Power Rankings: The Sweet 16 teams

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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.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.