Before I get started I need to explain how these rankings work. Here's a little rundown:
- These rankings have NOTHING to do with seeding. If you want rankings based off of seeding then the Selection Committee has already established those in the NCAA Tournament bracket.
- These picks are NOT based off who I think will win the remaining games of the NCAA Tournament. That has nothing to do with these rankings.
- The rankings are based off of team evaluation of the entire season and performance so far in the tournament. On court performance in the tournament is the strongest factor along with the health of key players.
- Just so it's known these rankings don't even halfway resemble my bracket.
Sweet 16 Rankings:
1. North Carolina Tar Heels: North Carolina is finally playing its best basketball. Ty Lawson's toe may not be just fine but his on court play is not suffering. Tyler Hansbrough has picked up his game and the Tar Heels appear to be playing like the team we all thought they would be before the year. Gonzaga will test them for sure but on paper North Carolina has more weapons. That could be the difference.
2. Connecticut Huskies: Remember when one CBS Sports' blogger said that Chattanooga-Connecticut would be the closest first round 1-16 game? Well I was wrong. The biggest question marks about the Huskies so far have been about the health of Jim Calhoun. There's nothing to question about what Connecticut has done on the floor up to this point. A. J Price is averaging 23.5 PPG so far in the tournament.
3. Louisville Cardinals: They weren't as impressive against Morehead State or Siena as they were expected to be but they're still battle tested and loaded everywhere. Rick Pitiino's squad plays great defense in stretches and shoots lights out the rest of the time. I wonder how it feels to be the top seed in the tournament and get a 16 then a 9 and now a 12 seed in the first three rounds. Of course Arizona isn't your typical 12 seed.
4. Syracuse Orange: I believe that it can be argued that Syracuse is playing the best basketball in the entire country right now. Think about their last week. The Orange have wins over Connecticut, West Virginia, Stephen F. Austin, and Arizona State. Syracuse-Oklahoma could be the best third round matchup. I can't wait to see how Syracuse defends Blake Griffin inside. Can the Orange slow him down?
5. Pittsburgh Panthers: Before the NCAA Tournament I thought they were the most well rounded team in this year's field. Now I'm wondering where the real Pittsburgh Panthers are. I expect 1-8 games to be competitive but not 1-16 games AND 1-8 games. Pittsburgh almost lost during the first weekend twice. In this tournament you don't get nine lives (or in this case six). If you let good teams hang around they will eventually bite you. Sam Young saved them.
6. Oklahoma Sooners: Blake Griffin has been the monster we all thought he would be against Morgan State and Michigan. Neither team had anybody to match up with him inside. Against Syracuse he may have to match the points of the Syracuse guards for Oklahoma to have a chance to win. In two games the Sooners big man is averaging 30.5 PPG and 15 RPG in the tournament.
7. Memphis Tigers: We have seen two completely different Memphis squads so far in this tournament. Exhibit A against CS Northridge was absolutely terrible but luckily Roburt Sallie saved the day. Exhibit B didn't even let Maryland take the court before it disposed of the Terps. Now they get Missouri, another Tigers team that likes to run up and down the floor. Mike Anderson has seen the Tigers once or twice before.
8. Villanova Wildcats: All the Villanova fans out there need to call American University and scream THANK YOU through the phone. The Eagles woke up Villanova on Thursday, especially when Nova trailed by 14 early in the second half. An alarm clock went off in the Wildcats huddle and they responded by blowing out American. They didn't stop there though. UCLA got the brunt of the anger in one of the least competitive, highly anticipated 3-6 matchups in recent memory.
9. Duke Blue Devils: For all the Duke fans out there ready to get out the pitchforks and start a riot slow down a minute. Just because I have Villanova ranked above the Dukies does not mean I am necessarily picking the Wildcats to win. My bracket actually says otherwise. Duke barely survived Texas on Saturday night. For the first time in three years Duke is playing in the Sweet 16 (which is still hard to fathom).
10. Michigan State Spartans: It's hard not to be impressed with what Michigan State has done thus far in the tournament. They dispatched of a pretty strong 15 seed in Robert Morris like yesterday's newspaper before handling talent laden USC. The Spartans now get Kansas, which must be nice considering they've already knocked off the Jayhawks once. The winner of that battle probably gets #1 Louisville.
11. Kansas Jayhawks: The defending national champions still get zero respect. They were pretty much an upset victim in most brackets. The problem was the Jayhawks are too good to go home this early and everyone that thought they were young or just not ready for the big stage was completely wrong. Myself included. Wins over North Dakota State (14 seed) and Dayton (11 seed) aren't the most impressive in the world, but they get a chance to prove they can repeat if they can knock off MSU.
12. Missouri Tigers: Mike Anderson is back in the Sweet 16 and there's too much irony in the fact that he's facing John Calipari's Memphis Tigers to believe it wasn't set up by the committee on purpose. Anderson's UAB Blazers played Calipari's Tigers twice a year in Conference USA. Matter of fact an Anderson coached UAB squad was the last C-USA team to knock off the Tigers. The problem for Mizzoui? None of those UAB players will be in this game. The good news? This Missouri squad is even better.
13. Gonzaga Bulldogs: Man oh man do the Zags know how to play nailbiters. Akron played them well until a huge Gonzaga run put the game away in the closing minutes. Then it took a buzzer beater to knock off Western Kentucky. Now they get North Carolina, arguably the best team in the country. Can the Zags finally get it done and reach their second ever Elite Eight? It should be one of the most competitive games featuring a one seed in round three.
14. Arizona Wildcats: Like I put in my entrance to these rankings, seeding does not mean anything for this. Arizona has knocked off Utah and Cleveland State (which doesn't mean much other than wins) but they've looked pretty good doing it. Why are they ahead of Purdue and Xavier? Without trying to disrespect those teams in any way it's truly just because they are more talented than them. In fact Arizona has wins over Kansas and Gonzaga this year, and both are still playing basketball right now. That's impressive.
15. Purdue Boilermakers: Yes I'm the idiot who had Purdue losing in round one to Northern Iowa. I'm sorry Purdue fans, I just had to have an upset pick somewhere. Then I had them losing to Washington because I had the Huskies winning over NIU in my bracket. And now I've learned my lesson right? Well, no not exactly. Now I have them losing to Connecticut. Purdue is extremely talented and can play with anyone, but based on the teams remaining I can't rank them higher than 15th.
16. Xavier Musketeers: I can actually hear the complaints about this one coming. "Dan you mid major hater!" Yes guys that's me, the guy who just hates the little guys so bad that he has to rank them dead last in his Sweet 16 rankings. NOT! Xavier is a very good basketball team and they've shown us that all season and in both games they've played in this tournament. Right now when I look at the teams I think Xavier is the worst team still standing and that's unfortunate. Somebody has to be last and these are all great teams.