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Elite Eight teams, ranked their chances of winning the NCAA tournament

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These are the last remaining teams in the NCAA tournament, ranked.

This Sweet 16 was billed as one of the greatest ever after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament featured few upsets and no true Cinderella. The action on the court lived up to the hype. After a thrilling two days of basketball, there are eight teams left standing in March Madness.

These are the Elite Eight teams, ranked by their chances of winning it all in Minneapolis on the second Monday of April.

8. Purdue

The Boilermakers are in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2000 thanks to a heart-stopping Sweet 16 win that saw Matt Painter’s team blow an 18-point lead against Tennessee only to finish off the Vols in overtime. Purdue won this game despite shooting under 50 percent on free throws (16-of-33) while allowing Tennessee to have one of its best offensive games of the year at 1.24 points per possession. So how did the Boilermakers still win? It starts with an incredible shooting performance from senior guard Ryan Cline, who canned seven three-pointers on his way to 27 points.

The Boilermakers are one of the worst defensive teams left in the field based on KenPom’s metrics, so they’re going to need to stay hot with their perimeter shooting to have a chance against Virginia. The good news is that most of this team is just on fire right now, led by star guard Carsen Edwards, who has dropped 25 or more points in four straight tournament games for the first time since some dude named Steph Curry did it for Davidson.

7. Michigan State

The Spartans just played one of their most impressive games of the season with a wire-to-wire victory over LSU in the Sweet 16. Michigan State controlled the game throughout, riding some hot shooting from behind the three-point line (13-of-32 on the night) and a pair of breakout performances by freshmen forwards. Aaron Henry finished with 20 points a week after finding himself at the center of a national debate for being screamed at by head coach Tom Izzo. Fellow freshman Gabe Brown came off the bench and scored 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range.

Every time LSU went on a run, the Spartans answered right back. Their reward for such a great Sweet 16 performance? A date with Duke in the Elite Eight.

6. Texas Tech

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The Red Raiders have won their three tournament games by an astounding 54 points, and are coming off their most impressive win of the season by dismantling Michigan in the Sweet 16. This is the No. 1 defense in America, per KenPom, a switch-heavy unit that denies you the middle of the floor and has a gifted shot blocker in Tariq Owens patrolling the backline. Offensively, Texas Tech is the Jarrett Culver show, the burgeoning sophomore wing who has played his way into a top-10 NBA draft pick with heady and dependable two-way play. Culver’s supporting cast won’t blow you away, but it’s a veteran group that doesn’t make mental errors and is playing with a lot of confidence right now:

The matchup with Gonzaga pits the No. 1 offense in the country vs. the No. 1 defense in the country. What’s that old saying about which side of the ball wins championships? Consider this Elite Eight matchup the ultimate test of that time-tested axiom.

5. Auburn

The Tigers beat North Carolina at its own game to shock the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16 and break into the Elite Eight for the first time in 33 years. Auburn didn’t try to slow the pace against a famously up-tempo UNC team. Instead, the Tigers ran North Carolina off the floor, thriving in transition while hitting an incredible 17-of-37 attempts from three-point range.

Auburn’s win comes at a heavy price: star forward Chuma Okeke suffered a devastating knee injury midway through the performance of his life. How Auburn responds physically and emotionally after such an ugly injury will be key when facing Kentucky. The Tigers went 0-2 against UK this season, but this feels like a different team now. Bruce Pearl has his squad riding an 11-game winning streak and playing its best ball of the season. After drumming North Carolina, the Tigers are a real threat to reach the Final Four.

4. Kentucky

Kentucky got all it could handle from Houston, but advanced after an intense final two minutes that saw the Wildcats make clutch plays on both ends of the court. John Calipari’s team wouldn’t be advancing without the play of star forward P.J. Washington, who made his return from injury as a game-time decision after missing the previous two NCAA tournament games with a sprained foot. Washington went for 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and made a game-saving block. On the other end, freshman Tyler Herro hit a three-pointer to give the ‘Cats the go-ahead bucket.

Herro finished with a game-high 19 points and made the biggest basket of the night. Washington’s health remains the main storyline with Kentucky. If he can play like this again on Sunday, Kentucky could be dancing its way into the Final Four.

3. Duke

Another game, another opponent missing a point-blank look at the rim at the buzzer to allow Duke to advance in the NCAA tournament. A week after UCF had the Blue Devils on the ropes before losing in the closing seconds, Virginia Tech missed an alley-oop layup that would have sent the game to overtime.

Duke might be the luckiest team in March Madness, but they’re still a viable threat to win it all. Zion Williamson was incredible again, this time finishing with 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting. The biggest story might have been the hot shooting of teammate Tre Jones, who hit five three-pointers after never making more than two in one game all season. R.J. Barrett was also phenomenal, adding 18 points and 11 assists in the win. Duke will continue to be a favorite throughout this tournament because Williamson is by far the best player in the country, but the Blue Devils have looked vulnerable enough to inspire doubt. Coach K’s team will have to be at the top of its game to defeat Michigan State and reach the Final Four.

