Bracket Briefing: Ranking the Sweet 16 teams – USA TODAY
After a four-day extravaganza of college hoops, we have our Sweet 16 for the 2014 NCAA tournament.
A few things to note: No. 1 seed Wichita State is no longer unbeaten and is out of the tournament field. Thank Kentucky for that. No. 2 seeds Villanova and Kansas were sent home, as were No. 3 seeds Syracuse, Duke and Creighton. Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa State were the only non-No. 1s with a top three seed to advance.
BRACKET HUB: Everything March Madness
That brings us to the common denominator: No. 4 seeds. All of ’em — Louisville, Michigan State, UCLA and San Diego State — made it to the second week.
Then there’s the surprise cast. You know, the bracket busters. Let’s start with the South Region, where Dayton and Stanford meet after knocking off proverbial powerhouses in Syracuse and Kansas. In the West, Baylor is a bit of a surprise; in the Midwest it’s No. 11 Tennessee, and in the east it’s No. 7 seed Connecticut.
Now that all that’s sorted out, let’s start looking forward. Which teams come out on top Thursday and Friday to advance to the Elite Eight? Which teams win on the weekend to reach the Final Four? We’ll take it a step further. Which team wins it all? Here’s a breakdown of our 16 teams most likely to have that One Shining Moment. Cheers.
1. Arizona: The Wildcats comfortably cruised past Gonzaga in the third round — flexing their muscles as one of the most complete teams in the country. Sean Miller’s group has responded well since the midseason injury to starter Brandon Ashley. Led by the backcourt of T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson, this Arizona team is superb on both sides of the ball and freshman star Aaron Gordon has rare versatility.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans are hitting their stride after being riddled with injuries for much of the season. The return of starter Branden Dawson, who had 26 points in a third round win vs. Harvard, has helped the team rekindle its winning ways. Coach Tom Izzo has enough offensive weapons to win his first national title since 2000.
3. Florida: The Gators are riding a 28-game win streak, and the key has been senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC Player of the Year. Coach Billy Donovan has a seven-man rotation of guys playing at least 20 minutes a game.
4. Kentucky: The Wildcats were the preseason No. 1 but fell out of the Coaches Poll a month ago. The growing pains seem to be passed, though, as Kentucky is making the extra pass, getting 50/50 balls and limiting turnovers. Here’s five reasons the Wildcats look NCAA title good.
VIDEO: WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN THE SWEET 16
5. Virginia: If defense wins championships, consider the Cavaliers a top candidate to cut down the nets. “Show me a better team, defensively, left in this tournament. I would like to see it,” TNT analyst Reggie Miller said. If the scoreboard reads 40-40 with two minutes remaining, Virginia has its opponent right where it wants it.
6. Louisville: The Cardinals had plenty of momentum heading into the NCAA tournament, but have had two tough matchups. The defending champions struggled with poor shooting and 19 turnovers in a defensive battle with Saint Louis, but 2013 Final Four MVP Luke Hancock filled in with 21 points.
7. UCLA: Sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson had 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in the Pac-12 Tournament championship and continues to pilot this surging squad that averages 82 points a game and shoots 49% from the field. Jordan Adams is a go-to scorer down the stretch, and that’s a luxury a lot of Sweet 16 teams don’t have.
8. Wisconsin: Coach Bo Ryan might have his first Final Four team. The Badgers’ success starts on the defensive end, but the backcourt tandem of Traveon Jackson and Ben Brust have come on strong offensively, and Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker stretch the floor as hot shooting big men.
9. Michigan: When the Wolverines are making their shots from beyond the arc — as they did with 14 three-pointers in a third-round victory against Texas, they’re tough to beat. That’s also the case when they limit turnovers, as they did against the Longhorns. Back-to-back national title game appearances are a possibility.
10. Iowa State: DeAndre Kane is one of the most polished offensive players in the country, and fellow senior guard can be hard to stop. The Cyclones lead all tournament teams with 19 assists per game. Despite the loss of Georges Niang, there’s still plenty of hope.
11. Tennessee: The Volunteers were on the NCAA tournament bubble a few weeks ago. Jordan McRae, a 6-6 wing, has NBA talent, and forward Jarnell Stokes averages a double-double. Tennessee’s length defensively and ability to score inside and out make them a contender.
12. Connecticut: The Huskies weren’t allowed to participate in the NCAAs last season and are making the most of their 2014 berth. Shabazz Napier is one of the best players left in the tournament.
13. Baylor: The Bears’ doiminance of Creighton showed they are capable of putting the defensive clamps down on teams. Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin make for a fearsome frontcourt, and Kenny Chery and Brady Heslip are potent scorers in the backcourt.
14. San Diego State: The Aztecs are one of the best defensive teams left in the tournament, ranking second nationally in scoring defense and eighth in field goal percentage defense. They find ways to score with their athleticism and guard Xavier Thames, who had 30 points in SDSU’s win against North Dakota State.
15. Dayton: The Flyers, another team flirting with missing the field of 68, transformed their hot-and-cold regular season into a memorable postseason — one that led to a congratulatory call from President Obama. Jordan Sibbert and Devin Oliver have been the top offensive catalysts, and forward Dyshawn Pierre has been a tough matchup for opponents — leading the team in scoring in stunning upsets vs. Ohio State and Syracuse. One key to both of the Flyers’ upset wins has been their ability to control the glass. They’ll need to keep that up to keep their season alive.
16. Stanford: One reassuring yet troubling stat regarding Stanford’s win against Kansas: The Cardinal went 0-for-9 from beyond the arc and still found a way to beat the heavily-favored Jayhawks. Guard Chasson Randle steers the team’s offense, while senior big man Dwight Powell provides a steady post presence.
STAR WATCH: Cleanthony Early finished with 31 points in Wichita State’s’ first and only loss of the season vs. Kentucky. The game was an instant classic, Chris Chase writes.
THE HIGHLIGHT REEL: DeAndre Kane’s layup with little time remaining lifted Iowa State past North Carolina after a resilient comeback.
TWEET THAT SPEAKS VOLUMES: Creighton’s season-ending loss to Baylor in the third round ended Doug McDermott’s prolific career in which he finished fifth all-time in scoring. Here’s a look at McDermott’s NBA future, courtesy of Adi Joseph.
MARCH SADNESS: The flip side of the memorable upsets is the cold agony of defeat.
CINDERELLA WATCH: No other Cinderellas were able to join Dayton in the Sweet 16 as Stephen F. Austin lost to UCLA and Mercer fell to Tennessee on Sunday.
WORDS OF THE DAY: “I would have played in the Sweet 16. Definitely. … I could have played today. It was pretty hard watching them lose. …I felt like I could have helped, but it is what it is.” — Kansas freshman Joel Embiid said following the Jayhawks’ season-ending loss to Stanford on Sunday. Here’s a look at how a lackluster performance on Sunday affected Andrew Wiggins’ draft stock.
Scott Gleeson, a national college basketball writer/digital producer for USA TODAY Sports, is on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
ALL THE NCAA TOURNAMENT THIRD ROUND ACTION