If it wasn’t for the No. 5 Auburn Tigers and No. 12 Oregon Ducks, the entire Sweet 16 field would be chalk. The top three seeds in each region have advanced to the regional semifinals. A pair of No. 4 seeds have joined them and the little upstarts from the SEC and PAC-12 moved on due to stellar play.
In all, seven conferences are represented in the Sweet 16. The ACC leads the way with five teams. The SEC is bringing four teams to the Sweet 16 party, while the Big Ten had three teams advance to the second weekend. The WCC, Big 12, PAC-12 and AAC each have one team in the Sweet 16 to complete the field.
Furthermore, 14 of the 16 teams have been ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll this season. In fact, each team has been ranked as high as No. 13 during the season. Therefore, this is one of most accomplished Sweet 16’s in years. Ten teams have either won/shared the regular season conference title or won the conference tournament title to earn the automatic bid. In other words, this should be eight quality Sweet 16 matchups starting on Thursday.
There are Five ACC teams in the Sweet 16. The SEC has four teams. The Big Ten comes to the Sweet 16 with three teams. Meanwhile the WCC, AAC, PAC-12 and Big 12 each have a team in the Sweet 16.
- Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-3): West Region (1): vs Florida State Seminoles
1st Round – Win vs. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson – 87-49
2nd Round – Win vs. 9 Baylor – 83-71
Why: They are only No. 1 seed that didn’t struggle in the first round. They also have a dominating front court that kept Baylor at a distance all game long in the round of 32. They are the highest scoring team in the Sweet 16.
- Texas Tech Red Raiders (28-6): West Region (3): vs. Michigan Wolverines
1st Round – Win vs. 14 Northern Kentucky – 72-57
2nd Round – Win vs. Buffalo – 78-58
Why: It’s been blowout city for the Red Raiders. They are holding teams to 57.5 points per game. That’s hard to do when the second opponent was Buffalo. So far, everything is working in the tournament.
- North Carolina Tar Heels (29-6) Midwest Region (1): vs. Auburn Tigers
1st Round – Win vs. Iona – 88-73
2nd Round – Win vs. Washington – 81-59
Why: Since the first half ended against Iona, the Tar Heels have been pushing the ball at an elite level. They would be higher, but there have been a couple lulls in the first two rounds.
- Michigan State Spartans (30-6) East Region (2): vs. LSU Tigers
1st Round – Win vs. Bradley 76-65
2nd Round – Win vs. Minnesota 70-50
Why: They struggled in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, they ended the game on a run then punished Minnesota in the second round. They’ll need another great defensive effort to advance to the Sweet 16
- Duke Blue Devils (31-5) East Region (1): vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
1st Round – Win vs. North Dakota State 85-62
2nd Round – Win vs. UCF 77-76
Why: If the tip goes through the hoop, the Blue Devils wouldn’t even be mentioned for the Sweet 16. However, they played a far better game than people are giving them credit for. UCF is way taller than anyone things along the front line.
- Michigan Wolverines (30-6) West Region (2): vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
1st Round – Win vs. Montana 74-55
2nd Round – Win vs. Florida 64-49
Why: The Wolverines have displayed brilliant defensive efforts in the first two rounds. They are holding opponents to 52 points per game. Might have the toughest battle in the Sweet 16.
- Houston Cougars (33-3) Midwest Region (3): vs. Kentucky Wildcats
1st Round – Win vs. Georgia State 84-55
2nd Round – Win vs. Ohio State 74-59
Why: So far, the Cougars have not been playing around with their opponents. They have won both games by an average of 22 points per game. More importantly, the defense is holding teams to 57 points per game.
- Florida State Seminoles (29-7) West Region (4): vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs
1st Round – Win vs. Vermont 76-69
2nd Round – Win vs. Murray State 90-62
WHY: After a close contest with Vermont, the Seminoles destroyed Ja Morant and Murray State. They’ve been playing consistent basketball for the last two months. Nothing changed in the tournament.
- Virginia Cavaliers (31-3) South Region (1): vs. Oregon Ducks
1st Round – Win vs. Gardner-Webb 71-56
2nd Round – Win vs. Oklahoma 63-51
Why: Virginia looked much better in the second game than in the first one. They have two double digit victories, but the games have not been impressive yet. They’ll need to be highly impressive to advance.
- Purdue Boilermakers (25-9) South Region (3): vs. Tennessee Volunteers
1st Round – Win vs. ODU 61-48
2nd Round – Win vs. Villanova 87-61
Why: Purdue won both games by double digits. They defeated the defending champions by 26 points. Can the Boilermakers continue their hot shooting in the Sweet 16?
- Auburn Tigers (28-9) Midwest Region (5): vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
1st Round – Win vs. New Mexico State 78-77
2nd Round – Win vs. Kansas 89-75
Why: The Tigers were lucky to escape the first round. They played like the best team in the country in the first half of round 2. Now, they are facing a team that should be able to match their speed.
- Oregon Ducks (25-12) South Region (12): vs. Virginia Cavaliers
1st Round – Win vs. Wisconsin 72-54
2nd Round – Win vs. UC-Irvine 73-54
Why: The Ducks are beating teams by an average of 18.5 points in the NCAA Tournament. They are so consistent on both sides of the ball. As you can see, the defense is limiting opponents to 54 points per game.
- Kentucky Wildcats (29-6) Midwest Region (2): vs. Houston Cougars
1st Round – Win vs. Abilene Christian 79-44
2nd Round – Win vs. Wofford 62-56
Why: If P.J. Washington was in uniform, the Wildcats might be just a tad bit higher. They played incredible defense so far. However, they needed a historically bad shooting night by an all-time great to finish off Wofford in the second round.
- Virginia Tech Hokies (26-8) East Region (4): vs. Duke Blue Devils
1st Round – Win vs. Saint Louis 66-52
2nd Round – Win vs. Liberty 67-58
Why: Defensively, the Hokies are holding opponents to 55 points in the NCAA Tournament. They haven’t scored on a prolific level yet, but hot shooting might be appearing.
- 2. Tennessee Volunteers (31-5) South Region (2): vs. Purdue Boilermakers
1st Round – Win vs. Colgate 77-70
2nd Round – Win vs. Iowa 83-77 OT
Why: So far, Tennessee has had two collapses in the second half of their NCAA Tournament games. They’ve found a way to win but needed overtime in Game 2. The Volunteers didn’t face Colgate’s best player due to pink eye.
- LSU Tigers (28-6) East Region (3): vs. Michigan State Spartans
1st Round – Win vs. Yale 79-74
2nd Round – Win vs. Maryland 69-67
Why: During first halves, the Tigers have looked like the best team in the tournament. They haven’t performed at the same level in the second half. Needed a game-winner to knock out Maryland with one second left.