And then there were sixteen. After just four days, the field has been trimmed to a quarter of its original size. But, that’s college basketball, and that’s the NCAA Tournament. No sporting event captures the hearts of fans more so than March Madness, where the drama of single-elimination meets the spectacle of Cinderella. There are many faces that we expected to see around in the second weekend; Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky. But, as with every year, there are some who were knocked out by the underdog (Villanova, Duke). Now, as if it could get any better, the real fun begins. The second weekend separates the hot teams from the true contenders, and reveals the teams actually worthy of vying for a championship.
With all this in mind, this ranking comes from the votes of our writers, and takes into consideration both regular season performance, and, more importantly, performance over the first weekend. This special edition poll ranks the remaining sixteen teams one through sixteen, and offers some insight on who the favorites are for reaching Phoenix.
- Kansas (30-4, Seed: 1) UC-Davis 100-62, Def. Michigan State 90-70. With Villanova eliminated, Kansas is the highest rated team left in the bracket, and they’ve played like it. Frank Mason is the frontrunner for player of the year, and at this point, the Jayhawks have to be considered the frontrunner for the national championship. Next up is the towering front line of Purdue, although KU will have the home court advantage with the regional taking place in Kansas City.
- North Carolina (29-7, Seed: 1) Texas Southern 103-64, Def. Arkansas 72-65. The Tar Heels used their skill and depth to dominate Texas Southern of the SWAC, and were expected to do the same against the Razorbacks. However, without a couple of questionable decisions, it’s possible UNC could have lost to upstart Arkansas. Still, the number three top seed Tar Heels are a threat to reach Phoenix and cut down the nets. Butler, who owns wins over Arizona and Villanova, will be their next challenge from the South Regional in Memphis.
- Gonzaga (34-1, Seed: 1) Def. South Dakota State 66-46, Def. Northwestern 79-73. Here’s the last remaining one seed, and it’s the top team from the west. Gonzaga looked sluggish early against the Jackrabbits, but sluggish late against Northwestern. Still, they’ve managed to win both games to book their ticket to San Jose. If the Zags can put together two complete halves, there’s not a team in their region that can keep them from the Final Four. West Virginia presents a unique challenge in the next contest.
- UCLA (31-4, Seed: 3) Def. Kent State 97-80, Def. Cincinnati 79-67. Cincy was supposed to present a major challenge to the third-seeded Bruins. However, UCLA poured in 49 second half points against Cincy, building on their offensive performance against Kent State. Lonzo Ball had 18 against Cincy, and TJ Leaf had 23 in the first round win. UCLA now meets Kentucky in what will be a home crowd for the Wildcats. But, UCLA beat Kentucky in Rupp. They’re more than capable of winning the game in Memphis.
- Arizona (32-4, Seed: 2) Def. North Dakota 100-82, Def. St. Mary’s 69-60. Sean Miller’s squad got almost all they could handle from the Gaels, but still pulled away late to punch their ticket to San Jose. Their Sweet Sixteen opponents will be the last double-digit seed remaining, Xavier. Winning that creates the chance for a rematch with the Gonzaga Bulldogs for a spot in Phoenix.
- Oregon (31-5, Seed: 3) Def. Iona 93-77, Def. Rhode Island 75-72. Tyler Dorsey played hero ball against URI to ensure the Ducks would not be upset by the A-10 Champs. The game was quite different from their easy victory over Iona. Oregon will meet Michigan in Kansas City, in a game which they will be favored in. Still, without Chris Boucher, questions about Oregon will linger right up until they’re in Phoenix.
- Kentucky (31-5, Seed: 2) Def. Northern Kentucky 79-70, Def. Wichita State 65-62. With a couple of late defensive gems, the Wildcats were able to hang on and beat the Shockers, thereby preventing one of the trendiest upset picks from becoming reality. Their win over the Norse was also not as close as the score would indicate. Going into Memphis, the Wildcats have a great chance of making it to the third weekend. However, they’ve got to go through a pair of familiar faces: UCLA, who beat them in Lexington, and, if seeds hold, North Carolina, who will be hungry for revenge and a ticket to Phoenix.
