2014 Sweet 16 Handicapping: Ranking the Remaining NCAA Tournament Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 3/26/2014
As I sit down to rank the 16 remaining teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, one thing becomes incredibly clear - this thing is incredibly wide open. Trying to find differences between the top 10 teams in this field is very tough, and any of them is good enough to win. Separating the bottom six teams is almost tougher. The only thing that comes easy is dividing the teams into those two large groups. Regardless of the challenges, here is my best attempt to rank the teams in terms of quality and likelihood of winning it all (odds to win the NCAA Tournament come from Sportsbook.ag):
Florida (+400): They were the deserving top overall seed heading into the tournament, and they have looked very good so far. Their domination of Pitt was absolute, and it came right after Pitt had completely humiliated Colorado.
Michigan State (+450): If things go to form then the Spartans and Gators are heading for a collision that should be an absolute classic - and which will very likely determine the winner of the tournament. Michigan State's second half against Harvard was concerning for the lapses in focus, but they righted the ship in time.
Michigan (+1600): Many would argue that this is too high for the Wolverines, but I like their chances against everyone they can face except the two above them here. Their offense has been stunningly efficient so far, and the defense has been better than expected. They also have the experience of their run last year to draw on, and there is value in this price.
Louisville (+400): I expect the defending champs to get past Kentucky, but I also expect them to be beat up by it. Great talent and coaching, excellent experience, and solid play so far - especially how they handled a unique challenge in playing Manhattan when the coach knew everything they were doing as they did it. I don't like them against Michigan, but the winner of that matchup would be favored to make - and lose - the final.
Arizona (+450): Arizona was brutally effective against Gonzaga, and they have the advantage of another favorable matchup against San Diego State this time around. My concern, though, is that this team has struggled to consistently find a higher gear over the last two months, and after the Aztecs they face a very tough road.
Iowa State (+2500): If George Niang was still in this tournament the Cyclones would be higher up this list. I love how they overcame adversity against the Tar Heels and found a way to win, but they are one player short at a very bad time. Still a contender, but sadly short of where they could be.
Wisconsin (+1600): They are in a total coin flip with Baylor next time out, but the winner of that should win their region. They got tough when it mattered late against Oregon, and they are a tough team to rattle.
Baylor (+2000): I was excited to see their game against Creighton, but that thing was over almost before it started. Ugly. An impressive showing from an impressive team, but they have had two very favorable matchups so far. Now things get real, and we'll see if this is the team that showed so much promise before Christmas or the one that disappointed too often after.
Kentucky (+2000): I was very impressed by that win against Wichita State. Nothing came easy, and earlier in the year they would have given up. They kept fighting, though, and won an instant classic. No team has more raw talent. It's just a question of whether they can play close to their potential - something that has eluded them all year. In a different region I would like them more, but their path out of Indianapolis is just brutal.
Virginia (+1000): I respect how well this team has played defensively - especially against a Memphis team I had high hopes for. I have very little respect for the ACC, though, and nothing about this tournament has changed that. The gap between this team and Michigan, and everyone in between, is very small, but I couldn't put them any higher. Beat Michigan State, though, and they would go rocketing up the rankings.
UCLA (+2200): And here come the rest of the teams. UCLA gets the nod because they have done exactly what they were supposed to - systematically taken apart two outmatched teams. I doubt they can keep doing it, but I respect what they have done - and it surprises me. Brutal matchup for them against Florida, though.
Stanford (+6500): I picked New Mexico to make the Elite Eight, but Stanford was having none of that. Then they beat Kansas in impressive fashion. Sure, Kansas was down one of their two best players, but the Cardinal totally shut down Andrew Wiggins and showed massive heart at the end. Very impressive run - whether it ends now or not.
San Diego State (+3800): I like Steve Fisher a lot, and he coached a heck of a game against North Dakota State. I think that they have reached the end of their road, but there would be no shame in that.
Dayton (+8500): This team is higher on the list that they probably deserve because I have been incredibly impressed by their coaching. That Miller family certainly knows its stuff.
Tennessee (+2500): There is some talent here, but this team has underachieved all year, and they haven't convinced me that that is behind them because they have only taken care of teams that they should very much have been capable of beating. I'm very skeptical until they prove me wrong.
UConn (+2800): I though St. Joe's was overrated, and Villanova was a mess, so UConn hasn't done anything more than expected so far. They aren't a lousy team by any means just because they are at the bottom of this list - this is the strongest top to bottom group of Sweet 16 teams in a few years, and there isn't a team that would be an incomprehensible shock if they won - but they are the least likely to do some real damage in my eyes.
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