Okay. Let’s take a much-needed deep breath. The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is over and we have another small school from New Jersey to adore for an unforgettable memory. It also might be time to include the 2-15 matchup as another automatic upset after Princeton became the third 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16 in the last three years.
The Tigers might check in at 16th on these rankings, but when you’re still playing your season after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as a 15 seed, there isn’t anything to complain about. After everything that went down on this historic first weekend, read on and see how we rank the final 16 teams of the 2023 college basketball season.
1. Alabama (31-5)
Nobody looked as dominant as Alabama over the first four days of the NCAA Tournament as they dismantled both of their opponents to reach their second Sweet 16 in the last three years. As many top seeds struggled, the Tide rolled to a pair of wins over Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Maryland to emerge as the clear favorites to bring home the first national championship in program history.
2. Houston (33-3)
The Cougars might get to host the Final Four in two weeks, but it didn’t come without a price. In what was essentially a road game against Auburn in the Round of 32, Kelvin Sampson’s group overcame a 10-point halftime deficit by holding the Tigers to just four made field goals in the second half. They’ll need all of that defensive energy and more against a prolific Miami offense in one of the premier matchups of the Sweet 16.
3. Connecticut (27-8)
The Huskies are the best team in the country when they are at their best, and they showed that in the second half against Saint Mary’s on Sunday. They stormed through the first weekend without Jordan Hawkins scoring in the first half of either game and if he can get it rolling next week, UConn will be making the trip to Houston with a legitimate chance to cut down the nets for the first time under Dan Hurley.
4. Texas (28-8)
The Longhorns are one of two teams left standing in the nation’s top conference and they did it behind a sensational performance from Dylan Disu in the Round of 32 win over Penn State. After winning the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City last week, Rodney Terry and the Longhorns are heading back to the T-Mobile Center trying to cut down the nets in the arena for the second time in 15 days.
5. Creighton (23-12)
That dominating win over Baylor? That was everything we knew the Blue Jays could be when this group assembled in the offseason following a terrific performance in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Alabama will be in serious trouble if these teams meet up in the Elite Eight with the Blue Jays hitting their stride at the perfect time.
6. Gonzaga (30-5)
When the Zags were on the ropes last season in the Round of 32, they turned to Drew Timme. Facing the same situation against TCU, Timme delivered once again. Gonzaga will head to their eighth straight Sweet 16 with familiar foes standing in the way of another trip to the Final Four under Mark Few.
7. Miami (27-7)
The Canes know they can’t guard your team for 40 minutes, but the only thing they know more than that is that there’s no chance you can guard them either. That confidence will be put to the test against the most aggressive defense in the country and it’s anyone’s guess who will prevail.
8. Arkansas (22-13)
How Arkansas lost 13 games this season will always be a mystery to me. The Razorbacks have the most NBA talent in college basketball and it was on full display in an upset win over No. 1 Kansas. Eric Musselman is earning an Izzo-esque reputation as one more win will send him to his fourth Elite Eight in his last five seasons as a head coach despite never holding a top-two seed in those years.
9. UCLA (31-5)
UCLA continues to be decimated by injuries, but Mick Cronin has his group in the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. A third NCAA Tournament bout with the Zags is easily the best matchup of the next round and the matchup between All-Americans Jaime Jaquez and Drew Timme could be the deciding factor in who wins the grudge match in Las Vegas.
10. Xavier (27-9)
Xavier went from a double-digit deficit to a 14-seed and a fight between two of their star players in a huddle to the Sweet 16 in an eventful, to say the least, weekend for Musketeers fans. Souley Boum and Adam Kunkel clearly worked things out as they put on an offensive clinic to propel the Musketeers into the second weekend for the first time in six years.
11. Tennessee (25-10)
The loss of Zakai Zeigler was thought to be the killer blow to Tennessee’s season, but the Vols proved that it is anything but over. They used the additional length of their lineup to their advantage with a suffocating defensive effort against one of the hottest teams in the country, holding the Blue Devils to 52 points in the Round of 32. That defense can take them all the way to the Final Four, especially after the top two seeds went down in their region.
