NCAA Tournament 2012: Power Ranking the Sweet 16 Teams
We have seen a high amount of drama in the NCAA tournament so far.
Whether it has been a dramatic comeback, a last-second shot or just all-around great games, March Madness has proven to be just that.
Yet, after all the pomp and circumstance, only 16 teams remain with a chance to claim the title of champion.
16. Ohio Bobcats
The state of Ohio is well represented in this tournament.
The one team few expected to make it here, though, would be the Bobcats.
Ohio first shocked the world when they knocked out the Georgetown Hoyas in the first round in 2010.
They matched the feat against Michigan this time around but backed it up with a big victory over South Florida.
Ohio is riding a wave of momentum, winning 10 of its past 11. They made a run in the MAC tournament despite finishing third in the Eastern Division of the conference.
The Wildcats have shown tenacity, turning around a six-point deficit at the half to knock out the South Florida Bulls 41-29 in the second half.
On one hand, a 13th seed has never won in the Sweet 16.
On the other hand, Ohio has a clear chip on its shoulders reminiscent of VCU. The Wildcats are playing with house money, and that looseness makes them a dangerous team.
With victories over the Big Ten and the Big East, could an injured ACC ballclub be next?
15. North Carolina State Wolfpack
North Carolina State had to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
As an 11th seed, it was literally the last team called.
Well, the Wolfpack seem to have made it their mission to take their apprehension and frustration out on their opponents. They've knocked out No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 3 seed Georgetown to be the most surprising Sweet 16 team on the board.
North Carolina State has always been talented—it has just been a perennial underachiever.
With the departure of Sidney Lowe, Mark Gottfried has gotten this team to finally play up to the level many were hoping for from the Wolfpack.
Their size and rebounding ability allow them to pound in a slower, half-court game. That technique goes far in the NCAA tournament, and it explains their success so far.
Still, North Carolina State has been a success due to its matchups so far.
Kansas poses a far more dangerous risk.
The Wolfpack were a bubble team for a reason—they still have something to prove before they are considered a legitimate threat to win it all.
Still, this season does bode well for the program and the overall depth of the ACC.
14. Xavier Musketeers
Xavier has had one roller-coaster season.
As we all know, the Musketeers made headlines following a big brawl in the game against Cincinnati.
They plummeted to lose five out of their next six games and finished a mediocre 10-6 in the Atlantic 10.
If not for a strong showing in the conference tournament, Xavier wouldn't have earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Yet Xavier is beginning to show its early season promise now that the suspensions and distractions have fallen by the wayside.
The Musketeers have Tu Holloway, and anytime you have a senior point guard, you can go far in the NCAA tournament. With 46 points in the first two games of the tourney, Holloway has garnered enough attention to provide opportunities for Kenny Frease and the other big guys on the squad.
Xavier may not be as talented as it has been in past years, but it is a program used to success. The NCAA tournament does not scare it, and coach Chris Mack has helped guide the team through turbulent waters already this season.
Xavier has beaten perennial underachiever Notre Dame and No. 15 seed Lehigh, but the Musketeers have played well enough to compete with anyone.
They now have their chance to prove it this week.
13. Indiana Hoosiers
I'll be honest—I did not respect Indiana very much coming into the NCAA tournament.
Yes, it splashed onto the national scene with a last-second victory over Kentucky, but I also remember a team that lost five of seven games at one point in the Big Ten.
I think of a team that lost by 12 to Iowa on the road.
Maybe I should have paid more attention to the team that finished with eight victories in the final 10 games before the NCAA tournament—victories that included wins over Michigan State and two over Purdue.
Indiana looked to be dead in the water against VCU but found a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by holding the Rams to one field goal over a 10-minute stretch in the second half.
Victories do not always need to be pretty, particularly in the NCAA tournament. Some of the best NCAA champions have a few clunkers that they find a way to win.
Still, these Indiana players are unfamiliar with this stage and have to deal with the pressure of being the "redemption" team that will bring the Hoosiers back to the forefront of college basketball.
