NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Northwestern vs Connecticut

The first two rounds of the 2024 NCAA Tournament are in the books. It was an epic opening weekend that saw four games go to at least one overtime and enough thrills to fill up a "One Shining Moment" highlight on first- and second-round games alone. But now it's time to look forward, reshuffle the deck and take a wide-angle view of teams remaining in contention for the national championship. 

On paper, the tournament has been kind of chalky so far. This is just the fifth time since 1979 that every No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed have made the Sweet 16 (1989, 1995, 2009, 2019). In that collection of wins were plenty of lopsided results, and the tournament as a whole has already matched the record for 25-point wins (11, 1993). But the opening weekend also saw No. 1 Houston pushed to overtime and narrow four-point wins for No. 2 Tennessee and No. 2 Marquette. Right now, the closest thing we have to a Cinderella is the magical run of No. 11 NC State, which needed seven games in 12 days to claim an automatic bid to the tournament and march on to the program's first Sweet 16 since 2015. 

But, within the group of 16 teams remaining, we have certainly seen some changes to our pre-tournament expectations. Some favorites have shown vulnerability in wins while others have seemingly saved some of their best performances for March Madness. Some of what we saw is repeatable, but as we stack the Sweet 16 up against each other, it's important not to focus exclusively on the results of the weekend but also consider the information obtained from an entire season of basketball. 

So with new information based on two NCAA Tournament wins weighted heavily but the regular season not ignored, it's time to rerank the remaining field as the Sweet 16 looms ahead this week. 

