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Sweet 16 teams, ranked by their chances of winning men’s March Madness

Every Sweet 16 team in the men’s NCAA tournament, ranked.

Memphis v Gonzaga Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The first four days of the men’s NCAA tournament were defined by historic upsets, dramatic finishes, and the sound of every bracket in America falling to pieces. March Madness almost never lets us down, and it delivered once again this year.

From No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s shocking No. 2 seed Kentucky in the first round to Arizona’s thrilling overtime victory over TCU in round two, the first four days of the men’s tournament provided so many memorable highlights. While Baylor was the only No. 1 seed to get eliminated, this year’s tournament still feels wide open as even favorites like Gonzaga and Arizona struggled to get through to the Sweet 16.

Which team is most likely to win the championship as the tournament heads to its second week? Glad you asked. We ranked every team left standing in the field by their chances of eventually cutting down the nets in New Orleans.

16. No. 15 Saint Peter’s

Saint Peter’s finished three games back of first place in the MAAC during the regular season before winning the conference tournament, and it still entered the big dance with the lowest-rated offense of any NCAA tournament team. This only serves as the backstory for arguably the most unlikely Sweet 16 run in NCAA tournament history. The Peacocks stunned a Kentucky team that was a popular Final Four pick (guilty), then proved it was no fluke by beating a very good Murray State team in the next round. Peacock fever has officially swept through America.

Head coach Shaheen Holloway is doing something special right now. Saint Peter’s looks incredibly locked in defensively, and has done a great job of rebounding despite a lack of size. On offense, Holloway has his team running pristine sets to create open looks for his scorers. Doug Ebert and his ‘70s mustache have become iconic during this tournament. Junior guard Daryl Banks was huge against Kentucky, while 6’7 senior KC Ndefo was awesome against Murray State with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks. This run has been too much fun, and it’s not over yet.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Indianapolis- Michigan at Tennessee Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

15. No. 11 seed Michigan

It’s hard to remember now, but Michigan was No. 6 team in the preseason AP Poll before just barely sneaking into the tournament with the worst overall record (17-14) of any team in the field. The Wolverines looked like they were on their way to a first round exit in the first half against No. 6 seed Colorado State, but they caught fire in the second half and have stayed that way since. After knocking off a talented Rams team on Thursday, Michigan beat a Tennessee team that just rolled to the SEC tournament title. All of the sudden, Michigan is looking like the team we thought they’d be coming into the season.

Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson was pegged as one of the top players in the country on preseason lists, and he played like it against Tennessee with 27 points and 11 rebounds on 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range. Super senior Eli Brooks was hot too, adding a combined 39 points and 11 assists in the first weekend, not to mention his game-clinching hook shot against the Vols. Freshman wing Caleb Houstan, projected as a top-10 NBA draft pick coming into the season, remains Michigan’s biggest question. He was scoreless in 32 minutes against Tennessee and has been underwhelming on both ends of the floor all season. This isn’t a real Cinderella despite a double-digit seed next to its names, but Michigan still has to grind out wins to keep advancing.

14. No. 11 Iowa State

The Big 12 finished as the strongest conference in college basketball, per KenPom, and Iowa State can attest to it. The Cyclones only went 7-11 in conference play and were blown out by Texas Tech in their first Big 12 tournament game. Still, ISU snuck into the big dance off the strength of their non-con schedule, and right now it looks like all those tough games in the Big 12 are paying off.

The Cyclones outlasted No. 6 LSU down the stretch in the opening round, then won a rock fight vs. No. 3 seed Wisconsin in round two. Iowa State allowed 103 total points across the two games, boosting its defense up to No. 5 in the country at the moment. The Cyclones struggle to score in large part because of a lack of shooting, but freshman point guard Tyrese Hunter can typically create good looks. With another favorable matchup against a double-digit seed in Miami in the Sweet 16, Iowa State can still dream big in the dance.

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

13. No. 10 seed Miami

The Hurricanes have been very good on offense and rough on defense throughout the year, but you’d never know it from watching them smoke No. 2 seed Auburn in the round of 32. The Hurricanes somehow led the Tigers’ all-world front court combo of Jabari Smith Jr. and Walker Kessler to 3-of-22 shooting from the floor. On the other end, Miami’s guards dominated Auburn’s, with Isaiah Wong putting up 21 points and Kameron McGusty going off for 20 points. With a matchup against No. 11 seed Iowa State, there’s a real chance this run isn’t over yet.

12. No. 4 seed Arkansas

Arkansas didn’t have an easy team getting by No. 13 seed Vermont or No. 12 seed New Mexico State during the first two rounds, but head coach Eric Musselman won’t care. After making an Elite Eight run last year, the Hogs are back in the second weekend. It’s the first time the program has made consecutive appearances in the second weekend since their golden era under Nolan Richardson in the mid ‘90s.

The Razorbacks’ defense is playing at a top-15 level. They have one of the great centers in the country in Jaylin Williams, a smart and crafty big man who has a way of controlling the action at both ends. JD Notae is the type of senior guard you want in March, and Stanley Umude is a big wing shooter. Obviously it won’t be easy against Gonzaga, but if Williams and Notae play their best, an upset isn’t fully out of the question.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Providence vs Richmond Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

11. No. 4 seed Providence

The Friars won the Big East regular season crown, but they still entered March Madness as a popular first round upset pick against a three-point happy South Dakota State team. The Friars survived the opener, then pounded No. 12 seed Richmond two days after they upset Iowa in the first round. Now a Providence team many people thought was overrated throughout the season due to their incredible record in close games is busting through to the second weekend with dreams of advancing even further.

This is the first time Providence has been in the Sweet 16 since 1997. The Friars’ defense has been on fire, holding SDSU to .86 points per possession, and then allowing only .82 PPP against Richmond. AJ Reeves and Al Durham are a quality perimeter scoring duo, while Noah Horchler and Nate Watson provide size on the side (Horchler went 4-of-6 from three vs. Richmond). Don’t take the Friars lightly anymore.

10. No. 8 seed North Carolina

Hubert Davis’ first season at North Carolina was looking like a bust midway through January. Now UNC is rolling into the Sweet 16 as one of the hottest teams in the country. After pounding Marquette in the 8-9 matchup in round one, the Tar Heels held on for a thrilling overtime victory against No. 1 seed Baylor. It wasn’t easy: UNC nearly blew a 25-point lead in the last 10 minutes, but hit enough shots in overtime to become the first team to knock off a No. 1 seed.

Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek played incredible ball in the first weekend, averaging 27 points per game despite getting toss against Baylor on a controversial flagrant-2 call. The backcourt of RJ Davis and Caleb Love each had one great game in the opening weekend, and Armando Bacot continues to be dependable inside. The Tar Heels have won 14 of their last 17 games and eight of their last nine. While this isn’t a UNC team loaded with NBA prospects, the Heels have a talented roster that is peaking at the right time.

Ohio State v Villanova Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

9. No. 2 seed Villanova

Villanova didn’t have any All-Americans or first round NBA draft picks on their roster this year, but the results were similar to that of Jay Wright’s best years. The Wildcats went 16-4 in conference play, then won the Big East tournament. Now Nova is back in the second weekend after taking care of business against No. 15 seed Delaware and No. 7 seed Ohio State in their first two games.

Villanova plays slow, ball control-based offense behind fifth-year senior point guard Collin Gillespie. Jermaine Samuels, another fifth-year senior who was on the 2018 national title team, is their go-to inside scoring option. Justin Moore is another capable shooter next to Gillespie in the backcourt. Getting in a close game with Villanova is trouble because they’re the best free throw shooting team in the country at better than 82 percent. Wildcats basketball can feel a little boring these days, but it’s hard to argue against the results.

8. No. 5 seed Houston

The Cougars are the best program in men’s college basketball that gets the least amount of publicity. Head coach Kelvin Sampson stamped his greatness last season with a Final Four run, and now Houston is back in the second weekend of the tournament for the third consecutive year. Even without injured star guard Marcus Sasser, but Cougars throw waves of athletic talent at opponents who play disciplined defense and almost always move the ball into the right spot on offense.

Senior big man Fabian White and athletic senior wing Taze Moore each played great two-way games in a round of 32 win over Illinois, while sophomore guard Jamal Shead matched his season-high with 18 points. Houston is so hard to beat simply because they don’t beat themselves. With a star-studded recruiting class coming in next year along with the expected return of Sasser, Cougars basketball feels like it just keeps going up and up.

Texas v Purdue Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

7. No. 3 seed Purdue

Purdue has been an excellent offensive team and a poor defensive team all season, which has made them one of the more frustrating squads in America. For a while, it looked like the Boilermakers were on track to be a No. 1 seed. The talent was always there: sophomore guard Jaden Ivey emerged as a superstar, and head coach Matt Painter found a balance splitting up his two skilled centers in Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. Purdue just couldn’t get enough stops, though. Somehow, the defense hasn’t really been a problem through their first two tournament wins.

Purdue blew out Yale in round one, and then won a tight game against Texas in round two by holding the Longhorns below 40 percent from the field. Ivey was spectacular late, and Williams was unreal as an interior scorer, shooting 10-of-13 in the win. The Boilermakers now face No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in a game everyone will expect them to win. If they can do it, a matchup with either No. 8 seed North Carolina or No. 4 seed UCLA will be waiting. For as uneven as Purdue has been this year, there’s no denying their talent. With Ivey at the controls, a Final Four run feels possible in this region.

6. No. 4 seed UCLA

A year ago, UCLA was the underachieving power conference team that got hot at the right time and went all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed before losing on Jalen Suggs’ halfcourt shot. The Bruins returned the majority of the rotation this season, and started the year No. 2 in the preseason polls. While they couldn’t quite live up to that kind of hype in the regular season, these Bruins are built for March and they’re again playing their best at the end of the season.

