Arguably the biggest surprise of the tournament thus far was South Carolina’s win over Duke in the second round. Frank Martin’s bunch played impressive defense and got a big effort from the SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell, who scored 24 points, grabbed six boards and tossed out five assists.
Of the teams remaining, South Carolina has the third best KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency. On the flip side, the Gamecocks have the worst adjusted offensive efficiency. With Duke and Villanova out, the East region is wide-open, but a tough Baylor team awaits them with an Elite Eight berth on the line.
Kevin C. CoxGetty Images
Chris Mack should be commended for the terrific job he’s done with a depleted Xavier team. After losing Edmond Sumner, the Musketeers struggled, and heading into the Big East tournament they weren’t even a guarantee to make the NCAA tournament field. Now the Musketeers are set to play Arizona for a spot in the Elite Eight after a double-digit win over Maryland and dominating performance against Florida State.
Can Mack and the Musketeers keep it rolling? If so, they’ll need Trevon Bluiett to continue at this torrid pace. He’s scored 50 points and knocked down eight of his 15 three-point attempts in games against Maryland and Florida State.
Kim KlementUSA TODAY Sports
Chris Holtmann has done one of the best coaching jobs of the season, navigating the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 after losing 65 percent of their scoring from last year. Butler knocked off Winthrop and a dangerous Middle Tennessee State team in the first two rounds. The Bulldogs shot it well in both games, especially from three, where they were a combined 16-for-34. They also took care of the ball and played efficient, effective basketball.
Their toughest test is up next, when they face off against North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Butler has been at its best this season in its biggest games, knocking off Villanova twice, as well as Arizona and Indiana when they were ranked in the top 10. Will Butler rise to the occasion again?
Benny SieuUSA TODAY Sports
The Boilermakers are making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2010. After knocking off Vermont, Purdue held off a good Iowa State team to advance. How have the Boilermakers done it? Matt Painter’s bunch out-rebounded both teams by 10, shot the ball better than 50 percent from the field and have 43 assists in the two games combined.
Purdue is one of the best three-point shooting teams and ranks No. 3 in three-point percentage of the 16 teams remaining. To make the Elite Eight, Purdue will have to knock off Kansas, which played as well as any team during the first weekend of the event.
Benny SieuUSA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin knocked off the first No. 1 seed of the tournament, with a three-point victory over defending champion Villanova. The Badgers battled foul trouble throughout, but Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig made key plays, especially down the stretch.
This is a team full of veterans with a good mixture of shot makers from distance and low-post scorers. When Hayes is aggressive in the paint, rather than fading to the perimeter, this Wisconsin team is better for it. The Badgers will face Florida in the round of 16 with the winner of Baylor/South Carolina waiting in the Elite Eight.
Despite losing one of their most important players (Chris Boucher) just prior to the Big Dance, the Ducks are in the Sweet 16. After a double-digit win over Iona, the Ducks held on and came back late to knock off a tough, scrappy Rhode Island team in the second round. Tyler Dorsey is playing his best ball of the season, scoring 51 points on 18-for-23 shooting in their two tournaments games.
To go with Dorsey, the Ducks are a tough matchup because of how they utilize Dillon Brooks at the four-spot. The Ducks road got easier when Michigan knocked off Louisville, but if they get by the Wolverines, a likely matchup with Kansas awaits.
Kyle TeradaUSA TODAY Sports
The Gators have looked impressive in their first two tournament games, knocking off ETSU by 15 and pummeling Virginia by 26. Florida is statistically one of the best defensive teams remaining, as it has the second best KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency. That was on display against UVa, holding the Cavaliers to a miserable 39 points.
Despite not having John Egbunu in the paint, the Gators have out-rebounded both of their tournament opponents. Next up for the Gators is a hot Wisconsin team, but Mike White’s bunch is in the most up-in-the-air region and a trip to the Final Four isn’t out of question.
Rob CarrGetty Images
Scott Drew has Baylor in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time since 2009-2010. This group did it by beating New Mexico State and battling to a victory over a talented USC team. The Bears shot the ball fairly well in both games and imposed their will on the backboard, especially against USC.
The Bears are an impressive rebounding team and are the second-best offensive rebounding team left in the tournament, trailing only North Carolina. With Villanova and Duke out of the East region, the path is clearing for what would be Drew’s first Final Four, if he’s able to win two games.
Kevin JairajUSA TODAY Sports
After getting by Bucknell, West Virginia had a convincing win over Notre Dame. "Press Virginia" was in full effect, as stifling ball pressure and defense held the Irish to 40 percent shooting from the field and forced 14 turnovers. Jevon Carter was tremendous as well, scoring 24 points and nailing five three-pointers.
The Mountaineers' style of play is difficult to prepare for, which makes them a dangerous team in this type of tournament. Their road, however, isn’t easy. They’ll take on a tough, talented Gonzaga team in the Sweet 16, and if they are able to get by would have Arizona or Xavier waiting for them with a Final Four berth on the line.
