NCAA Tournament 2017: Power Ranking the Sweet 16 Teams
The No. 1 overall seed (Villanova) in the 2017 NCAA tournament was unable to survive the first two rounds, leaving the Kansas Jayhawks as the top team in our power ranking of the Sweet 16 teams.
For the most part—let's call it 80 percent—these rankings are based on how well the teams played during the regular season. But they aren't necessarily in the same order as they were in our pre-tournament power rankings, because a significant amount of consideration was given to how they looked in their first two NCAA tournament games.
One important thing to note: Difficulty of path to the national championship has no bearing on this list. Rather, this could be considered a ranking of how we would re-seed the remaining 16 teams based on perceived strength.
We'll examine how they played in the first two rounds, their biggest strength and weakness, their MVP and what they need to do to win it all.
16. Xavier Musketeers
How They've Looked: Better than anyone expected. Outside of a comeback win over Butler in the Big East tournament, Xavier had done nothing in more than a month to suggest it had the gumption to comfortably oust Maryland and Florida State from the dance. But strange things happen when your sixth man (Kaiser Gates) and seventh man (Sean O'Mara) are suddenly both scoring in double figures in every game.
Bread and Butter: Rebounding. The Musketeers dominated Maryland on the glass and finished plus-three against Florida State's roster of giants. According to NCAA.com, the X-Men rank 19th in total rebound margin. But according to KenPom.com, Xavier and North Carolina are the only teams in the nation that rank in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Those boards are of the utmost importance to the Musketeers.
Achilles' Heel: Interior defense. Despite that rebounding prowess, Xavier is terrible at defending the paint, allowing opponents to make 52.6 percent of their two-point attempts. Of the 68 teams that made it to the tournament, only UNC Wilmington—one of the most vertically-challenged rosters in the country—was worse in that category.
MVP: Trevon Bluiett. He was always the star of this team, but he became even more of a go-to leader after Edmond Sumner tore his ACL in late January. Bluiett is averaging 25 points thus far in the tournament and may need to start scoring in the 30s to keep this dream going.
Championship Blueprint: Crash the glass and keep getting major contributions from surprise sources. J.P. Macura is the second-most important player on this roster, and he has struggled to find his shooting stroke. Yet, Xavier is winning games with guys like Gates, O'Mara and Tyrique Jones exceeding their season averages by a mile. As long as the Musketeers remain a seven-man team instead of the two-man mess they were late in the season, they have a shot against anyone.
15. South Carolina Gamecocks
How They've Looked: Shockingly efficient. Even after high-scoring wins over Marquette and Duke, South Carolina's effective field-goal percentage (47.1) is the worst among remaining teams by a wide margin. The Gamecocks rank 306th in that category. The next-worst team is Florida in 116th place. But they defied those season-long averages to put up 90.5 points per game in Greenville, South Carolina. If that offense travels to New York City, more upsets will be coming.
Bread and Butter: Suffocating defense. Early in the season, South Carolina had a seven-game stretch in which it allowed 52.6 points per game and 78.3 points per 100 possessions. And four of those games were against Michigan, Syracuse, Vermont and Monmouth, so the Gamecocks weren't just beating up on scrubs. They rank fourth overall in adjusted defensive efficiency and do not allow opponents to get any easy looks at the rim.
Achilles' Heel: South Carolina's offensive execution was putrid for most of the season. During one game against Florida, the Gamecocks missed 17 consecutive field-goal attempts. A few weeks later, they managed just 86 points in a four-overtime loss. If we see an entire game of the version of this team that shot 7-of-35 from the field in the first half against Duke, it could get knocked out by 30.
MVP: Sindarius Thornwell. The SEC Player of the Year was underappreciated on a national scale for the entire season, but he is now tied with Monmouth's Justin Robinson for the most KenPom.com Game MVPs. Thornwell has been the most impressive player on the court 16 times, despite only playing in 28 games. Through two tournament games, he is averaging 26.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks.