2. Virginia

It hasn’t exactly been pretty, but credit the ‘Hoos for surviving to the doorstep of the Final Four one year after a March Madness disaster. This Virginia team was supposed to be different because it could actually score (still ranked No. 3 in offensive efficiency), but it has been the defense that has carried them through three tournament wins. No team has scored better than 0.91 points per possession against the Cavaliers in this three-game stretch.

The offense has gone a bit cold. Virginia has made only 23-of-80 (or 28.7 percent) of their three-point attempts in the tournament. At some point, UVA is going to need to hit outside shots. Kyle Guy — who is 3-for-26 from deep during this three games stretch — would be a prime candidate to break out with teammate Ty Jerome likely drawing defensive duties on Boilermakers star Carsen Edwards.

1. Gonzaga

At what point does America stop doubting Gonzaga? The ‘Zags are bound for the Elite Eight for the third time in five years and look to have the most complete team in the country. Mark Few’s team has a certified superstar in Brandon Clarke, who just became the first player in tournament history with 15 or more points and five or more blocks in back-to-back NCAA tournament games. Clarke has been a stud all season, but his incredible athleticism and relentless two-way domination should cement his status as the lottery pick by the time this tournament is over.

Clarke is far from one-man show. Rui Hachimura bounced back from a rough game against Baylor to lead the ‘Zags in scoring against Florida State in the Sweet 16. The perimeter players continue to hit threes, whether its Zach Norvell (who canned four against FSU), Corey Kispert, or Josh Perkins. The ‘Zags also have a legitimate x-factor in Killian Tillie, the junior forward who was billed as the team’s best player in the preseason before missing most of this year with injury. Tillie is back in the lineup and gives Gonzaga a high-IQ presence in the front court who can shoot threes, rebound, and defend.

Right now, Gonzaga looks like the best team in the country, but they still have their work cut out for them. Texas Tech’s defense is ferocious, and Duke likely awaits in the Final Four. That’s just to getto the title game. If the ‘Zags win it all this year, it will be hard to ever question them again.


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march madness

March Madness 2019: Bracket updates and highlights from Sweet 16 Friday

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The round of 16 has come and gone, and with it, the part of the NCAA tournament where we’re blessed with multiple games happening at the same time. But weep not, fellow hoop heads. The next two days and the three games that will follow those are all shaping up to be pretty stellar.

Before we get to that, let’s relive all of the best and worst from what wound up being a highly eventful Friday night of Sweet 16 play.

Best Game

(1) Duke 75, (4) Virginia Tech 73 (East)

The march to the Elite Eight was supposed to be the easy part for Duke. Instead, the Blue Devils have struggled for a half with a 16-seed, and the been pushed to the final shot by both Central Florida and Virginia Tech.

The Hokies, who won the regular season meeting between these two in late February, executed Buzz Williams’ game plan to near perfection. They out-toughed Duke in the paint, they rode the offensive brilliance of Kerry Blackshear and Justin Robinson, and they forced the Blue Devils into shooting 6-of-20 from three (five of those coming from one surprising source, but more on that later).

In the end, Virginia Tech came up inches short of getting five extra minutes to take down the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

Also, Zion Williamson did a bunch of unreal stuff that furthered my suspicion that he might be an alien, but you already knew that. The unreal stuff, not the alien stuff. Maybe both.

Team That Won It Best

Auburn

At some point in the last three weeks, Auburn transitioned out of nowhere from underachieving team destined for a first weekend exit, to the f—ing Playoff Warriors. The common thought heading into this weekend was that the Tigers would have to come back to earth at some point. Some point wasn’t Friday night.

Auburn rained 17 three-pointers on North Carolina and shot 54.5 percent from the field in a 97-80 thrashing of the top-seeded Tar Heels. The 17-point margin of victory was the largest ever by an SEC team over a No. 1 seed.

Just 18 months ago, Auburn was picked to finish ninth in the SEC and appeared to be on the verge of firing Bruce Pearl in the middle of the season. Now the Tigers are in the Elite Eight for just the second time in program history, and one win away from their first trip to the Final Four.

One piece of history that bodes well for Auburn: A regional final pitting a 2-seed against a 5-seed (which will be the case when the Tigers play Kentucky on Sunday) has only happened three times. The 5-seed has won all three of those games (Mississippi State over Cincinnati in 1996, Michigan State over Kentucky in 2005, and Butler over Kansas State in 2010).

A second piece of history that is less encouraging: Every seed line from 1-8 has produced at least one national champion, except for the 5-seed line. No. 5 seeds have made it to the national title game three times, but have never been able to be the last team standing.

Biggest Disappointment

North Carolina

I’d love to have the biggest disappointment come from a game other than the one we just discussed, but the Tar Heels being the first No. 1 seed to fall and doing so in an extremely graceless fashion make that impossible.