Jeffrey T. BarnesAP photo
Is there a hotter team in the country than Michigan? Since the Wolverines had serious plane issues heading into the Big Ten tournament, they’ve been on a roll, knocking off five straight tournament teams in Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and Louisville.
The Wolverines' most impressive win was against Louisville in the second round, as they diced up their defense in the second half. Moritz Wagner was a mismatch nightmare against the Cardinals, pumping in 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting. Michigan now faces a solid Oregon team that is missing its best post defender. Could Wagner be a key factor again?
Michael ConroyAP photo
John Calipari has his team playing its best basketball of the season, as the Wildcats have won 13 straight. Edrice Adebayo and sixth man Dominque Hawkins have been pivotal parts of that. After knocking off Northern Kentucky in the first round, Kentucky took out Wichita State, which certainly gave the Wildcats a run for their money. Kentucky has terrific guards, but the recent play of Adebayo has been key. He has a combined 28 points and 28 rebounds in their two tournament games.
From here the Cats have a tough road, as they have a rematch with the Bruins and then, if they are able to get by them, likely have the Tar Heels waiting on them in the Elite Eight.
Brian SpurlockUSA TODAY Sports
After blasting South Dakota State by 20 in the first round, the Zags toughed out a victory over Northwestern in the second round. The consensus among college basketball fans is this group is overrated because of who they played during the conference season, but this Gonzaga team, in my eyes, is clearly one of the best Mark Few has put together. They have the No. 1 adjusted defensive efficiency and are No. 12 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Przemek Karnowski is one of the best passers in college basketball, and he’s surrounded by a team full of shot makers.
All that said, the Bulldogs have a tough road ahead and it starts with a difficult matchup with West Virginia in the Sweet 16; it will be telling to see how they handle the ball pressure. If they get past the Mountaineers, a likely rematch with Arizona awaits and it could be one of the best games of the tournament.
Kelvin KuoUSA TODAY Sports
Steve Alford has put together a staggering offense -- one of the best in recent memory. The Bruins have a better KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency than each of the last five national champions. They average 90 points a game, shoot nearly 41 percent from three and have an impressive 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. Lonzo Ball is a game changer and scored 33 points and tossed out 12 assists in his two NCAA tournament games.
UCLA knocked off Cincinnati by double digits, and the Bearcats were a team on paper that should have given the Bruins fits. The Bruins now face Kentucky, which they beat back in December. The game has the potential to be the game of the tourney.
Kyle TeradaUSA TODAY Sports
The Wildcats have won 11 of their last 12 games, including their NCAA tournament games against North Dakota and Saint Mary’s. Sean Miller has a well-balanced group and arguably the best shooting team he’s had at Arizona, with four players shooting better than 40 percent from three. The Wildcats also rank No. 4 in three-point percentage of the teams remaining. Lauri Markkanen has been tough for opposing teams to defend, and that hasn’t stopped in the tournament, as he’s scored a combined 36 points in the two wins.
If the event were being re-seeded, I’d bump the Wildcats up to a No. 1 seed. A scrappy Saint Mary’s team tested them, but they held on during the same round that Villanova, Louisville and Duke did not. They don’t necessarily have an easy road, but my prediction is that Sean Miller makes his first Final Four. First things first, though, Arizona’s Sweet 16 matchup is an intriguing one that puts Sean Miller against his former school, an overachieving Xavier team.
Kelvin KuoUSA TODAY Sports
The Tar Heels were put to the test against Arkansas. Moving forward, I think it serves as nothing more than a wake-up call for the group from Chapel Hill.
Offensively, the Tar Heels are gifted, averaging more points than every team left, except for UCLA. They pass the ball well and don’t turn it over (1.51 assist-to-turnover ratio). Their KenPom offensive adjusted efficiency is better than three of the past five national champions and sits at No. 4 on the list of teams remaining. Plus their offensive rebounding percentage is 42.2 percent, which is far superior to the field and significantly better than each of the last five title winners.
North Carolina, the lone ACC representative remaining, has an intriguing matchup with a scrappy Butler team, but it remains my pick to come out of the South region.
Jeremy BrevardUSA TODAY Sports
The Jayhawks have been nothing short of dominant in their first two NCAA tournament games, pounding UC-Davis by 38 and Michigan State by 20. Freshman Josh Jackson has been a big part of that, scoring a combined 40 points (17-for-28).
"Josh Jackson is the guy that makes them go and makes them so dangerous," one Big 12 coach said before the tournament. "He can score at all three levels and can defend all four positions."
Jackson is a mismatch nightmare at the four-spot and it will come into play against Purdue, who plays a big lineup with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas on the floor. Another feather in Kansas’ cap? The Jayhawks have the best three-point percentage left in the tournament, averaging nearly 41 percent from beyond the stripe.