The NCAA Tournament resumes today, and if the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are anything like the first two rounds of the tournament, we’ll get some thrilling, unpredictable action over the next four days. At this point, anyone can win the whole thing, but which team has the best shot?
16. No. 11 Syracuse
Considering the Orange just got to the Final Four a couple years ago, some might argue this is too low for them. However, they are in the bracket with the toughest remaining path to the Final Four this year, as they’ll have to face No. 2 seed Duke and potentially No. 1 seed Kansas (if not, then a No. 5 seed Clemson team that’s playing really well). If they are able to survive that, they’ll then need to win two more games to win the crown—and they played in a First Four game already. Syracuse might just get gassed at some point.
15. No. 11 Loyola Chicago
While they matchup with a Nevada team that’s also a lot of fun to watch in the Sweet 16, Loyola Chicago is the remaining Cinderella in this tournament. Yes, they’ve won 30 games now this season and are no fluke, but they have the makeup of a Cinderella—including team chaplain Sister Jean, who picked them to go this far but to lose in the Sweet 16. Clayton Custer and company will attempt to keep making last stands and advancing in the tournament.
14. No. 9 Kansas State
Last round was against No. 16 seed UMBC, but Kansas State has probably played the best defense of anyone in the tournament so far, despite not being in the top 40 entering the Big Dance. Junior guard Barry Brown powers the defense, as he takes it upon himself to guard the opposing team’s best offensive player each game. If K. State gets past Kentucky in the Sweet 16, they’ll face either No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago or No. 7 seed Nevada, then they’ll face no higher than a No. 3 seed in the Final Four.
13. No. 3 Texas Tech
In the Sweet 16, Texas Tech will have the benefit of facing a Purdue team without star big man Isaac Haas, but they will have to face either Villanova (perhaps the best team in the tournament) or West Virginia (who has beaten them in two of their three matchups this season). But the guard trio of Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, and Jarrett Culver can catch fire in any game.
12. No. 5 Clemson
Without star forward Donte Grantham, who unfortunately had his senior season at Clemson end in January because of a knee injury, the Tigers were playing barely above .500 basketball entering the tournament. Over the last two games, however, they’ve looked like the team that was ranked high for much of the season. After taking care of an impressive No. 12 seed New Mexico State team in the First Round, the Tigers obliterated No. 4 seed Auburn in the Round of 32. Clemson is rallying, and they’re dangerous.
11. No. 7 Nevada
If you believe momentum can be carried from one round to the next even after a layoff of a few days, then Nevada is your team. The 32-8 run in a miraculous comeback win versus No. 2 seed Cincinnati didn’t seem possible until it happened, and the Wolf Pack is riding that wave into the Sweet 16. No team is weak at this state in the tournament, but Nevada is in a South Region that’s had its top four seeds toppled.
10. No. 9 Florida State
After getting blown out by No. 11 seed Xavier as a No. 3 seed last season, Florida State got their revenge in the same exact round a year later, taking out the No. 1 seed Musketeers in a nail-biting finish on Sunday. They might not have a clear top-scoring star like Dwayne Bacon was last season, but the Seminoles are very deep and have multiple experienced guys that can beat you.
9. No. 2 Purdue
Isaac Haas’ injury is the reason the Boilermakers are so low, but Matt Haarms did step up for them in the second round against Butler. Purdue doesn’t have a bunch of freshman playing for them, so they have the experience led by upperclassmen Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and P.J. Thompson to overcome the adversity. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Haas somehow made a return later in the tournament if the NCAA gives him the OK with a new brace.
8. No. 5 West Virginia
Kansas State or Syracuse (or maybe Villanova) might be playing the best defense of anyone in the tournament right now, but West Virginia is applying the most pressure to opposing teams. They’ve won their games by 17 and 23 points, which is impressive even against a No. 12 seed and a No. 13 seed. However, they now have to face Villanova, a team that will not get flustered by a full-court press. If they were in another region, the Mountaineers would be higher.
- 7. No. 5 Kentucky
Kentucky could be much lower, as Kansas State, who they play tonight, has arguably been much more impressive through the first two rounds of the tournament; and also, they are being crowned as the clear favorites to come out of South Region that’s been bonkers, which could work against them if they don’t take their opponents seriously. However, they have John Calipari coaching them, so they belong in the top half of the team’s with the best shot to win it all.
6. No. 7 Texas A&M
Some might have expected Texas A&M would have a good shot at toppling the defending champs because of their athleticism, but not many people could have anticipated a 21-point blowout of the Tar Heels on Sunday. A&M as a No. 7 seed just doesn’t seem right when you watch them on the court, and they are a serious threat no matter who they face the rest of the way. The priority for other teams is to stop guard T.J. Starks from beating them.
5. No. 4 Gonzaga
It was yet another thrilling game in the tournament’s first weekend, but Gonzaga came out on top again Ohio State to again advance to the Sweet 16. Gonzaga is now 32-4 on the season, which matches Villanova’s record for the best remaining in the tournament. While No. 9 seed Florida State is playing much better than their seeding, Mark Few and the Bulldogs are the favorites to get past them. From there, they’ll look to do what they did last year and get to the Final Four with the hopes of finishing it off with a title.
4. No. 1 Kansas
As expected, an experienced Seton Hall team gave the Jayhawks a fight over the weekend in their second-round matchup, but Bill Self’s squad survived even without senior leader Devonte’ Graham doing much in the scoring department (though he notched nine assists). Considering Malik Newman is lighting it up from deep and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is playing great, Kansas might be the best team in the tournament if Graham starts to catch fire as a scorer.
3. No. 3 Michigan
The Big Ten champs could not have been more on the ropes than they were on Saturday night against Rob Gray and Houston, but Jordan Poole’s amazing buzzer-beating three could be a shot-in-the-arm for the Wolverines. The seniors for Michigan were surprisingly off against Houston, especially Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but there’s no reason to believe they won’t get it together and play much better moving forward. Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, and company will need to knock down shots to beat a Texas A&M team that might have a big athletic edge over them.
2. No. 2 Duke
The preseason No. 1 team in the nation is still standing, so they’ve lived up to expectations so far in the tournament. Senior leader Grayson Allen leads the way, and it’s always hard to knock seniors out of the tournament—and with Allen are supremely talented players, like Marvin Bagley III, that have shown March isn’t too big for them. The Blue Devils haven’t been challenged quite yet, but they are a good bet to respond when they are.
1. No. 1 Villanova
The national champions from two years ago still have three key members from that team—Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, and Phil Booth—and, as you’d expect, the three of them are playing very well this March. As both Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo showed in their Round of 32 win over Alabama, when the Wildcats catch fire from deep, it takes a heroic effort to beat them. There’s always concern that shots could not fall on a particular night, but Villanova is a true juggernaut that it might not happen to.