12. Michigan State (21-12)
Shaka Smart’s March struggles continued while Tom Izzo proved once again that he is the king of March. For the 16th time in his NCAA Tournament career, Izzo won as the lower seed, which is more than any other coach in college basketball history. The Spartans could be the favorites to advance to the Final Four in a chaotic East region because of it.
13. Kansas State (25-9)
In what could’ve easily been the best game of the second round, Kansas State outlasted Kentucky in a game they weren’t even favored to win despite their higher seed. Some clutch shots in crunch time proved to be the difference, but the Wildcats will need to make more shots outside of the final minutes to have a chance against Mr. March himself and the Michigan State Spartans.
14. San Diego State (29-6)
San Diego State has conceded no more than 61 points in a game this postseason, but they have yet to face a challenge quite like Brandon Miller and the top-ranked Tide. Attempting to slow down Alabama is an immense challenge, but the Aztecs have done it all season long and have much more of a chance than people are giving them in a terrific second-weekend showdown.
15. FAU (33-3)
Despite their 31-3 record heading into the Big Dance, FAU was hardly considered a Sweet 16 contender heading into the weekend. Many considered Memphis the true threat to Purdue, but neither found their way to the Round of 32 as the Owls punched their ticket to the first Sweet 16 in program history and they thoroughly deserve it.
16. Princeton (23-8)
The Tigers became the third 15-seed in the past three seasons to reach the second weekend and they did it despite a horrific shooting performance in their opening day upset of the Arizona Wildcats. Knocking off Creighton to reach the regional final will be difficult, but if the Peacocks could do it, why not Princeton?
Players of the Week:
Drew Timme, Gonzaga Bulldogs
Another year, another Sweet 16 for Drew Timme and Gonzaga. It’s been nine years since the Zags missed out on the second weekend, but they’d be enduring a two-year drought if it wasn’t for the 6-10 center. Timme took over the contest against TCU to the tune of 28 points, including a step back 3-pointer to get the crowd going in the second half.
Olivier Nkamhoua, Tennessee Volunteers
There wasn’t a whole lot of offense in the Duke-Tennessee game on Saturday, but Nkamhoua was one of the few who did his part in the contest. In what was easily the best offensive performance of his career, Nkamhoua single-handedly opened up an insurmountable lead for the Volunteers with an array of mid-range and 3-point jumpers that the Blue Devils had no response to.
Dylan Disu, Texas Longhorns
Dylan Disu is a player who isn’t nearly talked about enough despite his incredible emergence down the stretch for the Longhorns. The wiry 6-9 forward is averaging 16 points over the last eight games, which includes a season-high 28 points in the biggest game of his career on Saturday night.
Markquis Nowell, Kansas State Wildcats
For a few minutes in Kansas State’s win over Kentucky, Markquis Nowell turned into prime Magic Johnson with his unbelievable showtime highlights. He picked apart Montana State’s defense with 14 assists two nights before and will likely haunt Kentucky fans for weeks after a 27-point, 9-assist display to eliminate the Wildcats.
Ryan Nembhard, Creighton Blue Jays
We talked all season long about the guards of Baylor being the best in the country, but the best guard on the floor Sunday played for Creighton and his name was Ryan Nembhard. An injury kept him out of March Madness last year, but nothing can slow him down now after a 30-point outburst in the upset over Baylor. Nembhard could not be stopped at any level of the floor and his breakout performance could be enough to reinsert him into draft conversations this summer.
Play of the Week:
You can’t have historic upsets without historic performances and that performance was defined by a single play that sealed the deal in Fairleigh Dickinson’s win over No. 1 Purdue. Sean Moore wasn’t known for his 3-point jumper until he buried one over the outstretched hand of Goliath in this modern version of the biblical tale. This clutch shot from Moore will be remembered forever and is the clear choice for this week’s play of the week.