The college basketball world has been ruled by the news regarding Bruce Pearl‘s firing at Tennessee, but there’s still this little thing going on that we like to call the “NCAA Tournament” that probably has your attention as well.
We had some outstanding games this past weekend, with upsets all over the country, and teams fighting for a chance to keep their national championship hopes alive.
We’ve got the final 16 teams in place in this year’s tournament, with the games starting back up on Thursday. And of course, by Sunday night, we’ll know who the four teams are that will be competing for the title in Houston.
Let’s take a look at the remaining teams in the field, and rank them in terms of their early tournament performance and possible championship hopes:
1. Ohio State Buckeyes – The top overall seed in this year’s tournament has not disappointed thus far. As expected, they rolled up UTSA in their first game on Friday, and then unexpectedly, they did the exact same thing to George Mason yesterday, in route to a 32-point victory over Jim Larranaga‘s squad. Everywhere you look on the floor, there’s a player waiting to bust out for 20 or more points, and that’s why this team is just so dangerous. If you decide to double down on Jared Sullinger, you have to worry about the outside threat of Jon Diebler. And William Buford. And David Lighty. This team is just so balanced from top to bottom that, right now, they are clearly the best team in this entire field. And I’m not sure anyone else is even close.
2. Kansas Jayhawks – Kansas struggled for a while with BU in their first round matchup, but the Jayhawks have never been the type to completely blow teams out of the building. They picked up a nice win over Illinois in the second round, with the Morris twins once again leading the way. So while Kansas hasn’t been overly impressive like Ohio State has, perhaps it’s their bracket that gives them even more of a boost in the rankings. They get the 12-seed in Richmond in their Sweet 16 matchup on Friday, and should they win that one, it’s a showdown with 10-seed Florida State or 11-seed VCU. Not exactly the teams we expected to see at this point. So of all the teams left, Kansas might be in the best situation of any of them.
3. Duke Blue Devils – While we aren’t necessarily trying to go by seeding, I think Duke still has all the ingredients that you need to win a championship. They let Michigan hang around for too long, which left that game much closer than it should of been, but this team has been here before and knows how to win tight games. The addition of Kyrie Irving hasn’t been completely game-changing just yet, but now that he’s had some action in the first few games, he’s going to help them in tough games such as the one they’ll have with Arizona. Let’s not forget that they are the defending national champions, so you have to give them the advantage in games that go down to the wire. Which will likely be the case in the rest of the games that they play in this tournament.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels – Admittedly, I picked Washington over the Tar Heels in the second round before this tournament ever started. I didn’t like the way UNC has started off games in the ACC tournament, and thought it would come back to haunt them against a feisty team like Washington. However, they found a way to squeak out a close one, and now get a similar hard-nosed team in Marquette. Harrison Barnes has looked like the Harrison Barnes that we thought he would be this season, and while Marquette will give them trouble, I think the game with Washington was tougher than this one will be.
5. Connecticut Huskies – In terms of overall balance, UConn might not be towards the top of this list. But, that doesn’t really matter when you have Kemba Walker on your team. I mean, seriously people…..it’s been a good little while since this team got beat. They finished ninth in the now not so highly respected Big East, yet they won the conference tournament by winning five games in five days, and took care of business against Cornell and Cincinnati. But again, they finished ninth in the Big East! So how have they done this? Easy, the Kemba factor. There’s no way I’m betting against this guy right now. We thought he was on a mission for a Big East championship. Well, he got that. Now it’s clear that he’s set his sights on a bigger prize.
6. Florida Gators – I still feel like the Gators are flying under the radar despite playing quite well in the first weekend of the tourney. They’ve got nice inside-out balance, but it’s clear that their guard play is what is pushing them thus far. And that’s where there’s a little concern. Kenny Boynton suffered an ankle injury in the win over UCLA, and he’ll be called upon to guard Jimmer Fredette in the Sweet 16 game against BYU. Erving Walker will also be helping out, so at least they have options there. Florida’s speed is a huge strength and they need Boynton to be close to 100% if they want to knock off the Cougars.
7. BYU Cougars – Speaking of BYU, um yeah, I had Gonzaga taking them down in my bracket. Yep, I bet against The Jimmer. As you can see, betting against The Jimmer is never a good move. Even without Brandon Davies, the Cougars have looked very strong so far in the tournament, with their 22-point win over the Zags being one of the bigger surprises of the tourney thus far. We saw SDSU pummel them in the Mountain West title game, but this team has flipped a switch. Jimmer is out to prove a point, and the rest of the Southeast region are all good matchups for them.
8. San Diego State Aztecs – I loved the way that the Aztecs took it to BYU in the aforementioned MWC championship. However, I have not loved the way that they’ve looked in the Big Dance. It took a little while to shake Northern Colorado in the first round, and in their second round game against Temple, they didn’t exactly make the greatest decisions down the stretch which almost cost them the game. The good news in all of this is that it’s clear that they haven’t played their best basketball in these two games, so it’s gotta come out at some point. The matchup with UConn should be one of the most intriguing of the round of 16.
9. Kentucky Wildcats – After the last second victory against Princeton in round number one, the Wildcats turned it on to knock off a solid West Virginia squad. Brandon Knight went from scoring one basket against the Tigers to scoring 30 points against the Mountaineers, so it’s safe to say that when he finds his flow, he’s almost impossible to keep out of the paint. Even though Ohio State is playing incredible right now, I do like Kentucky’s chances to make this game interesting. They have the talent on the outside to keep it close, but who will contain Sullinger inside? That’s the biggest question mark in this game.
10. Arizona Wildcats – Sean Miller‘s team squeaked out a victory against Texas, and now get a showdown with the defending national champions. We are probably still underestimating the Wildcats a little in my opinion, but they are going to need someone to step up and take some of the scoring load off of Derrick Williams. Both Solomon Hill and Jordin Mayes did that against Texas, and Lamont Jones did it against Memphis. If they want to be successful against Duke, they have to have the same type of output from guys not named Williams.
11. Butler Bulldogs – What else can you really say about Butler? After going to the title game last year, they are back in the Sweet 16 after knocking off the Big East regular season champion. From top to bottom, Butler is not the best team in this tournament. But from a will to win standpoint, these guys could beat anyone in the field. When they lost Gordon Hayward to the NBA Draft, most people didn’t even entertain the possibility that they could make noise again this quickly in the tourney. They get a favorable matchup in Wisconsin, and if Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard keep up their high level of play, the Bulldogs will advance.
12. Wisconsin Badgers – Most people thought Wisconsin was a lock to get upset in the first round by Belmont. But this was a case of going with the highly-touted underdog regardless of the matchup. The Badgers handled Belmont pretty easily in round number one, and then made some big plays down the stretch to defeat Kansas State. It seems like we all keep forgetting this little tidbit: Wisconsin did beat Ohio State this season. They obviously have the talent to beat anyone in the country, and now they’ll play a Butler team that, while not as talented as Ohio State, will give them all they can handle.
13. VCU Rams – I was man enough to admit a few days ago that we were all completely wrong about VCU. They have stream-rolled all three opponents that they’ve faced thus far, and that’s pretty impressive considering who they’ve played. This shows just how much motivation can mean to a team in post-season play, and they are definitely making the most of their opportunity. I wouldn’t put anything past this team considering what they’ve accomplished already.
14. Marquette Golden Eagles – How can you not like Buzz Williams? The guy is so passionate about what he’s doing, and that translated to a nice opening weekend for the team that many thought shouldn’t have even been in the tournament. They got a good win over Xavier in the first round, and then beat Syracuse for the second time this season. So this team has some confidence heading into their game with North Carolina. I love teams that have a toughness to them, especially this time of the year. Marquette has exactly that. And it all starts with their head coach.
15. Florida State Seminoles – Florida State fans may not like the fact that they are in the 15th spot, but remember, there are no bad teams left once we get to this point. Everyone has done something right to get here. FSU beat Texas A&M in their first game, and then completely took it to the over-seeded Notre Dame in round two. And while both of those wins were impressive, I still have some worries about this team. They are one of the best defensive teams in the tournament, but I’m not sure they can have the kind of offensive output consistently that they had against the Fighting Irish. They’ll need it against a VCU team that can score a lot of points. That’s for sure. But if FSU can find a consistent offensive production, they’re good enough to hang with anyone.
16. Richmond Spiders – No, I’m not ranking the Spiders this low because they beat my beloved Commodores. But they will face a huge test against the Jayhawks, and while I like what they’ve done so far, it’s going to be hard to play their type of style against Kansas. Kevin Anderson is a beast, and we all know that. Other guys are going to have step up for them though, and defensively, I wonder about how they’ll be able to guard the Morris twins. Richmond is a very good team though, and were clearly under-seeded as a 12. They’ll get a chance to prove just how under-seeded they were on Friday.
How would you rank the remaining 16 teams in this year’s tournament?
Topics: 2011 Ncaa Tournament, Butler Bulldogs, Byu Cougars, College Basketball, College Hoops, Duke Blue Devils, Florida Gators, Kansas Jayhawks, Kentucky Wildcats, March Madness, Marquette Golden Eagles, Ncaa Power Rankings, Ncaa Tournament, Ncaa Tournament Analysis, North Carolina Tar Heels, Ohio State Buckeyes, Richmond Spiders, San Diego State Aztecs, Sweet 16 Power Rankings, Uconn Huskies, Vcu Rams, Wisconsin Badgers