Just How Sweet is Sweet?

So, we are down to 16 teams.  We can all rank the remaining teams based on how good we think they have been all year or what we expect them to do going forward.  And, we will all have similar – yet slightly different – opinions.  But, what if we tried to assess the 16 remaining teams strictly on their tournament performances to get here.  Who was the most impressive through the first two rounds?

This isn’t a list of who I think is the best team or who I think has the best chance of cutting down the nets.  This is strictly my assessment of how good each team looked last weekend.  Obviously, everyone is 2-0 (except LaSalle, who is 3-0), so I took am strictly basing these rankings on the quality of their opponents and the nature of their victories.  The higher seeds are at a bit of a disadvantage in this form of analysis because, by definition, they would have been playing weaker opponents, but they still had the ability to dominate these lower opponents – some did and some did not.

So, here is my list of the Sweet 16, in order of how dominant they looked in getting to this point. 

  1. Louisville – (#16 N.C. A&T 79-48, #8 Colorado St. 82-56)
    The #1 overall seed played every bit the part over the weekend.  They are a couple levels better than N.C. A&T, so that wasn’t a surprise, but their utter domination of a very good CSU team.  Yes, they earned and easier road through their #1-seed and were playing in their home state, but these two performances were head-turningly good.
     
  2. Wichita St. (#8 Pittsburgh 73-55, #1 Gonzaga 76-70)
    Whatever your feelings are about whether Gonzaga should have been a #1 or a #2, nothing changes the fact that they had 3 fewer losses than ANYONE ELSE IN THE COUNTRY, and were clearly a top 5 or 6 team coming into the tournament, and Wichita St. flat-out beat them.  And, that was coming off a drubbing of, what seemed to be, a woefully underseeded Pitt team.  Beating Pitt and Gonzaga over three days is very impressive in any fashion, but this team did so in dominating fashion.
     
  3. Florida Gulf Coast(#2 Georgetown 78-68, #7 San Diego St. 81-71)
    By no means am I saying the Dunk City Eagles are the 3rd-best team in the country.  I am not even saying that I think they have much of a shot against Florida on Friday.  But, if we are honest about evaluating the weekend’s performances, wouldn’t you say that only Louisville was more impressive this weekend?  They had double-digit wins over Georgetown and San Diego St. – and, as everyone knows – they looked like the better basketball team on each night.  With my love of low-major basketball and the fact that my parents own a place across the street from the FGCU campus, I have actually been following this team all year and consider myself a fan.  Their athleticism and bravado came as no surprise to me.  But, let’s pump the brakes on the arguments that they were underseeded.  I fully expected a 16-seed and would have been happy not to be in the First Four.  The A-Sun was one of the lowest rated conferences in the country this year – and THEY DIDN’T EVEN WIN THE LEAGUE.  They were 2nd-place, behind Mercer.  They were swept by Lipscomb and even lost a game to the lowly Black Bears of Maine.  They struggled to stop people all year and committed a TON of turnovers at various points in the season.  But, they put it together at the right time and played two phenomenal games of basketball in Philly this weekend.  They deserve this spot – not for the dunks, but for the defense they played against two loaded teams.
     
  4. Oregon(#5 Oklahoma St. 68-55, #4 St. Louis 74-57)
    Everyone who knew anything about the sport this year knew, without question, that Oregon’s 12-seed may have been the worst seeding job in recent history.  But, just because they weren’t your typical 12-seed doesn’t mean that the Ducks were supposed to have been THAT good.  The win over OSU was a really good – and convincing – win, but wasn’t completely unexpected.  But, the pummeling of a red-hot and incredibly-talented St. Louis team was shocking.
     
  5. Michigan(#13 South Dakota St. 71-56, #5 VCU 78-53)
    It is hard to say just how much The Palace helped the Wolverines, from a homecourt standpoint, but regardless of that, they looked really good.  S.Dakota St. was not quite as good as everyone might think, but they did have a future NBA draft pick in Nate Wolters, so that’s always a scary First Round matchup.  But, they beat up the Jackrabbits handily.  That wasn’t nearly as surprising as what they did to a VCU team that several people had going to the Final Four.  They Wolverines absolutely pounded VCU, looking a lot more like the #1 team in the country that they were in January rather than the 5th-place Big Ten team they were in February.
     
  6. Michigan St. – (#14 Valparaiso 65-54, #6 Memphis 70-48)
    The other home team in The Palace last weekend also put on a show for its faithful.  The Spartans may have played some flawed opponents, but they absolutely dominated both games.  The Valpo game was the most lopsided 11-point game I’ve ever seen, and then Memphis looked like they didn’t even belong.  Coach Izzo – as usual – has this team rolling in March.
     
      
  7. Syracuse(#13 Montana 81-34, #12 California 64-61)
    The most dominant single-game performance of the tournament so far was, without a doubt, the absolutely drubbing that the ‘Cuse put on a solid Montana team.  And, then to follow that up with a solid win over a Cal team that was coming off an impressive win over UNLV and was, essentially, playing home games here is also a nice feat.  This Syracuse team might be playing their best ball of the year right now.
     
