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March Madness Power Rankings Explained

Publish Date: 03/08/2023
Fact checked by: Allan Howe

March Madness odds

The college basketball power rankings play a part in the NCAA selection committee’s decisions for the 68-team field in the March Madness tournament. But, not everyone understands the power rankings and how they work.

Following this weekend, we’ll know which teams have made March Madness. The Selection Sunday show will tell us which teams are seeded in each region, and which teams will play each other. How strong those teams are can be gauged by a power index, or the power rankings from several sources.

In this article we answer the question: What are the college basketball power rankings?

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Sportsbooks and Power Rankings

Every sportsbook creates its own method for figuring the point spread. Many of them call that a “power ranking.”

Sportsbooks may use many different ways to figure a power ranking, but the primary purpose is to rank the teams in the league in order. Once you have that ranking, you use the relation between the ranking and the league to determine a point spread. For example:

  • Team A is ranked 20 on a scale of 100 (24/100 = .24)
  • Team B is ranked 90 on a scale of 100 (90/100 = .90)

Take the maximum point spread between the top-rated and lowest-rated teams. Let’s say it’s 22 points.

You multiply Team A (.24) by 22 (5.2). Then you do the same for Team B (.90 x 22 = 19.8). Now, you subtract the larger number from the smaller (19.8 minus 5.2), which comes to 14.6. Your point spread is 14.6 (or more likely 14.5 points),  with Team B as the favorite.

This is one example of how a sportsbook could figure power rankings for the purpose of setting point spread odds on a sporting event.

Top 10 School Power Rankings

Rank School
1 Alabama (No. 1 seed -- South Region)
2 Houston (No. 1 seed -- Midwest Region)
3 Purdue (No. 1 seed -- East Region)
4 Kansas (No. 1 seed -- West Region)
5 Texas
6 Arizona
7 Baylor
9 Tennessee
10 Virginia

Data Source: NCAA Through Games MAR. 5, 2023

Power Rankings for NCAA Basketball

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does not maintain power rankings for its member colleges for basketball. The power rankings most often mentioned in regards to college hoops is a term used by the media.

For example, The Athletic maintains power rankings for the top men’s college basketball teams, as well as the women’s teams. The rankings are separated into tiers, with the top 20 teams in the upper echelon. Each week, the power rankings are updated based on games played the prior week.

At ESPN, they publish the Men's College Basketball Power Index, which lists every Division-1 school. The rankings are split into three sections: BPI (Basketball Power Index); Résumé; and Tournament.


Power Rankings to Help Make Betting Decisions

Point differential, or point margin, is often used to measure the relative quality of a basketball team. If you take all of the margins of victory from lowest to highest, the middle number is the median.

Instead, find the median score another way by listing the totals from highest to lowest: 3, 27, 28, 31, 35. This gives us a median, or more accurately, a middle score of 28 which makes a lot more sense.

To calculate a power ranking based on margin of victory, you add it to the league average margin per game, and also take the average net points allowed by the opponent’s defense. The result is the power ranking.

Given the power ranking, a sports bettor can make better decisions on their wagers. This can help you determine how much to bet on certain sporting events.

Basketball Power Index

Developed by ESPN, the BPI is, according to their website, a “measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of performance going forward.” It’s based on expected point margin for 70 possessions, measuring both the offense and defense.

The BPI is part of ESPN’s power rankings, available via its website. Every Div-1 college team is ranked by BPI.

What are the Power 5 Conferences?

You may hear the term “Power 5 Conference” used in college hoops. This refers to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference (SEC).

The power 5 conferences or a power conference, should not be confused with Power Rankings, they have nothing to do with each other.

These are the standings for NCAA hoops titles by conference, including the non-power conferences. This list encompasses titles since 1985, when the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams.

  • ACC — 10
  • Big East — 8
  • SEC — 6
  • Big 10 — 3
  • Pac-12 — 2
  • Big 8 — 1
  • Metro — 1
  • AAC  — 1
  • Big 12 — 1
  • Big West — 1

Power Index and Strength of Schedule

Often when a college basketball expert talks about power rankings, they might be referring to the power index as it relates to strength of schedule.

With strength of schedule rankings, teams are rated by the quality of the opponents they played during the season. The better teams on your schedule, the better your strength of schedule. If you beat some of those teams, it helps elevate your standing in the power rankings.

For teams not in a power conference, it’s important to schedule non-conference games against the power 5 schools. That way their power index will rise.

AP Top 25 Schools Power Rankings

1 Houston (58) 29-2 1522 1
2 UCLA (3) 45043 1452 4
3 Kansas 45102 1368 3
4 Alabama 45072 1343 2
5 Purdue 45072 1274 5
6 Marquette 45102 1218 6
7 Texas 45161 1100 9
8 Arizona 45102 1042 8
9 Gonzaga 45072 1031 10
10 Baylor 45191 961 7
11 UConn 45131 847 14
12 Kansas State 45161 838 11
13 Virginia 45100 791 13
14 Miami (Fla.) 45101 761 16
15 Xavier 45161 641 19
16 Saint Mary's 45102 587 17
17 Tennessee 45191 573 12
18 Texas A&M 45161 507 24
19 Indiana 45220 481 15
20 San Diego State 45101 370 18
21 Duke 45161 293 NR
22 TCU 45250 193 22
23 Kentucky 45220 138 23
24 Creighton 45250 133 NR
25 Missouri 45161 66 NR

Data source: AP Top 25 College Basketball Poll - Through Games MAR. 5, 2023

How the Power Rankings Impact March Madness

Power rankings don’t stop when the regular season is over. Sportsbook use their power rankings, and other methods, to set the odds for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games.

For games during the March Madness tournament, bettors can wager on the point spread (-5.5 points for the favorite for example). They can also place bets on the moneyline, for example, +220 for an underdog in a First Round matchup. That means a $100 winning bet on the underdog would win you $320 ($220 plus your original stake).

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