Power Ranking The Sweet 16

October 4, 2023

The first weekend of March Madness is now in the books, and by golly was it wild! No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson knocked off 1 seed Purdue, 15 seed Princeton beat No. 2 Arizona and No. 7 Missouri to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967.

Blue bloods Duke, Kansas and Kentucky are out, as are high seeds Marquette and Baylor. Meanwhile, the top seven teams in ESPN’s BPI rankings are all still alive.

Maybe it’s recency bias, but this year’s Sweet 16 is shaping up to be historic. Let’s take a look at how the remaining contenders stack up with our power rankings.

1. Alabama

The Tide earned the top overall seed for a reason. They’ve blown out both of their opponents by over 20, and superstar freshman Brandon Miller finally found his stride with 19 points against Maryland after going scoreless in the first round. Coach Nate Oats’ squad is also third in adjusted defensive efficiency, so they can score in bunches and lock it down on defense. They’re a nightmare for any opponent right now.

2. Houston

Leading scorer Marcus Sasser may not be fully healthy, but his No. 1 Midwest seed Cougars still looked lights out in wins over Northern Kentucky and Auburn. They overcame adversity after trailing 10 points to Auburn at halftime in the Round of 32, outscoring the Tigers 50-23 in the second half. Houston hopes to become the first school to host and play in the same Final Four.

3. Connecticut

If we’re going to do an eye test, these Huskies look scary. They smoked Iona by 24 and handled St. Mary’s by 15. Adama Sanogo looked like a cheat code with 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting with 13 rebounds in the first game, and 24 on 11-of-16 with eight boards in the second. UConn is 22-for-47 from beyond the arc and appear elite in every facet. They look fully capable of winning the West en route to the Final Four.

4. Texas

The Longhorns look to be on a collision course against in-state rival Houston in the Elite Eight. They entered the tournament top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and have been nothing but sharp. They defeated Colgate by 20 and gritted through a 71-66 win over Penn State. Texas held Penn State All-American Jalen Pickett to 5-for-13 shooting and 11 points. Texas has several players who can get big buckets when needed. This team seems built for this time of year.

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5. Ucla

UCLA could be sneaky. They have the talent and the experience to make a deep run. Coach Mick Cronin has taken this team to the Elite Eight and Final Four in the past two tournaments, too. The Bruins cruised by UNC Asheville by 33 in Round 1 but squeaked by Northwestern in a slugfest in Round 2. Jaime Jaquez is carrying the squad, but the injury bug appears to be UCLA’s greatest threat since starter David Singleton suffered an ankle injury against Northwestern and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark has been out since the conference tournament.

6. Gonzaga

Is this the year the Zags finally conquer their March Madness demons? Maybe, since they are flying under the radar. Drew Timme dropped 28 against TCU, and neither that game nor their first-round win against Grand Canyon ever seemed in doubt despite the fact that the Bulldogs faced a deficit in each contest. The Bulldogs are on an 11-game winning streak and seem to be getting better at the right time. They’ll have a tough test against UCLA in the Sweet 16 though, with the chance to meet an even tougher test in the winner of Arkansas-UConn in the Elite Eight.

7. Tennessee

The phrase “defense wins championships” could find a new mantle if the Volunteers find their way to the title. Coach Rick Barnes has developed an unmatched level of physicality in his program, and UT just manhandled Duke 65-52. Just ask Kyle Filipowski, who had at least three new bruises on his face after that one. They should out-muscle FAU in the Sweet 16 and match up well against either Kansas State or Michigan State in the Elite Eight. If other dominos fall and they find themselves against SEC foe Alabama in the Final Four, anything could go in a matchup against a team they’re so familiar with from conference play.

8. Creighton

This is a Sweet 16 power ranking, so Creighton is ahead of the next few teams simply because it is playing Princeton this round. As magical as the Tigers’ run has been, the Blue Jays have looked even more magical. They were clearly the better team in their wins over NC State and Baylor. Ryan Nembhard has all the makings of a darling of the tournament and just dropped 30 against Baylor. 7-foot-1 star Ryan Kalkbrenner is a literal and figurative force down low and scored 31 against the Bears. The Bluejays have a diversified offense that relies on size, balance, and the hot hand and is looking like a real contender – especially given their Sweet 16 matchup.

