AND then there was 16. After a weekend of upsets, highlights and heroic performances more than three quarters of teams have been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. Plenty of the favourites have fallen, but there are still contenders who are looking strong. Predicting the outcomes of the Sweet Sixteen is a tough task (especially if my bracket is any indication of my guesswork), so instead I will rank the remaining contenders to determine who is in the best position to win the National Championship.
THE only thing separating Xavier and South Carolina is that the Bulldogs play in a much tougher conference. Arizona and Gonzaga/West Virginia will not be relinquishing an Elite Eight or Final Four spot, sorry.
15. South Carolina
UNTIL the day I die, I will tell people that I picked South Cal’s win over Duke. That being 181 points in two games from a team that struggled to score all season is a trend that won’t likely continue.
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THE Gamecocks opponents in the Sweet Sixteen have looked anything but the dominant force we saw earlier in the season. Beating New Mexico, USC and potentially South Carolina is perhaps the easiest run the the Elite Eight, but should they make it that far it will be the end of the road.
BUTLER’S defense over the last month of the season was outstanding and it has carried into the tourney. However, they have to beat North Carolina THEN Kentucky or UCLA THEN potentially Kansas JUST to make it to the National Championship game. If Chris Holtmann pulls it off, he may just replace former Butler coach Brad Stevens at Boston.
CHRIS Boucher’s torn ACL in the Pac 12 tournament put a ceiling on Oregon’s tournament aspirations. No matter how possessed Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are.
8-0 in tournament play this year the Wolverines are on fire. Fresh off beating #2 seed Louisville they could cause headaches for Oregon, with their high powered offense. The floor spacing and elite shooting from deep could continue and see them keep churning out wins, but I’m predicting it won’t last past the Elite Eight.
CALEB Swanigan’s magical season continues and boy are we enjoying the ride. Every part of me wants to see them upset Kansas and storm through the Sweet Sixteen, but I’ve got to be realistic.
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I have to be honest, I counted Florida out long ago. Missing center John Egbunu, I tipped both Virginia or East Tennessee to take care of them. With the heavy hitters out of the East now though, a path to the Final Four is conceivable.
FINDING a way past Villanova (thanks to Nigel Hayes) has plenty of people believing in the Badgers. Regardless of if they make the Final Four or not, I don’t see them defeating the winner of the West region.
7. West Virginia
I’M buying as much West Virginia stock as possible right now. If they weren’t playing Gonzaga (spoiler alert you’ll see them near the top of my list) then I would tip them to advance the Elite Eight. Defense and stellar guard play get’s you wins in March and West Virginia has both.
IF you watch any of the Sweet Sixteen games this year, watch UCLA versus Kentucky. There is no denying the Bruins have the talent to win it all, but they go up against some daunting opponents.
SOMEWHAT forgotten is the 32-4 Wildcats, who have made it this far thanks to some cushy scheduling. A matchup with either Gonzaga or West Virginia in the Elite Eight should they (and let’s be honest when they) get by Xavier will be one to watch to determine if Arizona is the real deal.
ORIGINALLY my pick for national champs, their road to the end is extremely daunting. UCLA, followed by perhaps North Carolina then Kansas sounds like a nightmare on paper, but then again this is March, normal rules don’t apply.
A large majority of people (including me) predicted Kansas to fall in a heap and fall out of the tournament. If it’s going to happen it will be against Caleb Swanigan and the Purdue Boilermakers. Although Frank Mason and Josh Jackson don’t look like ending their Jayhawk careers in a disappointing way.
2. North Carolina
PLENTY of people who believed that Villanova or Duke would be national champs had them facing last years championship game participants; North Carolina. The Tar Heels have done little to waver the faith of those people.
THANKS to South Carolina and Wisconsin Gonzaga’s path to the championship game got a whole lot easier. They still have to grind out wins over West Virginia then probably Arizona, but it’s a task they are more than capable of.
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