NCAA Tournament: Power Rankings for the Sweet 16

The first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Division-I Basketball Tournament is what ultimately gives it the nickname ‘March Madness’. The ‘Cinderellas’ show up as huge underdogs and for one game, they put it out all on the line and pull off stunners.

In this year’s tournament, 13 lower seeds won their first round matchups. Of those 13, 10 of them were double-digit seeds, none more surprising than the 15-seed Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders toppling second-seed and heavy title favorite Michigan State Spartans in St. Louis.

MTSU was eventually bounced from the tournament in the second round by 10-seed Syracuse, who is one of 16 teams remaining after the dust settled this past weekend. The ACC is dominating the dance, six of the Sweet 16 teams hail from the ACC. When you add in the representatives from the Big Ten and Big XII conferences, what we have is three-quarters of the Sweet 16 coming from those three conferences alone.

All 16 teams remaining are high-profile. With the exception of 11-seed Gonzaga, every team is from a major college basketball conference. Some cruised through their first two games and are wishing they could keep playing today, while others survived and advanced and are using the brief layoff to their advantage.

We’ve devised power rankings for the remaining national title hopefuls, based solely on how they played in their first two contests. I would like to note that all 16 teams got here in their own manner and this is a list of who was the most consistently impressive. All four 1-seeds are still dancing, but where will they fall on our list?

16. NOTRE DAME

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish needed to overcome a 12-point halftime deficit vs Michigan, eventually outscoring them 41-22 in the second half to pull away in round one. If not for a field goal with a second left vs 14-seed and potential Cinderella Stephen F. Austin, the Irish would be sitting at home. Notre Dame has talent on both ends of the floor but they’ve struggled just to have a lead in their first two games.

15. MARYLAND

Maryland

The Terrapins nearly coughed up a double-digit lead entirely to 12-seed South Dakota State and had to fend off the pesky Jackrabbits late in round one. Then they found themselves trailing to 13-seed Hawaii late in the second half of a second round tilt before going on a 34-19 run. The Terps are as dangerous as they are untrustworthy.

14. TEXAS A&M

Texas A&M

After making quick work of UW-Green Bay in the first round, the Aggies seemed dead in the water with under a minute to go against Northern Iowa, until the Panthers self-destructed and gave up 14 points in 34 seconds to force overtime. Give A&M credit for not giving up and finding a way to win in double-OT but they should be scheduling tee times at home.

They have scored 92 points in both of their games thus far as well.

13. WISCONSIN

Wisconsin

Badgers sophomore Bronson Koenig is the big man on campus this week after his game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer put Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, dispatching 2-seed Xavier. Even if they are playing the way they like to, slow tempo and less possessions, Wisconsin is averaging just 56.5 points in two tournament games.

12. DUKE

Duke

The Blue Devils got all they could handle from 13-seed UNC-Wilmington in the first round, winning by only eight then after leading by more than 20 points against Yale, they had to survive a furious comeback from the Bulldogs in what was easily the smartest second-round matchup in the tournament. Duke is talented, but not very deep and can be spotty at times in terms of production.

11. OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma

What are national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield and the Sooners doing at No. 11 on the list? Trailing 15-seed Cal. State Bakersfield late in the second half before the Roadrunners missed nine of their final ten field goal attempts, OU wins by 14. Then they traded baskets with a scrappy VCU team in the second half, trailing multiple different times, before Hield went off and the Rams offense turned off. Oklahoma can score in bunches, but are suspect on defense at times.

10. OREGON

Oregon

The quack attack is back, Jack. After surprising many and earning themselves a No. 1 seed in the West Region, they now find themselves in the Sweet 16. However, the latter half of their path thus far was tricky. They rolled 16-seed Holy Cross but like many teams on this list, they were trailing late, but managed to take advantage of mistakes committed by St. Joseph’s, eventually knocking out the Red Hawks.

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9. MIAMI (FL)

Miami (FL)

The Hurricanes also did not win as easily as some predicted they would have in both of their games. The 14-seed Buffalo Bulls hung with Miami for the entirety of the game, and then 11-seed Wichita State came back from a 21-point deficit and briefly took the lead before Hurricanes guard Angel Rodriguez played out of his mind, netting 28 points. Albeit not eye-popping victories, Miami displayed resilience in two battle-tested games.

8. INDIANA

Indiana

The Hoosiers nearly hit the century mark against first-round foe Chattanooga in a 25-point victory and then in what was one of the better second-round tournament games ever played given the two teams involved, Indiana earned a statement victory for the program over Kentucky. The game had Final Four atmosphere all over it.

7. VIRGINIA

Virginia

This is not a knock on the Cavaliers and the suffocating defense they possess, the other other six teams listed above them were just that much better at times. They had no problems against Hampton in the first round then were in a dogfight with the Butler Bulldogs and trailed at half. A 54-point second half showing propelled them into their second Sweet 16 in three seasons.

6. NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina

The Tar Heels are not only perceived as one of the favorites to win it all, but to many, they are the best team in the country if they are on their game consistently enough. On day one of the dance, 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast might have given the biggest fight ever for a 16-seed vs a 1-seed in a losing effort. UNC so far is +5 against their first two opponents in the first half, but a +30 in the second half. That could attribute to the effect of head coach Roy Williams.

5. KANSAS

Kansas

The No. 1 overall seed and very deep, talented Jayhawks looked mighty impressive in their first round bout with Austin Peay and cruised out to a 20-point lead early against upset-minded and always dangerous Connecticut. The Huskies cut it to single-digits in the second half, but KU flexed their muscles once more and closed out UConn. The Kansas squad seems stronger than some past teams that failed to make deep runs in the tournament.

4. SYRACUSE

Syracuse

Alright, so they Orange played a Dayton team that was limping into the tournament and then got a much more favorable draw in the second round after Middle Tennessee shocked Michigan State and the country. But let’s not completely overlook one of the two remaining double-digit seeds in the tournament. They have won by an average of 22.0 points in the first two contests. Given Syracuse’s size, stingy defense, and a Hall of Fame coach on the bench in Jim Boeheim, they are a dangerous team.

3. IOWA STATE

Iowa State

Is anyone even talking about the Cyclones right now? No. Well that’s how Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm would prefer to have it. They were a popular pick to be upset in the first round but quickly put that to bed and some, averaging 86.0 points in their two games thus far and winning by an average of 15.0 points. Should make for a very intriguing Sweet 16 matchup with Virginia on Friday.

2. GONZAGA

Gonzaga

At one point a couple weeks ago, Gonzaga’s tournament chances were hanging in the balance. Since toppling St. Mary’s in the WCC Tournament Championship, they stifled Big East champion Seton Hall, surrendering just 51 points and then straight housed 3-seed Utah, leading by as many as 30 on a couple different occasions. The ‘Zags have been dancing for 18-straight years, but rarely make a deep run. Now as a lower seed and less pressure, they’re prime to make some noise.

1. VILLANOVA

Villanova

Compared to the other 15 teams on the board, nobody has been more consistently impressive that Villanova and head coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats blew past UNC-Asheville with virtually no problems and then, in a surprise to many, dominated Iowa nearly all game long with their transition game and held a 25-point lead at half. The best team with the fewest troubles thus far in the tournament has been the ‘Cats.

But does that mean Villanova is the new favorite to win it all?

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