And then there were 16. March Madness has narrowed its field down to the Sweet 16 after a chaotic first weekend.
Headed into the Sweet 16, several national title favorites remain alive along with four double-digit seeds. For comparison, an average of two double-digit seeds have made the Sweet 16 since 2016.
The surviving 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament are a unique collection of teams that should make for some fantastic games on Thursday and Friday evenings. Ranking the remaining teams could hint at who could truly compete for a national championship or a Final 4 berth.
Saint Peter’s Peacocks
The Peacocks’ Cinderella run is surely the biggest story of the first weekend.
15-seed Saint Peter’s (+1200) SHOCKS 2-seed Kentucky in OT!
— BetUS College Basketball (@BetUS_NCAAHoops) March 18, 2022
They shocked the world by taking down one of the tournament’s title favorites, the Kentucky Wildcats. Saint Peter’s put together another solid showing by taking down No. 7 seed Murray State in the Round of 32.
Saint Peter’s is the third No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16, but can they go further? While the Peacocks’ run has been a fantastic story, they are still at a massive talent gap compared to the remaining teams. If the Peacocks are to pull off another upset they will need to ride their impressive defense that ranks 28th in Kenpom.
Miami is another double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes won a close one against USC in the first round and then dismantled the No. 2 seed Auburn in the Round of 32.
Their guard play led by Kameron McGusty (17.5 points), Isaiah Wong (15.5 points), and Charlie Moore (12.5 points) has been fantastic. Miami has seven combined turnovers in their last two games. The Hurricanes will need fantastic guard play yet again in the Sweet 16 against Iowa State’s smothering defense.
Iowa State Cyclones
T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State’s Head Coach, has guided one of the better turnarounds you will see in college basketball. Last season, the Cyclones were a two-win team and now they’re headed to the Sweet 16.
The Cyclones’ defense has frustrated opposing offenses and has seen their defensive efficiency rise to 5th in the nation. In the last two games, Iowa State has held opponents to 51.5 points, 33.3% shooting, and 6-41 (14.6%) from three. Plus, they have forced a combined 36 turnovers in the last two games. The pesky Cyclone defense has been a difference-maker in March.
Arkansas is the last SEC team in the NCAA Tournament It looks like the Razorbacks could be on their way out as well with their next opponent being Gonzaga. The Razorbacks have been decent in the first two rounds, but their path was easier than most against No. 13 seed Vermont and No. 12 seed New Mexico State.
Their most pressing concern is JD Notae’s shooting struggles. He is their leading scorer at over 18 points per game and is capable of erupting for 30+ points in any game. However, he is now shooting only 28.4% in the last six games. Arkansas must have Notae at his peak against Gonzaga.
The Friars keep on winning. Providence is in its first Sweet 16 since 1997, but can the journey continue?
Providence demolished No. 12 seed Richmond in the Round of 32, winning 79-51. For the Friars, their shooting from deep has been lethal in the NCAA Tournament. In the last two games, they are 20-44 (45.5%) from three. In addition, Providence has held opponents to 39.1% from the field in the tournament.
Providence (-3.5) cruises to its first Sweet 16 in a quarter-century…
— BetUS College Basketball (@BetUS_NCAAHoops) March 20, 2022
The formula has been “3-and-D” for the Friars, and that equals success in March.
The Wolverines are a team you do not want to see. Michigan pulled away late vs. Colorado State and then took down one of the country’s hottest teams, Tennessee.
The Wolverines have been without their starting point guard DeVante’ Jones — who averaged 19.5 points in his last two games. Jones has suffered from a concussion; he missed the entire Colorado State game and played only 11 minutes vs. Tennessee and was ruled out of the game. If Jones can get healthy in this tournament, Michigan will only get better.
Hunter Dickinson has been outstanding averaging 24 points in the tournament. In addition, opponents are shooting only 38.6% against the Wolverines in the last two games. Michigan is hot and dangerous even without Jones.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Like Michigan, North Carolina is blazing hot. After a near-disastrous collapse vs. Baylor, the Tar Heels are in the Sweet 16.
North Carolina tore Marquette apart in the first round, winning 95-63. It looked like that would happen again in the second round when the Tar Heels took a 25-point lead against Baylor. The defending champs made a furious comeback, but UNC sealed the win in overtime.
The Tar Heels have some extremely dangerous scorers right now. Caleb Love put up 23 points in the first round, R.J. Davis had 30 vs. Baylor, and Brady Manek is averaging 27 points in the tournament — that’s with Manek missing the last 10 minutes vs. Baylor after being ejected.
Name something @BradyManek can’t do… 🤔
Don’t worry, we’ll wait.pic.twitter.com/4ggVtPXpkd
— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) March 19, 2022
North Carolina is rolling behind several talented scorers complemented by outstanding team rebounding and passing.
The Boilermakers are still one of the nation’s most talented offensive teams. However, Purdue has been reliant on the free-throw line in the tournament.
The Boilermakers average nearly 22 free throw attempts per game, which ranks 14th nationally. Through the first two rounds, they are shooting 39.5 free throws per game. Against Texas, Purdue shot an unheard of 46 free throws.
