Power Rankings: The Sweet 16 teams


There are now just 16 teams left that can win a national title, and we are here to take you through which of those 16 teams are the most likely to win the national title.

Not who are the best, mind you. 

Who we think are the best bets to win. 

Here they are:

1. Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1 seed Midwest): The Jayhawks were the most impressive team coming out of the first weekend of the tournament, and it wasn’t really all that close. They overwhelmed the No. 16 seed in the first round like they are supposed and then followed that up with a 20-point win over Michigan State in the second round. With Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson on the floor together, Kansas is going to have the two best players in most matchups. The big concern is going to be Landen Lucas and whether or not he can stay out of foul trouble, but he’s been able to manage that pretty well down the stretch of the season.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 1 seed West): The left side of the bracket opened up for Gonzaga this weekend, as both Duke and Villanova, potential foes on the Final Four, lost in the second round of the tournament. They still have some work to do before they have to worry about a Final Four foe, but on paper, I think the Zags have a good shot of getting that done. I think West Virginia, Arizona and Xavier is the easiest path remaining for any of the three No. 1 seeds, as they won’t have to face off with one of the top four teams left in the field until the title game.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (No. 1 seed South): I still think North Carolina is one of the best teams in this tournament, and while they absolutely shut down Arkansas in the final four minutes on Sunday night, it wasn’t exactly the most inspiring sign that they needed to shut down Arkansas in the final four minutes to come back from a five-point deficit. If they can get past Butler, it’s going to be fascinating to see what the Tar Heels can do against the winner of Kentucky and UCLA.

4. Arizona Wildcats (No. 2 seed West): Arizona is here because of their draw as much as anything. They’ll have to get past the point guard-less No. 11 Xavier to get to the Elite 8, and once there, they will square off with either Gonzaga or West Virginia. It is somewhat concerning that they’ll be playing with Rawle Alkins’ fractured finger, but with Allonzo Trier back, that’s less of a concern.

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5. Wisconsin Badgers (No. 8 seed East): So Wisconsin sure made the Selection Committee look silly for seeding them as a No. 8 seed. The Badgers knocked off Villanova, and then caught a break with No. 2 seed Duke losing in the same region. Wisconsin gets another favorable matchup in the Sweet 16, as they’ll face off with a Florida team who lost starting center John Egbunu to a torn ACL. Combine that with the fact that the Badgers love to pound the ball inside and will have the best top three of anyone they play in the East, I like their chances to get to a Final Four. And, like Gonzaga and Arizona, I don’t think they’ll have to play one of the top four teams left in the event until the title game.

t6. Kentucky Wildcats (No. 2 seed South) and UCLA Bruins (No. 3 seed South): These two teams are the hardest two teams in this field to rank. On the one hand, I think just about everyone would agree that both Kentucky and UCLA beat anyone left in the field, and I’m not sure they aren’t actually two of the top three teams left in the tournament. On the other hand, only one of them will get to the Elite 8 and, if they do find a way to get there, they’ll have to beat North Carolina just to get to a Final Four. Then, if seeds hold, they’ll have to get past Kansas to get to the national title game.

Put another way, the way that I see it, the four best teams left in the tournament are all on the same side of the bracket, and if this thing goes the way I think it will go, one of these two teams will have to beat each of the other three if they are going to win the title.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

8. Michigan Wolverines (No. 7 seed Midwest): I’m enamored with this Michigan team. I think Derrick Walton Jr. is playing as well as any point guard in the country, I love the combination of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner in the front court and with Duncan Robinson and Zak Irvin spacing the floor, Michigan is really hard to guard. I think they matchup well with all three of the teams left in the their region.

9. Oregon Ducks (No. 3 seed Midwest): I’m still on Oregon as a team that can get to the title, but I think this matchup with Michigan is going to be a difficult one for them. If Chris Boucher was still healthy, it would be something of a different story, but without him, I envision Dillon Brooks have to deal with D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner quite a bit. Will he have enough size to get that done?

10. Florida Gators (No. 4 seed East): I’m torn on where to place Florida here. On the one hand, they punished Virginia in the second round, and that was impressive. On the other hand, Virginia didn’t have anywhere near the back court talent to be able to handle the pressure that the Gators bring. I think Wisconsin will, but more to the point, I think any of the five best teams left in this event will as well.

11. Purdue Boilermakers (No. 4 seed Midwest): I actually like Purdue’s draw better than some of the teams ranked above them. I think they matchup really well with Kansas, and I think their size can take advantages of weaknesses in the front lines of both Michigan and Oregon. Crazier things have happened than a player like Caleb Swanigan putting a team on his back and carrying it to a national title, but I do think this is the fourth-best team in the region.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

12. West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 4 seed West): That West Virginia press is a nightmare for anyone to deal with, and I’m not sure that Gonzaga’s back court is going to be able to handle it. The problem? Gonzaga is, as of today, the best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom. Just how often will the Mountaineers be able to get into that press.

