The Sweet 16 Teams Bringing the Most Style to the Court
For all the Sweet 16 teams, winning is the only thing that matters. However, there is still something to be said for how the winning is accomplished.
Look no further than the ultimate Cinderella story in this year’s NCAA tournament, Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles have basketball fans across the country jumping on their bandwagon as they are the first No. 15 seed in history to advance to the second weekend of March Madness.
This Florida Gulf Coast epidemic was not caused simply by winning. It came about because of the confidence and swagger the Eagles displayed as they romped through their first two games, beating Georgetown and San Diego State each by 10 points.
Simply put, Florida Gulf Coast won with style, playing an appealing brand of basketball that looks like it is fun to play and is certainly fun for fans to watch.
Here are the six teams that will bring the most style to the court in the Sweet 16.
Miami is extremely balanced on offense, but it is point guard Shane Larkin who makes the Hurricanes go. Despite being a sophomore leading a core group of seniors, Larkin truly runs the show and is constantly in control of the game. Jim Larranaga has said that he trusts Larkin so much that he rarely even calls plays anymore, instead letting Larkin make all the decisions. So far, he is averaging 13.5 points, 7.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game in the NCAA tournament.
Down one against Illinois with just over a minute left, Larkin had the ball in his hands. He drove hard down the right wing, stopped on a dime, dribbled through his legs and stepped back beyond the three-point line. Larkin let it fly and buried the go-ahead three with just over 59 seconds to play. The shot propelled Miami to just its second Sweet 16 in program history.
When Michigan’s offense is hitting on all cylinders, perhaps no team is more fun to watch. The Wolverines are led by the best point guard in the country in Trey Burke, who consistently has the ball on a string and his defender on skates. Surrounding Burke on the perimeter are Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. They provide elite athleticism and shooting touch, making the Wolverines incredibly difficult to guard.
Michigan went into its round of 32 matchup with VCU with a lot of people around the country picking the Rams. VCU had just beaten Akron by 46 points, and with its “havoc” defense, the Rams were a trendy pick to make another Final Four run. The Wolverines had different plans and ran VCU out of the gym in Auburn Hills, shooting 51.7 percent in a 25-point blowout.
Louisville gets its persona from its backcourt, senior Peyton Siva and junior Russ Smith. Both players set the tone for the Cardinals on the offensive and defensive ends. They harass the opposing ball-handlers with their intense pressure, averaging 4.5 steals per game. Offensively, Smith’s confidence and aggression can sometimes work against him. He has a tendency to force the issue and hoist some bad shots. However, he keeps coming and is one of the most dynamic players in the country.
There have been 31 signature moments for Louisville in its first two games of this tournament. The Cardinals have 31 steals, with 20 coming against North Carolina A&T and 11 coming against Colorado State. Smith has led the way with 12 of those steals while Siva has six. As a result, Louisville has won its first two games by an average of 28.5 points per game.
In the fifth year under coach Tom Crean, Indiana basketball is officially back. The Hoosiers have attracted top-level talent, and they are playing an up-tempo, entertaining brand of basketball. Indiana is led by wing Victor Oladipo and big man Cody Zeller, both athletic players who are fun to watch. Oladipo, in particular, brings the Hoosiers a needed edge and toughness on both ends of the floor.
Indiana was clinging to a one-point lead late in the round of 32 against Temple. The Hoosiers had the ball with about 44 seconds to go, and they had an opportunity to extend their lead to three or four points. Zeller caught the ball on the left baseline, and as defenders descended upon him, he found a wide open Oladipo at the top of the key. As he released the shot from beyond the arc, there was no doubt that Oladipo had just put the game out of reach for the Owls. Indiana survived and advanced to its second consecutive Sweet 16.
2. La Salle
La Salle comes at opponents with waves of guards who can create off the dribble and get into the lane. Once there, players like Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duran or Tyrone Garland will either finish among the trees or kick the ball out for an open three. When all three of these players are on the floor at the same time, it is incredibly difficult to defend as few teams can put three on-ball defenders on the floor at the same time who are capable of stopping all of these elusive guards.
With the game tied at 74 against Ole Miss in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, Garland took a pass on the left wing with six seconds to go. He slashed through the middle with the dribble, penetrating the Rebel zone. Garland elevated, took contact in front of the rim and hit a floater off the glass with 2.5 seconds left to put the Explorers in the Sweet 16. After the game, Garland called his shot the “Southwest Philly Floater.”
1. Florida Gulf Coast
Florida Gulf Coast has captivated the country with its run to the Sweet 16, but it isn’t just because the Eagles are the first No. 15 seed to advance that far. It is how they have succeeded. They have played with freedom and confidence, getting out in transition and creating highlight reels with their alley-oops. Athletically, Florida Gulf Coast has not looked like a Cinderella. Instead, the high-flying Eagles have unofficially renamed Fort Myers, Fla. “Dunk City.”
Just two minutes away from shocking No. 2 Georgetown, Florida Gulf Coast held a seven point lead and had the ball. Eagles point guard Brett Comer received a pass from Sherwood Brown across half court to break the Hoya press. Instead of pulling the ball out to run clock, which conventional wisdom says is the smart thing to do, Comer drove the right baseline, drawing two defenders. He then flipped the ball from his right shoulder to a streaking Chase Fieler who threw down a one-handed dunk.