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2019 NCAA tournament: Re-ranking Sweet 16 teams

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The first weekend of the NCAA tournament has come to a close, which means that it is time to re-rank the 16 teams left in the field. 

This ranking is the undisputed, inarguable way that these teams should be ranked. 

1. DUKE

Duke probably should be out of the NCAA tournament right now. They were not the better team on Sunday night. UCF was. But, it seems, that Johnny Dawkins did something to piss off the Basketball Gods, because they were not looking out for him.

As a result, Duke is in the Sweet 16, and if you think that I am going to back off the take that the Blue Devils are the best team in college basketball, you’re nuts. I think the UCF game had more to do with matchup than anything else — UCF is uniquely suited to beating this Duke team — and I’m not convinced the rest of the country has the horses to do what the Knights did.

Only time will tell if that is a foolish take.

2. VIRGINIA

Virginia shook off a slow start against Gardner-Webb and make their way to the Sweet 16 in relatively comfortable fashion. With the way the draw broke down, Virginia actually has the easiest path to the Final Four if, for no other reason, they are the only team that doesn’t have to face a top five seed in the Sweet 16. They just draw the Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon Ducks, who have won ten straight games, the last eight of which came in road or neutral court venues.

Did I mention that this Sweet 16 is going to be amazing?

3. GONZAGA

It’s crazy to think that we’re just a week removed from everyone questioning just how good Gonzaga is after they lost to Saint Mary’s in the title game of the WCC tournament. It’s also crazier to think that Gonzaga is the No. 1-seed that faced the least game pressure in getting to the Sweet 16. They were the only top seed that did not play like they had their feet stuck in quicksand in their opening round game, and while Baylor made some noise in the second half, there was never any real threat that the Zags would lose.

Oh, and should I mention that Brandon Clarke has finally proven himself to the nation at large? The 36 points, eight boards, five blocks, three assists and two steals he had against Baylor was arguably the most impressive performance of the first weekend.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

4. NORTH CAROLINA

The Tar Heels continued to roll this weekend, knocking off Iona and Washington to get to the Sweet 16. Coby White has continued to play well as Luke Maye and Cam Johnson have been just as good as advertised, but the difference maker for UNC is Nassir Little. He played his best back-to-back games in the first weekend of the tournament, averaging 19.5 points in the two wins, and now the Tar Heels head into a matchup against a high-flying, spread-you-out Auburn team that sets the table for Little to have an another monster game.

5. TEXAS TECH

I am, admittedly, higher than I maybe should be on this Texas Tech team, but in my defense, that’s because I think the world of Chris Beard as a head coach and Jarrett Culver as a go-to guy. The Red Raiders are one of the nation’s elite defenses, and with the way they have been shooting the ball over the course of the last eight weeks, they can hang with just about anyone. Throw in the fact that they were the top seed that was challenged the least in the first weekend, and my love affair with Texas Tech is still in full force.

6. TENNESSEE

I’m not really sure what to make of the Vols at this point.

On the one hand, this is a group that has been a top eight team all season long. They have an all-american in Grant Williams that played like an all-american this weekend as well as a future NBA wing in Admiral Schofield who played like a future NBA wing. That’s all good!

But they also blew two massive leads against two overmatched teams. So while it is promising that they were able to avoid a complete capitulation against Colgate and Iowa, it sure is a concern that Tennessee has not put together a full 40 minutes yet in this event, and that this is coming after that embarrassing loss to Auburn in the SEC title game.

7. MICHIGAN

Every time I watch Michigan play I wonder just how in the world they are going to be able to score enough points to win. Then they start playing defense, Zavier Simpson starts making hook shots and before you know it, they’re up 40-28 with 12 minutes left and a comeback seems impossible. Watching the Michigan buzzsaw take on the Texas Tech buzzsaw this week is going to be tremendous theater.

8. FLORIDA STATE

I’ve come full circle on Florida State this season. I thought they were one of the most overrated teams in the country heading into the year, and at this point I think that they are probably the most underseeded team in the field. Part of it is just how disruptive their defense can be, with the number of switchable athletes they have on the roster. Part of it is the emergence of Terance Mann as the heart and soul of this group. And perhaps the biggest part of it is Mfiondu Kabengele, who has developed into one of the best players in this tournament even if Leonard Hamilton refuses to use him in the starting lineup.

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

9. AUBURN

Easily the most volatile team in the tournament from game to game and possession to possession. They probably should have lost to New Mexico State in the first round of the tournament, and they followed that up by absolutely drilling Kansas. When they get into a rhythm, when their defense is creating offense and they are hitting their threes, they can run anyone off the floor.

Including North Carolina.

