16. St. Peters Peacocks
Tournament Results: Kentucky 85-79, Murray State 70-60
The Cinderella story of this postseason is undoubtedly the Peacocks of St. Peters. After shocking heavily-favored Kentucky in the Round of 64, St. Peter’s punched its ticket to the Sweet 16 after comfortably taking care of Murray State. Los Angeles native Daryl Banks III is the straw stirring the proverbial drink for the Peacocks. He had 27 points in the victory over UK, and is constantly tasked with keeping the tempo just where his team wants it.
St. Peter’s will once again assume the role as the underdog versus the Purdue Boilermakers. While Purdue has a considerable size advantage, we can’t count St. Peter’s out completely. They’re playing with house money — as the pressure is all on the higher-ranked seed at this point.
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15. Iowa State Cyclones
Tournament Results: LSU 59-54, Wisconsin 54-49
The Cyclones effectively took out two higher seeds en route to the Sweet 16. Defensively, Iowa State have been locked in. It held Wisconsin to under 30-percent from the field and 9.1-percent from three (2-of-22). It’s a classic case of a team’s sum being greater than its parts. However, there is one significant part. We’re of course talking about guard Izaiah Brockington.
The senior guard out of Philly averaged 17 PPG during the regular season. He’s a future NBA player — and is the one guy on the Cyclones’ roster capable of dropping 25+ on any given night. While Miami poses some real issues, the Hurricanes certainly won’t overwhelm ISU with size or athleticism. The Cyclones have a real chance at making the Elite 8.
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14. Miami Hurricanes
Tournament Results: USC 68-66, Auburn 79-61
Jim Larranaga is a witch in the best sense of the term. Miami isn’t a deep team — nor is it overly gifted from an athletic standpoint. The Hurricanes are also quite small compared to the rest of the field. However, this is a dangerous team. Miami just took care of two teams (USC, Auburn) far bigger and more talented. It’s an incredibly well-coached team with terrific guard-centric chemistry.
Iowa State is a great matchup for Miami as it looks to make the Elite 8. Kameron McGusty leads the four-guard starting lineup, though he’s helped out tremendously by Isaiah Wong and the well-traveled Charlie Moore.
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13. Arkansas Razorbacks
Tournament Results: Vermont 75-71, New Mexico State 53-48
The Razorbacks struggled to get past two double-digit seeds in Vermont and New Mexico State. Their reward in the Sweet 16? The field’s No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga — in San Francisco on the West Coast, no less. Arkansas has looked all out of sorts thus far. In the win over the Aggies last week, the Razorbacks shot a horrid 27.5-percent from the field (3-of-16 from three). You know Eric Musselman will want to push the tempo.
Unfortunately for Arkansas, they’ll be going against a team who is arguably the best in the country in transition. Not only that, but there are some real questions as to whether Arkansas has enough size to deal with Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren. You can expect Arkansas to try and turn Gonzaga over. However, this simply isn’t a good matchup for them.
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12. Michigan Wolverines
Tournament Results: Colorado State 75-63, Tennessee 76-68
Despite an up-and-down regular season, the Wolverines inexplicably find themselves as not only a Sweet 16 participant, but also as only one of two Big Ten teams remaining in the big dance (the other being Purdue). Michigan is a nightmare matchup for teams primarily due to their depth up front. Hunter Dickinson is a load in the middle, and he’s complemented by uber-athletic big man Moussa Diabate.
For Michigan to have any chance in upsetting Villanova — a program notorious for elite guard play — its combination of Eli Brooks and Devante Jones must play well. The Wildcats and Wolverines are very different stylistically. Michigan has a huge size advantage — whereas Villanova has the edge in experience, guard play, and coaching prowess. If Dickinson can get cooking early, Michigan has a chance.
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11. Providence Friars
Tournament Results: South Dakota State 66-57, Richmond 79-51
The Big East champs are weirdly flying under-the-radar as they head off to face Kansas in the Sweet 16. Ed Cooley is a terrific coach, and the squad has been buoyed all year by a host of upperclassmen (featuring guard Al Durham). Providence beat Richmond by 28 in what was one of the more impressive Round 2 results of the past weekend. Providence held the Spiders to 1-of-22 on three-point attempts (while converting on 12 of their 22 attempts). We don’t expect the Friars to shoot the ball that well versus KU. However, all of the ingredients are there for Providence to give the Jayhawks a real game.
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10. North Carolina Tar Heels
Tournament Results: Marquette 95-63, Baylor 93-86
Outside of a second-half meltdown against the No. 1 seed Baylor, North Carolina was nearly flawless in the opening weekend. UNC opened up tournament play with an absolute rout of Marquette. Oklahoma transfer Brady Manek continued his hot shooting, nailing 10-of-15 from the field (and 5-of-10 from three) en route to 28 points. Manek was on a similar pace against Baylor until he was assessed a Flagrant-2 foul for an elbow just moments after nailing a three-pointer to give his team a 25-point lead.
Baylor’s rabid comeback immediately followed, but the Manek-less Tar Heels were able to hold on in OT. With all hands back on deck, UNC will attempt to knock off another Final Four participant from last season: the UCLA Bruins.
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9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Tournament Results: Montana State 97-62, Notre Dame 59-53
No Chris Beard? No problem…for the Texas Tech Red Raiders who outlasted their former coach in the NCAA Tournament. In their opening matchup, Tech blitzed a Montana State team which had won 18-of-20 heading into the Friday’s tilt. Tech’s hot shooting (66-percent from the field, 60-percent from three) in their first game was the headline, but their defense has been particularly stout in both contests.