13. Baylor Bears (No. 3 seed East): I have some real concerns about Baylor in this Sweet 16 game. They way that South Carolina defends is a nightmare for teams that don’t have great point guard play and Baylor doesn’t have great point guard play.

14. Xavier Musketeers (No. 11 seed West): If there is one outcome from the first weekend of the tournament that I just do not understand, it’s Xavier’s 25-point win over Florida State. I did not see that kind of domination coming, and I’m not sure that it last.

15. South Carolina Gamecocks (No. 7 seed East): South Carolina put together the most incredible and unlikely run to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA tournament. A team that spent the entire season struggling to find a way to score averages more than 90 points in their first two games? Scores 65 points in one half against Duke? I can’t see this team repeating that for two more weekends.

16. Butler Bulldogs (No. 4 seed South): So you’re telling me that Butler is going to have to beat North Carolina and either UCLA or Kentucky just to get to the Final Four where they may have to beat Kansas just to get to the national title game? Chris Holtmann has done an unbelievable job with this team. Chris Holtmann may get hired to replace Brad Stevens in Boston if he takes this team to a national title.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Azubuike’s presence huge as No. 1 Kansas holds off No. 8 Seton Hall

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It turns out Kansas is a whole heck of a lot better when Udoka Azubuike is in the floor.

Who knew?

The sophomore center returned Saturday for extended minutes after being limited with a knee injury to help the No. 1 Jayhawks to a 83-79 win over No. 8 Seton Hall to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

Azubuike had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but the strongest stat in his column was his plus-minus. When he was on the floor, Kansas bested the Pirates by 21 points. When he was off, the Jayhawks got outscored by 17, and there is noise in that number as Seton Hall continued to put them on the foul line in the last minute with Azubuike on the bench.

The 7-footer’s importance to Kansas has been apparent all season, but it was even starker against the Pirates, whose Angel Delgado feasted when Azubuike wasn’t on the floor.  Seton Hall’s double-double machine finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to power the Pirates into next week. Neither was Khadeen Carrington’s 28 points, all but two of which came after halftime.

Azubuike’s critical role for Kansas is three-fold. First, he’s very talented. Second, he makes the four-out offense possible. Third, the drop-off behind him – apologies to Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa – is rather significant.

Kansas, which got 28 points from Malik Newman, has to play a very specific way offensively with guard-heavy roster. The Jayhawks have to get up a ton of 3s, and they’ve got to make a bunch of them. Without Azubuike in the middle drawing attention and making it difficult for defenders to stay hugged-up on shooters on the perimeter, the architecture of the offense can crumble in on itself.

Azubuike certainly isn’t a perfect or dominant player, but he rebounds well, blocks shots and makes about three-quarters of his shots. Which, of course, means he fits his role perfectly for maybe the most vulnerable Kansas team in Bill Self’s tenure. The Jayhawks’ margin for error, at least at this juncture against the competition they’re going to see in Omaha, is pretty small. Deviate from the plan and things can get away from them quickly. Duke and Michigan State, Kansas’ presumptive opponents in the Elite Eight, will punish them for any missteps or holes in their gameplan.

Azubuike is the linchpin. When he’s in place, things hold together. When he’s not, there’s trouble.

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago beats No. 3 Tennessee to advance to Sweet 16

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Cinderella is headed to the Sweet 16!

For the second time in this tournament, trailing 62-61 on the final possession of the game, Loyola-Chicago has won.

On Thursday, the Ramblers got the benefit of a missed Lonnie Walker free throw and a game-winning three from Donte Ingram to beat No. 6-seed Miami, 64-62.

On Saturday, the situation was almost the same — the Ramblers had the ball with 10.5 seconds left on the clock — but the execution was different.

Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to answer Grant Williams’ and-one and send Loyola-Chicago to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the immortal words of Gus Johnson, the slipper still fits:

Loyola was in control of this game for the majority of the second half and led by eight points at the under-four time out, but a pair of threes from Tennessee set up Williams’ and-one on Tennessee’s final possession. Jordan Bone had a shot to win the game at the buzzer that bounced off the back of the rim.

Aundre Jackson led the Ramblers 16 points off the bench as No. 11-seed Loyola landed their second upset of the weekend, beating No. 3-seed Tennessee, 63-62, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Those 16 points that Jackson scored were the most that any Loyola player scored in either of their games this weekend. The 10 shots that Jackson took in the first round win over No. 3-seed Miami was the only time in those two games that a Rambler player had double-digit field goal attempts. They held Miami and Tennessee to a combined 116 points.