10. HOUSTON

I don’t know if the Cougars have enough to be able to make a run to the Final Four, but I do know that they are as well-coached and as disciplined as anyone left in this event. The way that they move and rotate on the defensive end of the floor is so impressive, and their quarter of guards — Corey Davis Jr., Armoni Brooks, Galen Robinson, Dejon Jarreau — are really dangerous. Getting Kentucky with a banged up P.J. Washington is a nice little break, too.

11. MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans are the one team this season that just keep performing at a ridiculously high level despite the fact that they don’t necessarily have the roster pieces that justify how good they have been. So while part of me says, “this is why you trust Izzo,” another part of me is waiting for the exhaustion to kick in and the lack of depth to kick in. How long can Cassius Winston carry a team on his back?

12. VIRGINIA TECH

When Justin Robinson was fully healthy in January, Virginia Tech was a top ten basketball team. When he was gone, they went 7-5 and stumbled their way into a No. 4 seed. Now that he’s back, is he healthy enough to make the Hokies a top ten caliber team again? I’m not sold on that yet, not when he spent quite a bit of time in the first weekend hobbling around on a foot that looked like it still hurt.

13. KENTUCKY

Can anyone give me a definitive answer on the status of P.J. Washington?

Anyone?

Because he has been Kentucky’s best player this season. When the Wildcats made the jump from being a team that we thought had a chance to be great into being a team that actually was great, it was when Washington turned into a superhuman. He was the best player in college hoops for a five-week stretch. That’s when Kentucky became a real title contender.

And he was in a cast — not a walking boot, a cast — this past weekend.

Maybe Cal is telling the truth when he says that this was more precautionary than anything else. At the very least, I’m skeptical, and even if that is the truth, are we sure that Washington will be 100 percent if the cast does come off for Friday’s game against Houston?

With a healthy P.J. Washington, Kentucky slots in right behind Tennessee on this list for me. Without him, they need to prove to me they can win it all.

14. PURDUE

We saw just how good can be when Carsen Edwards has a ceiling game on Saturday night. He went for 42 points and the Boilermakers beat Villanova by 26. We also saw that Purdue is beatable when Edwards has what has become an all to typical performance for him: He went 7-for-23 from the floor in the first round and Purdue because Old Dominion by just 13 points, which wasn’t enough for a cover in a lot of places.

15. LSU

If we’re talking about talent, I’m not sure there are four teams with more than LSU has on their roster You can see how good they are when they jump out to massive leads on anyone they come across. LSU’s problem is they haven’t been able to respond to halftime adjustments that their opponents make, case-in-point being their inability to solve Maryland’s junk 1-2-2 zone in the second round. If Tremont Waters doesn’t bail them out with a tough, game-winning bucket in the second round, we might be talking about Maryland in this space instead.

16. OREGON

Here’s the crazy thing about Oregon being ranked 16th on this list: I think you can make an argument that the Ducks, who were a preseason top 15 teams, are right about in that same range right now. Louis King has been balling of late. Kenny Wooten has gone full Jordan Bell on us. Payton Pritchard has had his star turn in this tournament. There is plenty of talent on this roster, and the Ducks have found a way to make it all fit together. They’ve won 10 straight games now, and sure have looked like a team that can threaten Virginia in the next round.

N.C. State forward Jericole Hellems released from hospital

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State says sophomore forward Jericole Hellems has been released from a hospital and is in “good spirits” after an injury in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.

The team announced the news Sunday on Twitter. Hellems had fallen on a rebound attempt and banged the back of his head on the court with 28 seconds left. He was alert but had to be carried from the court on a stretcher. Then he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons to rule out a possible lower back injury as well as to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

The team says Hellems will meet with NC State doctors in the coming days, while coach Kevin Keatts will address his status later in the week.

NC State travels to UNC Greensboro next Sunday.

AP Poll: Louisville remains No. 1, Ohio State jumps to No. 3

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Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season, while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.

The Cardinals solidified thier place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday by routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.

“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”

Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a Big Ten blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.

The Spartans continued their fall from preseason No. 1 after losing to Duke, this time dropping from 11th to No. 16. The Tar Heels tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after getting crushed by Ohio State and losing to No. 9 Virginia.

San Diego State joined the rankings at No. 25.

1. Louisville (55)

2. Kansas (4)

3. Ohio St. (5)

4. Maryland

5. Michigan

6. Gonzaga

7. Duke

8. Kentucky

9. Virginia

10. Oregon

11. Baylor

12. Auburn

13. Memphis

14. Dayton

15. Arizona

16. Michigan St.

17. North Carolina

18. Butler

19. Tennessee

20. Villanova

21. Florida St.

22. Seton Hall

23. Xavier

24. Colorado

25. San Diego St.

Others receiving votes: Utah St. 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 8, Texas 6, Florida 5, Penn St. 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, Duquesne 1, DePaul 1, VCU 1.

