The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament came and went. Gone are surprises like Villanova and Kansas while teams like Virginia fell short of the Sweet 16 like some smart people predicted. (Yes, that’s a massive humblebrag).
There are plenty of talented teams left as three No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds made it to the second weekend. The question of the tournament still looms though. Can Kentucky finish the season 40-0?
We’ll take a look at the remaining 16 teams in this week’s Reagan’s Rankings.
- North Carolina State
After needing a ridiculous comeback and buzzer beater to advance against LSU in the Round of 64, the Wolfpack sent No. 1 Villanova home early with a three point win in the second round. So, what have we learned? Good North Carolina State can make the Final Four and bad North Carolina State can get blown out by Louisville. Cat Barber needs to continue to play well with no depth behind him.
So, goaltending, huh? Look, whether it was goaltending (it was not) or not, the Bruins were still there with a chance to win against No. 6 SMU. They did just that. Then they took advantage of a first round upset and beat No. 14 UAB to advance to the Sweet 16. Their starting five can be as good as any, but there’s nothing on the bench. If Bryce Alford is making nine threes a game, watch out.
- West Virginia
This West Virginia team might be the least talented team of the 16. However, they play a style that only West Virginia can play. The Mountaineers will press you for 40 minutes and trap for the majority of those 40 minutes. Juwan Staten is a great guard but can’t shoot from the outside. If Devin Williams comes back next year he has the chance to be an All-American.
The lone Big East team remaining, the Musketeers have been able to reach the Sweet 16 thanks to their frontcourt of Jalen Reynolds and Matt Stainbrook. The two big men will have their hands filled against Arizona this week, but Xavier can score the ball this year. Chris Mack is one of the better young coaches in the game.
- Wichita State
Wichita State has three solid players yet finds itself in the Sweet 16 yet again. The trio of Tekele Cotton, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker can play with anyone, but what Gregg Marshall has gotten out of everyone else has made the run impressive. Don’t be surprised to see the Shockers defeat Notre Dame because of the shooting ability of Baker.
- Michigan State
Tom freaking Izzo, man. Yes, Michigan State has Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice, but this is one of the worst teams Izzo has had in East Lansing. Sure, the Spartans were slightly underseeded as a No. 7 seed, but it’s not like this is a great team.
The one thing that always shows up in NCAA Tournament is quality coaching. The guys who are truly great coaches constantly reach the Sweet 16, this time it’s Rick Pitino. After narrowly avoiding an upset by UC-Irvine in the first round, the Cards looked good against a Northern Iowa team many people were high on. Quentin Snider has been playing out of his mind lately.
- Notre Dame
Notre Dame might be the best feel good story remaining. There’s the comeback story of Jerian Grant, who missed the majority of last season with an academic issue, only to have an All-American season and lead Notre Dame to the Sweet 16. Pat Connaughton was drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Orioles but decided to play another year of college basketball. Then there’s the story from Saturday when head coach Mike Brey’s mother died in the morning only for Brey to coach his team to an overtime victory over in-state rival Butler.
- North Carolina
This ranking is based on the assumption Kennedy Meeks isn’t seriously injured. However, North Carolina still has Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson who are playing incredibly well right now. On top of that, J.P. Tokoto, who can be a real x-factor for this team, is playing the best he has all season. All that said, I don’t like their chances to make it any farther.
Utah is an extremely good defensive team. The Utes, at times, are very talented on the offensive side of the ball. Senior guard Delon Wright does an excellent job of knowing when to look for his shot and get others involved. However, there are stretches when Utah just sits on a lead instead of continuing to do what got them the lead. This needs to change if they get up against Duke this week.
As Oklahoma showed in the early stages of the game against Dayton, anyone on this team can score. The Sooners started the game hitting seven shots from deep, whether it was Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins or Jordan Woodard. This team can shoot. They also have two strong post players in Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas.
The top five in these rankings shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Bulldogs come in at number five for right now because of a possible massive mismatch if Kyle Wiltjer has to guard Justise Winslow. That said, Wiltjer is one of the most fun players to watch due to his size and ability to score from anywhere on the court. His pick-and-pop game with Kevin Pangos is deadly.
Duke played strong defense against San Diego State. But, it was San Diego State, which has a lackluster at offense. That’s the biggest question mark going forward as the Blue Devils can easily score. The backcourt of Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones could make a case for best backcourt in the country and the insertion of Matt Jones into the starting five has been a blessing.
Wisconsin still has the best chance to take down Kentucky, but they have to get there first. After looking iffy this first weekend, would they be favored against Arizona? Sam Dekker, when healthy, is an electric player who gives Wisconsin a different dynamic. However, the depth isn’t there for the Badgers so if there is foul trouble it could be a cause of concern.
Gabe York? Okay, Gabe York is playing phenomenal basketball providing Arizona with a deep ball threat. The fact that Brandon Ashley is healthy for this NCAA Tournament just shows how valuable he’s been to the program the last couple of the years. The Wildcats have a big, athletic front line that can cause trouble for most teams, and they look every part of the second best team in the country.
Yep. 36-0 does this.