)
Previous ranking: 10
Duke. They might not have the Blue Devils’ odds this season (9/4 to win it all!), but the Penguins are the hockey embodiment of Duke’s singular mix of divisiveness, admiration and irrational loathing.
Previous ranking: 11
University of Central Florida. UCF is making its first tournament appearance since 2005, which ends one of the longest active droughts in Division I (though it’s not, like, Rutgers long). The Canes are trying to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Previous ranking: 13
Virginia. Things went bad. Like, really bad. Like, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed bad. But you know what? The Cavaliers got back on the court, worked hard and are back on top. Only difference: They didn’t overly rely on a freshman to save their season …
Previous ranking: 14
Maryland. Switching conferences really didn’t dramatically improve their fortunes.
Previous ranking: 15
UCLA. The most storied franchise in hockey, provided that story is mostly about one brief moment of glory in the mid-1990s and domination in the 1970s.
Previous ranking: 16
Louisville. A program that hasn’t won a title in decades (save for one that was vacated in 2013), isn’t afraid of throwing money around and unfortunately sometimes makes as much news off the playing surface as it does on it. (We’re also pretty sure that Rick Pitino likely referred to those recruiting violations in the same way Jim Lites referred to Tyler Seguin’s shooting percentage.)
Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski talk to Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet about his team’s exceptional season, as they fight for a final playoff spot (18:21). The Washington Capitals are finally going to the White House to be honored as Stanley Cup Champions (31:40). Ahead of the final stretch, ESPN+ contributor Dimitri Filipovic talks playoff runs (41:07). Plus, during ‘Phil Kessel Loves Hot Dogs,’ we talk March Madness, after learning that Greg is featured on a hockey-based bracket (51:08). Listen »
Previous ranking: 17
UC Irvine. Well-coached underdog that could become a trendy upset pick in the postseason.
Previous ranking: 19
Tennessee. The Wild have played in the NHL for 18 seasons without make the Stanley Cup Final. I would, ahem, Volunteer that they sync up well with a team that has made the NCAA tournament 22 times without making the Final Four.
Previous ranking: 18
Saint Louis University. For no other reason than they’re better known for their creepy, ubiquitous mascot (behold “The Billiken”) than for anything else these days.
Previous ranking: 20
Michigan. Dramatic swings in achievement. Hey, we’re a Stanley Cup team … and now we’re in the lottery … and now we’re back … and now we’re in the lottery … and now we made the playoffs again … and now we’re trailing the Coyotes.
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Previous ranking: 22
UConn women’s team. For the first time since 2006, the Huskies aren’t a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. For the first time since 2008, the Blackhawks will have missed the playoffs in two straight seasons. In both cases, fans are hoping their respective parent organizations can spread the promotional wealth to fresher faces.
Previous ranking: 21
Wofford. The smallest school in the tournament, with fewer than 2,000 students, for one of the lowest-attended teams in the NHL this season. (The Islanders are actually 31st because of their Brooklyn/Nassau capacity shifting.) But also a nice effort this season from their own Aleksander Barkov, Wofford’s Cameron McGee.
Previous ranking: 23
Buffalo. Who else are they going to be? Buffalo is Buffalo, and it’s a Buffalo thing, and you wouldn’t understand it.
Previous ranking: 24
Georgetown. A dynastic team in the 1980s and a program that produced two generational, Hall of Fame talents (Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson) along with a few more celebrated names (Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo). And today, it is a complete nonfactor relegated to the NIT.
Previous ranking: 25
Murray State. A team whose relevance this season can be credited to the performance of one player. Although, to be fair, Ja Morant is a sophomore, and Elias Pettersson is a freshman.
Previous ranking: 27
Indiana. A former champion that looked like it could turn things around this season but ended up being what our own Dick Vitale called one of the season’s biggest busts.
Postgame analysis and highlight show airing each night throughout the season from Barry Melrose and Linda Cohn. Watch on ESPN+
Previous ranking: 26
Arkansas. A storied program whose history tracks back to the 1920s, who won a national championship in 1994 and is now, alas, on the outside looking in on the big tournament.
Previous ranking: 28
Loyola-Chicago. Late last season, they were the talk of the league as postseason contenders who came out of nowhere. This season? They’re NIT material. The NIT in the Devils’ case means the draft lottery, of course.
Previous ranking: 29
UConn men. Did you know the UConn Huskies, whose season is finished, won two championships the past several years, including in 2014. Doesn’t that feel, like, 100 years ago?
Previous ranking: 30
Tennessee Lady Vols. A remarkable legacy of titles, star players and unparalleled prestige as an organization. Then the gold-standard coach left, the fortunes dramatically changed, and a team that used to be synonymous with championship contention suddenly hasn’t captured one since 2009.
Previous ranking: 31
Arizona. What once was a contender is now a festering wreck plagued by scandals, high-profile player defections and a record that leaves them well outside the tournament. But to Ottawa owner Eugene Melynk’s credit, we’re pretty sure the FBI hasn’t investigated the Senators. Although the season ain’t over yet …