Monday’s Overreactions: Naji Marshall owns Cincinnati, Ohio State is No. 1, Joel Ayayi

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Naji Marshall, Xavier

Marshall has lived up to the hype through the first month of the season, but the biggest and best game that he has played in 2019 happened on Saturday. Squaring off with archrival Cincinnati, Marshall went off for 31 points, eight boards, five steals and three assists, hitting four threes and totally outplaying his Bearcat counterpart, Jarron Cumberland.

As a team, Xavier has been a little bit up and down this season. Their issues shooting the ball have been prevalent all season long, and as good as the likes of Tyrique Jones, Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs – hell, and Marshall himself – can be, there has been some inconsistency to date.

There was not any on Saturday.

Marshall took over and led Xavier to their biggest win of the season.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

Can we even consider anyone else?

On Wednesday, the Buckeyes went into Chapel Hill and ran North Carolina out of their own gym, leaving with a 74-49 win. On Saturday, Chris Holtmann’s club hosted Penn State, and that did not go well for the Nittany Lions, who lost by 32 points while giving up 106.

This team is starting to look scary, and there’s a valid argument to make that they should be sitting at No. 1 in the AP poll this morning.

Speaking of which …

OVERREACTIONS

1. OHIO STATE HAS THE MOST IMPRESSIVE RESUME IN THE COUNTRY

If we ranked teams solely based on resume at this point in the season, I don’t think there is any way to leave the Buckeyes out of the top spot.

They are undefeated. They have beaten Villanova by 25 at home. They have beaten North Carolina by 25 on the road. They have beaten Penn State by 32 at home. Those are three of the top 24 teams in the country, according to KenPom. No one else can match that. Hell, the Buckeyes are currently sitting at No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings.

To put those wins into context, consider this, via Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision: There have been six instances this season of a top 50 KenPom team losing by 20 or more points. Ohio State is responsible for three of them.

To be honest, I’m not ready to actually call Ohio State the best team in college basketball – I explain why in the podcast below at the 11:20 mark – but they are certainly playing like it.

2. WE FINALLY SAW THE ANTHONY COWAN WE NEED TO SEE FOR MARYLAND TO REACH THEIR POTENTIAL

Look, I know how ridiculous this is going to sound.

Coming off of a performance where Anthony Cowan shot 6-for-14 from the floor in a game where Maryland needed something bordering on a miracle to erase a 15 point second half deficit at home against unranked Illinois, I’m finally convinced?

Well, kinda?

Here’s my logic: I am not sold on Mark Turgeon being the best coach in college basketball, and I am hardly alone in that sentiment. But he does have a roster with some talent, and it is always a good sign when a team’s talent takes over and wins a game where, frankly, they played like crap. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday. In the past, Cowan would not have taken over. In the past, he would not have put the team on his back, scored 20 points in the final 23 minutes and finished with seven boards, six assists and the game-tying and winning points in the final 20 seconds.

All-Americans bail their team out in games they are not supposed to win. Final Four teams win games where they don’t show up until they are getting thoroughly embarrassed. The Terps did both of those things.

Now, would I like to see them finally figure out how to win without sleepwalking through the first half of games?

Absolutely!

But it’s hardly a bad sign to be sitting at 10-0 as you’re still figuring things out.

3. BUTLER IS THE MOST UNDERRATED TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

After taking down Florida in Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon, Butler has a surprisingly impressive crop of wins this season. They beat Minnesota at home. They beat Missouri in Kansas City. They beat Stanford on a neutral. They won at Ole Miss. And now they have that win over the Gators, who we just can’t quite seem to quit.

Either way, the Bulldogs play at Baylor on Tuesday night and then take on Purdue in the Crossroads Classic next Saturday.

We’ll know more about them then, but for now, this is a team that we have to talk about.

That said …

4. … NO ONE HAS MADE US A BELIEVER IN MORE TEAMS THAN FLORIDA

Florida State beat Florida in Gainesville?

The Seminoles must be awesome!

UConn beat Florida in Storrs?

The Huskies are back, baby!

Butler knocks off the Gators in Hinkle?

The Bulldogs are the most underrated team in the country?

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5. JOEL AYAYI IS THE X-FACTOR THAT WILL MAKE GONZAGA A TITLE CONTENDER

Listen, I’m not saying that Ayayi is the best player on this Gonzaga roster.

I think that he’s probably their third-best player, and even that might be generous.

