From 68 to 16, letâs get down to re-seeding this field. Itâs one of the strongest second-weekend groups ever, even with No. 1 overall Villanova out and odds-on title favorite Duke now gone as well.
Twelve of the top 16 teams seeded by the committee made the Sweet 16. Thatâs the second most in the past 20 years, per the NCAA.
Quick look at the regions: The East, almost always a top-two appealing regional, is a distant No. 4 this year. The South has three blue bloods, plus Butler, which knocked off Villanova and Xavier twice this season, plus beat Arizona. Youâll notice those latter two schools are still in the field. The West has Zaga-Zona, and yet West Virginia is the most intriguing dark horse left in the field. The Midwest has the Michigan factor, a Purdue team with a National Player of the Year candidate and a Kansas team that stormed through the first weekend.
In re-seeding the field, I look at how teams played in their past two games but also factor in what they did in the regular season. Iâm also not abiding by the committeeâs seed decisions. These are how I would power-rank/seed the 16 remaining teams based on rÃ©sumÃ©, how theyâre playing now and who I think is best overall.
With No. 1 overall seed Villanova out, Gonzaga is the easy choice here. The Bulldogs are the No. 1-ranked team in multiple metrics, and oh yeah, have lost only one freaking time this season. Thatâs three times fewer then the next-closest teams in college basketball. This also ranks as the best per-possession defense in college hoops. GU got a push, then a controversial break, against Northwestern, but this is the best Bulldogs team in program history. They got through the first part, now comes the hard part. Nigel Williams-Goss will have to re-establish himself as one of the top 10 players in America when he goes up against West Virginiaâs dogged press. No one left in the field can match Gonzagaâs talented bigs: Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie.
No team looked better the first weekend than Kansas, which breezed past UC Davis and then got some challenge from Michigan State before pulling away in the final six minutes. The 30-4 Jayhawks arenât deep but their trio of Josh Jackson/Frank Mason/Devonteâ Graham looks as capable and dangerous now as it has all season. KU won the Big 12 by four games, Bill Self got past the Tom Izzo trap, and with Kansas getting its regional in Kansas City, this is setting up as a huge homecourt advantage situation. In talent and rÃ©sumÃ©, KU is a firm No. 2.
The Wildcats are 32-4! I think the bigness of their record is far overlooked. With Lauri Markkanen, Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen and Rawle Alkins, that quartet can go up against any other teamâs best four in this tournament. The Wildcats won the Pac-12 tournament, had no problems with North Dakota, then looked good in beating Saint Maryâs in what was as competitive a game as I expected. Sean Millerâs team can win the national title this season. Markkanen has no match in this field.
UCLA won at Kentucky, has a better offense and looked better in its two games than the Wildcats. I have to put the Bruins at No. 4 here. Great news is we get a DYNAMITE Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night in Memphis with these two teams. Lonzo Ball was spectacular in the second half of UCLAâs victory against Cincinnati, the final game of the second round. With the Bruinsâ weapons, in addition to their road victories against Kentucky and Arizona, a fitting No. 4.
Wildcats have won 13 straight. Feels like only UK fans realize that. John Calipariâs team got a tussle and a close call from Wichita State (loved that game), but with Bam Adebayo playing the way he is, itâs really tempting to say Kentuckyâs a top-three team. Itâs hard to mend that with the whole rÃ©sumÃ©, though. Interesting factor for me is Malik Monk. He has been quiet. Will the UCLA game bring out the best in him? I think so. And we get another round of DeâAaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball. Somebody pinch me!
The Mountaineers, which got past Bucknell and then did what they wanted against Notre Dame, rank sixth in KenPom. Won at Virginia, defeated Kansas, and now present a tantalizing challenge for Gonzaga. That game is the second best of the Sweet 16 matchups. WVUâs pressing style and Bob Hugginsâ coaching, in my estimation, make this the sixth best team left in the field in terms of accomplishment, ability and rÃ©sumÃ©.