- Florida (26-8, Seed: 4) Def. East Tennessee State 80-65, Def. Virginia 65-39. Perhaps the most impressive defensive performance of the tournament, the Gators smacked Virginia and held them to under 40 points. This came on the heels of a solid first round win. The Gators are firing on all cylinders, and could be primed to make a run through Madison Square Garden. They’ve got streaking Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen.
- Michigan (26-11, Seed: 7) Def. Oklahoma State 92-91, Def. Louisville 73-69. The train keeps rolling for the Wolverines. They’ve followed their Big Ten tourney win with a pair of W’s in the opening weekend, including one over top ten team Louisville. Michigan, behind Derrick Walton, is scorching hot, and will look to keep the momentum going when they show up Thursday in Kansas City. Their opponent will be Oregon, with Kansas and Purdue on the other side of the bracket.
- West Virginia (28-8, Seed: 4) Def. Bucknell 86-80, Def. Notre Dame 83-71. West Virginia’s used their defense to post a pair of victories, with their wire-to-wire performance against ACC squad Notre Dame being the more impressive. Bob Huggins does not have a star, but he’s got a strong group of players that fit together perfectly, including Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian, and Daxter Miles. In a de facto road game against Gonzaga, contributions will be needed from the entire roster.
- Baylor (27-7, Seed: 3) Def. New Mexico State 93-73, Def. USC 82-78. Despite being down at the half, Baylor decimated the Aggies in the second period to get the blowout win. They then followed it up with a hotly contested game against the Trojans, where a Johnathan Motley double-double pushed Baylor over the edge. The now travel to Manhattan (New York, not Kansas) for the second slate of games, with a trip to Phoenix very much in play for the Bears. Their first opponent will be South Carolina on Friday night.
- Wisconsin (27-9, Seed: 8) Def. Virginia Tech 84-74, Def. Villanova 65-62. The win of the tournament! There’s no putting into words how massive the Badgers’ victory over Villanova was; Bronson Koenig battled foul trouble, but still hit the crucial triple late in the game. Now, he and his experienced teammates travel to the Mecca; Madison Square Garden! They’ll meet a Florida unit that, like the Badgers, is firing on all cylinders.
- Purdue (27-7, Seed: 4) Def. Vermont 80-70, Def. Iowa State 80-76. They nearly coughed up a double-digit lead in the second half, but Purdue managed to hang on against the Cyclones. That win, combined with their earlier triumph over Vermont, punched a ticket to Kansas City and the second weekend. Purdue’s reward for being one of the final sixteen teams standing? The Kansas Jayhawks.
- Butler (25-8, Seed: 4) Def. Winthrop 76-64, Def. Middle Tennessee 74-65. The Bulldogs have been a bit under the tourney radar, but have put together consecutive quality performances to book their place in the Sweet Sixteen. Up next will be a Friday night dance with one seed North Carolina. Overcoming the frontcourt advantage of the Tar Heels will be a major challenge for the Bulldogs, but with Kelan Martin scoring the ball, anything is possible.
- South Carolina (Seed: 7) Def. Marquette 93-73, Def. Duke 88-81. Meet the darlings of the college basketball world! The Gamecocks slayed the dragon; they scored an inhuman 65 second half points on their way to topping Duke. This was after knocking down a strong Marquette unit that many predicted to beat them. However, South Carolina must now come north, as the regionals are in New York. We’ll see if they’re a legitimate threat for the third weekend, or simply rode a home crowd to a pair of unlikely wins. Baylor will be their opponent in the Sweet Sixteen.
- Xavier (23-13, Seed: 11) Def. Maryland 76-65, Def. Florida State 91-66. While they may be the most unlikely member of the final sixteen, there’s no denying the Musketeers have earned it. They’re one of four teams left that won both of their first weekend games by double digits, earning that distinction with an emphatic thrashing of the Seminoles. Xavier now travels out west, where they will meet the Arizona Wildcats in a game that decides a spot in the Elite Eight.
The action begins Thursday night, and, just a few short days after that, the Final Four will be set. It’s a crazy realization that this season is almost over, and a champion will soon be crowned. But, as always, college basketball saves its best moments for last, and this tournament has been no different. From Xavier’s shocking run to Kansas’s dominance, the first weekend has amplified the energy from championship week. Be sure to check in with CPP through the rest of the tournament and throughout the (unfortunately) fast-approaching offseason!