This was UNC’s most lopsided loss in the NCAA tournament since … well, since they lost to Texas A&M by 21 last season. So not that long ago. But it was still bad. Really bad.


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march madness

16 things you should know about the 2019 NCAA tournament Sweet 16

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The Sweet 16 returns on Thursday and Friday, and the 2019 installment should be fantastic.

The basketball-less three days between the end of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and the start of the Sweet 16 are always among the most painful on the sports calendar. Thankfully, we’re rapidly approaching the return of the madness and a Sweet 16 that might be the strongest in the history of the Big Dance.

Here are 16 things you need to know before we get back to basketball on Thursday night.

1. This is just the second time in the history of the tournament that all 12 top three seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16. The only other year was 2009, and the seeding of the teams that advanced to the second weekend that year (1, 2, 3, 4 — 1, 2, 3, 4 — 1, 2, 3, 5 — 1, 2, 3, 12) is exactly the same as it is this year.

2. Four programs — Gonzaga, Kentucky, Purdue and Michigan — are playing in the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. The Zags are playing in their fifth-straight Sweet 16, the longest active streak in the country.

3. Kentucky is making its 44th all-time appearance in the Sweet 16, the most of any program in college basketball history. The No. 2 team on that list, North Carolina, is also still playing. The Tar Heels are in the Sweet 16 for the 34th time.

4. In each of the last six NCAA tournaments, at least one team seeded seventh or worse has won a regional title and moved on to the Final Four.

2018 — No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

2017 — No. 7 South Carolina

2016 — No. 10 Syracuse

2015 — No. 7 Michigan State

2014 — No. 7 Connecticut and No. 8 Kentucky

2013 — No. 9 Wichita State

The only team with a chance to keep that streak alive this weekend is 12th-seeded Oregon.

5. No. 12 seeds are 0-19 all-time in the NCAA tournament against No. 1 seeds. Oregon will look to break that streak Thursday night against top-seeded Virginia.

6. There is no team in this year’s Sweet 16 that is playing in the round for the first time. Virginia Tech (1967) and Houston (1984) are the teams breaking the longest Sweet 16 droughts.

7. Gonzaga vs. Florida State is a rematch from last year’s NCAA tournament that took place in the same round and the same region (West). Despite being a 6.5-point underdog, the ninth-seeded Seminoles upset the fourth-seeded Bulldogs in that game, 75-60.

8. Every seed line from 1-8 has produced at least one national champion besides the 5-seed line. No. 5 seeds have made it to the Final Four six times, the national title game three times, but have never been able to be the last team standing. Auburn is the only team with a chance to break that lifelong streak of futility this year.

9. Nine of the 16 coaches left have been to at least one Final Four. Four — Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Tom Izzo and Roy Williams — have won national championships.

10. Duke is looking to become just the fourth No. 1 overall seed to cut down the nets since the NCAA tournament selection committee began designating a No. 1 overall seed in 2004. Florida (2007), Kentucky (2012) and Louisville (2013) are the only previous top dogs to get the job done.

11. Four teams in this year’s Sweet 16 — Auburn, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech and Tennessee — are searching for their first ever trip to a Final Four. All four have previously made at least one appearance in the Elite Eight.

12. This is the 12th straight year that the Big Ten has sent multiple teams to the Sweet 16. Still, the conference is looking for its first national championship since Tom Izzo and Michigan State cut down the nets in 2000. Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue are all looking to end the streak of futility that is nearing the two decade mark.

13. Villanova’s second-round loss to Purdue guaranteed not only that this will be the 13th straight year without a back-to-back national champion, but the 13th straight year that the reigning national champ has failed to make it back to the Final Four.

Since Florida won the second of consecutive championships in 2007, here’s how the reigning champ has fared in the NCAA tournament:

2008: Florida – Missed tournament
2009: Kansas – Sweet 16
2010: North Carolina – Missed tournament
2011: Duke – Sweet 16
2012: Connecticut: – First round
2013: Kentucky – Missed tournament
2014: Louisville – Sweet 16
2015: Connecticut – Missed tournament
2016: Duke – Sweet 16
2017: Villanova – Second round
2018: North Carolina – Second round
2019: Villanova — Second round

14. Four states — North Carolina, Texas, Michigan and Virginia — have two teams still alive in the Sweet 16, but no teams from the same state could meet any earlier than the Final Four.

15. The ACC has five teams still alive in the tournament’s second weekend, tied for the second most in history. The ACC also owns the record for the most Sweet 16 teams from the same conference in the same year, a record it set with six back in 2016.

16. No. 1 seeds are 37-15 all-time in Sweet 16 games against No. 4 seeds, and haven’t lost in that situation since Michigan State’s upset of Virginia back in 2014. There are two 1 vs. 4 matchups (Duke-Virginia Tech and Gonzaga-Florida State) in this year’s Sweet 16.

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