The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament perfectly encapsulated this season.
Crazy upsets? Yep.
Usual suspects still around? Yep.
Last week gave us all the moments we love about March Madness, and the 16 teams remaining are getting plenty of eyeballs with four of the five all-time wins leaders still around. It says plenty that the lowest-seeded remaining team, the original Cinderella, Gonzaga, is still alive, but are we really that surprised?
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Here are the teams I’ve been most impressed with (Kansas and North Carolina), the teams that have no shot at winning it all (Notre Dame and Wisconson) and a dozen hopefuls in between:
1. Kansas: Perhaps the most complete, deepest team in the Bill Self era, which is saying something. So solid inside, yet still one of the better outside shooting teams in the nation. The Jayhawks are a freight train right now, not having lost since Jan. 25.
2. North Carolina: The Tar Heels continuously squeezed and squeezed their first two opponents into submission, outscoring them 93-63 in the second half. A Kansas-UNC final would be insane, both with similar strengths and many ties.
3. Villanova: The Wildcats have hammered both teams in their path, winning by 30 and 29. Their defense is among, if not the best, in the tournament. They’ve struggled rebounding at times, but they can really hit 3s.
4. Virginia: Not always the most exciting team to watch, the Cavaliers scored 159 points in their two wins, clamping down on defense and being efficient as usual on offense. They’re ACC-tested, and their system allows consistency.
5. Gonzaga: Sure, why not? It’s tough to think of a more impressive win in the second round than the Bulldogs’ 82-59 dismantling of No. 3 seed Utah. They’ve been here before, have a favorable matchup against Syracuse on Friday and haven’t worn down Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis.
6. Oklahoma: All hail Buddy Hield. There isn’t anyone in college more capable of hitting any shot on the floor. He’s going to get his points, but if he can be slowed down at all, the Sooners will need an at-times suspect defense and depth to step up.
7. Oregon: After a 39-point win to open the tournament, the Ducks escaped a good challenge from Saint Joseph’s to get to the Sweet 16. They need to play better if they want to beat Duke, a team that is similar to the Ducks.
8. Iowa State: The Cyclones’ top six are awesome, as good as anyone left in the field. After that, it’s slim pickings. Keep Georges Niang rested and out of foul trouble, and they can make the Final Four. But Virginia will be a tough, tough out.
9. Texas A&M: The Aggies’ comeback to beat Northern Iowa was incredible. Never seen anything like it on that stage, but they were in that spot for a reason. They’re fairly green, and Hield could create some serious issues in Thursday’s matchup.
10. Duke: The great Chuck Klosterman nailed it when he said Grayson Allen is like if JJ Redick and Hope Solo had a kid who was adopted by Montgomery Burns. The perfect Duke villain. The Blue Devils aren’t a big team, but neither are what’s left in the West.
11. Miami: In both wins, there were plenty of times where I thought: “This isn’t a Sweet 16 team.” But here they are. Angel Rodriguez is tough, and he’ll keep them in it, but the mistakes the ‘Canes made last week will be magnified against Villanova.
12. Maryland: Who knows what to expect with this team. The Terps can be great, or simply mediocre. All-name team members Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone lead a strong starting five, but there’s not much depth and a lack of rebounding.
13. Indiana: Injuries haven’t caught up to them — yet. The Hoosiers are well-coached (Tom Crean was on the hot seat, somehow), seen by how they stopped Kentucky’s offense. UNC will be a tough matchup, but the game should be fun to watch.
14. Syracuse: The Orange rolled past Dayton (not playing in Dayton) and Middle Tennessee by 19 and 25 points, respectively. Dayton had not been playing well for weeks, and MTSU caught fire against Michigan State. Orange barely even made the tourney.
15. Notre Dame: The Irish weren’t great against Michigan, and Stephen F. Austin was a last-second tip-in away from the upset. Love Notre Dame as an offensive team, but defensively, the Irish will struggle at times.
16. Wisconsin: One of the final two teams here will make the Elite Eight. Somehow. The Badgers’ stingy defense will be a tough matchup, but wow, the offense is mostly brutal. If Nigel Hayes heats up, they could win.
Dave Southorn covers Boise State and Mountain West basketball for the Idaho Statesman. He can be reached at 208-377-6420.
Thursday’s Sweet 16 games
▪ No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova, 5:10 p.m. (CBS)
▪ No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, 5:37 p.m. (TBS)
▪ No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 1 Kansas, 7:40 p.m. (CBS)
▪ No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon, 8:07 p.m. (TBS)