Oh yeah—they also have to deal with an angry Kentucky Wildcats team seeking revenge on a neutral court.
While I should learn from my mistake, I need to see more from Indiana before I consider it a team en route to a national championship.
12. Louisville Cardinals
Louisville finally got a big monkey off its back.
The Cardinals had been eliminated in the opening round the past two seasons, including an inexplicable loss to Morehead State last season.
No wonder people were a bit scared to pick the Cardinals in the opening round.
Louisville has won both games and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since consecutive Elite Eight runs in 2007 and 2008.
However, it was not easy. In both games, the Cardinals won by a combined 10 points.
No other Sweet 16 team has a narrower margin of victory through the first two games.
Louisville also has a tendency to just fall into lulls. During the regular season, the Cardinals had one stretch where they lost five out of seven and another where they lost four out of six.
The Big East champions hope to do what Connecticut did last year, but you wonder if they can keep playing with fire. In the tournament, if you let teams stay in it, you will end up getting burned.
Louisville has only two games in the past 13 decided by double digits; the latest featured a strong rally from New Mexico.
The Cardinals need to find the ability to close out opponents when given the chance or risk a Sweet 16 exit.
11. Wisconsin Badgers
It's sometimes easy to forget about the Wisconsin Badgers.
Their stingy defense and strong Big Ten home court make them a stalwart in college basketball, but they never seem to generate the same buzz as other programs.
After all, the Badgers are ranked in the Top 25, had won 11 of their past 14 games to end the regular season and defeated Indiana in the first round of the conference tournament.
Yet a trendy upset pick was Montana over Wisconsin.
Guess who's laughing now?
This is the fifth Sweet 16 for Bo Ryan and Company, but he has only one win to his credit once he has reached the second weekend.
Well, he and the Badgers will get one more chance after knocking out the SEC tournament champion Vanderbilt Commodores, another trendy pick to make the Final Four.
I guess Wisconsin is all about bucking trends now, isn't it?
If they want to continue this pattern of breaking popular notions, Ryan should point out that the Badgers are 3-7 against ranked opponents this season until that victory over Vanderbilt.
Maybe they can score one more for the road.
10. Syracuse Orange
Just when you thought the Syracuse Orange were dead on arrival, they rise from the dead and put everyone on notice.
Coming into the tournament, questions were already surrounding the Orange.
Could they rebound effectively? How would their 2-3 zone shape up in their region?
Then the ineligibility of leading rebounder, "Mr. Block Party" Fab Melo, matched with an underwhelming performance against No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville had everyone jumping off the Syracuse bandwagon.
Whether or not you believe coach Jim Boeheim's claim that the Orange did not get lucky against the Bulldogs on Thursday (as reported by the Associated Press, per Sports Illustrated), they certainly did not need luck against the Kansas State Wildcats.
Syracuse used its bench to wear out the Wildcats, scoring 33 points off the bench with the combined efforts of James Southerland and Dion Waiters.
Kansas State's bench had zero points in 34 combined minutes of playing time.
Now, the Wildcats will make the argument that they too were without their leading rebounder, Jamar Samuels, over concerns over ineligibility. Yet they still out-rebounded Syracuse 37-31.
When you shoot 6-of-9 from behind the arc and 23-of-29 from the free-throw line, though, rebounds become less crucial.
Syracuse clearly wanted to make a statement to its critics, and its strong second half did just that. It took on the physically imposing bruisers of the Big 12 and left with an impressive win.
The Orange may be flawed, but their strengths make them one of the most dangerous teams left in the tournament.
9. Cincinnati Bearcats
What does it take to be successful in the NCAA tournament?
Experience? Toughness? Good assist-to-turnover ratio?
Cincinnati has all three. The Bearcats had the second-best turnover margin in the Big East conference and were fourth in scoring defense.
The Bearcats' top six scoring players all have at least one year experience, and most of them remember making the tournament last season.