The Bruins held on in a close game vs. Akron in the first round, then outlasted a good Saint Mary’s team. There’s two stars here in Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez (who may be out with an injury), but more than anything UCLA has a balanced team without any serious holes in the rotation. Tyger Campbell provides a steady hand at point guard and has played in big games before. The Bruins have size inside, and shooting on the wings with Jules Bernard. UCLA isn’t sneaking up on anyone this year, but after losses to top seeds Baylor and Kentucky in their region, a Final Four repeat really might be in the cards.

Michigan State v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

5. No. 2 seed Duke

Duke is again loaded with NBA prospects for Coach K’s last dance, but this team was playing way under its talent level heading into this tournament. Shaky point guard play and a leaky defense were reasons to be concerned about Duke’s chances in the bracket, but the Blue Devils have looked pretty good through their first two wins. After coasting past Cal St. Fullerton in the first round, the Blue Devils beat No. 7 seed Michigan State by overcoming a five-point deficit with five minutes left.

Paolo Banchero — our projected No. 1 overall NBA draft pick — is a 6’10, 250-pound freshman forward with immense offensive skill and takeover scoring ability. Sophomore center Mark Williams and his 7’7 wingspan put a lid on the rim against the Spartans, and can dunk everything around the rim. The best news for Duke is that point guard Jeremy Roach is playing his best ball of the year at the right time. The Blue Devils feel like they rarely play a complete game for both halves, on both ends of the floor, but their raw talent is so overwhelming that they can still grind out wins. How long will Coach K’s final tournament run last? The entire country will be hanging on every game until it’s over.

4. No. 3 Texas Tech

Chris Beard left for Texas, but the Red Raiders are still the most ferocious defensive team in the country. Credit Mark Adams, the former defensive assistant who was elevated to the head coaching chair this season, for rebuilding the roster through transfers while maintaining the culture. Their entire rotation is made up of juniors or seniors, and everyone stands between 6’6 and 6’8.

Texas Tech wants to strangle opposing offenses to death with discipline, strength, and experience at every position, and it’s been enough to will them to two tournament wins against Montana State and Notre Dame so far. The offense can get clunky without a true point guard or much shooting, but Bryson Williams, Kevin Obanor, and Kevin McCullar somehow always find a way to get it done. The Red Raiders no name All-Stars now face Duke’s collection of NBA talent — and it’s going to be the best matchup of the Sweet 16.

Creighton v Kansas Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

3. No. 1 seed Kansas

Kansas should feel good about their Final Four chances even after getting pushed harder than expected against No. 8 seed Creighton in the round of 32. The Jayhawks had two big questions this season:

  • Would their point guard play be good enough to win in March?
  • Who would emerge as their third scorer?

Remy Martin seems to be answering both questions right now. The diminutive Arizona State transfer went off for 20 points in the win against Creighton, after scoring 15 points in the blowout against No. 16 seed Texas Southern. Martin offers more scoring punch than Dajuan Harris, and offers an release valve when the opposition keys in on Kansas’ two excellent wing scorers in Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun. The Jayhawks need to keep center David McCormick out of foul trouble, but it feels like they’re playing their best ball of the season right now.

2. No. 1 seed Arizona

The Wildcats’ season was on the brink in the final game of the round of 32 against TCU. Trailing by three with under 15 seconds left, star guard Ben Mathurin drilled a deep three to tie the game. After a wild sequence at the end of regulation, Arizona locked down the win and a trip to the Sweet 16 in overtime. The Wildcats should feel incredibly fortunate to still be standing.

Mathurin has a case as the most dynamic player in the country. He’s an explosive athlete who can hammer home dunks and sore for rebounds while also having deep shooting range. Teammate Christian Koloko is one of college basketball’s most dominant defenders, a massive rim protector who allows nothing easy in the paint. Arizona earned no style points for having such a tough time with TCU, but this remains one of the most talented teams in the country. The name of the game in March is survive and advance, and the Wildcats did it by the skin of their teeth.

Memphis v Gonzaga Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

1. No. 1 seed Gonzaga

Gonzaga is the safest bet in college basketball. The Zags have now made the second weekend of the tournament in seven consecutive years, with two trips to the national championship game in the last four years. Of course, head coach Mark Few and co. have still never won the national title game, but these kind of things historically linger over a program when it’s right on the brink. Once again, Gonzaga feels like the best team in the country.

We picked against Gonzaga in our bracket predictions because we thought they had the toughest path in the Final Four in the field. Memphis gave them a hell of a test, but Gonzaga prevailed. It won’t be easy against Arkansas in the Sweet 16, and both Duke and Texas Tech could get them in the Elite Eight. The fact of the matter is that Gonzaga will be favored in every game they play because they have the best mix of talent in the country. The Drew Timme x Chet Holmgren front line is ridiculously productive and versatile. Andrew Nembhard is one of the best point guards in the country, and has been a trustworthy starter for four years. Julian Strawther has taken a big step up on the wing, and this year’s Zags feel deeper than last year’s team. Betting against them is a dangerous game. The road to the championship still runs through Gonzaga.