Ranking the Sweet 16 field
Nearly every season at the Final Four, I hear people say the teams should be re-seeded to ensure that the most deserving ones meet in the title game.
This week in King's Court, let's take it a step further.
Let's re-seed the Sweet 16. (You can rank yours here.)
The following is how I would power-rank the remaining teams in this year's field. Keep in mind, these rankings have nothing to do with regular-season records or accomplishments. The teams are ordered simply by how well they are playing entering the games.
Injuries were considered. So were momentum and swagger. Again, this isn't necessarily a projection of who will make the Final Four or which teams will win certain matchups. It's simply how I would rank the tournament's remaining 16 teams based on their current states.
1. Kentucky: Anyone who has the Wildcats winning the NCAA title has to feel pretty good about their bracket. Kentucky won its first two tournament games by an average of 15.5 points. Freshman point guard Marquis Teague had 24 points in Saturday's victory over Iowa State, when Kentucky held one of the country's top 3-point shooting teams to a 3-of-22 performance from beyond the arc. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11 points in two games) needs to get back on track.
2. Ohio State: Don't be surprised if the Buckeyes emerge as the East Region champs. Oft-overlooked forward Deshaun Thomas has been Ohio State's best player in recent weeks. He's averaging 24.5 points in the tournament and has also been a force on the glass. With one of the nation's top point guards (Aaron Craft) running the show and a lottery pick (Jared Sullinger) down low, the Buckeyes' potential is limitless.
3. Marquette: I realize it's bold to pick them this high, but other than Kentucky I'm not sure there's a scarier team in the country right now than the Golden Eagles. Buzz Williams' squad plays a bruising, physical style of defense that limited BYU and Murray State to a combined 34 percent shooting in the opening two games. Offensively, there isn't a better transition team in the country. Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom are two of the top 10 players remaining in this year's field.
4. North Carolina: Even with point guard Kendall Marshall less than 100 percent -- or perhaps out altogether -- it'd be foolish to ignore North Carolina's size, experience and, most of all, talent. Post players Tyler Zeller, John Henson and James Michael McAdoo are all projected as lottery picks in the NBA draft. So, too, is small forward Harrison Barnes, who creates matchup problems for almost every opponent. North Carolina will have a hard time winning it all without Marshall at his best. But a Final Four certainly isn't out of the question.
5. Michigan State: Tom Izzo is one of the best postseason coaches in history. Two more wins and the Spartans will be in the Final Four for the fourth time in the last eight seasons. There may not be a more versatile player in the country than Draymond Green, who is averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds and eight assists in the tournament. The Spartans shot a combined 64.2 percent in the second half of wins against LIU Brooklyn and Saint Louis.
6. Baylor: The Bears were high on momentum after whipping Kansas State and Kansas in the Big 12 tournament before opening NCAA play with wins against South Dakota State and Colorado. Brady Heslip has made 14 of his 22 attempts from 3-point range during the tournament, and the Bears have been beasts on the glass. Baylor has outscored its opponents by 20 second-chance points, the most of any team in the tournament. Baylor needs to find a way to get Perry Jones III more involved in its offense. He hardly touched the ball against Colorado.
7. Kansas: Bill Self's team trailed for virtually the entire game before eking out a last-minute win against Purdue on Sunday. Kansas won despite shooting just 34 percent from the field. Thomas Robinson missed all but two of his 12 field goal attempts in that game, but Elijah Johnson came through with some huge plays down the stretch. Johnson is averaging 18.5 points in his last four games. Look for center Jeff Withey to be more of a factor against North Carolina State.
8. Syracuse: Thursday's near-loss to No. 16 seed UNC Asheville created some serious concerns about the Orange's ability to reach the Final Four without suspended center Fab Melo. Even though Syracuse bounced back with a convincing win over K-State -- which was without Jamar Samuels -- Syracuse doesn't have the look of a Final Four team. Jim Boeheim's squad hasn't advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2003. I think it will break that trend this season and get to the Elite Eight.
9. Florida: No team had an easier path to the Sweet 16 than the Gators, who defeated Virginia and Norfolk State by an average of 30 points. Florida entered the tournament having lost four of its previous five games, but now it should have some confidence entering its matchup with Marquette. Last weekend, the Gators shot 79.2 percent and averaged 38 points in the paint, both of which rank second in the NCAA tournament field.
10. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are one of the more underrated teams in the tournament. It was Mick Cronin's team that upset Syracuse in the Big East tournament. And the Bearcats advanced to the Sweet 16 by holding Florida State to 38 percent shooting. Guards Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon combined for 33 points in that win and are playing with loads of confidence. Yancy Gates will have his hands full trying to stop Ohio State's Sullinger.
11. Louisville: No coach has achieved more with less than Rick Pitino, whose program has battled injury and depth issues all season. The Cardinals aren't all that fun to watch on offense, but defensively they play as hard as any team in the country. Center Gorgui Dieng has developed into a true force in the paint, and Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric are a formidable guard trio. The Pitino-Izzo matchup will pit two of the game's top coaches against one another.
12. Wisconsin: The Badgers will try to slow things down against Syracuse. Wisconsin averages 59.2 possessions per game, the fewest in the nation. In the tournament, the Badgers are shooting 46.2 percent against zone defenses. That should give Bo Ryan's team some confidence as it prepares to face the Orange. Point guard Jordan Taylor missed 10 of his 15 shots against Vanderbilt.
13. Indiana: The Hoosiers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade thanks to Will Sheehey's big shot against VCU. Indiana is one of just two teams to defeat Kentucky this season -- remember Christian Watford's buzzer-beater? -- but things will be much tougher on a neutral court. Indiana is also without guard Verdell Jones III, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Big Ten tournament. Whatever happens against the Wildcats, Tom Crean (ESPN.com's National Coach of the Year) has done a phenomenal job with this team.
14. North Carolina State: The team a lot of people think didn't deserve to be in the tournament advanced to the Sweet 16 by defeating two higher seeds (San Diego State and Georgetown). Lorenzo Brown averaged 7.5 assists in the two wins, while C.J. Leslie contributed 14.5 points. This is a talented team with loads of length and athleticism. The Wolfpack could give Kansas trouble.
15. Xavier: Chris Mack has done a nice job of getting his team to the Sweet 16 after underachieving during the regular season. As mediocre as the Musketeers have been the past three months, this is still a team with an All-America-caliber guard in Tu Holloway, a defensive stopper in Mark Lyons and a solid low-post threat in Kenny Frease. Xavier may have a tough time matching Baylor's size and depth.
16. Ohio: The No. 13 seed Bobcats pulled off one of the more surprising upsets when they defeated No. 4 seed Michigan. Guard D.J. Cooper has averaged 20 points in his team's two victories. The other win came against South Florida. Ohio has won 10 of its last 11 games, but Friday's matchup with North Carolina may be too tall a task to overcome.
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