Tich’s Sweet 16 science
Things to know about each remaining tourney team
1. Kentucky is better than everyone else.
There are a few good teams still left in the tournament. There are a few very, very good teams left in the tournament. And then there are the Wildcats, who are pretty much the Monstars from Space Jam. It is going to take a perfect game from one of those very, very good teams to end the Wildcats’ perfect season.
2. Arizona should have been a one-seed.
Besides Kentucky, no team in the country has a longer win streak. And not only do the Wildcats have a 13-game win streak, but 12 of those 13 victories have been by double digits. In other words, Arizona is swallowing up and digesting anything and everything in its path.
3. Utah is not a pushover five-seed.
It was trendy to pick against the Utes to make a deep run in most bracket pools, only most of those people had not watched a single Utah game all year.
Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl are as good of an inside-outside combo that exists in the college game and the rest of the Utes provide plenty of supporting firepower. Watch out, Duke.
4. Xavier gonna Xavier.
There is no better school starting with the letter “x” come March. The Musketeers have played in the Sweet 16 in five of their past seven trips to the Big Dance. The last coach to lead Xavier to the Elite Eight — current Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who will face his former team in the Sweet 16.
5. West Virginia’s press is something out of a horror movie.
The Mountaineers led the country in steals per game by more than one per game during the season, averaging 10.94 swipes per contest, thanks to a hellacious attacking full-court press. Maryland coughed up a whopping 23 turnovers against West Virginia in their Round of 32 duel. Kentucky has not seen much full-court pressure all year, so the Mountaineers could cause some problems during their Sweet 16 matchup with the Wildcats.
6. NC State is dangerous (and unpredictable).
After watching the Wolfpack play all season, one thing is clear — nothing is ever clear about this team. Their big men had been chronically underwhelming up until tournament time when, suddenly, aliens invaded their bodies and turned them into productive basketball machines. Still, a concerning note for NC State fans: the Wolfpack have not played in the Elite Eight since 1986.
7. Wichita State might have another run in them.
Probably under-seeded as a seven-seed, the Shockers handled in-state foe Kansas easily in the Round of 32. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker form one of the best and most experienced backcourts in the nation — they have led Wichita State to a 95-14 record in three years as teammates — and will cause problems for pretty much anyone. If the Shockers can beat Notre Dame, they will most likely have their chance to spoil Kentucky’s undefeated season just as the Wildcats did to the undefeated Shockers in the 2014 Big Dance.
8. UCLA’s results are catching up with the “eye test.”
On paper, the Bruins should have been one of better teams in the country all year. But an early-season swoon during which Team Alford (the Bruins are coached by Steve Alford, and his son Bryce Alford starts at point guard) lost five consecutive games by an average of 27 points per loss. After somehow squeaking into the field, the Bruins have handled SMU and UAB with relative ease and actually match up fairly well with Sweet 16 foe Gonzaga. March is crazy.
9. Michigan State and Tom Izzo are money in March.
Since 1998, the Spartans have been to the tourney every year. In those 18 consecutive trips, Michigan State has only not reached at least the Sweet 16 five times. Izzo’s Final Four appearances during that same time frame: six.
10. This is an old-school Duke team.
Before this year, two of the past three Duke teams bowed out of the tournament during their first game. However, the Blue Devils have not had this much talent since they won the national title in 2010. Good luck guarding Jahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow, Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones.
11. North Carolina is not actually doomed.
Anyone with friends who are Tar Heel fans has heard some form of the “Roy (Williams) has lost it/we are not getting big recruits anymore” spiel. It turns out the sky is not really falling. Wisconsin should be very afraid of UNC.
12. Louisville still has Rick Pitino.
Among active coaches, only Mike Krzyzewski has been to more Final Fours than Pitino. Also, the Cardinals have not been eliminated before the Elite Eight since 2011. Pitino’s teams always seem to peak at the right times, and this year’s team seems to be no exception.
13. Wisconsin is vulnerable.
There will be a one-seed that will go down in the Sweet 16, and it will be Wisconsin. North Carolina has more length and athleticism than the Badgers have faced all year. Frank Kaminsky’s college career will end at the hands — or um, heels — of the Tar Heels.
14. This Gonzaga might be the best Gonzaga.
The Zags have had some very good teams over the past decade and a half, but none have been as well rounded and all-around talented as this year’s. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer is the star, but Kevin Pangos, Przemek Karnowski, Domatas Sabonis, Byron Wesley and Gary Bell, Jr. all fill their roles perfectly. This might be the year they finally make it to the Final Four.
15. If Notre Dame gets lucky …
The Irish are supposed to be lucky or something, right? If there is any team that can get hot from beyond the arc and beat anybody (yes, including Kentucky), it is Notre Dame. No team left in the tournament launched as many threes during the season as the Fighting Irish. Not to mention, four players in their rotation shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
16. Oklahoma proves that the Big 12 lives.
The rest of the top Big 12 teams fizzled out more quickly than Antoine Walker’s bank account. But there is one who survives yet. Michigan State is a notch above the Sooners’ previous two opponents Dayton and Albany, so the Sweet 16 could be the end of the road for Oklahoma and the Big 12.