Mike Krzyzewski pointed out Sunday that as of this moment, there are still 16 teams that can win the NCAA Tournament.
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Realistically, there are less than that.
The CBS television executives and most of the non-aligned public are hoping for a Duke-Kentucky matchup in the national title game. It would be epic - 39-0 Kentucky going for a perfect season against 34-4 Duke, coached by the winningest NCAA coach of all time.
Unfortunately, there are a number of teams that could realistically spoil that scenario. Arizona and Wisconsin on Kentucky's side of the bracket appear to be strong enough to take home the title. And Gonzaga appears to have the pieces to take down Duke.
But beyond those five teams, I don't think the other 11 survivors are strong enough to go all the way. Any of them might win another game of two, but the four tough games in a row it will take to raise the trophy in Indianapolis?
Well, it's merely a personal opinion, but I can't see it happening for Louisville, UNC, Notre Dame, N.C. State, Xavier, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Utah, UCLA or Wichita State. Even Tom Izzo - for all his postseason magic - doesn't have a Michigan State team that can win it all.
It's interesting to examine the pedigrees of the 16 survivors to gauge their chances.
I'm going to start by checking how each team has done against the other 15 survivors in the Sweet 16: I going to list them by how they ranked in the final AP poll.
No. 1 Kentucky (36-0)
The Wildcats are 3-0 against the Sweet 16:
- W - North Carolina, 84-70
- W - UCLA, 83-44 (neutral court)
- W - at Louisville, 58-50
That's an awfully small number - and one reason some observers believe that the Wildcats might be relatively untested - like UNLV in the early '90s. The fact is that measuring the Sweet 16 against the Sweet 16 is something of a gimmick in that there are better teams that did not made the final 16 than several that did. II have no doubt that Villanova, Virginia and Kansas, for instance, are actually better teams than half a dozen that made the Sweet 16.
Kentucky has an impressive neutral court victory over Kansas to its credit, as well as early season wins over borderline NCAA teams Buffalo, Texas and Providence. Personally, I give the 'Cats little credit for beating up on a terribly weak SEC - that league's tournament teams (Arkansas, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss) were pretty chewed up by such ACC also-rans as Clemson and Georgia Tech.
No. 3 Wisconsin (33-3)
The Big Ten champs were 3-1 against the Sweet 16 teams:
- W - Oklahoma, 6-9-56 (neutral court)
- L - Duke, 80-70
- W - Michigan State, 68-61
- W - Michigan State, 80-69 (OT) (neutral court)
Odd that the Big Ten schedule didn't send Wisconsin to East Lansing. And the only game with Maryland was a loss in College Park. But Wisconsin did make mincemeat of NCAA-bound Iowa (twice), Purdue (twice), Ohio State, Indiana, Georgetown and UAB.
No. 4 Duke (31-4)
Three of Duke's four losses have come to Sweet 16 survivors. And Duke has seven wins over the 16 survivors:
- W - Michigan State, 81-71 (neutral court)
- W - at Wisconsin, 80-70
- L - at N.C. State, 87-75
- W - at Louisville, 63-52
- L - at Notre Dame, 77-73
- W - Notre Dame, 90-60
- W - UNC 92-90 (OT)
- W - at UNC 84-77
- W - N.C. State, 77-53 (neutral court)
- L - Notre Dame, 74-64
That's not only tied for the most wins over the Sweet 16, but it is tied for the most road wins over the Sweet 16 (3).
Throw in quality wins at Virginia and over borderline NCAA invite Wofford. Duke also beat a lot of near misses for the NCAA - Stanford, UConn, Temple and Syracuse (which was playing on an NCAA bubble level when it self-imposed a postseason ban) twice.
5. Arizona (33-3)
A stellar record against the Sweet 16:
- W - Gonzaga, 66-63 (OT)
- W - Utah, 69-51
- W - UCLA, 57-47
- W - at Utah, 63-57
- W - UCLA, 70-64 (neutral court)
Except for Gonzaga, a fairly weak non-conference schedule -- San Diego State and UC-Irvine were the only NCAA foes. Nobody else even came close to making the tournament. Inside the league, three wins over Oregon are solid, as well as a couple of wins vs. NCAA near miss Stanford.
7. Gonzaga (34-2)
Not much to write about:
- L - at Arizona, 66-63 (OT)
- W - at UCLA, 87-74
Okay, a couple of early season wins vs. SMU, St. John's and Georgia, plus three in-conference wins over BYU. The next-best win was over NIT-bound Washington State, at home.
8. Notre Dame (31-5)
The Irish (7-1) have the best record against the Sweet 16 - tied with Duke for the most wins and just one loss:
- W - Michigan State, 79-78 (OT)
- W - at N.C. State, 81-78 (OT)
- W - Duke, 77-73
- L - at Duke, 90-60
- W - at UNC, 71-70
- W - at Louisville, 71-59
- W - Duke, 74-64 (neutral court)
- W - UNC, 81-67 (neutral court)
Obviously, the fact that four other ACC schools made the field helps Notre Dame (and Duke), pile up the Sweet 16 wins. Outside the seven final 16 wins, Notre Dame doesn't have much going for it - a win over NCAA-bound Purdue, but losses to Virginia and Providence. The Irish did split with bubble team Miami.
