Latest posts by Mike O'Hagan (see all)
- March Madness: Power Ranking the Sweet 16 Teams - March 26, 2019
- March Madness: A look inside the bracket - March 19, 2019
- Against all odds, the Brooklyn Nets are a playoff team - January 15, 2019
With the first weekend of the NCAA tournament behind us, it’s time to look forward to the Sweet 16. While some may be disappointed with the lack of upsets, we now are set with some fantastic matchups the rest of the way. With that said, some of the remaining teams have looked better than others thus far. We all love to rank teams, players, etc., as much as possible, so it only feels right to power rank the 16 teams. For the record, the rankings are compiled by taking into account both how they played throughout the entire season as well as how they’ve played in their first two games of the tournament. In my opinion, the top-3 teams have separated themselves from the rest of the field. Let’s get to it.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
Everyone was able to get their jokes off early in Virginia’s first round matchup. They struggled mightily in the first half with 16-seed Gardner Webb. It looked like the Cavaliers could fall, again, in a 1-16 game. Then they reminded everyone why they were the best team in the country. They looked like themselves again in the second half, which they won by 21 points en route to a 15 point victory.
Tony Bennett’s squad followed that up with a wire to wire win over Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners. Virginia managed to win that game despite a 2 for 15 from the field, 0 for 10 from three performance by sharpshooter Kyle Guy. The Cavaliers are now 30-3, with their only losses coming to Duke (twice) and Florida State. They’ve been the best team in the country all year. They’ve finally been able to put last season’s disaster behind them, and they look prime for a Final Four berth.
2. North Carolina Tar Heels
After a sluggish first round win over Iona, Roy Williams’ squad absolutely dismantled the Washington Huskies and their zone in the Round of 32. In their 22-point victory on Sunday afternoon, they showed exactly how dangerous they are. Coby White dominated early, drilling four three-pointers in the first half.
In the second half, underwhelming freshman Nassir Little finally showed up and looked like the top-5 recruit he is. Little flashed to the middle of Washington’s zone and attacked the rim aggressively on his way to 20 points and 7 rebounds on 8 for 11 shooting. Simply put, this is the most explosive team in the country. If you try to run up and down with them, you’re going to lose. Their mix of NBA-level players with savvy, veteran, four-year college players is a dangerous mix.
3. Gonzaga Bulldogs
You could convince me to order Virginia, North Carolina, and Gonzaga in any order. The Bulldogs are a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor, led by their best player, Brandon Clarke. In case you missed it, Clarke became to third player in the history of the NCAA tournament to post 35 points and 5 blocks in a tournament game. The San Jose State transfer posted a ridiculous 36-point, 8-rebound, 5-block, 3-steal stat line in Gonzaga’s second round win over Baylor.
Mark Few has an abundance of options offensively, and it results in a team that scores more points per game than any team remaining in the field. The only reason they’re below North Carolina in these rankings is earlier in the year, they tried to run with UNC. As with happens to most teams who do so, they lost that battle while surrending 103 points. That was back in December, but we’re splitting hairs here.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Although they’re the number one overall seed, Duke has not looked like the best team in the country thus far. The Blue Devils are incredibly talented, but their weaknesses are more pronounced than many of the other top teams in the field. For one, they cannot make three-pointers. It’s been well documented by now, but Duke makes only 30% of their threes. It’s incredibly difficult to win consistently against other good teams when you have to rely solely on scoring at the rim.
Additionally, they have arguably the shortest bench of the top teams in the country. It was telling to see Coach K leave sharpshooter Alex O’Connell on the bench as UCF packed their defense in the paint. Duke’s leader clearly doesn’t trust his bench. Now, Zion Williamson erases a lot of those mistakes, but there is ample reason for concern. They narrowly escaped against UCF, and they might not be so fortunate moving forward.
5. Michigan Wolverines
In terms of just NCAA tournament play, Michigan belongs higher on this list. They drilled Montana in the first round and easily handled Florida in their next tilt. John Beilein is one of the best coaches in America. He consistently gets the most out of his teams at the end of the year, and it would be no surprise to see the Wolverines back in the Final Four.
This team really does have everything. Their defense is suffocating, led by seniors Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews. The offense can stall at times, but they are more than capable of scoring enough points to complement their top-of-the-line defense. Their Sweet 16 game against Texas Tech is going to be the game of the tournament.
6. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Chris Beard’s team went through a mini-slump during the end of the conference season, but they have looked like a machine in the NCAA tournament. The Red Raiders boast the best defense in the country. It was on display Sunday when they held Buffalo to 58 points in a 20-point victory. For reference, Buffalo had scored over 70 points in all but one game this season.
To complement the defense, Texas Tech rides future top-5 pick Jarrett Culver on the offensive end. Culver is averaging 22.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists over the first two tournament games. He is every bit as good, if not better, than you’ve heard he is. He’s one of the most enjoyable, smooth players to watch. When push comes to shove, at the end of the shot clock and at the end of games, you need players who can do this.
7. Michigan State Spartans
This feels too low for the Spartans, but there have been a lot of impressive performances by top seeds. Throw in Michigan State’s poor performance in the first game, and there’s a reason for them being this low. The Spartans caught a break in the second round when Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy was only able to play four minutes due to back spasms. Still, the 20-point victory over the Golden Gophers was impressive.
Now, Tom Izzo has his squad one game away from a potential showdown with Coach K and Duke. As long as Cassius Winston has the ball, Izzo should feel good about his teams chances.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
It’s nearly impossible to know where to rank Kentucky without knowing the status of P.J. Washington, but this feels like a safe middle ground. The Wildcats won a thriller over Wofford on Saturday to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. Point guard Ashton Hagans is a delight to watch, unless you’re a fan of the opposing team. Hagans is a pest. He’s going to make life miserable for your point guard. With a healthy P.J. Washington, this is a bona fide Final Four contender. Without him, they’ll be lucky to get past this weekend.
9. Houston Cougars
All Houston has done thus far is take care of business. They dropped Georgia State by 29 in the first round before handling Ohio State by 15 in the next round. Kelvin Sampson has his team playing their best basketball of the year right now. Their matchup with Kentucky late on Friday night is going to be must-see-TV.
10. Purdue Boilermakers
Matt Painter might just be one of the most under-appreciated coaches in the country. He has Purdue back in the Sweet 16, led by guard Carsen Edwards. In case you missed it, Edwards dropped 42 points including 9 threes in the Boilermakers’ dominant victory over the defending champion Villanova Wildcats in the Round of 32. He is the type of player who, when hot, can carry a team a long ways in March.
11. Florida State Seminoles
It feels wrong to have the ‘Noles this low after their 28-point win over Ja Morant and Murray State, but they get dinged a bit for how poorly they played against Vermont. I just can’t get over how big this team is. They are huge. The length they have is a nightmare for teams. If they can score consistently, they’ll be playing in the Final Four.
12. Auburn Tigers
Bruce Pearl’s team was lucky to escape a first round upset at the hands of New Mexico State. With new life, they out-classed Kansas in the round of 32 behind their offensive firepower. They are all kinds of fun to watch. Unfortunately for them, they’re probably going to play right into North Carolina’s hands in the Sweet 16. That game is going to be the highest scoring game of the entire tournament.
13. Virginia Tech Hokies
After sleepwalking through the first half of their second round game against Liberty, the Hokies woke up and pulled out the victory. If there were no questions about point guard Justin Robinson’s health/minutes, they’d be higher. He still isn’t playing his full minutes load, though, which leaves this team vulnerable. They can shoot the three as good, if not better than anyone though. If they get hot, Duke will be in trouble.
14. LSU Tigers
It’s so hard to know what to make of LSU. Are they the team that shows up and dominates the first half of games? Or, are they the team that can’t hold a lead in the second half of games? It feels like they’ve merely been surviving thus far and coach Will Wade’s absence is going to catch up to them sooner rather than later.
15. Oregon Ducks
If these rankings only took the two tournament games into account, the Ducks would be much much higher. They are on fire, thanks in large part to Payton Pritchard. He has total control of the game, and is leading an Oregon offense that is complementing their outstanding defense. We find out just how good this team is when they square off with Virginia.
16. Tennessee Volunteers
Sigh. Tennessee has been, by far, the least impressive team of the remaining in the field. They narrowly defeated Colgate in the first round before somehow holding on against Iowa. There’s not a whole lot to say other than that their past three games going back to the SEC tournament. They need to figure it out sooner rather than later.