Championship Blueprint: Play aggressive defense and take high-percentage shots. South Carolina has 19 steals and has scored 27 points from those live-ball turnovers. Its total margin of victory through two games is 27 points. It's a coincidence those numbers are identical, but it's not surprising. Forcing turnovers is No. 1 on the to-do list for the Gamecocks. Frequently turning steals into easy points gives them their best chance to advance.
14. Purdue Boilermakers
How They've Looked: Inconclusive. The frontcourt combo of Caleb Swanigan and Vincent Edwards has been unstoppable, but the Boilermakers are barely eking out wins because their defense has been Swiss cheese. They're lucky Iowa State never found its typical three-point stroke. Otherwise, we'd be talking about the Cyclones in this space.
Bread and Butter: Rebounding without fouling. In the win over Iowa State, Purdue limited the Cyclones to just three offensive rebounds and 14 free-throw attempts. The Boilermakers are at their best when they're protecting the defensive glass and keeping opponents off the free-throw line. When allowing 16 free-throw attempts or fewer, Purdue is 21-1 this season, including both tournament wins.
Achilles' Heel: Denying a first shot. Defensive rebounding is great, but it's even nicer to keep an opponent from attempting a shot at all. However, the Boilermakers rank 306th in block percentage and 287th in turnover percentage, which leaves them at the mercy of the opposition's ability to work the ball around for good looks.
MVP: Swanigan. If Purdue makes it to the Final Four, he might set a record for double-doubles in a season. He's already at 28, accounting for at least 13 points and 12 rebounds in each of the four games he has played this month. What sets Swanigan apart from other big men is his ability to find open teammates. He has at least three assists in five straight games and flirted with a triple-double in Saturday's win over Iowa State.
Championship Blueprint: Get invested on defense and get Swanigan a touch on as many possessions as possible. Purdue is a great three-point shooting team, but it occasionally becomes too attached to that shot, trying to simply outshoot opposing teams rather than defending and taking high percentage shots. So far, the Boilermakers have done a great job of feeding Swanigan and Edwards. They'll be in good shape as long as they don't forget they have those assets.
13. Butler Bulldogs
How They've Looked: Unchallenged. Butler held both Winthrop and Middle Tennessee to less than 1.0 points per possession in the process of leading for all 80 minutes in the first two games. Kamar Baldwin was nothing short of sensational on defense against the opposing teams' best weapons. Winthrop's Keon Johnson and MTSU's Giddy Potts scored a combined 17 points on 27 field-goal attempts. Meanwhile, Butler was excellent from three-point range, shooting just under 50 percent for the weekend.
Bread and Butter: Smart offense. The Bulldogs rarely commit turnovers (10.2 per game) and they never force bad shots—save for the occasional heat-check three from Kelan Martin or Avery Woodson. Butler can be beaten, but not by an opponent hoping to get help from self-inflicted wounds.
Achilles' Heel: Interior defense. Teams committed to pounding the paint are a problem for Butler. In seven of its eight losses, the opposing team shot at least 50 percent inside the arc. Three of those opponents shot better than 67 percent and two shot better than 72.5 percent. Even in the win over MTSU, the Blue Raiders kept things interesting by making 21 of their 38 two-point attempts (55.3 percent).
MVP: Kelan Martin. Like Dion Waiters a few years ago at Syracuse, Martin has found his niche as the sixth man for the Bulldogs. He has at least 14 points and six rebounds in six of his last eight games, shooting 44 percent from three-point range during that stretch. That efficiency has been crucial. Martin has been Butler's leading scorer all season, but it was previously taking him too many shots to get the job done. Having him score 19 points on nine shots against MTSU was huge for Butler.
Championship Blueprint: Play smart and defend aggressively. With Baldwin leading the way, the second half of that blueprint is practically a given. Watching him defend Justin Jackson in the Sweet 16 and potentially Lonzo Ball or Malik Monk in the Elite Eight should be fun. And as long as the Bulldogs don't get sped up or careless on offense, they've got a shot against the blue bloods in their path.
12. Florida Gators
How They've Looked: Impenetrable. Florida's defense has been great all season long, but the Gators found another level in the tournament's opening weekend. They had 12 steals against East Tennessee State and held Virginia to 1-of-15 from three-point range. Florida won both games by a double-digit margin, allowing 52 points per game.
Bread and Butter: Defending passing lanes. Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson average a combined 4.3 steals per game with a VCU-like affinity for either jumping or denying passing routes. As a team, Florida allows assists on just 41 percent of made baskets, which is the second-lowest rate in the country.
Achilles' Heel: Rebounding. Florida was solid on the glass against ETSU and Virginia, but ETSU isn't a great rebounding team and Virginia wasn't the same without Isaiah Wilkins. Late in the season, the Gators struggled to rebound in losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
MVP: Normally it's Allen, but Devin Robinson has been the star thus far in the tournament. The junior wing-forward hadn't scored more than 16 points in a game in nearly two months, but he's averaging 19 points and nine rebounds.
Championship Blueprint: Dominate on defense; survive on offense. Every once in a while, Florida put up a ton of points against a bad team like Missouri, Auburn or LSU. However, the Gators are usually going to score in the 70s with a goal to keep opponents in the 60s. They're at their best when forcing turnovers and blocking shots and will only win four more games if they do a ton of each.
11. Michigan Wolverines
How They've Looked: Unguardable. It's no surprise that Michigan scored at will against Oklahoma State, but shooting 16-of-29 from three-point range was a little absurd. And it was even more impressive when the Wolverines shot 55 percent from inside the arc against Louisville while committing just six turnovers. When a team puts up numbers like those against one of the best defenses in the nation, it's clearly in the zone.
Bread and Butter: Offensive execution. Michigan's stats on offense are almost identical to what Wisconsin did in 2014-15. The Wolverines are methodical, probing the defense for as long as it takes to get a high-percentage shot. They don't do much on the offensive glass, but they rarely commit turnovers, and all five guys on the court are a threat to shoot from the perimeter.
Achilles' Heel: Defense and rebounding. Louisville's subpar half-court offense was unable to take advantage of Michigan's shoddy defense, but Oklahoma State put up 91 points against the Wolverines. Through two games, they are minus-26 in rebound margin and have allowed their opponents to make 57.3 percent of their two-point attempts.
MVP: Derrick Walton Jr. You could argue for D.J. Wilson or Mo Wagner in this spot, but you would be wrong. Walton has been the heart and soul of Michigan's seven-game winning streak, averaging 19.4 points and 8.3 assists. Even when he wasn't shooting well against Louisville, Walton managed to make a positive impact with seven rebounds, six assists and no turnovers. Michigan would be lost without him.
Championship Blueprint: Keep doing enough on offense to make up for the lack of defense. Michigan has averaged 123.0 points per 100 possessions during this seven-game winning streak and is sitting at 129.9 thus far in the tournament. If the Wolverines continue to average just five turnovers per game while shooting lights out, it doesn't really matter if they barely slow down the opposition's offense.
10. Baylor Bears
How They've Looked: Dominant inside. Aside from USC's Chimezie Metu having a field day (11-of-14 from two-point range), Baylor owned the paint. It made 55 two-pointers and finished plus-23 on the glass against New Mexico State and USC. Johnathan Motley recorded a double-double in both games. Terry Maston had 19 points and nine rebounds in each game—this after accounting for a grand total of two points and six rebounds in Baylor's previous six games.
Bread and Butter: Offensive rebounding. It's clear now that it wasn't just Rico Gathers who made Baylor so strong on the offensive glass for the past several years, as the Bears are still third in the nation in OR% without him. Motley, Maston and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. all crash the boards, enabling Baylor to get back two out of every five shots it misses.
