NCAA Tournament 2011: Power Ranking the Remaining Teams in the Sweet 16
With only 16 teams left, it's safe to say anybody can make a push from here on out. We've seen double overtime, last second shots, new rivalries born, and a heck of few upsets.
If I were to tell you either Virginia Commonwealth or Florida State would be going to the Elite Eight would you believe me?
How about Duke and Butler being three wins away each from a possible rematch in the finals?
A riveting tournament thus far, and it's only going to get more intense. Let's take a look at who's the biggest threat of the 16 teams left in the tournament.
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The Richmond Spiders, after a 69-66 win over Vandy, and 65-48 statement win over Morehead State land themselves a Sweet 16 game set for Friday, March 25th against the Kansas Jayhawks.
Richmond's head coach Chris Mooney has been waiting for his four starting seniors to blossom into exactly where they are right now: Playing their best team basketball in the NCAA tournament.
6'10" Justin Harper, who averaged 17.9 PPG heading into the tournament, along with first team all-Atlantic point guard Kevin Anderson, (16.5 PPG) have found the glue that sticks.
Now, in their biggest challenge yet against the Jayhawks, the Spiders will have to see whether their lights out three-point shooting and up-tempo defense will continue to prosper.
15. Virginia Commonwealth
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A 94-76 shocker against the heavily touted Purdue Boilermakers in the second round leaves NCAA March Madness goers absolutely stunned with where the VCU Rams lie. Just a short week and a half ago, VCU was an "on the bubble" team hailing from the Colonial Athletic conference.
Now, VCU who's led by senior point guard Joey Rodriguez, have Florida State standing in the way of an Elite Eight matchup. Incredible.
The way VCU spread the basketball against Purdue was a rare site to see. Sure Rodriguez had 12 points but it was the 11 assists that had people talking after the upset.
Bradford Burgess the junior guard for the Rams has taken advantage of his open opportunities so far in the tournament. Against Purdue, he shot 8-12 totaling in 23 points.
If VCU can continue to pass the ball the way they have, who knows how many more wins they can come up with.
14. Florida State
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The Seminoles out of the ACC are a little more known then the Rams or the Spiders, but that doesn't mean they were expected to be in the sweet 16.
An impressive 71-57 win over the Fighting Irish on Sunday leaves FSU with an opportunity to make a deep tournament push.
Bernard James, coming off a 14 point 10 rebound game against Notre Dame is ready to lead this team all the way to the final four and beyond.
The Seminoles had four of their five starters put up double digits in round two. If they can do that again, it's hard to say they're not in every game from here on out.
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The Marquette Golden Eagles know what it's like to play in big games. Everyone knew the matchup between Syracuse and Marquette was going to be a photo finish.
The 66-62 final score on Sunday proved that close games in the tournament can go either way. In this case, the Golden Eagles find themselves in a Sweet 16 berth against UNC.
Marquette beat Syracuse as a team, but it was Darius Johnson-Odom with 17 points to lead all scorers that was the unsung hero of the game. If he can be the leader for the Golden Eagles against North Carolina, we just may see another thrilling finish for Marquette.
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Some would say that the Arizona Wildcats shouldn't be in this position. The funny thing is, that's exactly what U of A wants you to think. On Sunday, it was the Pac-10 versus the Big 12 like we've seen many times before.
The outcome: Arizona over Texas in a 70-69 thriller. Now, U of A led by Derrick Williams will head to Anaheim to take on an even bigger test: The Duke Blue Devils.
When you have a playmaker like Derrick Williams, you're almost always in a game. In round one, he blocked a big time shot against the Memphis Tigers. In round two, he completed an and-one with 9.6 seconds left which proved to be the go ahead three points to seal the deal against the Longhorns.
The number five seed Arizona coming off a (29-7) season realize what's at stake here. If Williams, and his partner in crime Solomon Hill can continue to make plays, I see no reason why they couldn't win every game from here on out.
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If you want to learn how to play the game of basketball, watch Butler's forward Matt Howard. If there were a 2011 March Madness game for EA Sports (which I have no idea why there isn't) Howard's awareness would be a 99.
He makes people around him better, period. Howard with .8 on the clock fetched a rebound when the game was tied 70-70 on Saturday against Pittsburgh. But he didn't just fetch a rebound. He hauled an "up-for-grabs" board and immediately went "down-for-sales" with it. The purchase: two free throws at the charity stripe for a chance to send his team to the Sweet 16.
What do you think happened? Howard hit the first, and just like his awareness told him to, he missed the second as time expired.
Ball game. Butler is moving on, and in a big way. Butler point guard Shelvin Mack hit seven three point shots resulting in 30 points against Pittsburgh. If he does that again, how can Butler be stopped?
10. Brigham Young
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Another Sweet 16 berth for the BYU Cougars to ring up. Jimmer Fredette, the nations leading scorer, put his team on his back yet again in the second round against Gonzaga.
It was a run you off the court kind of a game for Jimmer who shot 11 for 23 from the field. It was a high scoring affair and the Cougars put up one point shy of 90 on the afternoon.
BYU is dangerous, there's no denying that. Their next objective: The Florida Gators. It's a No. 3 versus No. 2 kind of matchup, and it's going to be phenomenal.
Watch out for Jimmer the rest of the tournament. He's looking rather robotic as of late.
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The Florida Gators have done it all season long. They've managed to prevail in close games, and down the stretch play their best basketball.
Led by Erving Walker, the Gators have a tremendous ability to spread the floor. Walker had a team high 21 points against the Bruins in the second round and doesn't intend on slowing down against BYU.
The neat thing about the Gators is that Boynton, Macklin, Tyus, and Parsons can all go off like Walker did against UCLA.
