By Josh Wiggins
PSDC March Madness Contributor
Just a few days ago, this tournament was brimming with 68 hopeful teams. Our brackets were crafted for certain success, and our favorite team was poised for a deep run. Then this weekend happened.
No worries. Let’s just forget about all of that now and focus on the basketball ahead of us.
Here’s a look at some of the teams who have survived to make it to this point and what they really bring to the table.
The Favorite: Kentucky
No surprise here. Kentucky is considered by most (I’m still not convinced) to be the likely winner of this tournament. They still haven’t lost a game this year, and for good reason. Any opponent hoping to legitimately challenge them will have to score effectively and at least slow down the multiple-headed Wildcat attack. This team is young and talented, and the only way they get knocked out is by failing to bring their best to a game.
The Other 1’s: Duke and Wisconsin
Also unsurprising is how good these two teams are. Both Wisconsin and Duke play solid, fundamental basketball and minimize mistakes. Both teams have a dominant scoring threat on the floor in Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. The bigger issue is that with other playmakers on both teams, it is nearly impossible to completely shut down either of these players. Expect one or both of these teams to make it to the Final Four.
The 2’s: Arizona and Gonzaga
These two teams are arguably the best No. 2’s the tournament has seen in quite some time, and could have honestly been 1’s without causing fans too much distress. Both Arizona and Gonzaga are loaded with talent that can score a lot of points while locking down the defensive end of the court. The only question for these teams is if they can bring their A-game from here on out. At their best, they can run with anyone. Anything less could be a problem.
The Mid-seeded Teams to Watch: Wichita State, Michigan State and NC State
These three teams have two things in common. One, they all have State in their name. Two, they are dangerous in any one-game matchup. Wichita State took down Kansas, Michigan State took down Virginia, and NC State took down Villanova. Odds are at least one of these teams will lose in this round; however, each of them has a decent shot at winning their next game as well. Sure, they aren’t Cinderellas by any means, but teams like these make the tournament exciting. Experts may pick them to lose, but those same experts were proven wrong this weekend.
The Unlucky and Unlikely: West Virginia, Xavier and UCLA
First, we have the truly unlucky teams in the Sweet 16: West Virginia and Xavier. West Virginia plays an aggressive style that is as fun to watch as it is frustrating for opposing offenses. In most matchups, the Mountaineers have a fair chance. The problem is they are up against Kentucky. Xavier’s path to the Final Four is also rough at best. First, they have to go up against Arizona. Then, if they pull out an unlikely victory, they have to go up against either UNC or Wisconsin. Sorry Xavier, the odds are not in your favor.
Second, we have the most unlikely team left in the tournament: UCLA. On Selection Sunday, experts immediately questioned the Bruins’ inclusion into the tournament at all. After they squeaked out a win against SMU, they got to play UAB and find themselves matched up against Gonzaga. They have defied the odds thus far, but look for that to come to an end.
Others: Notre Dame, UNC, Louisville, Oklahoma and Utah
These teams are clearly both talented and successful as they made it this far. I just have nothing to add about them. They aren’t dominant forces to be reckoned with, nor is their inclusion in the Sweet 16 particularly surprising. They are here to party, and I wish them the best of luck.
There you have it. I present to you the teams of the Sweet 16. In all honesty, all of these teams should be extremely proud to have made it this far. Sure, some of them are more heavily favored to win it all than others, but everyone has a legitimate shot at this point. There may be no huge surprises at this point, but anything could still happen. At the very least, we can expect a lot of competitive basketball from here on out.
Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshuaLWiggins