NCAA Tournament 2019: Ranking Top Seeds Most Likely to Fall in Sweet 16

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2019

NCAA Tournament 2019: Ranking Top Seeds Most Likely to Fall in Sweet 16

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    As the dust settles on the opening weekend of the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament, just 16 teams are left standing in the hunt for a national title.

    While the first and second rounds gave us plenty of memorable moments, the regionals have been close to chalk so far, with all eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds still standing.

    That could all change in a flash in the Sweet 16.

    But which of the top-seeded teams could be in danger of falling before the Elite Eight?

    Ahead we've put together a quick ranking of the five most likely victims, based on how they match up with their next opponent and how they've been playing of late.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs (West Region, No. 1 Seed)

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    Brandon Clarke
    Brandon ClarkeTom Pennington/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 4 Florida State

    Gonzaga can be a tough draw for undersized teams with its long, athletic lineup.

    That'll be a non-factor against Florida State.

    The entire Seminoles rotation is essentially a collection of long, athletic wing players with no real set positions, aside from towering 7'4" center Christ Koumadje.

    Brandon Clarke is one of the most talented post players in the country, and the 6'8" junior just went off for 36 points against an undersized Baylor team on Saturday.

    That won't happen against the Seminoles.

    They beat Virginia in a slow-paced, grind-it-out game in the ACC tournament, and then they blew out Murray State in a fast-paced game against future NBA lottery pick Ja Morant in the NCAA tourney's second round. 

    It doesn't matter what kind of team they're going up against. The Seminoles are capable of hanging around with any team in the nation, and that makes them extremely dangerous.

    This might be the most talented team Mark Few has had during his time at Gonzaga, but it is not unbeatable by any means.

4. North Carolina (Midwest Region, No. 1 Seed)

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    Coby White
    Coby WhiteStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 5 Auburn

    Auburn is not going to be able to slow down No. 1 seed North Carolina and one of the fastest-paced offenses in the nation.

    The Tigers might be able to run with them, though.

    Auburn hung 89 points on the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday night, coasting in the second half after jumping out to a 51-25 lead at halftime.

    With Bryce Brown (15.9 PPG, 40.8 3PT%) and Jared Harper (15.3 PPG, 37.9 3PT%) leading the way, the Tigers score a staggering 42.7 percent of their points on three-pointers.

    That's the highest percentage of any team in the field, and it's an approach that has proved effective.

    They hit 12 threes at a 38.7 percent clip against New Mexico State in the first round and knocked down 13 at a 43.3 percent rate in the Kansas game.

    That doesn't bode well for the Tar Heels, who rank 104th in the nation in three-point defense and allowed at least nine threes in five of their six losses on the year.

    If the Tigers can come out gunning like they did against Kansas, the Sweet 16 could be the end of the line for North Carolina.

3. Kentucky Wildcats (Midwest Region, No. 2 Seed)

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    PJ Washington
    PJ WashingtonDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 3 Houston

    The health of sophomore PJ Washington continues to be a major question mark for Kentucky.

    The Wildcats cruised past No. 15 seed Abilene Christian without Washington, but they were pushed to the limit by Wofford before pulling out a 62-56 win.

    An excellent Houston team poses a considerably more difficult test.

    The 6'8" Washington was the team's leading scorer during conference play at 16.1 points per game, and he's easily the best inside presence on the roster.

    Being without that wrinkle to the offense would be a huge detriment against a Cougars defense that ranks 12th in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency.

    For now, Washington's status remains up in the air.

    "Every piece of info I get makes me increasingly believe he is done for the tournament," CBS analyst Seth Davis tweeted on Saturday.

    Even if he can go, the Cougars have been impressive in the NCAA tournament, trouncing Georgia State (84-55) before breezing past Ohio State (74-59) to reach the Sweet 16.

    Don't forget that this has lost just three games all season.

2. Michigan Wolverines (West Region, No. 2 Seed)

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    Ignas Brazdeikis
    Ignas BrazdeikisAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 3 Texas Tech

    If you're a fan of high-scoring, fast-paced basketball, you'll want to steer clear of the Michigan-Texas Tech matchup in the Sweet 16.

    The Red Raiders rank No. 1 in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency, and the Wolverines are right behind them in the No. 2 spot.

    Both teams allow an average of fewer than 60 points per game and hold opponents below 40 percent shooting. Both teams also rank outside the top 200 in KenPom's adjusted tempo.

    Something has to give, and the difference could be Red Raiders star Jarrett Culver.

    The Big 12 Player of the Year and projected NBA lottery pick averages 18.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and he went off for 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists against Northern Kentucky in the first round.

    On Sunday, against a Buffalo team that ranks 31st in defensive efficiency, he filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals in a 20-point win.

    If the Red Raiders defense plays up to its potential and Culver keeps rolling, the Wolverines could have a hard time advancing any further.

1. Tennessee Volunteers (South Region, No. 2 Seed)

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    Admiral Schofield
    Admiral SchofieldElsa/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 3 Purdue

    It's been a bumpy road to the Sweet 16 for Tennessee.

    After a 20-point loss to Auburn in the SEC tournament title game cost them a chance at a No. 1 seed, the Volunteers were seriously tested by No. 15 seed Colgate in the first round.

    The Raiders shot a blistering 51.7 percent from beyond the arc and hung around the entire game, with Tennessee narrowly escaping with a 77-70 victory.

    Things were even closer on Sunday against No. 7 seed Iowa.

    The Volunteers were up 49-28 at halftime and led by as many as 25 at one point, but the Hawkeyes clawed back into the game and forced overtime. Tennessee used the extra time to squeak out an 83-77 victory, but it was hardly a convincing win.

    Meanwhile, upcoming Sweet 16 opponent Purdue completely outmatched Old Dominion (61-48) and Villanova (87-61) to advance out of the opening weekend.

    Star point guard Carsen Edwards exploded for 42 points on 9-of-16 from beyond the arc on Saturday, and he is one of the few players in this year's tournament capable of putting a team on his back.

    And while the transitive property doesn't have much of a place in basketball analysis, it's telling that the same Iowa team that took Tennessee to overtime lost to Purdue by 16 earlier this year.

    With all due respect to Tennessee and No. 1 seed Virginia, Purdue looks like the team to beat in the South Region right now.


    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.