Achilles' Heel: Turnover margin. Over the last 16 games, Baylor has committed 69 more turnovers than it has forced, finishing with a negative turnover margin in 13 of those games. And that doesn't even include the 29-turnover game against West Virginia back in January. The ability to block shots and control the offensive glass helps negate this issue, but it is not a great Achilles' heel to be taking into potential back-to-back games against South Carolina and Florida.
MVP: Motley. Manu Lecomte and Lual-Acuil have been outstanding additions to this roster, but Motley's leap as a rebounder, go-to scorer and passer has been the biggest reason Baylor exceeded expectations this year. The junior power forward has had five games with at least 17 points and 13 rebounds and has been great as a secondary shot-blocker.
Championship Blueprint: Win in the paint. Baylor is not a good three-point shooting team and it struggles to force turnovers. As a result, the goal for opponents is to pack the paint and force the Bears to play a perimeter game. If they stick to their guns and get it done with interior scoring and rebounding, though, they can beat anyone. It's how they got to No. 1 in the AP poll earlier this season.
9. Wisconsin Badgers
How They've Looked: Complete. Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ averaged a combined 51.0 points in the first two games, which is roughly what we expected to see when the Badgers were a Top 10 team in the preseason. But it has been more than just those three. Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are filling their roles nicely, and both Khalil Iverson and D'Mitrik Trice have been valuable bench assets. Had Wisconsin put forth this team-wide effort at any point in the final month of the regular season, it wouldn't have been a No. 8 seed.
Bread and Butter: Interior defense. With 2.6 steals and 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes, Happ is one of the best individual defenders in the nation. When he's in the game, opposing teams have a nightmarish time trying to score in the paint. Villanova shot 59.2 percent from inside the arc during the regular season, but it shot 45.7 percent against Wisconsin with five shots blocked.
Achilles' Heel: Free-throw shooting. Wisconsin somehow survived shooting just 7-of-16 from the charity stripe against Villanova, but this has been a major problem all season. Happ shoots 49.4 percent. Hayes isn't much better at 59.3 percent. It's surprising that coaches don't put in benchwarmers for the sole purpose of fouling those two guys, neutralizing them and taking Wisconsin out of its offensive flow.
MVP: It's tempting to go with Koenig here, since he's shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range in March. However, Happ leads the team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, despite playing just 27.7 minutes per game. Take one look at advanced stats like win shares and box plus/minus, and it's clear Happ is one of the most valuable players in the country.
Championship Blueprint: Defend the perimeter and dominate the glass. Led by Happ, this is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Wisconsin's three-point defense is atrocious, but the Badgers are 18-1 when opponents shoot 39.0 percent or worse from beyond the arc. As long as they're contesting shots and cleaning up the misses, the Badgers are a title contender.
8. Oregon Ducks
How They've Looked: Disjointed. Led by Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks, Oregon's offense has been on point. The Ducks dropped 93 on Iona and managed 75 against what had been a smoking-hot and defensively elite Rhode Island. But Oregon's defense was somewhere on the spectrum between ineffective and just plain bad. The Ducks dearly miss Chris Boucher on that end of the floor.
Bread and Butter: It used to be blocking shots, but thus far in the tournament, it has been offensive rebounds. The Ducks got to No. 1 in the nation in block percentage with Boucher, but they've blocked a total of four shots in the NCAA tournament without him. Instead, they grabbed 15 offensive rebounds in each of their first two games. Under-appreciated big man Jordan Bell is responsible for 13 of those.
Achilles' Heel: Interior defense. Iona's Jordan Washington had 22 points and seven of the team's 12 offensive rebounds in the first round. Rhode Island shot 64.9 percent from inside the arc against Oregon. Arizona was similarly efficient in the paint in Oregon's final game before the tournament. It won't be long before some team takes advantage of this weakness.
