Well, in just one week’s time, we’ve narrowed the field of 64 teams down to the final 16 contenders for college basketball’s National Championship. There have been some major surprises (UCLA, NC State) and some very predictable developments (Kentucky dominating).
With the field getting trimmed down to four by the end of this weekend, it’s time we rank the remaining teams as to how likely they are to make the Final Four.
#16: West Virginia
After holding off a quality Buffalo team in the Round of 64, the Mountaineers pulled a convincing upset of a very good Maryland team in the Round of 32. Next up for WVU? Kentucky.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Bob Huggins is a great coach and has his team peaking at the right time. WVU played a brutal Big 12 schedule this year, and won’t be scared of anyone, even Kentucky.
Why they will be sent home: Did I mention they play Kentucky today?
Does UCLA deserve to be here at all? They probably didn’t deserve to get into the tournament. Then, they definitely didn’t deserve to advance to the Round of 32 because of an egregious goaltending call on SMU. But the Bruins keep winning.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Somehow, some way, UCLA is finding ways to get by. Steve Alford can coach. His son can shoot.
Why they will be sent home: UCLA is just not a very good team. Their results this year speak for themselves. Two tournament wins do not suddenly make the Bruins legitimate contenders. Gonzaga will send them packing.
Xavier has played great basketball so far in dispatching talented teams in Ole Miss and Georgia State with relative ease. However, Arizona will be a much, much different challenge.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Matt Stainbrook is a powerful inside presence that might be able to slow down Arizona’s tremendous inside game. The Musketeers play efficient, team basketball, and can shoot well.
Why they will be sent home: Arizona is bigger, more athletic, and frankly, more talented. It would take a bad day from the Wildcats for Xavier to advance, and even if they did, UNC or Wisconsin would be no cakewalk.
#13: Notre Dame
Notre Dame just feels shaky. They’ve won both of their games, sure. But by a combined 7 points. They barely squeaked by against a mediocre Northeastern team, and then needed a miraculous block to beat Butler. The Irish have looked far from dominant.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Notre Dame has plenty of depth and talent. When their shots are falling, they can beat nearly anyone.
Why they will be sent home: Notre Dame is not a team built to win in March. They shoot too many threes. They get cute. They lack physicality. Wichita State is the better team, but even if the Irish get by the Shockers, they will have a nightmare dealing with Kentucky.
Oklahoma has looked decent, if sometimes inconsistent, in getting to the Sweet Sixteen. While Buddy Hield can ball with the best of them, it will take more than him to get the rest of the way.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Oklahoma has a ton of talent, and one of the best players in the country. The Sooners have faced top competition and will not be scared of the moment.
Why they will be sent home: Do you want to go up against a Tom Izzo-led team (and then potentially a Rick Pitino-led team) in late March? Me neither.
#11: NC State
NC State pulled the stunner of the tourney thus far, beating heavily favored #1-seed Villanova in convincing fashion in the Round of 32. This came after the Wolfpack gutted out a 1-point thriller over LSU in their opening game.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Why not? The Wolfpack just took down the top seed in their region, and the East clearly has the easiest path to the Final Four right now. These guys also beat Duke by double digits this season. They are a quality team.
Why they will be sent home: The Wolfpack also have some very bad losses to their name, and consistency has been a struggle all year long. Which NC State team will show up?
Utah has looked very good, beating a solid Stephen F. Austin team in their first game before throttling higher-seeded Georgetown in their second. Do the Utes have what it takes to beat Duke?
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Utah has excellent depth and fantastic guard play. They shoot the lights out and play great defense. When they’re on, this team can beat almost anyone.
Why they will be sent home: Duke is really good. Don’t get me wrong, Utah can win this game, but only if they are able to fully control tempo and not let it turn into a shootout. Because as good as the Utes are at shooting the rock, Duke is even better.
#9: North Carolina
North Carolina has had a roller coaster of a season, which has continued into the tourney, as the Tar Heels had to survive a buzzer beater against Harvard and a deficit with 11 minutes left against Arkansas in order to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Can they put everything together and beat Wisconsin?
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Because they are North Carolina and they can always make a championship run. They have the coaching and they have the talent.
Why they will be sent home: Are you betting against a Wisconsin team that’s lost one game since January 11th?
Is there really anything for Louisville to be that proud of so far? Sure, they beat a very good team in UNI, and by a solid margin. But any power conference fan will happily point out that the Cardinals have beaten two mid major teams, and barely held on in their first game against a middling UC-Irvine squad.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: They have the pedigree and they still have one of the best minds in the game in Rick Pitino.
