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Re-Ranking the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Teams

The Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament is finally set and the odds for the upcoming March Madness games are released. Next Saturday, March 27th, we have four games that feature three double-digit-seeded teams.

At this point, it’s clear that Oral Roberts is not the worst team left in the tournament. In fact some would argue they are a top-eight team right. So, it’s that time of the NCAA Tournament where we re-rank the teams remaining. (1) Gonzaga has been a dominating force, so they won’t budge from the top spot. However, (11) Syracuse and (2) Houston match up on Saturday night, and Syracuse is clearly not at the level of an 11-seed right now. So, let’s take a deep dive and re-rank the Sweet 16.

sweet 16 ncaa tournament 2021 gonzaga
Credit: Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

Re-Ranking the Sweet 16 Teams in NCAA Tournament

1 β€” Gonzaga

Gonzaga has been the only truly dominant team so far in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. It is true what they say β€” it’s the hardest championship to win in sports, the NCAA Tournament. Indiana completed the last undefeated season in 1976, when the tournament field was only 32 teams. Now, 45 years later, the Zags look prime to run the table and finish undefeated. Oh, and not to mention the field is now doubled and there are more play-in games. So, this championship run for the Bulldogs would be much more impressive than IU in 1976.

2 β€” Baylor

When the Bears came back from a three-week layoff due to COVID, they lost to a Kansas team that was beaten by USC on Monday. People said that the Bears just weren’t the same team. Well, don’t look now, but Baylor has regained their early-season form. After throttling a good Wisconsin team, 76-63, in the Second Round, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Wisconsin’s defensive efficiency rating has been in the top-20 all year. On Sunday, the Bears 119 points per 100 possessions was comparable to the Brooklyn Nets, the top offensive team in the NBA. Baylor is for real, and they might be Gonzaga’s biggest threat come a week or two. Oh, and you can’t cheer against the fighting mullets.

3 β€” Loyola-Chicago

In 2018, the Ramblers shocked everyone and made a trip to the Final Four. They eventually lost to Michigan in the Final Four, but it was a great run. This year, Loyola isn’t sneaking up on anyone. They are a damn good basketball team and have as good a shot as most to win the title. Loyola straight up dominated Illinois, and I considered the Illini the second-best team in the country. They’ll have to beat a hot Oregon State team in the Sweet 16, but I like the Ramblers’ chances. Also, what coaching jobs are available? Sister Jean is interested.

4 β€” Michigan

During the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon reportedly told Michigan coach Juwan Howard, “Don’t bother putting the banner up, all you do is take them down anyways.” While, that is a great burn from Turgeon, Howard got the last laugh. The Terrapins were knocked out after being embarrassed by Alabama. Michigan is still dancing. When Isaiah Livers went down with an injury before the tournament, most teams would have regressed a noticeable amount. Not Michigan. After defeating (8) LSU 76-68 to get to the Sweet 16, Michigan is still a force to be reckoned with.

5 β€” Arkansas

These next two teams on this list are very similar. It’s not surprising that (3) Arkansas’ and (2) Alabama’s basketball programs have taken off. However, the reason Arkansas is ranked above Alabama on this list is because they have an easier path to the Elite 8. The Hogs will take on everyone’s Cinderella (15) Oral Roberts on Saturday, but it won’t be the first time. Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman, when scheduling non-conference games, decided he wanted to play some teams from smaller conferences that he thought they could possibly face in the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas beat North Texas, 69-54, in November. They also beat Abilene-Christian, 85-72, in December. Finally, the Hogs indeed beat Oral Roberts, 87-76, in December as well. Maybe this Musselman guy knows what he’s doing?

6 β€” Alabama

For the longest time, it was okay to like Alabama basketball, because they weren’t a top team in the SEC like they are in football. Well, now it’s officially un-cool to like Alabama Basketball, they’re too good. Alabama put out the two best performances in the First and Second Round of the NCAA Tournament this past weekend. The Tide beat Rick Pitino’s Iona squad by 13, then the Tide beat Maryland, 96-77. It was the most points a Maryland team has ever given up under Mark Turgeon. You won’t find a team left in the tournament who Alabama isn’t capable of beating.

7 β€” Villanova

Jay Wright is the real true master of March. When Collin Gillespie went down with a torn ACL before the Big East Tournament, people thought Villanova had little chance of success in the Big East Tournament, and in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats did nothing to repel those rumors, losing to 8-seed Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Tournament. However, Villanova now looks poised to make another Jay Wright-esque run. While they have had the easiest run to the Sweet 16, after beating a 12 and 13-seed in the first two rounds. However, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and company are coming together at the right time. Not to mention, Villanova played in one of the greatest National Championship games ever. “How about those onions!”

ncaa tournament syracuse buddy boeheim
Credit: Scott Taetsch/USA TODAY Sports

8 β€” Syracuse

In all honesty, the fact that Buddy Boeheim is a very good basketball player is not fair. Jim had his next great star in the bag when his son was born. While his older brother Jimmy was sitting idly by as his Cornell team decided not to play a season, Buddy was sky-rocketing his draft stock. On top of that, everyone remembers when Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a national title as a freshman in 2003. While Buddy right now is not the player Anthony was, his numbers in the tournament thus far are better. Buddy erupted for 30 points in the Orange’s First Round win over San Diego State. He also shot 70% from three in that game. In Syracuse’s win over West Virginia on Sunday, Buddy had 25 points while shooting 47% from the field. Are we in for some March “Boeheim” Madness?

