The dust has settled on the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. What the event has lacked in upsets it has made up for in intrigue and thrilling games. Oh wait, that’s not entirely true either. But lest we get too discouraged, feast your eyes upon the remaining teams. They all have something in common.
They are good. Very few pretenders. But not all have realistic aspirations of winning it all. Here are 10 that do and find themselves in the best situation going forward.
The Cavaliers decided to play the hits again and fall behind against a No. 16 seed. Then they woke up and looked every bit the team that lost only three times all year. A suffocating defense, veteran guard play and a path that includes Oregon won’t have Tony Bennett sleeping like a baby, but looking at the board, I’m not sure any other team is in a better position. Ty Jerome is one of the smoothest and calmest operators to take the court in a long time. I fully expect him and the rest of UVA to maintain a resting heart rate of 50 deep into the tournament.
#2 North Carolina
The Tar Heels put handcuffs on Washington. If they play lock-down defense, then forget about it. Luke Maye and company will be perfectly comfortable running with Auburn, then should have a serious advantage over a P.J. Washington-less Kentucky or Houston. Coby White looks like the next great floor general when it matters and Nassir Little is capable of dropping an avalanche of points at any time.
Let’s be brutally honest here. Coach K’s team should be out of this tournament. But they aren’t. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and some interesting officiating helped the Blue Devils avert disaster against UCF. Putting them this low is not a contrarian play. Simply put, they look mortal. Should they survive Virginia Tech — a team that beat a Zion-less squad earlier this year — they’ll have to figure out Michigan State. Talent-wise, there’s no one who can match up with them, though. And it’s reasonable to believe Zion will literally move heaven and earth to keep his title hopes alive.
The Zags shook the rust off from a disappointing West Coast Conference tournament and throttled teams they were supposed to throttle. Brandon Clarke had a game for the ages against Baylor, dropping 36 points on 15-for-18 shooting. Florida State does present unprecedented length, but give Mark Few a full week to prepare and he’ll be able to figure something out.
#5 Michigan State
Flirted with disaster against Bradley, but were rescued by Cassius Winston. Weathered an absurdly overblown “Tom Izzo yells sometimes” storyline to throttle Minnesota by 20 despite a nasty turnover habit. This is a team that’s been doubted all year and rose to the occasion. Maybe it’s time to stop doing that. Still, Tom Izzo’s 1-101 career record against Coach K is a bit concerning.