  8. Florida(#14 NW State 79-47, #11 Minnesota 78-64)
    Florida wasn’t really challenged at all this weekend, but that had more to do with them than their opponents – in my opinion.  NW State was a dangerous 14-seed that the Gators just dispatched, and Minnesota is one of the scarier 11-seeds I can remember because of their gobs of talent.  But, again, the Gators had no trouble.  It will be hard to know about this team, though, as their path to an Elite Eight is through a 14-, an 11-, and now a 15-seed.
     
  9. Arizona(#11 Belmont 81-64, #14 Harvard 74-51)
    Games against Belmont and Harvard looks more like a November non-conference schedule for Rider than a path to the Sweet 16, but you can only play who’s in front of you, and the ‘Cats have dominated who is in front of them.  And, it’s not like these are cupcakes at any point in the season – Belmont is a very good team, and Harvard (still a year away) took out New Mexico two days prior to the pounding they took from UA.
     
  10. LaSalle(#13 Boise St. 80-71, #4 Kansas St. 63-61, #12 Ole Miss 76-74)
    When thinking about these rankings, I totally expected LaSalle to be higher on this list because I am counting the First Four win they had over Boise St.  They are the only team to have won three games to get here.  And, as good as they look right now (and they look really good), they didn’t blow anyone out, and they didn’t really beat any real contenders.  Boise, K-State, and Ole Miss are all very good teams and good wins, but did anyone really think these teams were going anywhere?  I’ve got a TON of love for the Big Five – with LaSalle as my little brother team – and I will be rooting hard for the Explorers the whole way, but I couldn’t put them any higher on this list, even with that extra win.
     
  11. Duke(#15 Albany 73-61, #7 Creighton 66-50)
    The Dukies had a bit of a tussle with Albany in the first round, but I credit the Great Danes more than I discredit the Devils.  And, then on Sunday, Duke took care of a dangerous Creighton team with no trouble.  Their defensive performance against a potent Creighton offense on Sunday was mighty impressive.
     
  12. Miami(#15 Pacific 78-49, #7 Illinois 63-59)
    As good as the ‘Canes looked on Friday (and they looked real good) in manhandling an overmatched Pacific team, that’s how much they struggled against the Illini.  But, this time of year is about survive and advance, and that is what they did.  And, Illinois is a feisty team with big-time shotmakers, so that is a scary recipe for a second-round opponent, so it’s hard to hold too much against the ‘Canes.  They just are going to need something from Durand Scott going forward, especially now that they are without Reggie Johnson.
     
  13. Indiana(#16 James Madison 83-62, #8 Temple 58-52)
    The Hoosiers handled JMU with an unsurprising ease, but we all know how much they struggled to beat the Owls on Sunday.  And, with the exception of Khaliff Wyatt (offensively), Temple wasn’t all that great.  It isn’t a stretch (or me being a homer) to say that IU is lucky to still be alive in this tournament.  That being said, they did make the plays they needed to make and have to be given some credit for holding the non-Wyatt Owls to just 21 points.  But, they will not beat Syracuse playing the game they played on Sunday.
      
  14. Ohio St.(#15 Iona 95-70, #10 Iowa St. 78-75)
    I have to admit, I might be low on the OSU performance this weekend because I’m kind of low on them, in general, but I will still stand firm that their two performances were underwhelming, to me, particularly if you factor that these games were being played in the backyard in Dayton.  Granted, they did beat Iona, who was probably the best of the 15-seeds going into the tournament (yes, that definitely includes the Dunk City Eagles), by 25, but they didn’t look completely dominant in that game.  And, say what you will about the block/charge call on Craft, but those calls are missed multiple times throughout every game, this one just happened to be in the final two minutes.  And, it’s not like that literally lost them the game.  There were still 80 seconds left in a one-possession game.  That said, ISU is good, but not great, and they took it to the Buckeyes – in Dayton – in the final 8 minutes of that game and easily could have found themselves near the top of this list today.
      
  15. Kansas(#16 Western Kentucky 64-57, #8 North Carolina 70-58)
    Here’s a bold statement for you – if I had to redo my brackets today, I would have the Jayhawks winning this tournament.  But, as bold as that is, it is not AT ALL because of how they played in the first two rounds.  They actually played 3 BAD halves of basketball.  If they weren’t playing a 16-seed, their First Round performance would have ended their season.  And, the first half of their game against UNC easily could have ended their season.  But, that second half was a thing of beauty.  If they play like that, they will win the title.  But, any more halves like those first three and my boldness will be thrown in my face.
     
  16. Marquette(#13 Davidson 59-58, #6 Butler 74-72)
    Marquette won two games and probably should have lost them both.  They definitely should have lost the Davidson game, as that was the biggest heartbreaker of the tournament.  Then, that crazy Butler finish could easily have gone the other way.  But, a 3-point margin – total – in two wins counts just the same as Louisville’s 55-point margin.  Both teams are four wins from a title.
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