9 β€” Florida State

Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State team had a great season last year. They were led by Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams, who were both first-round NBA picks. Hamilton never got to see how good last year’s team really was, because we had no tournament. This year, Hamilton will be able to see just how good his team is this year when they play (1) Michigan this weekend. Other than freshman Scottie Barnes, this team doesn’t have the talent last year’s team did. However, they might be better. In their victory over Colorado to get to the Sweet 16, the Seminoles held the Buffs to 36% shooting and forced nine turnovers. This is exactly the type of team that can beat Michigan.

10 β€” Oral Roberts

What a story Oral Roberts has been thus far in the NCAA tournament. In the First Round, they staved off (2) Ohio State in overtime to advance. They then went on to defeat Florida and become the second 15-seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. Anybody remember Dunk City? The truth is, Oral Roberts was a three-point shooting team in the regular season. Roughly 46% of their shots were taken from beyond the arc, going in at a 38% clip.

However, against Ohio State (11-35) and Florida (10-30), the threes weren’t falling. The Golden Eagles then played with a defensive edge and ended up forcing 36 turnovers in the two games before the Sweet 16. Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor have combined to average 56.5 points per game in the tournament. One game could be a fluke, but two solid wins is not. This Oral Roberts team is dangerous, and they have two of the best players left in the tournament. Paul Mill’s squad has a chance to make history this weekend.

11 β€” Houston

The Cougars do one thing very well. They beat the living hell out of bad teams. However, against quality opponents, they often struggle to pull away. That was the case in the first two games of the tournament for Kelvin Sampson’s squad. In the First Round, they pummeled 15-seed Cleveland State, 87-56. However, in their second game against a solid Rutgers team, they struggled at times and couldn’t pull away when they needed to. Houston clearly ended up winning, because they are on this list. However, Houston might have the easiest path to the Final Four. They play 11-seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Then, if they win, they will face the winner of 8-seed Loyola-Chicago and 12-seed Oregon State. If the Cougars were to make the Final Four, they won’t have faced a team seeded higher than eight. Sometimes luck is better than being good.

12 β€” Oregon State

In my opinion, Oregon State might be the best team in the country right now. The Beavers started out with a 7-9 record in conference play after 16 games. At that point, they had less than a 1% chance to make the Second Round. Well don’t look now, but Oregon State is rolling. Defense has kept the Beavers alive throughout the tournament, and it will have to keep them alive again versus a very good Loyola Chicago team this weekend. I don’t love the Beavers chances, but Ethan Thompson, who had 26-points in their round one win, is a player that can carry a team for a game or two.

sweet 16 2021 ncaa tournament march madness
Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

13 β€” USC

I’m sure I will get chided for how low USC is in my rankings. They just handed Kansas, a top blue-blood program, their third-worst loss in the program’s history. Evan Mobley is the real deal. In the First Round win over Drake, he had 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Then against Kansas, he was a contributor all around the court, finishing with 10 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. He will need to add some muscle before going to the NBA, but right now he’s one of the best big men left in the tournament. In fact, his brother Isaiah, who also plays for USC, has been another reason Andy Enfield has taken a team to another Sweet 16 birth. Isaiah had 17 points against Kansas. The two brothers are super athletic and incredibly long, so it is not going to be easy for any team to just walk in the gym and beat them.

14 β€” Oregon

The Ducks got incredibly lucky they didn’t have to play a First Round game to advance. While that topic is a pause for discussion at a later time, Oregon benefited greatly from the rest they received. After passing over VCU in a “no-contest” game, they announced their arrival to March Madness with a 95-80 win over Wooden favorite Luka Garza and 2-seed Iowa. Four Oregon starters totaled at least 17 points in the win over Iowa. Garza did all he could, scoring 36 points, but the Ducks were fresh and ready to play.

15 β€” Creighton

In all honesty, Creighton is lucky to be in the Sweet 16. The Blue Jays essentially fell apart just before the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Greg McDermott was the being investigated by the school for using an improper slur. They then were destroyed by Georgetown in the Big East Championship, 73-48. A once potent offense had fallen quiet. The Blue Jays were lucky to get by UC-Santa Barbara in the First Round after the Gauchos missed an easy layup at the buzzer. However, they dominated an Ohio that everyone thought was poised for a big run. Their next test? The best team in the country, (1) Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Miracles can happen…right?

16 β€” UCLA

UCLA is last on this list mostly because I have no idea what to make of the Bruins. They entered the tournament on a four-game losing streak. However, they went on to play in the First Four vs Michigan State and beat them easily. They then went beat an underwhelming BYU squad in the round of 64. Finally, the Bruins crushed another mid-major, Abilene-Christian, by 20 points to seal their spot in the Sweet 16. They will have to beat a hot Alabama team, then the winner of (1) Michigan vs (4) Florida State to advance to the Final Four. The path for the Bruins is far from easy.

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