What he is, however, is a guy that fills a role that the Zags didn’t have anyone to fill. The issue with this Gonzaga team heading into the season was in their backcourt. We wondered if they had enough point guard play, perimeter shooting and playmaking to be able to compete with the best teams in the country. It’s one thing to have a great frontline with guards that can get them the rock where they need it. It’s another thing to have a great frontline and no one that an initiate offense or keep defenses honest.

Ayayi has done those things to date this season. He’s averaging 10.1 points, 6.6 boards and 3.8 assists, which is second on the team to Ryan Woolridge, who is quietly having a solid start to the season as well. He provides length, athleticism, floor-spacing, a second ball-handler and creator. He takes the pressure off of Woolridge to carry the lead guard load.

He is more or less everything that Gonzaga fans were hoping Admon Gilder would turn into.

We’ll see if this lasts, but his performance against Washington on Saturday was really promising. Ayayi didn’t play or shoot particularly well, but he stepped up with 20 seconds left and buried the biggest shot of the game, a three to give the Zags a 82-76 lead and bury U-Dub.

Mamukelashvili breaks wrist as No. 16 Seton Hall loses to Iowa State

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AMES, Iowa (AP) — No. 16 Seton Hall lost much more than a game in Ames, as starter Sandro Mamukelashvili broke his right wrist in the first half of a loss at Iowa State.

Tyrese Haliburton scored 17 points, George Conditt had a season-high 17 off the bench and the Cyclones knocked off Seton Hall 76-66 on Sunday for its second straight victory.

Rasir Bolton scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to help the Cyclones avenge an 84-76 loss on Nov. 29 to the Pirates (6-3) in the Bahamas. The rematch was part of the Big East/Big 12 Alliance series.

Mamukelashvili, a 6-foot-11 forward and a facilitator who averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game entering play, went down hard with 15:14 to go in the first half and didn’t return.

Coach Kevin Willard said after the game that it was too soon to know how long Mamukelashvili might be out.

“I don’t know for sure. It’s definitely broken. But we … have to go get an MRI tomorrow and let our doctors and radiologists read it,” Willard said. “There’s definitely a break in there, it’s just that we don’t know where it is.”

Conditt’s free throws pushed Iowa State’s lead to 59-53 with 2:56 left. Haliburton then drew an offensive foul and freed himself for a wide-open 3 at the top of the key. Haliburton drilled it, making it a nine-point game at the 2:23 mark.

Seton Hall fouled Prentiss Nixon from beyond the arc with 1:27 left. Nixon hit all three from the line to push Iowa State back up by nine, and Conditt’s transition dunk sealed the win.

Iowa State won despite shooting just 4 of 19 on 3s.

“Every good team needs a signature win and this was the first one for us,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “It felt really good beat a ranked team, but also a team that beat us before.”

Myles Powell scored 19 points with eight rebounds for Seton Hall. But Powell was 7 of 20 shooting, had five turnovers and fouled out with 54.4 seconds to go on an offensive foul. The Pirates’ previous defeats came against Michigan State and Oregon by just five combined points.

Seton Hall committed 20 turnovers and was outrebounded 43-40 despite having a major size advantage. The Pirates also gave Iowa State 33 tries from the line, and Cyclones made 26 of them.

“We turned the ball over too much and we fouled,” Willard said. “You can’t go on the road against a good team and turn the basketball over and foul.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: On losing Mamukelashvili, Willard said that “it changes things a lot. But the good thing is, we have some guys that need to get comfortable in that role and step up in that role…we’re going to need everyone to step up.”

Iowa State: The Cyclones have been strangely awful at times this season shooting jump shots — even though they supposedly have enough shooters. It’s a problem that Iowa State will need to get sorted out before it threatens to sink their season. On the plus side, the Cyclones were active with their hands in forcing Seton Hall’s bigs to turn it over, and Haliburton delivered yet another signature performance.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Losing on the road to a Big 12 team that had the opportunity to play them 10 days ago shouldn’t cost the Pirates too much. Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum can be a brutal place for opponents — especially one that didn’t necessarily know what it was walking into.

HE SAID IT

“It’s a hell of a win for us.” —- Prohm said.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall: At Rutgers on Saturday.

Iowa State: Hosts Iowa on Thursday night.

Monday Overreactions Podcast: Ohio State’s the best, Travis Steele’s the GOAT, is Anthony Cowan good?

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to walk through everything that happened in college basketball this weekend. Is Ohio State the best team in college basketball? Is it actually Maryland? Just how good is Anthony Cowan? Just how bad is Florida? And did Travis Steele do the greatest thing in the history of coaching on Saturday night? He might have.