ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts to a call in the game against the Florida State Seminoles during the Final Game of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conference Tournament at Philips Arena on March 11, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
With the Sweet 16 set to begin Thursday night, we re-rank the remaining NCAA tournament teams. UNC without Kendall Marshall finds itself in the middle of the pack.
Despite two No. 2 seeds falling in the round of 64, the first weekend of the NCAA tournament didn't change perceptions of the almost-best teams in the country all that much. Duke was probably the weakest No. 2 in memory and Missouri was known to be a little lax on defense; Georgetown struck almost no one as a Final Four-caliber squad and Florida State's streaky offense just abandoned it. But the No. 1 seeds look different now than they looked last Thursday morning, and that's the sort of thing that makes re-ranking the NCAA tournament so appealing.
So I did it. Here, from No. 16 to No. 1, are the current power rankings of the 2012 NCAA tournament field as of the Sweet 16.
16) Ohio Bobcats
The Bobcats should be one of the best stories of this or any recent NCAA tournament thanks to effervescent guard D.J. Cooper. But the mid-major insurrection that Butler and VCU have staged and the "Will he leave VCU?!" cloud that shadows Shaka Smart have sucked up most of the attention that could have otherwise been paid to Ohio, the Bobcats lack talent even on par with VCU's, and they're the only team outside of Kenpom.com's top 50 left in the NCAA tournament.
The Bearcats have clamped down on defense of late, and haven't allowed 70 points in regulation since before Valentine's Day. But their offense has gotten 70 or more points just three times in that span, and hasn't even netted 73. If not for a flurry of made jumpers against Florida State, Cincy might not even be here. Those offensive limitations will hamstring the Bearcats against Ohio State, but if they can make things ugly, they'll have a chance.
Xavier had to edge Notre Dame, but Kenny Frease's awakening against Lehigh (25 points, 12 rebounds) was a reminder that the Musketeers have the sort of dominant inside player few other teams have, at least when Frease is on. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons have to remember to feed him, though.
With C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, the Wolfpack have always had better talent than they did results, and those players (Leslie especially) looked like water finding its level against San Diego State and Georgetown. But State, as the Duke and North Carolina fans will always remind, is a program built on that foundation; that Mark Gottfried has those guys plus Richard Howell and C.J. Williams and Scott Wood makes this team dangerous.
12) Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana survived VCU and trounced New Mexico State on the first weekend, but losing Verdell Jones has made the Hoosiers a lot less careful on offense (more than a third of their possessions against VCU ended in turnovers!) and Cody Zeller can't make up for all of that loss. And Kentucky looms.
The better remaining Big East team that is allergic to offense has nearly as tough a draw (Cincy gets Ohio State, Louisville plays Michigan State), but a significantly better defense. On the other hand, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are far more fun off the court and in theory than they are in half-court sets, and Louisville's chances rely on squeezing the life out of its opponents, which is hard to do without superior talent.
10) Florida Gators
Florida won its first two NCAA tournament games by a combined 60 points, shelling a great Virginia defense despite making only four threes in that contest and housing Norfolk State with a 25-0 first half run. And that's without big man Patric Young doing much in either game. This ranking almost seems low for the loaded Gators, but their path to the Sweet 16 (combined seed value of Florida opponents: 25, which is not what usually happens for No. 7 seeds) may have been the easiest of any team, and the Gators have dominated less-talented teams for much of the season.
Jae Crowder and Marquette play really, really hard, and they get a Florida team that has been doing that of late in what might be the best game of the Sweet 16. But beyond Crowder, whose size will make him an undervalued NBA draft pick, there isn't a lot of top-level talent here: Darius Johnson-Odom is very good and Junior Cadougan is quick, but Marquette doesn't shoot well at all if Crowder, Johnson-Odom or low-post beast Davante Gardner aren't taking the shots.