Despite struggling from the field against Notre Dame, Tech held the Fighting Irish to just 32-percent shooting. The Red Raiders are as deep as any team in the field, with at least six players who can carry the load offensively on any given night. Having fresh legs should help immensely against a Duke squad that doesn’t dig deep into their bench.
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8. Houston Cougars
Tournament Results: UAB 82-68, Illinois 68-53
Houston looks like a team on a mission to prove last year’s Final Four appearance was no fluke. The Cougars pounced on a sizzling-hot UAB team in their opening matchup, leading wire-to-wire while shooting 47-percent from beyond the arc in the 82-68 victory. In one of the most impressive performances of the opening weekend, Houston then quieted Illinois’ potent offense in the 2nd round.
The Cougars held the Fighting Illini to their lowest scoring total of the year, while Illinois’ guards Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo shot a combined 4-for-21 from the field. The Cougars are playing with the utmost confidence, and boast the experience and defense to make it difficult for the No. 1 seed Arizona Wildcats.
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7. Purdue Boilermakers
Tournament Results: Yale 78-56, Texas 81-71
In terms of talent, the Purdue Boilermakers can stack up with any team in the field. Matt Painter’s group is as offensively gifted as any team in the nation, and are led by a future top-five NBA Draft pick in Jaden Ivey. Purdue’s lead guard has only needed 20 shot attempts to score 40 points through two tournament games. He’s lived on the free throw line, attempting nine free throws in both games.
However, Purdue’s shooters will need to start connecting on some attempts to free up the lane for Ivey. Thus far, senior wing Sasha Stefanovic is just 2-of-12 from beyond the arc, and failed to make a basket in the win over Texas. Trevion Williams’ 22 points powered Purdue to a win over the Longhorns, and both he and starting center Zach Edey will be crucial in their upcoming matchup against an undersized St. Peter’s team.
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6. UCLA Bruins
Tournament Results: Akron 57-53, Saint Mary’s 72-56
UCLA was pushed to the brink their opening round matchup versus Akron. The Bruins faced a four-point deficit late in the second half, but were powered by an 8-0 run from point guard Tyger Campbell which led to the victory. Campbell has been the team’s steadiest player all year, and has carried that into the NCAA Tournament with two strong showings (16 PPG on 50-percent shooting). Most concerning for UCLA is the health of Jaime Jaquez Jr. — who reaggravated an ankle injury in the win over Saint Mary’s in the Round of 32. If Jaquez is hobbled for the remainder of the tournament, players like Jaylen Clark and freshman Peyton Watson will need to step up for Mick Cronin’s squad.
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5. Duke Blue Devils
Tournament Results: CSU Fullerton 78-61, Michigan State 85-76
Coach K’s last NCAA Tournament experience is going well…so far. After an easy opening round victory over Cal State Fullerton, Duke was pushed to the brink by Michigan State. The Blue Devils led by as many as nine points early in the second half, but found themselves down five with just over five minutes to play. Coach K’s squad outscored the Spartans 20-6 over the final 4:58 to advance to the Sweet 16. Paolo Banchero’s performance against Michigan State led Duke to victory, and he will need to continue to star moving forward if the team wants to keep K’s career alive.
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4. Villanova Wildcats
Tournament Results: Delaware 80-60, Ohio State 71-61
Through two games, it is fair to say that Villanova has been one of the most impressive teams in the tournament. The 2016 and 2018 National Champions have cruised to the Sweet 16 thanks to impressive shooting and stout defense. While the Wildcats are shooting 36-percent on contested threes, their opponents — Delaware and Ohio State — finished a combined 10-for-42 from deep. Nova led the Buckeyes wire-to-wire and weren’t challenged much. With Collin Gillespie leading the way, the Wildcats should handle Michigan to set up an Elite 8 showdown with either No. 1 Arizona or No. 5 Houston.
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3. Arizona Wildcats
Tournament Results: Wright State 87-70, TCU 85-80
Arizona hasn’t played its best basketball thus far, but it did enough to reach the Sweet 16 nonetheless. Against TCU, the Wildcats shot a putrid 18.5 percent from three (5-of-27) and needed overtime to escape with the win. Kerr Kriisa returned to the lineup for the Cats — but it is clear that he isn’t ready to contribute at a high level. In fact, Arizona would probably be better off if Kriisa was glued to the bench. Nursing a bum ankle, Kriisa finished the game 1-for-10. However, Arizona’s top two players came to play. Christian Koloko went 12-of-13 for 28 points and added 12 rebounds and three blocks, and Bennedict Mathurin poured in 30 points. If those two continue to play that well, Arizona will be tough to beat.
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2. Kansas Jayhawks
Tournament Results: Texas Southern 83-56, Creighton 79-72
Kansas is primed to reach the Final Four if it can topple Providence in the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks outlasted a game Creighton squad in the Round of 32, but they will need to play better if they want to beat the Friars. Against Creighton, Remy Martin — a transfer from Arizona State — led the way. Finally healthy following a string of injuries, Martin scored 20 points off the bench to lead the Jayhawks to victory. The talented guard has scored 35 points in Kansas’ two wins while shooting 13-of-22 from the field. If Martin stays hot, the Jayhawks should waltz to the Final Four.
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1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Tournament Results: Georgia State 93-72, Memphis 82-78
Through 20 minutes of action Saturday night, the Gonzaga Bulldogs appeared destined for an early exit. The nation’s No. 1 team trailed No. 9 Memphis 41-31 at the break, and the Tigers didn’t look like a team that was about to allow Gonzaga back into the game. However, Drew Timme was not ready for his season to end. Gonzaga’s talented big man scored 21 points in the second half en route to a seemingly improbable comeback win. If Timme, potential No. 1 pick Chet Holmgren and guard Andrew Nembhard play to their potential, the Zags will cut down the nets.
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