Ranking the Sweet Sixteen from top to bottom
16) Notre Dame
The Irish have eliminated Michigan, a play-in team, and Stephen F. Austin, who was a scintillating story but aren't exactly a Division I powerhouse. Oh, and both of those results were close, especially the one with SFA, which came down to the final second. Kudos to them for getting to the Sweet 16, but it hasn't been very convincing.
Only one team got to play a No. 15 seed in their second game, and that was Syracuse. Yes, that's the same No. 15 that shocked Michigan State, but the Orange should've faced off with the Spartans on Sunday instead. Their upset of Dayton deserves some recognition, but the feeling that they shouldn't really be in the Dance in the first place still lingers. Can Jim Boeheim come up with another legendary run to erase that sentiment?
14) Iowa State
You can't blame Iowa State for being matched up with a 13-seed and then a 12-seed through its first two tournament appearances, but the reality of the situation is they haven't truly been tested yet. It would be more concerning if they had trouble against Iona and Arkansas Little-Rock (they didn't) but the question is whether they're legitimate, or just coasting through lower-tier opponents?
Wisconsin played in one of the lowest-scoring tournament games in recent memory in their opener, then finished off Xavier with a buzzer-beater in the round of 32. Bronson Koenig's shot was clutch, no doubt about it, and Xavier is solid, no doubt about it, but the Badgers don't feel like a threat to do serious damage moving forward.
12) Texas A&M
What many thought was a sleeper bracket pick is fortunate to be alive at this point. In the first round, they took care of business against Green Bay, but they were the beneficiaries of a historic collapse by Northern Iowa in the round of 32. Sure, you can look at it like they created a fantastic comeback, but let's be real: The Panthers choked that game away. The Aggies are talented, but also quite lucky.
Duke being in the Sweet 16 is not unusual. But this time around, the defending national champions haven't done so in a very impressive fashion. They needed a second half rally to get by 13th-seeded UNC-Wilmington, and then came very close to blowing a 22 point lead to Yale. They're a brand you're used to seeing at this time of year, but they're not nearly as strong as the usually are.
Toppling South Dakota State and Hawaii probably doesn't lead to Maryland getting too much respect in the eyes of the nation — and rightfully so. The second half performance against the Rainbow Warriors was certainly encouraging, but it still feels as if the Terps are playing under their potential. A matchup with Kansas looms, though, which presents the ultimate chance for them to make a statement.
Miami hasn't put together a "wow" effort yet: They've knocked off Buffalo and Wichita State by seven and eight respectively. But with Jim Larrañaga at the helm, the Hurricanes have a leader who can take them past this weekend. With that being said, through two contests, they've been up and down.
This year's Bulldogs didn't come into the Tournament with as high a seed — or expectations — as they normally do, and that has perhaps worked in their favor. As an 11th-seed, they beat 6th-seeded Seton Hall by 16, then walloped 3rd-seeded Utah by 23. That average margin of victory is no joke, and neither is this team.
Oregon being a No. 1 seed still feels a bit odd, but they've pretty much lived up to the billing through one weekend. A near-flawless finish against a feisty St. Joe's bunch has Oregon now ready to face Duke. One more win and the Ducks' bandwagon may start filling up. For now, however, keep one foot on and one foot off.
The Sooners have one of the country's best players, and probably best offensive player, in Buddy Hield. That alone makes them a worthy squad. They were pushed to the limit by VCU, but survived. A showdown with Texas A&M is next for them, and considering how the two sides are playing right now, that has to be an exciting prospect for Oklahoma.
The regular season Big Ten champion flew by Chattanooga then came out on top against Kentucky, who was a sneaky Final Four pick by many. A blowout and big-time victory over a March fixture means the Hoosiers are hot. Next up: A date with North Carolina.
Balanced and steady — that's been the theme of Villanova's tournament up to this point. They've put up 86 and 87 points in their first two wins, and for a team that has a reputation of wilting in the postseason, that has to be a confidence booster. Some discounted 'Nova at the start of the Big Dance. Their opening weekend suggests it's time to take them seriously.
Arguably the scariest moment for Virginia in the tourney has been watching Tony Bennett collapse on the sideline in their debut due to dehydration. He's OK now, though, and so is his team, who've done nothing to dissuade those who pegged them as a title contender. Could this be the year they win their first championship? It certainly is within reach.
2) North Carolina
The Tar Heels have simply taken care of business in their first couple of matchups, winning by more than 15 against both Florida Gulf Coast and Providence. They won the ACC Tournament and have kept that momentum going in the NCAA Tournament. Definitely one of the remaining favorites to cut down the nets, thanks to their size and their star, Brice Johnson.
The Jayhawks haven't lost since Jan. 25, and they've notched two comfortable wins in the tournament thus far. This Kansas outfit, the bracket's No. 1 overall seed, looks poised to put add another banner to its rafters. They may not have a singular superstar player, but they should be feared. Very feared. Based on recent performance, they're the best team remaining.
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