The question is, which one will step up and try and out fox the nation's leading scorer?
Dun dun dun.
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The Kentucky Wildcats are playing basketball the way they were supposed to be playing basketball 365 days ago: knowing they're better than their opponent.
In a very interesting second round matchup between West Virginia, the Wildcats and head Coach John Calipari found a way to game plan successfully.
The Wildcats potion: Freshman Brandon Knight. Knight, who hit a game winning bucket in the first round against Princeton, put up 30 points against the Mountaineers. Although Brandon is a freshman, he's still the leader of this extremely young and capable team.
Next for Kentucky is the No. 1 team in the country. Are they scared? I don't think so.
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The Wisconsin Badgers have everything you look for in a college basketball team. They have the point guard that understands his weapons, they have forwards who can knock down big time shots, and they have the energy in role players that do the little things.
Jon Leuer was the big time contributor with 19 points and seven rebounds in the Badgers victory over Kansas State this past weekend.
Even though Jordan Taylor, the Badgers star point guard, had an off night shooting (2-16) he still managed to spread the basketball around to guys that were making plays.
Wisconsin plays an opportunistic Butler team that capitalizes on every kind of loophole they can find. It's going to be one of those games where an uncharacteristic kind of play is the deal breaker.
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The Huskies have been playing elimination basketball since the first round of the Big East tournament. They're now in the Sweet 16 and hardly even remember what it's like to walk off the court with the short end of the stick.
The constant factor: Kemba Walker. Walker has been everything and then some for UCONN and Jim Calhoun's rather youthful squad. Walker put up an astounding 33 points against the Bearcats in the second round. He went 14-14 from the free throw line, and has solidified himself as the focal point and go to player on this Huskies team.
Unfortunately, they play a red hot SDSU team that can certainly find a way to shut down Kemba. If it's not Walker putting up over 30 points against SDSU, then Coombs-McDaniel better take a piece out of Lamar Odom's book and understand what it's like to be a sixth man that knows how to be a difference maker otherwise UCONN's in trouble. Until then, I tip my cap to this willful group.
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It's rather fitting that the timing of the "Fab-Five" documentary which current SDSU head coach Steve Fisher led back in his Michigan days came out just before the tournament began.
Fisher, who's been coaching at SDSU since 1999 has until this past week, failed to get his team over the NCAA tournament hump: Sealing a March Madness victory.
Now that SDSU has not only won one game in this years tournament but they've won two, the appreciation for possession by possession elimination basketball is not so foreign to this unpredictable athletic squad.
Led by sophomore Kawhi Leonard, the Aztecs were able to survive a double overtime scare against the Temple Owls this past Saturday. With the supporting cast around Leonard being a possibly NBA bound forward in Malcolm Thomas, versatile point guard in D.J. Gay, and timely spark-plug in Billy White, this SDSU team just may be the next big thing.
They'll face their biggest challenge yet at the Honda Center against the Huskies on Thursday. For all you SDSU fans out there, "I, I believe, I believe that, I believe that we, I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win, I believe that we will win"!
4. North Carolina
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The Tar Heels survived a big time scare in the second round of the tournament against the Washington Huskies in an extremely tight 86-83 contest.
North Carolina is a relatively young team, and with veteran head coach Roy Williams, their honestly learning as they go.
Tyler Zeller was the player of the game against Washington with 23 points. Harrison Barnes was right behind him with 22 points, along with Strickland and Marshall both with 13, and Henson with 10. The Tar Heels were one of the only teams to have all five starters reach double digits in points during the tournament so far.
When they spread the basketball, they are dangerous. Marquette is an excellent defensive team and it's going to be an interesting matchup for the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16, which starts on Thursday.
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The Jayhawks have done what's needed to be done thus far in the tournament. They've hardly turned the ball over, taken care of the basketball and dished the rock to their playmakers.
Twins Markieff and Marcus Morris are the stars of this Kansas team. Markieff put up 24 points in the second round win over Illinois, and Marcus put up 17. That's 41 points combined from one family lineage. What a feat.
For Kansas to continue to advance their going to need the play of junior point guard Tyshawn Taylor to remain above par. Taylor had 13 points against the Fighting Illini and it was a clutch 13.
Kansas controls their own destiny just like every other team in this tournament. The question is, can the twins get it done?
2. Ohio State
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Ohio State has drawn their line in the sand and are daring anyone to try and cross it and challenge them. In a 98 point performance offensively for the Buckeyes against George Mason in the second round of the tournament, everything was clicking.
David Lighty was the likely standout with 25 points, four rebounds, and three assists. Sullinger and Buford both had 18 points, and Diebler came through with a nifty 13.
This is a team that can obviously score at will and they've proven it all year. They're the number one team in the country for a reason. They know how to win.
They face Kentucky in one of the more intriguing Sweet 16 match ups. If they beat Kentucky, there will be no one who's watching the tournament doubting the ability of THE Ohio State Buckeyes.
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Although Duke survived a two-point 73-71 scare over Michigan, they're still the reigning champs of the NCAA tournament.
Duke also has some of the top tier talent in the tournament in Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and Kyrie Irving.
Nolan put up 24 points against the Wolverines, Singler had 13, and Irving had a clutch 11 off the bench.
The Blue Devils are no stranger to any and all types of situations that arise in the dance, and the Michigan game was handled with composure, and poise. Coach K wants his second back-to-back National Championships with this team and so do the players.
Duke squares off against a crafty Arizona team in the Sweet 16, and if they win that, have to play either UCONN or SDSU.
It doesn't get any easier for the Blue Devils form here on out, but I'm pretty sure they like it that way.