NCAA Tournament: Grading the eight teams who've punched their Sweet 16 ticket
West Virginia, Wisconsin and Florida look particularly dangerous
Eight Sweet 16 tickets have been punched, including Wisconsin, which upended top-overall seed Villanova for the NCAA Tournament’s first true upset --.
Meanwhile, Xavier and Florida were mighty impressive in advancing out of the first weekend. Gonzaga slipped throughand West Virginia is moving on as well.
Grades for all of Saturday’s winners are below:
65-62 over (1) Villanova
Nigel Hayes has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience, and when Saturday’s second-round game against top-seeded Villanova came down to potentially the final possession he wanted the ball in his hands. In a play that he later described as on the baseline, Hayes put in the winning bucket, giving him a team-high 19 points for the game. The success of the current Badgers program really began when they made a Final Four run as a No. 8 seed in 2000, and now they’ll have a chance to get back to the Final Four for the third time in four years next weekend in New York City. As long as Hayes and Koenig are playing at a high level (something we’ve come to expect in March), Wisconsin fans should like their chances.
65-39 over (5) Virginia
Florida didn’t look great in its NCAA Tournament debut, mostly riding the stellar individual play of Devin Robinson to a victory against ETSU. But that all changed on Saturday night against a very good Virginia team, which was held to just 30 percent shooting against a tenacious effort by the Gators defense. Nothing was pretty about the Gators’ win, but Mike White has coached his defense up all year and now he’s in the Sweet 16 in his first tournament appearance as a head coach. Hard to complain if you’re a Gators fan, especially with Villanova getting bounced by Wisconsin.
79-73 over (8) Northwestern
All season, the one thing that has made this Gonzaga team seem a little bit different has been its performance on the defensive end. The 2017 Bulldogs rate as one of Mark Few’s best defensive teams, and their total suffocation of Northwestern in the first half of Saturday’s second-round matchup set the tone for an easy win. After an emotional win against Vanderbilt, Northwestern just didn’t have the firepower to break through against a seasoned team with a double-digit advantage through the second half. Now all eyes turn to next week’s Sweet 16, where the first one to 60 might win between Gonzaga and West Virginia.
83-71 over (5) Notre Dame
When Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers get to dictate the pace of a game, they can beat anyone in the country. West Virginia will go through dry spells on offense, but when full-court pressure defense is forcing turnovers and creating points at the other end they are explosive and suffocating. The 10-0 run that started the game for WVU helped win it, giving them leverage in the matchup throughout a dogfight of a game. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles attacked the rim to generate offense when they were dragging, and if this continues they’re going to be a real threat in the Sweet 16 and dark horse pick to come out of the West Region.
91-66 over (3) Florida State
No longer is the story about Xavier revolving around what could of been, and the absence of star point guard Edmond Sumner, and now it’s all bout the star on the floor: Trevor Bluiett. Bluiett has been an absolute force at times during his Xavier career, and he was on it again Saturday with 29 points to lead the onslaught against an unsuspecting Seminoles team. Xavier has now made its sixth Sweet 16 in the past 10 years, making Chris Mack one of the most dangerous coaches to fear come March.
69-60 over (7) Saint Mary’s
Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier were the stars of Arizona’s win, but the reliance on those two to carry the offensive load was the most alarming takeaway from the Wildcats’ win. At this point, Arizona should have its sights set on the Final Four and Saint Mary’s looked like the better team on Saturday, though their talent deficit ended up being one of the big differences in the matchup. Markkanen was a matchup problem down the stretch and got a lot of his work at the free throw line, and there’s no guarantee that will be there the rest of the way.
80-76 over (5) Iowa State
There are a lot of reasons to be excited for and complimentary of Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, making the Sweet 16 with a close win over the Big 12 conference tournament champions. But Saturday night’s scare did not inspire confidence in this team’s ability to move forward and contend for a spot in the Final Four. Purdue led by as many as 19 before Iowa State charged back and even took the lead, briefly, with less than four minutes to play. That can’t happen. Caleb Swanigan was the difference, as he has been all year, logging another double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) and outplaying Cyclones forward Deonte Burton in one of the best big man matchups of the tournament.
74-65 over (12) Middle Tennessee
The Bulldogs can credit their defense for punching a ticket to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011, absolutely suffocating Middle Tennessee in a game Butler controlled from the star. Giddy Potts was held scoreless and Reggie Upshaw had just 12 points as the Blue Raiders’ potential Cinderella bid was shut down against Butler, finally finding their tempo with senior Kelan Martin leading the way (19 points).
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