Purdue’s defensive concerns are still there, but it should be fine for another round as it faces Saint Peter’s, which ranks 226th in offensive efficiency.
In the Round of 32, the Wildcats led from start to finish vs. Ohio State. The Wildcats are always one of the best-performing teams in the postseason led by Jay Wright. They will have a tough challenge against another Big 10 team, Michigan.
Villanova is hard to beat when 3-pointers are falling; the Wildcats are shooting over 41% from deep in the tournament. Balanced scoring and efficient 3-point shooting has led the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.
The Bruins are looking to make another Final 4 this season. They certainly have the talent to get there. One could argue UCLA could be better this season with a deeper rotation and better bench.
UCLA had a scare in the first round against Akron but silenced those concerns with a 72-56 win over Saint Mary’s in the Round of 32. The Bruins had balanced scoring from their starting lineup thus far, but the bench needs to do more. UCLA’s bench has not played many minutes in the tournament and has a combined nine bench points in the first two games.
Depth and fatigue could end up being an issue for the Bruins if Mick Cronin does not lighten the load for his starters.
Houston is slowly becoming a premier program once again. After a Final 4 last season, the Cougars are in the Sweet 16 for the third straight tournament.
With several key players suffering season-ending injuries, the expectations for this year’s Houston squad were reduced. Yet the Cougars just kept winning behind the elite defense. Slowly but surely, players grew into key roles and began producing more on offense. Houston is elite in every analytical tool. For example, they are 2nd overall in Kenpom and are 10th on offense and defense.
Houston -3 was definitely no problem…
— BetUS College Basketball (@BetUS_NCAAHoops) March 20, 2022
Houston is legit and keeps getting better with improved guard play. Arizona could be on official upset watch after barely surviving vs. TCU in the second round.
Duke Blue Devils
Coach K is looking for one more national championship in his last season. He has two games down and four more to go. Duke had a hard-fought win against Michigan State in the second round, and several concerns are now in the forefront for the Blue Devils.
Duke’s defense, particularly their perimeter defense, looked vulnerable against Michigan State. The Spartans shot 11-22 from 3 and got plenty of wide-open looks from deep. But the fact remains, Duke could have the most talented roster and highest potential in college basketball.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
After one of their most dominant performances of the season in the first round, the Red Raiders had a scare in the second round vs. Notre Dame. Texas Tech had major shooting woes in the second round at only 35.6% from the floor and 4-15 on 3-pointers.
Even with the best defense in college basketball, Texas Tech has to shoot remarkably better in the Sweet 16 vs. Duke. The Raiders could be the best team left that is not a No. 1 seed. Their team is similar to the 2019 squad that made the national championship. They clearly have the best defense nationally with a couple of talented scorers that can get the job done offensively.
Texas Tech (-360) survives to dance one more time!
— BetUS College Basketball (@BetUS_NCAAHoops) March 21, 2022
The Red Raider defense could really frustrate Duke. Texas Tech against Duke has the chance to be one of the best games in the entire tournament.
Among No. 1 seeds, Kansas has the easiest remaining road to a Final 4. The Jayhawks will need to take down the veteran squad of Providence in the Sweet 16, but past that they will play No. 10 seed Miami or No. 11 seed Iowa State.
To keep advancing, Kansas’ Player of the Year candidate Ochai Agbaji (19.3 points) must play better. In the tournament, Agbaji is shooting only 35.7% from the field and 1-8 on 3-pointers. This is a 40% three-point shooter that helps stretch out opposing defenses, Agbaji has to start knocking down outside shots again.
In one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, the Wildcats barely survived vs. No. 9 seed TCU in the second round. Arizona has issues that need to be addressed if the program is to hoist its second national championship trophy.
The Wildcats are averaging 17.5 turnovers per game in the tournament. Also, consistent 3-point shooting has always been a problem for the Wildcats this season. They shot 11-20 from 3 in the first round, but were only 5-27 on three-pointers vs. TCU.
Still, Arizona’s lengthy frontcourt combined with a potential lottery guard in Bennedict Mathurin creates a team with a high ceiling.
Like last season, Gonzaga is the clear-cut national title favorite. But can the Bulldogs finally get the job done? So far, the Zags’ chances look good.
We know Gonzaga has an elite frontcourt with Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme. Ultimately, guard play will likely decide how the Bulldogs’ season ends. Their point guard Andrew Nembhard had one of his best games vs. Memphis with 23 points while shooting 5-10 on 3-pointers. In addition, Rasir Bolton is shooting lights out from three in the tournament (5-10 on 3-pointers).
This is the shot that has really unlocked Andrew Nembhard’s game this season. Looks so much more comfortable punishing unders with pull-up 3s. He now has 19 PTS and 5 AST on 5-of-10 from 3. Positional size, elite court sense, and now a threat from beyond the arc. pic.twitter.com/Kf1MY671S4
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) March 20, 2022
If this level of guard play continues for Gonzaga, the Bulldogs could finally win their first national championship.
Through the first two rounds, the rankings of the remaining 16 teams are not too surprising. The major national title favorites appear at the top, but under-the-radar teams like Houston or Texas Tech look like teams who could knock off powerhouses.
Tell us where you would rank the final 16 teams in March Madness!