Cincinnati showed promise with a strong Big East tournament and has really turned heads after matching the toughness of ACC tournament champion Florida State.
To be able to crash the boards alongside those bruisers garners respect, and suddenly Cincinnati is a team to be reckoned with.
It has all the abilities you want in an NCAA tournament team and it's flying low enough under the radar to surprise in the days to come.
8. Baylor Bears
Baylor may have one of the ugliest uniforms, but the Bears have a beautiful team.
South Dakota State gave them a run for their money, but the Bears stepped up in the third round to blow past a pesky Colorado team that gave more effort than most anticipated.
Brady Heslip carried the team on his back with an impressive 9-of-12 from behind the arc against the Buffaloes. The feat of nine treys is just two short of the NCAA record set by the run-and-gun style of Loyola Marymount in 1990.
As reported by the Associated Press (per ESPN), Colorado coach Tad Boyle felt Heslip's performance was the difference of the game. It goes to show just how many different ways Baylor can beat you.
If it is not Heslip's offensive fireworks, it is Perry Jones or Pierre Jackson, both of whom Colorado focused most of their defensive efforts on.
Baylor has all five starters averaging double-digit points per game. That firepower means that only the best offensive teams in the country can compete with this up-and-coming program.
The Sweet 16 berth is its first since an Elite Eight run in 2010.
With these weapons, if Baylor continues to play physically on the boards and hustle, it should be there once more.
7. Ohio State Buckeyes
Gonzaga is a pesky team.
Even though Ohio State twice built up double-digit leads in the second half, the Bulldogs came roaring back to make the game competitive.
Despite all the Bulldogs' charges, though, Ohio State never trailed once it took the lead early in the second half.
The Buckeyes have not been perfect in their 80 minutes of tournament action, but their ability to respond in crunch time has been quite admirable.
When the Bulldogs tied it with just over four minutes to go, Jared Sullinger did what stars are supposed to: He asserted his will in the low post and physically manhandled the Bulldogs late. He even made free throws when called upon.
Even though Gonzaga out-rebounded the Buckeyes, it was unable to make the key grabs in the waning minutes. Its shots could not get past the size of Ohio State, and the Buckeyes showed everyone how a No. 2 seed is supposed to handle business.
While Ohio State showed it could handle pressure, the degree of difficulty is going to ratchet up in the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes are 7-6 against ranked opponents this season, with only two coming on the road or a neutral site.
Ohio State also has three straight Sweet 16s but no victories in that round since 2007.
How will it be able to handle the task this time around?
6. North Carolina Tar Heels
We all know that North Carolina has a team full of NBA talent.
The Tar Heels have always looked dominant when they were mentally in the right place. Their biggest enemy this season has been complacency.
It cost them against Florida State in Tallahassee, and it certainly cost them at the end of the Duke game in Chapel Hill.
Now, they have not always won every game where they were completely focused, but their record is very strong.
North Carolina has proven it has the talent to win a championship and has looked completely focused through two games.
The concern going forward is, of course, the wrist of Kendall Marshall. Without him, the Tar Heels suddenly become far more vulnerable.
Sure, having the depth of North Carolina is a luxury 99 percent of teams do not have, but even the boys in baby blue have a limit.
As the rounds get tougher, the margin for error is thinner. The Tar Heels can cope with this injury, but it puts question marks in there.
How will this team handle adversity? It made a statement against Duke in the rematch.
It has kept on ticking despite injuries all season long.
Will it be able to keep its composure when the stakes are at their highest?
5. Florida Gators
If people did not know before, they know now—do not underestimate Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators.
As a No. 7 seed, most people blew off the SEC stalwart—especially with a possible third-round draw against the Missouri Tigers.
Yet no one has looked more dominant this past weekend than the Gators.
First they dismantled the Virginia defense, one of only a few teams all season that could break the pack-line defense and crush an injured team.
Then they took the Cinderella darling Norfolk State and crushed its dreams with an impressive performance. The Spartans won their first game with strong play—it was no fluke.