9. Kansas State

A new coach and his team of transfers that were picked to finish dead last in the Big 12 have a chance to win the East. Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson is a big-time player who can ball up with the best of them. Incumbent from last year’s squad, Markuis Nowell is perplexing opposing defenses. The Wildcats forced Montana State and Kentucky to commit turnovers on 23 percent of their possessions. This squad has swagger at the moment, and they’ll be tough to handle for Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

10. Arkansas

Arkansas was ranked 10th in the preseason and was expected to compete for a spot in the Final Four. From December 28 to March 4, though, the Razorbacks went 8-11 and struggled to get top NBA prospects Nick Smith Jr., Anthony Black, and Ricky Council IV to mesh well. But coach Eric Musselman’s group has since gotten back to a defense-first mentality and that has helped them knock off Illinois and 1-seed Kansas en route to the Sweet 16. Add in the fact that the talent on offense has been clicking, this team is now looking like a Final Four sleeper … if it can get past UConn in the Sweet 16.

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11. Xavier

Stingy defense and unselfish scoring helped the Musketeers find their way to the Sweet 16. This is a veteran group led by seasoned bench boss Sean Miller. They bested UConn twice this season and also topped Creighton and Marquette. They have a tough draw against a red-hot Texas team in the Sweet 16, but all five starters scored in double digits in Xavier’s second-round win over Pitt. This upperclassmen-laden group clawed back from 13 down to beat Kennesaw State in the first round, and you can never count out that kind of depth and experience.

12. Miami

The lone remaining ACC team definitely has its work cut out for it against Houston, but the Hurricanes won’t go down without a fight. Anyone in their starting rotation can get a key bucket when needed, and Norchad Omier is a problem in the paint. Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller, and Nijel Pack have the talent to give Houston’s backcourt all it can handle. Coach Jim Larranaga took the Canes to the Elite Eight last year, so maybe they have the magic to do it again.

13. San Diego State

The Aztecs probably won’t beat Alabama in the Sweet 16, but they’ll wear the Tide down with every ounce of effort they can. They’re one of America’s best defensive teams, and it seems no shot goes uncontested. Finishing at the rim was a major problem for College of Charleston and Furman in San Diego State’s first two games. Alabama will be a completely different beast though, as the Charleston-Furman path to the Sweet 16 was the easiest in the field.

14. Michigan State

Coach Tom Izzo. In March. Need I say more? The Spartans have been disregarded all season for the lack of typical NBA talent that has defined some of Izzo’s best teams. Yet, here they are, in a totally winnable game in the Sweet 16 with another totally winnable game on the horizon in the Elite Eight. Would it be surprising if Sparty got out of the East? Yes. Unimaginable? Not at all.

15. Princeton

The Tigers have made their run through its ability to completely slow down a game. Two-seeded Arizona was up double digits late in the first round, but the Wildcats couldn’t extend the lead because Princeton played at such a methodical pace. Missouri had a similar issue in the second round and couldn’t cut into a double-digit hole in the second half because it couldn’t get the extra possessions it needed to so do. Princeton has averaged just under nine turnovers per game during its six-game winning streak too, so perhaps it has another upset in store for Creighton in the Sweet 16.

16. Florida Atlantic

The Owls barely scraped by Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers in the first round and needed some last-second heroics (and officiating luck) to advance. They ended Fairleigh Dickison’s Cinderella story in the second round and will have a tough test against the hard-nosed Tennessee defense that just dragged a supremely talented Duke team through the mud. I think their dance ends here.

Grant Leonard
Grant Leonard is a former junior B ice hockey player, and a current believer that the Washington Capitals’ aging core still has another Cup run left in the tank. Grant’s owned and operated his own marketing agency since shortly after graduating from Virginia Tech in 2014. After years of hammering puck lines and leading his fantasy football league as Commissioner, Grant started writing about sports betting and the casino gaming industry in 2021.