NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 rankings: Kansas, UNC, Kentucky on top

By Anthony Gimino, The Sports Xchange  |  March 20, 2017 at 2:09 PM
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The East Region is officially crazy.

After a largely uneventful first round of the NCAA Tournament, the East produced two huge upsets on the weekend. No. 8 Wisconsin seed toppled defending champion and top-seeded Villanova on Saturday, and No. 7 South Carolina shocked No. 2 Duke on Sunday night.

Just like that, what appeared to be a top-heavy region is now filled with various shades of underdogs, including third-seeded Baylor, which lost four of its last seven games before the NCAA Tournament.

The top two seeds are alive in the West and South, while the Midwest lost second-seeded Louisville.

Here is our power ranking of the Sweet 16:

1. Kansas (Midwest, No. 1)

The Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16 in nearby Kansas City by overpowering UC Davis 100-62 and Michigan State 90-70. All-America point guard Frank Mason leads an explosive attack and one of the nation's best backcourts. Freshman standout wing Josh Jackson is hot, scoring 40 points on 17-of-28 shooting in the NCAAs, hitting from the outside and at the rim. Landen Lucas, a 6-foot-10 senior, has posted three consecutive double-doubles. He will be critical to stopping Purdue's Caleb Swanigan in the Sweet 16.

2. North Carolina (South, No. 1)

The Tar Heels are in the Sweet 16 as expected, but their scare against No. 8 seed Arkansas in the second round, before winning 72-65, even had coach Roy Williams saying, "We were really lucky." Junior forward Justin Jackson, the seventh Tar Heel to score at least 600 points in a season under Williams, will look to get North Carolina rolling again. The Heels had a bad shooting game (38.1 percent) against the Razorbacks, but they rebounded themselves into more chances. They lead the nation in rebounding margin (plus-13.1).

3. Kentucky (South, No. 2)

John Calipari's young team is gathering steam, with a 13-game winning streak, its longest of the season. Freshman Bam Adebayo had his eighth double-double -- 13 points, 10 rebounds -- in a hard-fought, second-round win over Wichita State. Freshman guard Malik Monk passed Jamal Murray for the school's freshman scoring record; he has 721 points. How about Monk, Adebayo and freshman point guard De'Aaron Fox against UCLA freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf in the Sweet 16?

4. Arizona (West, No. 2)

The Wildcats are versatile, able to play fast or slow, as they had to do in wins over North Dakota and Santa Clara. Coach Sean Miller, steaming toward his first Final Four, is known for his pack-line defense, but he also has elite scorers in guard Allonzo Trier (17.1 ppg) and 7-footer Lauri Markkanen (15.8), who are hot at the right time. Next up is Miller's old employer, Xavier, but that storyline was mostly exhausted when Arizona beat the Musketeers in the 2015 Sweet 16.

5. Gonzaga (West, No. 1)

The Bulldogs survived Northwestern in the second round to reach the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss gives Gonzaga better-than-usual athleticism at the position, and he will be key to breaking West Virginia's press in the Sweet 16. Williams-Goss had 20 points and eight rebounds vs. Northwestern. Can the well-balanced Zags get hot from 3-point range? They were 12 of 46 in the first two tourney games.

6. UCLA (South, No. 3)

The Bruins are a joy to watch, the highest-scoring team in the country, led by fab freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, who had 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a second-round win over Cincinnati. Now comes a blue-blood rematch in the Sweet 16 against Kentucky; UCLA won 97-92 at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3. The Bruins might not be great defensively, but they picked up their effort considerably in February, making them title-worthy.

7. Michigan (Midwest, No. 7)

Looking like a team of destiny, Michigan won four games at the Big Ten tournament after its plane perilously skidded off the runway, and the hot streak continued with wins over Oklahoma State and No. 2 seed Louisville. Forward Moritz Wagner became a tournament "name" with his 26 points vs. the Cardinals, adding to an attack that loves the 3-point shot, led by guard Derrick Walton Jr. The Wolverines commit the fewest turnovers in the country (9.4 per game), a skill that will come in handy against a high-energy team, Oregon, in the Sweet 16.

8. Wisconsin (East, No. 8)

No program has more NCAA Tournament victories (13) than Wisconsin in the past four seasons. Multi-dimensional big man Ethan Happ is a matchup nightmare, while tourney-tested seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are heart-and-soul players who combined for 80 points in wins over Virginia Tech and No. 1 Villanova.

9. Baylor (East, No. 3)

After being bounced in the first round in each of the past two seasons, the Bears look angry -- and talented. This is a long, athletic team, led by double-double forward Johnathan Motley and point guard Manu Lecomte, who rescued Baylor in the second round against USC by scoring all 12 of his points in the final five minutes.

10. Oregon (Midwest, No. 3)

Perimeter play is huge in the NCAA Tournament, and Oregon's tandem of wing Dillon Brooks and shooting guard Tyler Dorsey is as good as it gets. Dorsey scored 27 points on 9-of-10 shooting (including 4-of-5 from 3-point range) in the second-round win over Rhode Island. Nobody plays harder than Brooks, the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Oregon's margin of error is slim without forward Chris Boucher (ACL), but there is still Final Four potential here.

11. Purdue (Midwest, No. 4)

The Boilermakers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years, riding the strong shoulders of sophomore All-America big man Caleb Swanigan. "Biggie" had 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as Purdue held off an Iowa State rally in the second round. He is not a one-man show, though, as junior forward Vincent Edwards is only the second player in program history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists in a career.

12. Florida (East, No. 4)

Expectations were modest because the Gators lost big man John Egbunu to injury in mid-February, and then lost three of four games before the NCAA Tournament. Still, Florida had too much talent for East Tennessee State and too much defense for slow-it-down Virginia in a 65-39 victory. Forward Devin Robinson scored 38 in the two tournament games, and he will need to stay hot against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 as the Gators otherwise rely on their smothering defense.

13. South Carolina (East, No. 7)

The Gamecocks can't be called consistent (losing five of seven before the NCAAs), but the upset of Duke shows the high ceiling. Guard Sindarius Thornwell is the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, and Frank Martin's team plays some hellacious defense, which should travel well in a Sweet 16 game against athletic Baylor at Madison Square Garden.

14. West Virginia (West, No. 4)

"Press" Virginia's high-pressure, full-court defense is the key to any upset the rest of the way. The Mountaineers lead the country in steals (10.2 per game) and in turnovers forced (20.1). West Virginia is burly and tough and will try to sock Sweet 16 foe Gonzaga in the mouth, while All-Big-12 guard Jevon Carter -- the conference's Defensive Player of the Year -- leads a balanced offense.

15. Butler (South, No. 4)

Butler is going to the Sweet 16 for the first time since it played in the title game in 2011. The Bulldogs don't beat themselves, ranking 21st national in turnover margin (plus-3.2) and shooting 47.9 percent from the field, which ranks No. 31 nationally. Efficiency and controlling tempo will be key against North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Kelan Martin is a versatile forward who leads the Bulldogs with an average of 16 points a game.

16. Xavier (West, No. 11)

Everyone wrote off Xavier after point guard Edmond Sumner was lost to a torn ACL in late January. The Musketeers endured a six-game losing streak in February, but they are always tough-minded, always well-coached, and guard Trevon Bluiett (17.7 ppg) makes coach Chris Mack's team a threat in any game. Bluiett scored a combined 50 points, including eight 3-pointers, in upsets over Maryland and Florida State.

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