This is based on the assumption that Kendall Marshall won't risk his NBA future in the Sweet 16 and might be less effective when he does return, but I don't think it's overreaction. Marshall is the sort of indispensable player who cannot be approximated by Stilman White, and the Carolina bigs are not the sorts of players who can create their own shots. This is Harrison Barnes' team, and Barnes should lead a team on the other side of a talent chasm from Ohio over the Bobcats with ease. But Kansas? Additionally: If the Tar Heels scrap (wait, did I just write "Tar Heels scrap"?) to the Final Four without Marshall, and he comes back close to 100 percent, UNC vaults back to its No. 2 perch.
What team (that is still around; I see you, Norfolk State, but you can put your hand down) has a better NCAA tournament win than the Badgers do? They outlasted trendy Final Four pick Vanderbilt in a heavyweight bout that felt more like an Elite Eight game at times, and that was after they ground Montana to powder in their first outing. The Badgers still haven't gotten the absolute best Jordan Taylor can offer, either.
6) Baylor Bears
There are teams with talent that have looked like plausible challengers to Kentucky for stretches in the 2012 NCAA tournament (Florida and North Carolina, especially, come to mind), but no team can match up on a position-for-position basis with the Wildcats like Baylor. The Bears got a supernova game from Brady Heslip against Colorado, and that almost certainly won't recur, but Quincy Acy, Pierre Jackson and Quincy Miller have been good while Perry Jones III has been quiet, and the Bears haven't even played at their peak. Yet they still have two wins by a combined 25 points, and only a less-talented Xavier team stands between them and an Elite Eight showdown with Kentucky. Here's hoping the Bears stir from their slumber.
Kansas got its win in the Bill Self Special: The Jayhawks all but left their urine on the floor for most of their round of 32 clash with Purdue before figuring things out in the final moments, vanquishing the underrated team that plays over its head against Self's teams practically every March. Now Kansas can focus on the really troubling issue, which is that Thomas Robinson, far and away the best Jayhawk, made just nine of 25 shots in the first two games of the NCAA tournament.
The Orange got kind officiating at timely moments in their squeaker over UNC-Asheville, and then just outclassed Kansas State. But who knows how good Syracuse is in a close game against a good team at this point? And will the Orange play that game against a patient Wisconsin team that will find the Fab Melo-shaped hole in 'Cuse's zone? Syracuse had already slipped from the No. 2 spot in most estimations with the news that Melo was out, and the shaky start to the tournament is more troubling to me than the rebound against Kansas State was impressive.
If Wisconsin's win over Vanderbilt was the best from the first weekend, Ohio State's take-punch, punch-back, hold-on-in-back-and-forth victory over Gonzaga wasn't far behind. Jared Sullinger doesn't look fully healthy, Aaron Craft may never become an offensive force, Deshaun Thomas is convinced he is Paul Pierce or something and Thad Matta's the best coach who never gets called a great coach, and it all still works.
It's not pretty basketball, this Tom Izzo brand. Draymond Green does many remarkable things, but few of them make highlight reels, because chunky forwards making threes don't make those reels; the defense that has bottled up a free-wheeling Long Island team and a grinding Saint Louis squad doesn't press demonically or zone religiously or have an all-time great individual shot-blocker, though Adreian Payne is pretty good. And yet Michigan State looks like the consistently-very-good-and-occasionally-great team that Izzo is virtually never without in March, and without Missouri on the other side of its West regional, Sparty should be headed to another Final Four.
You were expecting N.C. State?
Kentucky let up on the gas in its second-round game against Western Kentucky ... and won by 15. The 'Cats were tied with Iowa State in the second half of their third-round matchup ... and won by 16. When Marquis Teague looks like diet Chris Paul and not Rajon Rondo without the defense, Kentucky is terrifying; when Teague does that and Anthony Davis hasn't really gotten untracked, the potential for invincibility exists. I've written it before and I'm standing by it: If Kentucky doesn't win the national championship this year, something has gone horribly awry for the Wildcats.
For more on the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket, stay with SB Nation's Selection Sunday StoryStream, and stick around SB Nation's NCAA Tournament hub for a complete printable NCAA Tournament bracket and tons of analysis on who was snubbed, who got the best bracket, and who will make it all the way to New Orleans and the Final Four.