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2016 Tourney: Ranking a power-heavy Elite 8

Dave2015Given what we’ve seen this season, we shouldn’t be overly surprised to find a six and ten seed in the Elite 8.  We also shouldn’t be surprised to find six power-heavy teams.  At various points during the 2016 campaign, Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Villanova all grabbed spots along the No. 1 seed line.  Oregon was among the Top 8 for the better part of February and ended at No. 5 on our list.  They were the final No. 1 seed on the NCAA Board, which fits the theme.

If you believe in destiny (or maybe redemption), then you embrace Notre Dame and Syracuse.  The Irish needed a miraculous tip-in to beat Stephen F. Austin and a pair of late steals/turnovers to upend Wisconsin.  Syracuse was undoubtedly helped by an incredible performance from Middle Tennessee that ousted Michigan State in the opening round.  The Orange deserve all the credit for reaching the Regional Final; they beat the teams they faced.  We can say that and still acknowledge that reaching the Elite 8 required beating a seven seed, 15 seed, and 11 seed.  Good fortune is important in March.

So … heading into the Regional Finals, how would you rank the remaining eight teams?  Based on what I’ve seen the past two weeks, here’s my list:

  1. Kansas. There’s no reason to move the Jayhawks from their pre-tournament perch.  KU has squashed a previously hot Connecticut team and controlled a Maryland group that many predicted to be a Final Four contender.  They may not be the most talented team, but the Jayhawks have proven tough to beat.
  2. North Carolina. If Marcus Paige continues to shoot the ball as well as he did against Indiana on Friday, the Tar Heels may very well cut down the nets in Houston.  UNC is arguably the most talented team left in the field.  When they play defense and make threes, the Heels are championship material.
  3. Villanova. No one is playing better than the Wildcats.  In their first three tournament games, Nova is making 53 percent of its 3-pointers (33 total) and scoring an average of 88 points a game.  This also happens to be one of Jay Wright’s best defensive units.
  4. Virginia. Battling the Cavaliers is about as much fun as going to the dentist.  They grind away on both ends.  Consistent scoring can be an issue, although UVA put the ball through the net at a 56-percent clip against Iowa State.
  5. Oklahoma. Yes, the Sooners can be streaky. And yes, they rely heavily on jump shots. Then again, Oklahoma makes 42 percent of its three pointers.  Not only are the Sooners a Top 15 offensive outfit (according to Ken Pomeroy), they are also a top-tier defensive unit.  Did we mention that Buddy Hield plays for OU?
  6. Oregon. The Ducks are good, plain and simple.  Four players average in double figures, led by Dillon Brooks.  They’ve also won 11 straight.  Oregon has the depth to come at you for 40 minutes and has shown an ability to win in crunch time, rallying to take out Saint Joseph’s in the Round of 32.
  7. Syracuse. As noted above, the Orange have, by seeding, taken a relatively easy path to the Elite 8. But this is also a capable group.  Half of the Elite 8 is from the Atlantic Coast Conference; the four remaining teams just happen to meet on their way to Houston.  Jim Boeheim’s zone isn’t easy to solve, but unless the Orange reach the NCAA title game, their remaining opponents have seen it multiple times.
  8. Notre Dame. If you were, in fact, basing this list on destiny, good fortune, or other unknown force, then perhaps the Irish should be at the top. That said, let’s not downplay Notre Dame’s ability to win.  Survive and advance, as they say.  All we know is that the last time the Irish faced North Carolina, it wasn’t pretty. Asking ND to slow down the Heels is a tough task.

Before tip-off on March 17, I picked Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina to reach the Final Four.  I’ll stay with those three and add Virginia, whom I originally had losing to Michigan State this weekend.

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