Sweet Sixteen Power Rankings
by Trevor Whenham - 03/21/2007
Just making it to the Sweet 16 is an impressive accomplishment. To get there, teams have to win two games against teams playing at full effort with no reason to hold back. Because of that, you can't really say that any team in the Sweet 16 is playing really badly. That being said, some of the teams are playing significantly better than others. Looking at the relative strength of the team's performances is crucial to successful handicapping at this point in the tournament. Here is my ranking of the 16 remaining teams, based on their performance in the tournament, not what they did to get there:
1) Kansas - Is there anything not to like about the performance of Kansas so far in the tournament? They have dominated their two games, never trailed in the second half, covered both games easily and looked like total pros. The only possible cause for concern is that they have been too good - they've shot 60.5 percent from three-point range, and that obviously isn't sustainable. The next round could be a test. Southern Illinois is playing exceptional defense in the tournament. Kansas has played two teams with similar defensive efficiency to the Salukis - the lost to Texas A&M as favorites, and they barely won and didn't cover against Oklahoma.
2) USC - The Trojans have played so unexpectedly well that I am also ready to give them a pass for their dismal performance in the blowout loss to Oregon. They have completely controlled their games against Arkansas and Texas, setting the pace and coping with their opponents' main threats. USC is 5-1 ATS in their last six, and all six of those games were against tournament teams. They certainly won't be surprised by the class of North Carolina.
3) Southern Illinois - The Salukis are doing exactly what they have to do to win - dictate the tempo of the game, and don't let opponents outshoot them. Southern Illinois is far from the most offensively talented team, but they have thrived all year because of defense, and they have been as rigid and disciplined as ever. Though they only covered by two as eight-point favorites against Holy Cross, the outcome was never in doubt down the stretch. Their 15-point win as one-point favorites against Virginia Tech was as impressive as any game we've seen all tournament.
4) Texas A&M - The Aggies' second-round win over Louisville wasn't always pretty, but it was impressive given the circumstances. They were playing in front of a very hostile crowd, facing a player -- Cardinals' freshman Edgar Sosa -- who was scorching hot, and coming off a bad loss to Oklahoma State in their last tight contest. Thanks to the clutch shooting of Acie Law they won and covered, and now they get to be the ones with an unfair advantage in the number of fans when they play Memphis in San Antonio.
5) Georgetown - There are two numbers that define how good the Hoyas have been so far - 35.7 and 38.2. Those are the shooting percentages they have limited opponents Belmont and Boston College to, respectively. Roy Hibbert has been outstanding, using his size and strength to intimidate. The team would be a notch or two higher up the rankings if they had covered against Boston College.
6) UNLV - The Rebels have gone from total obscurity to media darlings in the blink of an eye. You have to love a team that has covered in eight of their last nine games, has won twice in a row as underdogs, and is doing it while their most important shooter, guard Kevin Kruger, has been mostly ice cold. This team is not a fluke, and underestimating them is dangerous.
7) North Carolina - Tyler Hansbrough has been exceptional, and the rest of the team has been good, but the Tar Heels aren't as high up in my rankings as some would think. Their two opponents haven't even been in the same stratosphere in terms of talent, yet both Eastern Kentucky and Michigan State were allowed to stay in the game much longer than they should have. The Tar Heels didn't even cover against Eastern Kentucky, and that's completely inexcusable when you are playing essentially at home in Winston-Salem.
8) Butler - How do the Bulldogs get it done? They can't score, their rebounding is terrible (they've been out-rebounded by 19 in the tournament) and they haven't shot well, yet they have won and covered against two well-regarded and challenging opponents. This is what they did to win the preseason NIT, and it is still working five months later. You wouldn't think it could keep working, but stranger things have happened.
9) Memphis - The Tigers definitely raised questions before the tournament. They play in the incredibly weak Conference USA, and they only managed to cover twice in their last seven conference games despite going undefeated in conference play. They answered many of their questions in their dominant victory over Nevada. I am most impressed that they have done well despite not shooting particularly well. They would be higher in my rankings if leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts hadn't missed the last half of the second half with a sprained ankle. Factors are already stacked against Memphis against the Aggies. Without Douglas-Roberts, the chances would be truly bleak.
10) Florida - If you ask me to pinpoint the problem I have with this team, I really can't. It just comes down to this - the defending National Champions with their roster intact should be able to cover against Purdue. Noah and his boys are not playing like they want to win it all. There's no swagger or hustle. It has been a bland performance so far, and they will have to recapture whatever they had last year pretty quick or it could end badly.
11) Vanderbilt - I am surprised that the Commodores are still alive, and I am very surprised that they rank this highly. They completely dominated a George Washington team that seemed, on paper, to be well matched. They surprised Washington State in a performance that can be a defining moment for a program like this. They've covered three in a row, they don't seem bothered by consecutive losses to Arkansas and they aren't playing beyond themselves. That's much more than I expected.
12) UCLA - I liked the Bruins to win it all three weeks ago, and I haven't counted them out yet, but a national champion needs to cover more than one game in four, and they can't let Indiana come back from a 13-point deficit. Given the glacial pace of that game, making up 13 points was like making up 25 in most games. They need to find their offense soon. Afflalo and Mbah a Moute couldn't have shot worse against Indiana if they were blindfolded.
13) Ohio State - The Buckeyes can thank Mike Conley Jr. for not being ranked lower. He single-handedly saved his team from embarrassment after his teammates tried to throw away their chances against Xavier. Greg Oden is a great player, and he will be an NBA superstar, but his performance in that game was very disappointing. He was regularly outplayed by significantly inferior players, and his shove at the end was completely inexcusable. The Buckeyes, despite all the attention they get, have covered five of their last six, so they have all sorts of potential, but they, and especially Oden, need to step it up.
14) Oregon - Based on the game against Winthrop, the Ducks should be much higher. They covered easily, controlled the game and never were particularly challenged. The first round against Miami of Ohio, though, was a total disaster. Their shooting was poor, especially from three-point range. Miami matched them in rebounds. They only got one lousy point off the bench. The Ducks should have covered the 8.5-point spread with ease, but instead they were lucky to win at all.
15) Pittsburgh - Good teams do not do the following: get humiliated in their conference championship or let a much smaller VCU team come back from 19 down late to take them to overtime. Pitt showed all year that they are an impressive and potentially dangerous team, but they certainly seem to have forgotten that at some point. They have some serious work to do in a hurry if they want to survive.
16) Tennessee - 121 points is impressive, unless it comes in a game in which the opponent completely refuses to play defense. I've faced tougher defense in games of H.O.R.S.E. than Long Beach State put up. Tossing out that game, the win against Virginia was scary. The Vols missed 10 free throws, turned it over 16 times, and only won because Virginia shot even worse than they did. At least Chris Lofton finally woke up late in the game. He's the key to any further success.