Just like that, we’ve gone from 68 teams to 16 in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. After a wild opening week that saw UMBC make history, Loyola-Chicago (and their trash-talking nun) become America’s darlings, and multiple high seeds head home early, we’ve whittled down the teams left standing with a chance to win the national title.
It’s been one of those tournaments where seeds didn’t mean much in most cases. So now that we’re left with almost as many 11-seeds as there are 1-seeds, let’s take a look at the remaining squads to figure out where they all rank now. Some of them have clearly been under-seeded while others have acquitted themselves quite well given their high seed.
By re-ranking based on what’s happened, perhaps it’ll give us a clearer idea of which teams will end up in San Antonio a week from now.
All due respect to 2018’s Cinderella darlings because they’ve certainly earned the right to be here in the Sweet Sixteen. They’ve had not one but two thrilling, buzzer-beating victories to get them here, but they’ve also topped a 6-seed and a 3-seed in doing so. They’ve even “lucked out” in getting 7-seed Nevada in the Sweet Sixteen (though the Wolfpack is certainly thinking the same thing).
While it’s possible the Ramblers could keep rambling into the Elite Eight and beyond, the odds remain thoroughly stacked against them. They’re almost never going to be able to out-muscle their opponents and will instead need to rely on a strong defensive effort to keep things close.
15. Kansas State
The biggest issue with Kansas State so far is that we don’t really know what they’re capable of in the NCAA Tournament. They certainly know how to tamp down a strong offense. Creighton came into their first round match-up 10th in the nation in scoring and mustered just 59 in a season-low. Then KSU brought UMBC back down to earth, limiting the Retrievers to just 43 points in an ugly slugfest.
That’s all well and good, but what happens when high-scoring Kentucky comes calling in the next round? The truth is that of all the teams that got “lucky” based on second-round opponents, no one got luckier than KSU. Without Dean Wade, the Wildcats will continue to scramble for scoring from Barry Brown, Mike McGuirl, and others, but will it be enough?
It cannot be overstated how impressive it was to see the Wolfpack come back from 22-points down to defeat 2-seed Cincinnati on Sunday. This graph remains staggering:
Oh my God pic.twitter.com/GqKXyp4Kd5
— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) March 19, 2018
In the first round, Caleb Martin led the way on a comeback win over Texas, before Cody Martin took the reigns with 11 minutes left against the Bearcats and put together a comeback for the ages in the Round of 32.
The good news for Nevada is that they’re already battle-tested this tournament. In fact, they’ve trailed at halftime in five consecutive games overall and are still standing. The flip side is that, eventually, that’s going to catch up with them. They may have “lucked out” with Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet Sixteen, but they’ll have to figure out how to put together a full game if they want to take things to the next level.
13. Florida State
The Noles took care of business in the first round, starting strong enough to withstand a late comeback in their win over Missouri. They scored way less than their 81.8-point average, but also proved they could win without it. They followed that up with a shocking comeback win over a higher-ranked team from Cincinnati (a theme from the weekend), defeating 1-seed Xavier and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
Clearly, FSU has the temerity to get things done in crunch time and can lean on multiple scorers to step up when needed. Their defense leaves something to be desired and they’ve been all over the map from game-to-game, but the Noles should match-up well enough with Gonzaga to give them a run.
This is a pretty big leap for a team that was literally the last one into the tournament. But after three games, it has been made abundantly clear that Syracuse’s stifling zone is back in postseason form and that means very bad things for some very good teams.
The Orange have played some pretty ugly basketball so far, but it’s ugly basketball with a very clear purpose. Arizona State was held to a season-low in points, TCU scored 31 less than their average, and mighty Michigan State had their worst shooting day of the year. SU doesn’t have the depth or weapons to outduel anyone, but they can drag you down into the muck with them where they’re capable of grinding you down.
Syracuse doesn’t care about your preconceived notions of what basketball should be. They just impose their will and style and make you beat them.