MVP: Dorsey. Brooks gets all of the attention, but Dorsey has scored at least 21 in each of his last five games, averaging 1.82 points per field-goal attempt during that time. Factor in his defense and his ability to be a secondary point guard and Dorsey has become the most indispensable player on the roster.
Championship Blueprint: Rediscover how to play defense. Oregon was a serious threat to win it all with Boucher anchoring the defense, but there are still two great shot-blockers on this team in Bell and Kavell Bigby-Williams. There's no reason for the Ducks to suddenly be this porous on defense. If they can figure things out and get back to 85 percent of what they used to be on D, the offense might be enough to take care of the rest.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
How They've Looked: Better than ever. Normally known for their turnover-forcing defense and offensive rebounding, the Mountaineers shot 52.0 percent from three-point range and 76.4 percent from the free-throw line in their first two games. In lieu of steals and fast-break opportunities, West Virginia was lethal in its half-court offense—which is usually its biggest weakness.
Bread and Butter: They don't call it Press Virginia because of lackadaisical defensive effort. Even though the Mountaineers just barely won the turnover battle in each of their first two games, they forced a ton of sped-up possessions and uncomfortable shots by a pair of offenses that scored efficiently during the regular season.
Achilles' Heel: Fouls. Much to the chagrin of Notre Dame fans, West Virginia has made more free throws (42) than its opponents have attempted in the tournament (40). But during the Big 12 regular season, the Mountaineers ceded 25.4 free-throw attempts per game, including a pair of games in which the opposition got at least 40 freebies. Officiating may determine how long West Virginia lasts.
MVP: Jevon Carter. This program has more or less evolved into a well-oiled machine of interchangeable parts, but Carter leads the Mountaineers in points, assists and steals and ranks second in rebounding. The junior point guard is the one piece Press Virginia could not exist without.
Championship Blueprint: Impose its will on the opposition. West Virginia was one of the biggest threats to win last year's title, right up until it had a negative-15 turnover margin in a first-round loss to Stephen F. Austin. As long as the Mountaineers are the ones forcing turnovers and dominating the offensive glass, they'll be the toughest team to knock out of the tournament.
6. Gonzaga Bulldogs
How They've Looked: Nowhere near as good as advertised. After spending the final two months of the season as the No. 1 team on KenPom, Gonzaga was nothing special in the first two rounds. It took about 18 minutes for the Bulldogs to get going against South Dakota State, and they nearly blew a 22-point lead against Northwestern. They can hardly afford to take a possession off the rest of the way, let alone an entire half.
Bread and Butter: Defense. Opponents shoot 29.9 percent from three and 40.0 percent from two-point range against Gonzaga. Some of that can be attributed to quality of opponent in the WCC, but the Bulldogs stifled Florida, Iowa State and Arizona early in the season. And it was defense that allowed them to open up that big lead against Northwestern.
Achilles' Heel: Drive. Gonzaga doesn't have a clear statistical weakness, but it hasn't been playing with much passion lately. Maybe the Zags got bored with beating up on the likes of Portland and Pacific, but even that regular-season-ending loss to BYU didn't give them the jolt some thought it would. And the last thing you need before a game against Press Virginia is a lack of focus.
MVP: Nigel Williams-Goss. He struggled in the opener against SDSU, but those performances have been few and far between this season. Even with that game included, NWG has averaged 19.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals in five games in March. He is the driving force of this offense and needs to set the pace early in order for Gonzaga to reach its potential.
Championship Blueprint: Play to the percentages. In effective field-goal percentage, Gonzaga ranks sixth on offense and first on defense. Even after factoring in the level of competition, this is one of the most efficient teams of the past 15 years. As long as the Bulldogs play with passion and without fear of a letdown, the numbers suggest they should win it all.
