Re-Ranking the Sweet 16: Risers and Fallers After Two Rounds

NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 16: Bryce Brown #2 of the Auburn Tigers reacts with teammate Malik Dunbar #4 after sinking a basket during the second half of a 64-53 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gym on February 16, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

While the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament has been hit-or-miss thus far, with instant classics between Duke and UCF, Auburn and Miss State, and Maryland against LSU sandwiched between absolute blowouts, we’re looking at an extremely enticing Sweet 16.

Every one, two, and three seed remain in the tournament, as well as two four-seeds, a five seed, and a sneaky 12-seed. Despite a lack of Cinderella teams, March Madness fans are in store for a thrilling finish to the bracket as the top dogs will battle it out for a spot in the Final Four. Without further ado, let’s re-seed the teams into four tiers- Elite, Contenders, Sleepers, and Longshots

Elites

Duke University

Sure, they almost lost to a No. 9 UCF team, but the good news is that they won’t be facing another 7’6” player the rest of the tournament. They’re still the best team in college basketball until proven otherwise, and this scare will only serve as more motivation for Zion, RJ, and company.

University of North Carolina

UNC is the only remaining team that has players on its roster that have won a college basketball championship. A winning veteran presence combined with young talent and depth makes the Tar Heels the most balanced and well rounded team in the field. They even beat  Duke twice this year. Twice!

Gonzaga University

When you watch this Bulldogs team, athleticism and raw talent do not jump off the screen when compared to the other elite teams mentioned. But much like UNC, this team has depth, versatility, and experience going far in March. Star forward Brandon Clarke had an absolutely monster game against the Baylor Bears, with 36 points, eight rebounds, and five blocks. He has the talent to keep it going, but will need support from fellow big Rui Hachimura and guard Josh Perkins if the Bulldogs are going to take down a Florida State team that is extremely strong defensively.

University of Tennessee

This is a team that’s going to bully any opponent they face. Purdue has their work cut out for them as the Volunteer team led by Admiral Schofield will be banging in the post and scoring almost at will as long as they can keep playing the way they have thus far. Although they almost lost to 15-seed Colgate and blew a huge lead against Iowa, the Volunteers are going to put up a fight against every one of their opponents- it just remains to be seen if they can put together a full 40-minute performance.

Contenders

Auburn University

If they can shoot lights-out like they did against defensive-minded Kansas, the Tigers will be able to keep up with any team in the bracket. It’s going to be on backcourt mates Bryce Brown and Jared Harper to keep pushing the pace and putting the pressure on their opponents in order to advance. There could be some recency bias with this pick, but don’t sleep on Charles Barkley’s Tigers.


Louisiana State University

They got pushed to the limit against a young and hungry Maryland Terrapins squad, but surviving the heat from twin towers Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith proves that LSU will be able to dominate the post against almost every team remaining in the bracket.

Michigan State University

The Big Ten champion Spartans have one of the best pure point guards in the nation, Cassius Winston, who took home Big Ten player of the year honors. Winston causes problems for opposing defenses every time down the court, creating easy buckets for teammates along with a knack for finishing at the rim. Even if they manage to shut him down, it will take extra attention which will open up opportunities for underrated starters Matt McQuaid and Nick Ward, and Winston’s passing ability will shine.

Purdue University

The Boilermakers looked dominant in their win over last year’s champion Villanova Wildcats. Veteran guard Carsen Edwards went off for 42 points in the team’s blowout and looked practically unstoppable. Edwards has a great ability to get to the rack as well as a deadly three-point shot; he struck nine times from deep in their resounding victory. 7’3” center Matt Haarms is also extremely dangerous and does a great job of clogging the paint. A slept-on team at the third seed, Purdue will be making noise in the coming rounds.

University of Virginia

They aren’t a particularly easy team to root for- a scare in the first round against another 16 seed has planted doubt in the minds of many fans, and rightly so. But playing against a 12-seed in the Sweet 16 could prove to be a blessing, as the electric energy of the Oregon Ducks should wake the Cavaliers to the fact that this tournament is indeed one-and-done. The Cavs only allowed 51 points to 9-seed Oklahoma, and will need to shut the Ducks down in order to advance.

Sleepers

University of Michigan

Earlier in the year Michigan looked like the best team in college basketball outside of Duke. But the Wolverines have struggled against other top teams like Michigan State, who swept them this year. Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole will have to return to peak form in order for the Wolverines to continue this March.

University of Houston

Head coach Kelvin Sampson has done wonders to bring back the former powerhouse Houston Cougars who notched a 31–3 record this year. Houston is well-coached and full of talented athletes, as Corey Davis Jr., Dejon Jarreau, and Brison Gresham will be huge in their big-time matchup against the University of Kentucky. This team is dangerous, but we’ll see if their inexperience will come to hurt them.

University of Kentucky

The recurring problem with the Kentucky Wildcats is consistency. They have lacked a stable starting roster for years as five star prospects come in and out. This team has some top line talent but is simply too inexperienced in the tournament and with each other to go very deep. PJ Washington has improved all year long, and it’ll be a fun, offensively-minded matchup between the Wildcats and Cougars in this Sweet 16.

Longshots

Texas Tech University

Led by double-doubles from C Norense Odiase and G Jarrett Culver, the Raiders took down a strong Buffalo team in the round of 32. The team isn’t a particularly sexy pick to win several more games in the bracket, but a matchup against Boring Michigan in the Sweet 16 could provide the Red Raiders with the challenge they need to take the next step.

Virginia Tech

One of the few teams to take down the dictatorial Duke Blue Devils this season, the Virginia Tech Hokies are primed for another matchup against their ACC rivals. The defensively-focused team didn’t even have Justin Robinson when they last beat Duke, but Duke didn’t have Zion. Kerry Blackshear Jr. had 19 points and nine rebounds against upstart 12 seed Liberty, and will need to put up even better numbers to beat Duke. It’s a new-look matchup for the two teams, and Virginia Tech will have to take full advantage if they’re going to take down the No. 1 team in the country.

Florida State University

Don’t be fooled by their close matchup against Vermont in the Round of 64. This Florida State team, while lacking the starpower possessed by other teams, has strength in athleticism, defense, and aren’t afraid to slow the game down. Their 90-point performance in the Round of 32 also proved that they can put up great offensive showings on a big stage, and they’ll give Gonzaga a run for their money in the Sweet 16. But still, few brackets have FSU dancing into April for a good reason- they could shut down on offense in the face of a great defensive team.

University of Oregon

While the energetic Ducks proved they’ve got fight against UC Irvine, throwing alley-oops along with emphatic blocks, they’re still the 12-seed and simply aren’t stacked with enough talent when compared with other Sweet 16 teams. The best we can hope for is an entertaining matchup against 1-seed Virginia, a vulnerable team despite high ranking.

-Andrew Edds, Michael Gorman, Greg King

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