— Neil W. Blackmon (@nwblackmon) March 18, 2018
The flip side is that if you can hit your three-pointers and keep the pace up, there isn’t much Syracuse can do to stop you. The Orange have an absolute gauntlet ahead of them in Duke and either Kansas or Clemson, so they might have to settle for the Sweet Sixteen.
11. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have had it pretty easy so far in the tournament and that makes it hard to really know for sure what to expect from them. They dispatched Murray State with ease in the first round. Four players had double figures and they cruised to an 85-68 victory that was buoyed by a dominant performance in the paint. Sunday, they made things look easy early on against in-state rival Marshall, ultimately knocking them off 94-71.
While they’ve looked impressive offensively, WVU also hasn’t played really tough opponents, so a showdown with Villanova will either expose them or allow us to see that this high-powered offense is capable of running with the best in the business.
This isn’t your daddy’s Kentucky. Heck, it isn’t even your older sibling’s Kentucky. But it’s still John Calipari and Co. in the Sweet Sixteen (and one ripe for the taking, too). A lot of people expected the Wildcats to fall victim to the Davidson hype. However, the freshman-heavy squad not only won but did it without making a single three-pointer. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his hot streak with a 19-point, eight-rebound, performance. The Wildcats then had their way with upstart Buffalo in a 96-75 thrashing. Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 27 and Hamidou Diallo added 22 points and eight boards.
The Wildcats are peaking and can score in bunches, but their inexperience and streakiness could be their eventual undoing.
9. Texas Tech
The Raiders got a bit of a scare from Stephen F. Austin early, but managed to put them away for a 70-60 first-round win. A barrage of three-pointers could only last so long for the upstarts. In the second round, Tech followed Keenan Evans’ lead as he scored 22 points and hit a critical three-pointer late to break a tie with Florida, whom they eventually topped 69-66 to advance.
It’s been a while since Texas Tech has made it this far and they get no favors facing off against Purdue now, but they’ve proven themselves capable in two scrappy performances where they’ve done what they needed to do to advance.
In a time when there is no such thing as a sure thing, even in the first round of the NCAAs, two-seed Purdue took care of business, routing Cal-State Fullerton with ease, though they lost star Isaac Haas in the process. The second round, however, proved more difficult. Without Haas to lock down the paint, the Boilermakers had to adjust and fend off a furious charge by Butler. Dakota Mathias hit a huge three-pointer with seconds remaining and Purdue survived to advance. They proved themselves capable of shooting their way to victory (11 of 24 from 3-point range). It sounds like the NCAA isn’t going to let Haas return, at least not with the brace he’s currently using to protect his broken elbow.
Either way, that loss is probably going to catch up with them sooner than later, in spite of their best efforts.
JORDAN POOLE FOR THE WIN pic.twitter.com/oIyDXJ3ZgW
— Michigan Sports Zone (@MichSportsZone) March 18, 2018
Michigan had a scary start against Montana in the first round, but quickly put it all together for an easy 61-47 win. We can chalk that up to feeling a little rusty after the layoff. In the second round, however, they got all they could ask for from Houston. The six-seed Cougars took Michigan to the brink, stifling scorers Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews all day long. Up two with seconds left, it looked like they might pull off the win as well until freshman Jordan Poole hit a buzzer-beating game-winner.
The Wolverines have shown a lot of heart and ability to turn it on when they need to, but they’re also susceptible to letting the other team dictate terms.
The Zags got a huge scare in the form of UNC-Greensboro in the first round. They needed Zach Norvell Jr. to hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 20.8 seconds left in order to survive and advance. This was after they’d led by as much as 12 but watched it slip away. Norvell Jr. was at it again in the second round, hitting three-pointers, driving to the hoop, and snagging wild rebounds en route to a 28-point performance in Gonzaga’s 90-84 win over Ohio State. Rui Hachimura added 25 points as the Bulldogs reaffirmed their spot as one of the tournament’s top teams.
If they can play more like they did in the second game than the first one, the Zags could absolutely make a return visit to the Final Four.
