March Madness Sweet 16 Bracket Predictions: Ranking the Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 3/23/2015
I don't know about you, but these three days in March starting today are annually among my least favorite of the year. After four amazing days of college basketball action, we are forced to wait until Thursday to get another fix. It's just not fair. To fill that time there is handicapping to be done, but that doesn't fill all the time - or make it pass quickly enough. That means that there is time for other 'productive' activities to keep the basketball juices flowing and make the games get here faster. Like, for example, ranking the 16 teams that remain from best to worst in terms of what we have seen from them recently and all year:
Kentucky: This is a no-brainer. This squad would be ranked pretty high on the best teams of all time list, never mind this year. They have ridiculous depth, they play selflessly, and they are not bound to just one style of play. Cincinnati did better than many teams when it came to dictating the style of play early in the game. So Kentucky just adapted, played like they were being asked to, and dominated. This team is scary good, and as much as I like the next four teams, they will be all but impossible to beat unless they beat themselves.
Arizona: Ohio State wouldn't let Arizona dominate inside like they like to do. So they just shot from outside and ran away with the game. Amazing adaptability. Huge presences inside, a veteran point guard, nice depth, and great coaching. Very nice team - that just won't match up against Kentucky well.
Gonzaga: Others wouldn't have the Bulldogs this high, but I love this team this year. Kyle Wiltjer is playing great basketball, and he leads a deep and talented team. I live the chemistry that the team has as well as the creativity. Their size is a tough matchup, too - perhaps the toughest matchup that Duke and Jahlil Okafor could face. This is the best Gonzaga team we have ever seen, and they have a real shot to go deeper than any before them.
Duke: Okafor and Justise Winslow were just so impressive last time out - especially when you consider how young they are. Freaks. The top four on this team are spectacular. The stunning lack of depth, though, is a real concern. They are good enough to win it all - if Kentucky lets them - but I just don't feel right about trusting them. I will say this, though - the winner of the anticipated Duke-Gonzaga showdown will have the privilege of losing to Kentucky in the Championship Game.
Wisconsin: I really like this team, and Frank Kaminsky is the kind of college player that is a joy to watch. Dana Altman was able to keep his Oregon squad too close for comfort in this one, though, and I just don't quite believe that they are at the same level as the four above them. Good team. Very good. Just maybe not quite great.
Wichita State: This is a protest pick as much as anything - it was ridiculous and insulting that the Shockers were just a No. 7 seed. The core of this team was in the Final Four two years ago and ran into Kentucky as a top seed last year. They are talented and experienced, and they are hungry. Kansas was as overrated as any team in the tournament, but the Shockers still totally dominated them. A rematch against Kentucky is a very real possibility - and it will again be a problem for them.
Oklahoma: Lon Kruger has done a very nice job with this team and has lucked into a region that is very winnable for him. Not an elite team, but a very solid one that is easy to respect. The way they kept their composure in front of a very hostile crowd in Columbus against Dayton was impressive.
Utah: The Utes tore Georgetown apart. It was almost unfair. They have a couple of really solid players, but they just don't have the depth of the top teams. At their best they can be very dangerous, but the prospect of having to beat Duke and Gonzaga just to make the Final Four is far too much to overcome. The run probably ends next time out, but it has been fun to watch.
Michigan State: Tom Izzo just owns March. This team has plenty of faults and issues, but they just rolled over No. 2 Virginia last time out. Very impressive job so far. They can't be counted out of either of their next two prospective games, either. But if they won those two they reach the deep end, and they would surely sink.
Louisville: Rick Pitino doesn't seem to like this team much - at least not compared to some of the other teams he has brought to the tournament. I get that - they have some depth and chemistry issues. The defense is very impressive, though, and they were offensively very sharp in what was one of the most complete games by any team in the tournament against Northern Iowa. Pitino is always a threat to go for a run - and yet another Final Four bid is always a possibility for any team still standing in the East. I just can't bet on it with this team.
North Carolina: Roy Williams has been masterful coaching this team through the distractions and shortcomings they have faced this year. To get them this deep is very impressive. They aren't as good as Wisconsin, though, and even if they pulled that off, they definitely aren't as good as Arizona. Good team, brutal spot.
Notre Dame: Mike Brey did an amazing job coaching his squad to the OT win over Butler when, as we learned after the game, he was dealing with the death of his mother that morning. Great story. Doesn't change how I feel about this team, though. They are like vanilla ice cream. Totally pleasant and even desirable in some situations. Ultimately, though, they aren't enough to get me excited, and there aren't that many situations where I would choose them when I have other options available. This is a team that just doesn't move the needle for me.
West Virginia: I give Bob Huggins credit because he has ridden his hardcore press further this year than I thought possible. I have picked them to lose both of the games they have played so far. Ultimately, though, it's a gimmick, and a gimmick is challenged by superior talent. They play Kentucky next. That qualifies.
Xavier: The Musketeers are in their fifth Sweet 16 in eight years. Just think about that for a second. Incredible. They have had a pretty fortunate draw so far, though - both Ole Miss and Georgia State were coming off unlikely and very emotional wins a couple of days earlier and couldn't carry their momentum forward. They just don't match up against Arizona well in any way.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack obviously get credit for beating a No. 1 seed. Obviously. Villanova gets as much credit for the loss as anything, though. N.C. State forced a pretty decent shooting team to shoot heavily from beyond the arc. Villanova just forgot how to shoot. They shot more than six points below their season average from 3-point range. Even a slightly better performance on that front and N.C. State is heading home.
UCLA: The Bruins, plain and simple, don't deserve to be in this tournament. Two wins doesn't change that. They could win the whole thing and that would still be true. It's especially true given that farce of a goaltending call that gave them the win over SMU.
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