Why they will be sent home: The eye test. This Louisville team just isn’t that impressive, and they really haven’t been all season.
#7: Michigan State
Yeah, I said this list is “likelihood of advancing” and this will already be the fourth (and final) team remaining in the East Region of the bracket. But the truth is, nobody has a goddamn clue which one of Oklahoma, Louisville, Michigan State, or NC State will emerge from the East. One of them will make the Final Four, but do you really feel good about any of their odds? The Spartans are peaking at the right time – but does that make up for a season of mediocrity?
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Tom Izzo. Senior leadership. A style of ball that always seems to work this time of the year.
Why they will be sent home: Other than that win against Virginia last weekend, have the Spartans done anything to make anyone believe? An overtime loss against Wisconsin in the Big 10 Tournament might be their second-best accomplishment. Cause going 1 for 3 against an eliminated Maryland team should not be.
#6: Wichita State
It’s a shame that Wichita State yet again finds themselves in the same region as the McDonald’s All-American factory that is Kentucky. But, has anyone other than UConn (in last year’s championship game) played Kentucky more tightly than Wichita State did in their Round of 32 loss a year ago? Answer: No. And the Shockers are peaking at the right time after blowing Kansas out of the gym.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: The Shockers have experience. The team remains largely intact from last season’s perfect regular season, and many of the pieces of 2013’s Final Four squad remain. The Shockers are efficient, scrappy, well-coached, and you can bet they crave a rematch with Kentucky.
Why they will be sent home: Look for the Shockers to get by Notre Dame, but getting by Kentucky will be a lot to ask out of this lineup, which will have trouble matching up with Kentucky’s size and athleticism. Never say never, though.
Well, give Gonzaga credit – they didn’t fall victim to another tourney upset with a high seed and high expectations. On the contrary, the Zags have cruised, throttling ND State and Iowa en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. Can they win 2 more to get to that elusive Final Four?
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Gonzaga has excellent senior leadership and they have as much talent as almost anyone not named Kentucky. They can hang with the big boys despite playing in a weaker conference. They only lost at Arizona by 3 this season, one of their 2 losses.
Why they will be sent home: Duke. The specter of past March failures. The lack of truly elite competition for months.
The Badgers are good. They are really good. They have Frank Kaminsky. They have Bo Ryan calling the plays. But can they get by back-to-back teams with freak athletes in UNC and Arizona?
Why they will advance to the Final Four: The Badgers might be the most complete “team” in America, right down to the buzzcut solidarity. Frank Kaminsky is exceptional. The Badgers do everything well…
Why they will be sent home: …Except for rebounding, where UNC and Arizona could both end up eating them alive. The Badgers are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, and never turn the ball over. But if the shots aren’t falling, their doom will be their inability to hit the glass.
After a surprising loss to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament, Duke has taken care of business with ease in the NCAA Tournament, making mincemeat of Robert Morris and San Diego State on the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Will the Blue Devils make it to Indianapolis?
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Mike Krzyzewski. Jahlil Okafor. The fact that they are Duke.
Why they will be sent home: Duke has not been invincible this year. When the threeballs aren’t falling, Duke is beatable.
Other than a certain team that might go undefeated and make history, has anyone been more impressive than Arizona so far? After crushing an overmatched Texas Southern team in the Round of 64, the Wildcats made halftime adjustments while up 1 point against Ohio State, coming out in the second half and blowing the Buckeyes out of the building. Make no mistake – ‘Zona might match up better with Kentucky than any other team in the country.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Their size. Their athleticism. Their coaching. Their all around excellence. And do you really think if all that stands between the Wildcats and a Final Four is the Wisconsin team that beat them by one point in overtime in last year’s Elite Eight that they will let it happen again? I do not.
Why they will be sent home: …But it definitely could happen, you know.
Duh. Until someone beats Kentucky, they are your presumptive champions. Cincinnati tried, and came close for 3/4 of the game. Next up – West Virginia. Kentucky can lose, but it would take a lot of luck in favor of any opponent.
Why they will advance to the Final Four: Because it would be one of the biggest upsets of all time in college basketball if they did not.
Why they will be sent home: Because the story will be so much better if they don’t win it all.
Final Four Picks:
EAST: Michigan State
Tags : 2015, 2015 NCAA Tournament, Arizona, Basketball, college basketball, college sports, Duke, featured, Kentucky, March Madness, March Madness 2015, Michigan State, NCAA, NCAA tournament, Power Rankings, sports, Sports Takes, Sweet Sixteen