2018 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Power Rankings

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There are 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament, which means that it is time for us to re-rank the teams left in the field based on the chances that they can win the NCAA tournament.

So let’s get do it:

16. SYRACUSE

This is what the Orange are going to have to do just to get to the national title game, assuming that seeds hold (LOL!): Beat Duke, beat Kansas and beat Villanova. Then, once there, they’re going to have to take down Kentucky, or Gonzaga, or Michigan. The Orange have, without question, the most difficult path of anyone left in the field, and they’re the lowest-rated team on KenPom, which of course means Jim Boeheim is taking this group back to the Final Four.

15. KANSAS STATE

I think I would have Kansas State higher on this list if there was any kind of certainty about the status of Dean Wade. He’s Kansas State’s leading scorer and he has missed the last three games with an injury. Even if he is playing, I don’t think that I would take Bruce Weber’s Wildcats to beat the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16, not with the way that Kentucky has been playing of late.

14. FLORIDA STATE

I still don’t quite understand how Florida State did what they did in the first weekend of this tournament. They beat down Missouri in the first round and then erased a 12-point deficit in 10 minutes against the No. 1 seed in their region. Please, someone explain this to me. Until that someone does, I am not a believer. Sorry, ‘Noles.

13. LOYOLA-CHICAGO

I’m a believer in Loyola-Chicago. They can really, really defend, and they are balanced enough defensively that you can’t really key in on one guy. Plus, they have God on their side. Sister Jean has apparently sent up enough Hail Marys that Clayton Custer’s last-second jumper against Tennessee was able to, somehow, find its way into the bucket:

12. CLEMSON

I’ve overlooked Clemson all season, and I have not learned my lesson. The Tigers, like Syracuse, have just a brutal path to even get to the national title game. They play Kansas in the Sweet 16 before playing, if seeds hold, Duke then Villanova. Give Brad Brownell’s team credit. They got Clemson someplace that no one in the country thought they could get to back in November. They’re playing with house money now.

11. TEXAS A&M

Texas A&M’s big men are going to physically impose their will on the Michigan front line on Thursday night … if the ball actually gets to them. The Aggies are on to, what, their fourth point guard on the season with T.J. Starks? And he’s going to have to deal with Zavier Simpson, who has held these guards to these stat-lines the last six games:

  • Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 11 points, 3-14 FGs, 3 turnovers
  • Glynn Watson, Nebraska: 10 points, 4-12 FGs, 2 turnovers
  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State: 11 points, 3-10 FGs
  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: 10 points, 4-16 FGs
  • Ahmaad Rorie, Montana: 15 points, 6-17 FGs
  • Rob Gray, Houston: 23 points, 8-22 FGs

10. WEST VIRGINIA

I actually think West Virginia, with the way that they are playing, is one of the five best teams left in the tournament. So why do I have them 10th on this list? Because it is not possible to create a team that would be a worse matchup for Press Virginia than Villanova is. Bob Huggins’ defense relies on speeding teams up and forcing them to make mistakes. No one is ever going to speed Jalen Brunson up or force him to make a mistake. It’s just not going to happen. So if West Virginia throws a press at Villanova and that press doesn’t work, the Wildcats are going to get wide-open three after wide-open three. They aren’t Michigan State. They’ll make their threes.

9. NEVADA

If you’re going to take a flier on a team with good odds to win the national title, Nevada would be my pick. They’re talented, more talented than you realize. They have dudes that — and I mean with with respect — have absolutely no idea the magnitude of the moment they’re playing in. The Martin twins, Jordan Caroline, Josh Hall, Kendell Stephens. Those guys scrap, they’re tough and athletic, they are shot-makers, they can all get hot and put up 20 points in a half.

Oh, and they had the good juju with Mariah Musselman becoming a March superstar.

8. PURDUE

On the one hand, I think that there may be some sneaky upside to losing Isaac Haas to the season with that fractured elbow. Matt Haarms is definitely a better defender, particularly in ball-screen actions, and since there is so little tape on the Boilermakers playing without Haas, Matt Painter will have the element of surprise on his side. On the other hand, Purdue just lost a guy that averages 14.7 points and anchors their offense in the post. They are suddenly much more one-dimensional with games coming up against teams (Texas Tech, potentially Villanova) that don’t necessarily have the size to handle Haas inside.

7. TEXAS TECH

The Red Raiders look exactly how I thought they would look in this tournament. They are a nightmare to try and score on, and they have a dude in Keenan Evans. He’s been one of the best players in the tournament to date, and is averaging 16.5 points … in the second half of games. He’s their closer, and their defense is good enough that you’ll never be able to pull away from them.

6. KANSAS

I would have Kansas higher on this list — I love Devonte’ Graham, I think they are dangerous given how well they shot the ball, I think that Udoka Azubuike is criminally-underrated — but the idea of Svi Mykhailiuk or LaGerald Vick being forced to deal with either Marvin Bagley III or Wendell Carter in the paint is the kind of thing that will give Bill Self an ulcer.

5. MICHIGAN

I don’t really know what to make of this group. They didn’t look all that good against either Montana or Houston, but they advanced on the strength of a defense that seems positively anti-Beileinian. You have to figure their inability to score is going to be figured out by Beilein, but that defense is always going to be there.

4. GONZAGA

I know that the Zags have not been super-impressive through the first weekend of games, but think about this: They just got back a good Ohio State team in the second round of the tournament in a game where their two-best big men and their two fourth-year guards combined for 34 points. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Killian Tillie, Johnathan Williams III — they are not going to play that poorly again. But if Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell stay hot, watch out.

3. KENTUCKY

The Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like an all-american while Kevin Knox has been a more consistent scoring threat on the wing. They’re rebounding the ball, they’re defending, they’ve seemingly figured out rotations.

Oh, and they are not going to have to face a top six-seed before the Final Four and a top two-seed before the national title game. Remember when John Calipari was complaining about how difficult their path was? Hahahaha …

2. VILLANOVA

For my money, the winner of the Duke-Villanova Final Four game — assuming that game happens in San Antonio, and it has to happen, you owe it to us, Basketball Gods — will be the team that ends up winning the national title this season. Duke’s front line is just overpowering, and Villanova’s ability to rain threes is a game-changer. Think about it like this: Against Alabama, a team that more or less matched up with the Wildcats perfectly on paper, Villanova won by 23 points despite the fact that Jalen Brunson was just OK because Donte DiVincenzo went bonkers at the end of the first half and Mikal Bridges caught fire early in the first half. They are scary.

1. DUKE

I’ve said, even since Duke made the switch to play the 2-3 zone full-time, that they are the best team in college basketball. I picked them to win it all at the start of the tournament. Of course I’m going to have them right here, at the top of the rankings, heading into the Sweet 16.

This is why: Duke’s front line is impossible to matchup with because they are just so big, but their opponents cannot take advantage of going small at the other end because of that Duke zone. Back when Duke played man, teams like Boston College and St. John’s were able to exploit Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter in ball-screens with smaller, quicker players. Now? In the zone? Carter doesn’t leave the charge circle and all Bagley has to do is be long, athletic and active. He can do that. So good luck with their big men.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.