No. 13 Oklahoma (24-10)
The Sooners were 2-2 against teams in the Sweet 16:
- W - UCLA, 75-65 (neutral)
- L - Wisconsin, 69-56 (neutral)
- L - at West Virginia, 86-65
- W - West Virginia, 71-52
The early demise off all the highly seeded Big 12 teams robbed Oklahoma of some impressive wins - they split games with Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State, while sweeping Texas and Oklahoma State, which made the field. The Sooners also beat Butler early.
No. 14 Wichita State (30-4)
Just one top 16 game - a loss:
L-at Utah, 69-68 (OT)
Not a strong resume. The only NCAA team the Shockers beat was Northern Iowa - the two teams split their season series. Beyond that, they have a neutral court win over Memphis and a homecourt win over Alabama. Neither came close to making the tournament.
No. 15 North Carolina (26-11)
The Tar Heels were 4-7 against Sweet 16 - that's the most anybody played:
- W - UCLA, 78-56 (neutral court)
- L - at Kentucky, 84-70
- L - Notre Dame, 71-70
- W - Louisville, 72-71
- W - at N.C. State, 81-79
- L - at Louisville, 78-68 (OT)
- L - at Duke, 92-90 ()T)
- L - N.C. State, 58-46
- L - Duke, 84-77
- W - Louisville, 70-60 (neutral court)
- L - Notre Dame, 90-82 (neutral court)
The Tar Heels also have quality wins over Virginia (in the ACC Tournament) and Ohio State. They beat NCAA-bound teams UAB, Robert Morris and Davidson.
No. 17 Louisville (26-8)
Like all the ACC teams, the Cards have a lot of Sweet 16 games on their resume, but won just one of seven tries:
- L - Kentucky, 58-50
- L - at UNC, 72-71
- L - Duke, 63-52
- W - UNC, 78-68 (OT)
- L - N.C. State, 74-65
- L - Notre Dame, 71-59
- L - UNC, 70-60 (neutral court)
The Cardinals have a quality win over Virginia and also beat two Big Ten NCAA teams - Ohio State and Indiana. Beyond that, the best wins on the resume are a two-game sweep of bubble team Miami.
No. 19 Utah (26-8)
Duke's Friday night opponent was 2-3 against Sweet 16 teams:
- W - Wichita State, 69-68 (OT)
- W - UCLA, 71-39
- L - at Arizona, 69-51
- L - at UCLA, 69-59
- L - Arizona, 63-57
A check of the Utes' record shows a strong split between home and away performances. Utah did win at BYU, which made a brief NCAA appearance. But they also lost at San Diego State and to Kansas in Kansas City.
20. West Virginia (25-9)
Like Oklahoma, the demise of the Big 12 powers robbed it of several big matchups. As it stands, the Mountaineers are 2-1 against the Sweet 16:
- W - N.C. State, 83-69 (neutral court)
- W - Oklahoma, 86-65
- L - at Oklahoma, 71-52
West Virginia beat Kansas, Texas and swept Oklahoma State. Outside the Big 12, they beat Wofford. Am early season win over bubble team UConn was probably the next best win.
23. Michigan State (25-11)
The Spartans did not have much regular season luck with the Sweet 16, going 0-4:
- L - Duke, 81-71 (neutral court)
- L - at Notre Dame, 79-78 (OT)
- L - at Wisconsin, 68-61
- L - Wisconsin, 80-69 (OT) (neutral court)
The Spartans did not beat an NCAA team outside the conference. They beat plenty inside - Iowa, Purdue, Ohio State (twice) and Indiana (twice).
UNR Xavier (23-13)
Xavier is the only team in the Sweet 16 that has not faced another Sweet 16 team.
The Musketeers beat Cincinnati outside the league. Inside the Big East, Xavier beat Butler (twice), Providence and Georgetown - the latter three times. But they were winless in two tries with Villanova.
UNR N.C. State (22-13)
Like the other ACC teams, the Wolfpack got a lot of chances against teams that made the Sweet 16, finishing 3-4 in seven tries:
- L - West Virginia, 83-69
- W - Duke, 87-75
- L - UNC, 81-79
- L - Notre Dame, 81-78 (OT)
- W - at Louisville, 74-65
- W - at UNC, 58-46
- L - Duke, 77-53 (neutral court)
N.C. State also took down Boise State from outside the league, but added some more impressive losses than wins - losing to NCAA-bound Cincinnati, Wofford and twice to Virginia.
UNR - UCLA (22-13)
The most undeserving team in the NCAA Tournament field - and I stand by that even though they made the Sweet 16 - was a punching bag for the rest of the Sweet 16 during the regular season, losing seven of eight matchups:
- L - Oklahoma, 75-65 (neutral court)
- L - UNC, 75-56 (neutral court)
- L - Gonzaga, 87-74
- L - Kentucky, 83-44 (neutral court)
- L - at Utah, 71-39
- W - Utah, 69-59
- L - at Arizona, 57-47
- L - Arizona, 70-64 (neutral court)
The Bruins beat UAB outside the league and Oregon inside the Pac 12. Beyond that, the Bruins' best wins were two narrow victories over bubble team Stanford.