First off, I want to take a moment of silence for everyone’s bracket. I know teams like Texas, Illinois and Ohio State busted mine, and teams like Oral Roberts, Loyola Chicago, Oregon State and Syracuse still hanging around didn’t help the cause either. We’ve had some hits and a lot of misses, but we’re finally at the Sweet 16 which brings us to the final Power 16 rankings of the season.
1. Gonzaga (28-0)
Amongst all the chaos this NCAA Tournament, the overwhelming favorite, Gonzaga has been able to make the Sweet 16 unscathed. There’s really no question that the Zags are the best team at this point and each game further proves the point. Only Creighton and either USC or Oregon stand in the way from a Final Four bid for the Bulldogs.
2. Baylor (24-2)
Baylor has firmly been in the position of the second-best team in the nation, pretty much all season long. As the rounds pass, it seems more and more likely that there will be a wild ride just to end up in a spot we all assumed would happen, a Gonzaga/Baylor championship. These two have been on a crash course for a title for a while and only Villanova, (likely) Arkansas and Houston (maybe) stand in the way of that happening.
3. Michigan (22-4)
Despite being without a key player, Michigan has been able to move on past the likes of Texas Southern and LSU. However, Michigan has a tough task in taking down Florida State before a game with either UCLA or Alabama. Of the remaining No. 1 seeds, the Wolverines probably have the hardest path to a championship, but a team this good is capable of doing so.
4. USC (24-7)
USC is rolling right now. I was high on this team towards the second half of the regular season, but this might be the best basketball the Trojans have played all year. After beating Drake by 16 points, USC destroyed Kansas by 34 points. The next matchup will be against a familiar foe in conference rival Oregon. Unfortunately for the Trojans, they will have to get past Gonzaga as well to make a run at the title.
5. Arkansas (24-6)
The Razorbacks have beaten Colgate and Texas Tech so far and are now greeted with the Cinderella of the tournament, Oral Roberts. Arkansas should get through this game pretty easily since they’ve been playing some solid basketball. This squad is in good shape to meet Baylor in the Elite Eight.
6. Florida State (18-6)
The Seminoles have been high on my watch list for a while now, and seem to be playing well once again. Florida State has won both games by double digits and are looking as dangerous as ever. This team has a tough draw against Michigan coming up, but in their current form, they are more than capable of putting up a good fight.
7. Alabama (26-6)
Alabama has looked good, but have been relatively untested. The Crimson Tide have played a 15 seed, a 10 seed and will now play an 11 seed in the Sweet 16. With arguably the easiest ride to this point of any team, Alabama will continue to see lesser opponents before an eventual matchup against Michigan or Florida State. They look good, but it’s just a matter of how much we can put into those games.
8. Oregon (21-6)
Oregon is in a tough spot in my eyes. I think there was a decent shot that VCU would have won the round of 64 game, but a forfeiture let the Ducks play Iowa in a game that they won quite convincingly. Oregon shot the lights out and performed at a level at which may be unsustainable. The Ducks have seen USC a couple of times this year and could use the familiarity to keep the truck moving.
9. Loyola Chicago (26-4)
Sister Jean is back at it again, praying her team’s way into a miraculous run. Loyola Chicago has now beaten Georgia Tech, and despite the Yellow Jackets being without their best player, it was still impressive nonetheless. But the 13-point win over Illinois has made this team into a legit contender. With maybe the easiest remaining road to the Final Four, this could very well happen again.
10. Syracuse (18-9)
Let’s face facts, a big part of succeeding in the postseason is just getting hot at the right time. Syracuse has done just that. The Orange beat San Diego State and West Virginia and now face Houston, who hasn’t looked too good so far. Also, if Syracuse beats Houston, they will get the winner of Loyola Chicago and Oregon State. Syracuse looks good, and their opponents don’t look too strong either.
11. Villanova (18-6)
Villanova has won games by 10 points and 23 points, but those were against No. 12 and No. 13 seeds. I think there is a rude awakening around the corner with a looming matchup against Baylor. I had the Wildcats on upset alert against Winthrop, and don’t think of the team much higher than I did back then.
12. Houston (26-3)
I’ve been, I guess what you would call a hater of the Cougars this year. Despite Houston still hanging around, I don’t believe in this team one bit. They should have lost to Rutgers in the round of 32, and should lose soon. However, the Cougars will be playing their third straight double-digit seed and could potentially play a fourth straight if Oregon State beats Loyola Chicago.
13. UCLA (20-9)
UCLA beat BYU, who was probably overranked. Then, the Bruins beat Abilene Christian, who shouldn’t have moved on in the first place. UCLA is another team who has benefited from a weak schedule thus far and a team who’s run is about to end.
14. Creighton (22-8)
I’ll be honest here. I’m just flat out not impressed by Creighton at all. The team was lucky to get past the first round as UC Santa Barbara collapsed in the final minutes. The Blue Jays were then faced with Ohio, a team we knew was bound to fall. Creighton will play Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and I’m willing to put my reputation on the line that the Blue Jay season ends next weekend.
15. Oregon State (19-12)
Oregon State should probably be ranked higher on this list. I know that convincing wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma State are much more impressive than what many remaining teams have this season, but I can’t get past the fact that it’s Oregon State. The Beavers wouldn’t have made the tournament without winning the conference tournament, and that speaks volumes to me. It sounds contradictory considering what I said about Syracuse, but getting hot just doesn’t sell it for me in terms of Oregon State.
16. Oral Roberts (18-10)
The feel good story of the tournament always has to come to an end. That moment comes next Saturday. Let’s call a spade a spade here, Oral Roberts had a good run, but this team doesn’t have any chance of winning the title and is clearly the least talented team remaining in the tournament. The team is 11-point underdogs against Arkansas for a reason. Enjoy it while you can, because the magic is dwindling.