The five-seed Tigers had a solid season that flew under the radar, thanks to the success of their conference mates like Virginia and North Carolina. But both of those schools are gone and Clemson might be peaking at the perfect time. They had a relatively easy go of things in the first round as Shelton Mitchell and Gabe DeVoe led them to a 79-68 win over New Mexico State.
In the second round, however, they met up with four-seed Auburn and absolutely manhandled them. This football-friendly matchup was a blowout from the start as Clemson took a 43-19 lead into the locker room and barely let its foot off the gas in the second half. Clemson made 10 of 26 3-pointers and DeVoe had six of them, showing that if the Tigers get hot, look out everybody. They’ll certainly have their hands full with Kansas but the Tigers have proven themselves capable enough and, perhaps, a little under-seeded.
TEXAS A&M IS DOMINATING pic.twitter.com/dlqXmRos1w
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 18, 2018
4. Texas A&M
Another team that might be peaking at the right time, the Aggies didn’t have quite as easy a start as they needed big double-double performances from Tyler Davis and Robert Williams to fend off Providence in a 73-69 nailbiter. In the second round, however, they absolutely manhandled the defending champion North Carolina Tar Heels. Davis and Williams led the Aggies on a 50-36 rebounding advantage and the Heels were stymied in their shooting en route to an 86-65 drubbing.
The Aggies can score in bunches, can control the boards, and can put together a stifling defense. That is a recipe for NCAA Tournament success if they can keep it up. They might be a seven-seed, but there’s no doubt that they’re way better than that right now.
The Jayhawks haven’t done anything particularly exciting or impressive in the tournament so far but maybe that’s the point. Despite getting Penn’s best effort, they ground down the Quakers for a 76-60 win in the first round. In the second round, they got all they could handle from Seton Hall, but held on for a gritty 83-79 victory that sent them to their third straight Sweet Sixteen.
Udoka Azubuike continues to deal with a knee injury, but they’ve proven they don’t need him to do much scoring. Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Devonte’ Graham can handle the bulk of it. However, Azubuike was critical in helping shut down Seton Hall’s bigs and they’ll need him to keep doing so moving forward, as much as he can. In a tournament full of shock and awe, Kansas’ best weapon is that they just put their head down and take care of business.
Despite the fact that so many top teams went home, some fans will still be disappointed to learn that Duke is still here. Not only that, they’re thriving in the NCAA Tournament so far. Marvin Bagley III led the way in an absolute rout of Iona in the first round. That was followed by another rout in the second round, again led by Bagley III. The Blue Devils smothered Rhode Island, 87-62, and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Duke hasn’t been challenged, but that’s not a knock on them. In fact, given everything we’ve seen so far, their ability to take care of business is impressive in itself. And even if Bagley has an off-night, you still have to deal with Grayson Allen, Wendell Carter Jr., and the rest. In theory, they should be able to handle Syracuse (again) and then we’ll see how they handle Kansas or Clemson. They might be the two-seed, but they certainly feel like the favorite in the Midwest right now.
Back to back ??for Villanova pic.twitter.com/urdLbrGvTn
— Best Of Basketball (@BestOfBbalI) March 17, 2018
By all accounts, the Wildcats became the prohibitive favorites to find the NCAA Tournament as soon as Virginia lost on Friday. They’ve done nothing to dissuade that premise since. They easily dispatched with Radford in the first round and crushed Alabama even worse in the second round. Their 81-58 win was all the more impressive because things were close at the half. Mikal Bridges scored 23 behind a bunch of three-pointers and the Wildcats came out guns blazing to ensure they wouldn’t be confused with the other flailing one-seeds out there. The team lives and dies by the three-pointer and we’ve seen that a good defensive team can kill you off that way in the tournament.
However, the road looks good ahead for Villanova in terms of opponents with that ability and the East Region is there’s to lose. After that, it’s entirely possible the Wildcats could claim their second national title in three years.