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.
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.
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.
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.