Reranking the Sweet 16
No change at the top after two dominant wins from the reigning national champs. UConn never trailed and held a lead for more than 77 of the 80 minutes played against Stetson and Northwestern, overwhelming both opponents in different ways. First was a well-rounded effort in the opening round with all five starters scoring in double-digits, then against Northwestern it was the one-two punch of Tristen Newton and Donovan Clingan leading the way along with some stellar first-half defense. Other top teams impressed as well, but the pace-setter in this tournament chase did not let up one bit. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 1
Wins of 28 and 39 points have the Boilermakers looking closer to UConn than the rest of the No. 1 seeds, as Purdue was able to both shed the stink of last year's FDU loss and book its Sweet 16 spot with an emphatic win against the regular-season champions from the Mountain West. Zach Edey imposed his will averaging 26.5 points and 17.5 rebounds across the two wins, and his services weren't even needed in the final stages of both blowout wins. When we're breaking down the stock up, stock down picture of the teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament, Purdue is firmly in the stock up category. There's not a lot of room to move up since they're already in the top tier, but whatever rating you had going into the tournament needs to be higher going into the second weekend. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 3
The Tar Heels had one of the toughest second-round draws of any top seed, having to face a Michigan State team that returned much of the core from last year's Sweet 16 run and started the season in the top five of the AP Top 25 poll. North Carolina not only passed the test but did so with flying colors, overcoming an early deficit to pull away and defeat the Spartans by double-digits. When this team has not only ACC Player of the Year R.J. Davis running hot, but the complimentary pieces like Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan, the Tar Heels are capable of beating anyone in the country. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 4
Credit the Coogs for a strong response after Texas A&M came roaring back to force overtime, but we're docking them a few spots because of how and why the Aggies were able to set themselves up for an unlikely buzzer-beater. Houston's defense, which has been the class of college basketball for multiple years over, allowed Texas A&M to score 95 points at 1.2 points per possession. Houston is in the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight season, and that experience benefited a veteran-led group that needed to gut out and win with multiple starters fouled out in the closing minutes. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 2
Long Beach State made things interesting early and Dayton made things interesting late, but whenever Arizona was pushed during its opening weekend action, the Wildcats had a strong response. And while this is a group that averaged 81.5 points per game across the two wins, the most encouraging takeaway may have been on the defensive side. Dayton has a skilled and versatile offense that causes plenty of matchup problems for opponents, and Arizona was able to mix it up and hold the Flyers to one of their least efficient performances of the season. Deep runs in the NCAA Tournament require winning in different ways, and Arizona showed that on its path to the Sweet 16. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 6
The Cyclones probably fall into the "meets expectations" category after beating South Dakota State by 17 and Washington State by 11. It was really an extension of the top-end form Iowa State showed on the way to a Big 12 Tournament title, and all five of the postseason wins have included the marriage of elite defense with offensive performances that were a step up from the way the Cyclones played for much of the season. That offensive improvement is crucial for the next round, squaring off against one of the most prolific scoring teams in the country in Illinois. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 8
On paper, the resume did not get a major boost by taking down the champs from the Ohio Valley Conference and the Atlantic 10, but man Illinois' form looked sharp in dismantling both Morehead State and Duquesne en route to the program's first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005. The Fighting Illini carried over their championship form from the Big Ten Tournament to this week's opening rounds, averaging 87.0 points per game across two double-digit wins and flexing firepower that few teams remaining in the field can match. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 12
Two-game skids at Duke can make it feel like everything is falling apart, so when the Blue Devils entered the tournament with back-to-back losses to North Carolina and NC State, it was easy to sell a little bit of stock their chances to make a deep run. But after a rocky start against Vermont, Duke caught fire and carried it over into the second-round win against a frisky James Madison team. Is it prisoner of the moment to move Duke up in the wake of a 38-point win against the Sun Belt champions? Possibly. But the offensive ceiling displayed in the win is more in line with Duke's potential than what the team showed in those disappointing late-season losses. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 13
This is one of the biggest adjustments in terms of the seeding order, but it comes after Gonzaga showed a thunderous form in back-to-back wins against McNeese and Kansas. Both wins were by 21 points, but they came in different fashion. Sometimes, that can be even more impressive. The Zags blitzed McNeese early, eliminating any hope for the popular 5-12 upset pick, then pulled away late against the shorthanded Jayhawks, locking down on the defensive side after an extremely competitive start. Mark Few has to be happy with the way this group has rounded into form over the last five or six weeks, and we're upgrading the Bulldogs in a major way heading into the Sweet 16. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 21
In the big picture, Marquette fans are thrilled to see Tyler Kolek healthy again and coming up with clutch plays when the team needs it most. The ceiling for what the Golden Eagles can accomplish is reliant on having Kolek running the show, and in terms of him getting back in rhythm, the weekend was a success. But both the first half against Western Kentucky and some of the late stages of the Colorado win saw Marquette on its heels a little bit, so there's a slight step back among a crowded group here in the middle of the rankings. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 7
Emotionally, there is a lot of juice behind this team after outlasting Oregon in an all-time double-overtime epic to advance to the Sweet 16. But that was also a game that maybe didn't need as much drama if the Jays had been a little bit sharper offensively before pulling away in the second overtime. I think we saw enough to believe this team can reach the Elite Eight for a second year in a row, but I'm not making a dramatic change to their spot in the seed order based on the wins against the MAC and Pac-12 tournament champions. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 10
The Volunteers had better wins as a whole than a lot of these other teams in the middle of the rankings, but the form left something to be desired. Tennessee's offense was woeful in its second-round win against Texas, shooting just 33.8% from the field including a 3-of-25 showing from behind the arc. The foundation of Rick Barnes' Tennessee program has been a DNA of rock solid defensive effort, and the Vols needed to rely on that in order to get into the Sweet 16. But to advance further will require Tennessee's shooters to have more success in Detroit than they did in Charlotte on Saturday night. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 5
Widely projected as one of the single-digit seeds most likely to get bounced in the first round, Clemson put together two of its best performances of the season at the perfect time in wins over New Mexico and Baylor. Consistency has been the issue with Clemson this year, boasting wins against North Carolina and Alabama but also carrying losses to Notre Dame and Boston College. The real key to the Tigers' success was an inspired effort on the defensive end, limiting a pair of potent opponents to offensive outputs well below their season average. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 22
The Aztecs were pushed nearly to the brink in the first round against UAB, escaping with a 69-65 win. Then San Diego State did the exact opposite of playing down to the competition in the second round, racing past Yale in a 85-57 win. Jaedon LeDee has been an absolute star this season and he's backed it up in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 58 points in the two wins. While these rankings have some teams moving up and others taking a step back, San Diego State mostly holds its position in the order after a grade that adds up to meeting expectations when you combine the narrow win on Friday and the blowout victory Sunday night. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 18
Things got a little too hairy against Grand Canyon in the second round to give a passing grade to the Crimson Tide, who deserve credit for overcoming injuries and foul trouble in a street fight of a game against the Lopes. Still, there's a lot here to clean up. Alabama's wins against the No. 13 and No. 12 seeds in the West Region came by 13 and 11 points, respectively, but the first one included 96 points allowed and the second, against GCU, saw the Tide trailing by three with six minutes left in the second half. The offensive ceiling for this team is among the best in the country, and Mark Sears is the kind of point guard who can put the Tide on his back in high-pressure tournament situations, but with other teams looking more impressive, we've got a slight downgrade for the 4-seed from the West. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 16
The Wolfpack are on an all-time postseason heater, winning five games in five days in the ACC Tournament and now advancing to the Sweet 16 after upsetting Texas Tech and then outlasting Oakland in overtime. If we're grading these teams based on how impressive, thrilling or entertaining the tournament has been so far, then NC State is a top-five team remaining in the field. But to include any seeding-specific or resume-related analysis would leave NC State, a team that was not in the tournament picture prior to claiming the ACC's automatic bid, near the bottom of the group. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 45