5. Kentucky Wildcats
How They've Looked: Elite on defense; not so much on offense. Kentucky recorded 14 blocks and 11 steals in the first two games while holding Northern Kentucky and Wichita State to a combined 66.0 points per game and 28.6 percent from three-point range. The Wildcats defended without fouling, yet they made every possession a battle. But aside from Bam Adebayo's double-doubles, they haven't found their rhythm on offense yet.
Bread and Butter: Uptempo penetration. Sort of a combination of what Arizona and UCLA love to do, Kentucky wants to speed up the game and drive the lane as much as possible with De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe. When those two are drawing in help defenders, Malik Monk, Derek Willis and Adebayo get to go to work.
Achilles' Heel: Free-throw shooting. Aside from Monk (83.0 percent), none of the regulars can be trusted from the free-throw line. Willis, Fox and Adebayo shot a combined 6-of-12 against Wichita State, helping keep the Shockers in that game.
MVP: Adebayo. Monk is the star that can make or break Kentucky, but Adebayo has been a consistent wrecking ball in the paint. His ability to dunk, draw fouls, rebound and defend make him one of the best true big men in the country.
Championship Blueprint: Defend and hope Monk's feeling it. Monk is just 5-of-26 from three-point range in March, averaging 11.8 points per game. But we all know he can pop off for a 7-of-10 night at any moment. Until that time comes, though, Kentucky can tread water with defense and rebounding.
4. Arizona Wildcats
How They've Looked: Championship-grade. To win this tournament, a team has to be comfortable facing a wide variety of opponents. Arizona has done that so far, beating an uptempo, guard-oriented North Dakota prior to a grind-it-out victory over Jock Landale and Saint Mary's. Factor in the previous week's wins over UCLA's dominant offense and Oregon's top-notch defense and there shouldn't be a nightmare opponent for Arizona left in the field.
Bread and Butter: Dribble-drive. Normally a staple of John Calipari's teams, Sean Miller has several guys who have perfected the art of driving the lane to score in the paint, draw contact or kick it out for a wide-open triple. The offense struggled a bit in February when Lauri Markkanen was struggling from three-point range. Now that the 7-foot freshman is hitting shots again, the Wildcats' offense cannot be stopped.
Achilles' Heel: Interior defense. Landale got 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels. Drick Bernstine had 20 and 15 for North Dakota. Jordan Bell had a double-double against Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament. And the game before that, UCLA's TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh combined for 28 points and 16 rebounds. Assertive big men have been a problem for Arizona all year long.
MVP: Markkanen. Like Frank Kaminsky during his latter years at Wisconsin, Markkanen has become a spectacle because of his combination of height and three-point range. But as he has shown in recent weeks, he also has a strong post-up game and the ability to block shots. Arizona has a bunch of weapons, but this is the one opposing teams are most worried about trying to stop.
Championship Blueprint: Stick to the script. The Wildcats are the most well-rounded team in the country. Just about the only thing they don't do at a level above the national average is force turnovers, but the becomes irrelevant when they're defending and rebounding as well as they can. As long as Markkanen and Allonzo Trier keep showing up, Arizona should keep winning games.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels
How They've Looked: Great against Texas Southern; mortal against Arkansas. The Tar Heels were plus-27 on the glass against the Tigers and scored at will in the 103-64 first-round rout, but they couldn't buy a bucket against the Razorbacks for significant stretches of the game. Rebounding and free throws were enough for them to advance, but another game like they played in the second round will get them eliminated from this point forward.
Bread and Butter: Offensive rebounding. North Carolina leads the nation in this category for the season and is averaging 19.0 offensive rebounds in the tournament. The Tar Heels have modest shooting percentages, but all of those second-chance opportunities make them one of the most efficient offenses.
Achilles' Heel: Frontcourt fouls. Isaiah Hicks gets the brunt of the ridicule for routinely getting into foul trouble, but Tony Bradley and Luke Maye get hit with whistles just as often as Hicks does. At least Kennedy Meeks usually avoids the ire of the officials, but it's not uncommon for the Tar Heels to lose a forward to foul trouble in the process of sending an opponent to the free-throw line a few too many times.