I wouldâve had UNC as a 2 at the start of the tournament, and after seeing the way the Tar Heels slipped past just-OK Arkansas, Iâve come to terms with putting this team behind the likes of Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona and West Virginia, all teams with worse seeds. The Heels donât look as dominant as some thought they would, and thereâs something missing with this team. I donât think it gets out of the region, and if Butler beats them, it wonât be a shock. I will say this: North Carolina ranking seventh is not a slight on them. The top of the field is still quite good and well-rounded. In most years, the team that takes seventh isnât a No. 1 seed.
Gators limited Virginia to 39 points, and this team now ranks third at KenPom. Mike Whiteâs team is a Final Four threat that I donât believe most people are taking seriously. Perhaps that changes with Villanova now out of the top half of the bracket. Top-three defense and guards who can go. But check this stat. This is why youâve got a sense of âehâ with the East Region.
South Carolina, Baylor, Florida and Wisconsin were a combined 20-20 in their last 10 games before the NCAA Tournament— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) March 20, 2017
Hard to believe Iâm putting a team with so many top-50 wins this low on the totem pole. Baylor has the third-most top-50 wins of anyone that made the tournament. It has beaten Sweet 16 teams Oregon and Xavier. The Bears got a push against USC. This team is an intriguing story. If Scott Drew takes BU to the Final Four, it will be a surreal turn of events. But he can do it. Baylor is capable.
One of the two or three best games of the tournament so far was Purdueâs victory against Iowa State. And if you watched all of Purdue-Vermont, you would rank that as a top-10 game of the Dance to this point. Purdue has Caleb Swanigan, and I believe in him. I also think Purdue has been a top-15 team for most of the season, and the Big Ten showing itself well in this tournament has helped the Boilermakersâ reputation in the process. I like this team at No. 10. It will need a near-perfect game to beat Kansas in KC, but it Swanigan is such a force, you canât dismiss the chances.
11. Butler Bulldogs
Hard team to predict, but Butlerâs good has been really good this season. Also taken bad losses. This is the highest seed the program has ever received. The personnel is filled with four-year players, great team guys. When you sleep on Butler, you lose. I might even still be sleeping on Butler here.
12. Oregon Ducks
Should have lost to Rhode Island, and not having Chris Boucher will still count against this team. The Ducks are fun, but yeah, they needed about five breaks to finish off the Rams in the second round. Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are a killer 1-2 combo, though. If Oregon beats Michigan, it will be in the Elite Eight for the second successive season.
Feel foolish putting Michigan this low, but I have to take the whole season into account. There were times when this team looked really bad. Now it looks like one of the five best teams in the country. This placement is a balance of all that. Wolverines are the team nobody wants to face right now. Oregon, are you ready?
The Badgers were under-seeded as an 8. But that doesnât mean theyâre one of the 10 best teams in the field, not even after taking out Villanova. That was a really good matchup for Wisconsin, and sometimes matchups mean everything. This teamâs personnel cannot be overlooked, though. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have made four consecutive Sweet 16s. No team in college basketball has been to the second weekend the past four years besides Wisconsin. If Bucky had been a little more consistent and not taken on weird losses, the team would be in the top 10.
Speaks to the depth of this yearâs Sweet 16 field that Xavier is this low. And thatâs in part because the Musketeers donât have Edmond Sumner. With him, they would be in the top half of the field. The dominance of Xavier in its victory against Florida State has been overlooked, too. What a beatdown that was. Funny how this bracket works: Xavier, as a 2 last year, doesnât make the Sweet 16. Xavier, as an 11 this year, squeaks into the field and then hammers its way to the second weekend.
Have to be 16th. There were times in the past three weeks that USC did not even look like a tournament team. Then it goes out and plays its two best games of the season this past weekend. Knocking off Duke? Going for 65 in the second half? This is astonishing. And yeah, I can see this team beating Baylor. Frank Martinâs finally getting widespread acclaim for his abilities as a coach. This is the first time in program history the Gamecocks have won back-to-back tournament games.