I say all that to say this: Loyola is not a typical Cinderella team. They don’t have some superstar scorer that carried them to this point in the tournament, like a Jairus Lyles from UMBC or a Jon Elmore from Marshall. They’re not a high-scoring team or a team that just-so-happened to catch fire from three at the right time. What they are is a smart, tough and extremely well-coached group that is everything you think of when you picture Missouri Valley basketball.

They aren’t going to give up penetration defensively. They are going to pound the defensive glass. They aren’t going to commit silly turnovers or take dumb shots. They’ll run their offense and trust that whatever their coach calls is going to get them the shot they need to get.

They will not beat themselves, and if you are going to beat them, you’re going to work for every possession.

And it’s worked.

Loyola will advance to Atlanta where they will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 7 Nevada. With Buffalo losing and either No. 10-seed Butler or No. 11-seed Syracuse counting as anything close to a mid-major, Loyola, Marshall and UMBC are the only true Cinderella teams left in the tournament. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers, who became the first No. 16 seed to get to the second round of the tournament after a Friday night win over top overall seed Virginia, take on No. 9-seed Kansas State on Sunday while No. 13-seed Marshall gets a date with in-state an rival, No. 5 West Virginia.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paces No. 5 Kentucky past No. 13 Buffalo

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Its deficit cut to five, Buffalo zipped down the floor in transition. The ball found Jeremy Harris, who stepped into his 3-point shot attempt and let it fly as the crowd in Boise was ready to blow the roof off Taco Bell Arena, hopeful they’d have the chance to will the Bulls to an upset of Kentucky. The shot barrelled toward the basket, carrying Buffalo’s Sweet 16 dreams with it.

The ball, along with control of the game, clanged off the rim and bounced into Kentucky’s hands.

The No. 5 Wildcats turned away No. 13 Buffalo, 95-75, on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.

Buffalo got 26 points from Wes Clark and 18 from CJ Massinburg, and made the Wildcats sweat deep into the second round until things spiraled away from them. Making just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and your opponent shooting 56.3 percent from the floor is no recipe for an upset.

Even with a rough shooting day, Buffalo threatened Kentucky time and again, but at every turn, the Wildcats had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The 6-foot-6 freshman was simply spectacular, scoring 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He added six rebounds and six assists for good measure.

Gilgeous-Alexander was an unsolvable problem for Buffalo. The Bulls were never able to find a way to corral or deny him. He just got what he wanted when he wanted it, and what he wanted was buckets. Lots of them.

Inconsistency has been the pock on Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie campaign, but in recent weeks he’s found his groove. He’s scored in double-digits in nine-straight games. He’s either made shots or gotten to the free-throw line. Sometimes both.

For a Kentucky team without a dominant player, Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a go-to and consistent scorer is huge. The Wildcats are going to have an athletic advantage in almost every game they play. If they’ve got a guy other than Kevin Knox they can count on for 15-plus, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off an offense that doesn’t have the benefit of much in the way of shooting.

The path for Kentucky to the Elite 8 looks incredibly navigable after Virginia’s stunning and historic loss Friday to UMBC. The Wildcats will have to beat a nine or 16 seed to be just 40 minutes from another Final Four.

If Gilgeous-Alexander can continue to be the offensive weapon he’s turned into over the last month, San Antonio may very well be hosting Big Blue Nation in April.

VIDEO: Buffalo’s Nick Perkins posterizes Kevin Knox

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Buffalo and Kentucky are locked in an entertaining battle on Saturday afternoon, and while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been completely dominant, the play of the day comes courtesy of the Bulls.

After Kentucky pushed their lead to 10 points with less than nine minutes left, Nick Perkins — who is known for as a three-point shooter than anything else — dunked on Kentucky’s soon-to-be lottery pick, Kevin Knox, emphatically:

Bettor wins $16,000 on UMBC wager

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The whole country became UMBC fans throughout Saturday night as the Retrievers attempted – and ultimately pulled off – the first-ever 16-over-1 upset in the NCAA tournament against Virginia.

There may have been one person at The Venetian in Las Vegas cheering a little more than most, though. They had a little more on the line. The moneyline, to be exact. 

One bettor won $16,000 on a $800 wager that UMBC would beat the Cavaliers, which is exactly what they did, 74-54, in Charlotte.

While the bet paid off this time and it makes for an all-time story, it’s probably best not to make this your betting strategy. If you would have bet 800 bucks on every 16 seed every year, you would have been $108,000 in the hole before getting your Retriever payout and riding a rough 135-bet losing streak. Can’t win without buying a ticket, though, right?

And it’s not like that the person who just cashed a $16,000 check cares about that at the moment. Also no word on how they’re betting UMBC against Kansas State, either. The Wildcats are 10.5-point favorites, if you were wondering.