MVP: Justin Jackson. One of the biggest reasons North Carolina struggled with Arkansas was Jackson shooting 5-of-14 from the field. But Jackson is also one of the biggest reasons the Tar Heels survived that upset attempt, because he had eight rebounds, five assists and five steals. They need him (and Joel Berry) shooting better the rest of the way.
Championship Blueprint: Dominate the glass and play to a draw elsewhere. Every once in a while, an opponent will hang with North Carolina in rebound margin. Typically, though, the Tar Heels will be at least plus-10 on the glass. As long as they don't get destroyed with threes or turnovers, that's a starting point from which they can win any game.
2. UCLA Bruins
How They've Looked: Unstoppable. UCLA put on a shooting clinic in the first round against Kent State and didn't have any trouble with Cincinnati's staunch defense. Six Bruins averaged at least 10 points per game during the regular season. And in each tournament game thus far, five have hit that mark. The freshman duo of Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf is every bit as good in the postseason as it was for the past four months.
Bread and Butter: Uptempo scoring. Cincinnati was able to keep UCLA from getting out and running too much, but this team loves to get the ball up the court for a good look as fast as possible. The Bruins are a little bit like the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns. They rank top 10 in the nation in three-point percentage, two-point percentage, turnover-percentage and assist rate, and they have not been held below 74 points in a game yet this season.
Achilles' Heel: Defense. The Bruins have been much better at this half of the game than they were in the first half of the season, but it's still a struggle. They don't force turnovers, they don't defend the three-point arc and they're just average on the defensive glass. It's not usually a problem, but if UCLA ever has a bad shooting night, its defense isn't much of a Plan B.
MVP: Ball. Why he never got more respect in the National Player of the Year debate is beyond explanation, but Ball has been perhaps the most valuable freshman point guard ever. He's a great (albeit unorthodox) shooter, an elite passer and a solid rebounder for his position. Also, Ball is a much better defender than anyone seems interested in giving him credit for. Without him, UCLA might have finished below .500 again.
Championship Blueprint: Run and score and do it some more. UCLA is hoping to put an end to the age-old theory that defense wins championships. The Bruins have averaged 88.0 points through two rounds, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them go for 100 against Kentucky and/or North Carolina this coming weekend. Until they go cold from the field, they're one of the top candidates to win it all.
1. Kansas Jayhawks
How They've Looked: Unwavering. The Jayhawks had a bad habit of falling behind early during the regular season, but they came out hot and stayed hot in their two wins over UC Davis and Michigan State. The Spartans gave them a fight for a while, but Kansas simply had too many weapons in the end, running away with a 20-point victory.
Bread and Butter: Three-point shooting. Kansas hits 40.6 percent from downtown, thanks to five players in the seven-man rotation shooting better than 37.5 percent. Frank Mason (47.2 percent) is the most lethal of the bunch, but all five have drilled at least four triples in a game this season.
Achilles' Heel: Dominant big men. Thomas Bryant (19 and 10), Yante Maten (30 and 13), Reid Travis (29 and nine) and Johnathan Motley (16 and 10 / 19 and nine) all proved problematic for the Jayhawks defense. Guys like Caleb Swanigan, Bam Adebayo and Lauri Markkanen could put on a show against them.
MVP: Mason. Josh Jackson might be the National Freshman of the Year and is on the short list of candidates for the No. 1 overall draft pick in June, but Mason is the straw that stirs the Jayhawks' drink. In four games in March, the senior point guard is averaging 24.5 points, 7.0 assists and 2.0 turnovers. If you need another reason, Mason is 29-of-31 from the free-throw line during that stretch.
Championship Blueprint: Keep Mason and Jackson going. When those stars align for a good game, good luck to the competition. They were two of the best players in the country all season long and are easily two of the five best players left in the tournament. Sometimes it's as simple as that.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.