Florida, however, simply had an answer.
The Gators gave up 45 and 50 points in their first two games, respectively, despite many questioning the team's size and defense.
By comparison, no other team scored fewer than 45 points in the second round or 50 points in the third. In other words, Florida has proven to be a legitimate threat.
With their recent play, the Gators are not just competitive—they are capable of winning a championship.
4. Marquette Golden Eagles
Marquette finds a way to win.
The Golden Eagles blew past BYU and matched that performance with a strong effort against the Murray State Racers.
Coach Buzz Williams is not the most experienced of head coaches, but he has a team full of talent and grittiness. In the tournament, that is a deadly combination.
Not only are the Golden Eagles 31st in the country in terms of points per game, they are seventh in the country in assists per game. That gives them one of the toughest offenses to stop in the country.
The combination of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder make up a tandem you cannot stop but only hope to contain.
They play a quick-paced game and certainly can make some noise moving forward.
How will Marquette fare in the Sweet 16, though? Despite all the accolades and strong play, the Golden Eagles have not advanced past the Sweet 16 since Dwyane Wade was in uniform.
They have a 3-2 record against ranked teams in the regular season. Can they maintain their pace?
3. Michigan State Spartans
Coach Tom Izzo sure does find a way to get the most out of his team. This team is not nearly as talented as some of his past squads.
Still, the Spartans are playing with confidence and looking the part of a Final Four team.
Draymond Green may be one of only a few players in the country who can will his team toward a title. His versatility and leadership make Michigan State dangerous.
With so many teams being young or inexperienced, to have the leadership of Green can be a big difference-maker when adversity strikes.
Experience coupled with a master motivator and coordinator make the Spartans one of the most dangerous teams around.
If Izzo could pull off a Final Four this time around, it would be seven Final Fours in the past 14 seasons—a feat that almost no one could fathom.
Have their wins been pretty? Not completely.
Are they the most talented team? Nope.
Would you want your team playing them? Not in your life.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas showed just how dangerous they are.
Sure, the Purdue Boilermakers led virtually the entire game over the Jayhawks, but Kansas took the lead when it mattered most.
There is a reason why the Jayhawks are 29-6: Kansas finds ways to win games.
Maybe it is just muscle memory, but the talent and the tenacity sometimes lead to inevitability.
Against Missouri, Kansas eventually willed itself to a crucial victory at home. The Boilermakers felt a similar fate and left Robbie Hummel wondering what could have been for not only his career, but a Purdue program that never quite reached its potential.
Kansas has seemed almost snakebitten the past few years in the NCAA tournament.
A win like this can help propel them to a big NCAA tournament run.
We all know they have the talent to win it all. The Jayhawks lost four games to teams ranked in the Top 11 at the time, and every team that beat them made it to the NCAA tournament. They also finished 16-2 in a very tough conference.
Will Kansas live up to the potential of its seeding this time? If it does, you better expect the tough schedule it played will be a big part of that.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Just about everyone expected to see Kentucky to be at this point and, so far, it has not disappointed.
The Wildcats dispatched Western Kentucky in their first game 81-66 and continued that strong play by knocking out the hot-shooting Cyclones of Iowa State.
Even though Kentucky lost the SEC tournament game in the waning minutes to a strong Vanderbilt team, the Wildcats are still the best team in the country.
With only two losses—one a last-second desperation three at the buzzer to lose on the road—Kentucky has established itself as the cream of the crop.
What it lacks in experience it makes up for in size, talent and athleticism.
We all know that Anthony Davis is a man among boys in college, but he has so many other players around him to help shoulder the load.
Against Iowa State, Marquis Teague may have finally turned a corner when he scored 24 points compared to the combined 29 points he scored in the final four games leading up to the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky is a team on a mission, using that loss to Indiana as motivation to fuel the fire of a team that has something to prove. Coach John Calipari needs that national championship for validation, and this may be his best chance yet.
Every team in the field has weaknesses—Kentucky simply has enough strengths to counterbalance them.
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