March Madness 2022: Power ranking the Sweet 16 teams

There are significant seeding reshuffles as we power rank every team in the Sweet 16 after the first weekend of March Madness 2022.

An incredible first weekend of March Madness is in the books and the field has been whittled down to roughly a quarter of its original 68 teams.

The Sweet 16 is left and it’s one that, well, no one saw coming. No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s represents this season’s true Cinderella even though there are four double-digit seeds still playing. And, with Iowa State and Miami facing each other, we’re guaranteed to have at least one in the Elite Eight over the weekend.

This is the round where the best start to separate themselves from the pack. Seeds don’t matter anymore. All that matters is a team’s ability to turn last weekend’s momentum into a historic run.

Who has the best ability to do that and continue stringing wins together? Let’s hit the reset button and re-rank the teams in the 2022 Sweet 16.

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16) Saint Peter’s Peacocks

The Peacocks are easily the biggest surprise of the Sweet 16, becoming just the third No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the second weekend. And, while it’s a surprise, neither of its victories against Kentucky and Murray State were a fluke. Saint Peter’s beat those teams with excellent defense (28th nationally in AdjD, per KenPom) and great offensive game planning from head coach Shaheen Holloway.

At the same time, there is a reason why we haven’t seen a No. 15 seed in the Elite Eight yet — the talent disadvantage eventually comes back to bite Cinderella. KC Ndefo‘s versatility has been key for the Peacocks, but this team’s lack of size and top-end talent still has it facing long odds when it comes to advancing further in this tournament.

15) Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State is in the Sweet 16 on the strength of its elite defense and impressive individual performances on the offensive end. Gabe Kalscheur had one of his best offensive showings of the season in Iowa State’s second-round victory over Wisconsin following Tyrese Hunter‘s career night against LSU in the first round.

That recipe is one the Cyclones have used all season long — elite defense and finding enough offense. The problem is they haven’t consistently found that offense from any source other than Izaiah Brockington.

Iowa State certainly benefitted from its path to the Sweet 16. LSU was playing with an interim head coach and Wisconsin was injured, having a banged-up Johnny Davis and losing point guard Chucky Hepburn to an ankle injury in the first half.

None of that is the Cyclones’ fault, obviously, and they deserve credit for taking care of business. But this is still a team with serious offensive flaws, having not cracked 60 points in either of their first two tournament games.

14) Miami Hurricanes

Miami’s upset of Auburn thrust the No. 10 seed into the Sweet 16 and looking somewhat dangerous. We always talk about the importance of guard play in the NCAA Tournament since it’s the position making a majority of the in-game decisions, and the Canes have a phenomenal trio in Kameron McGusty, Charlie Moore and Isaiah Wong.

That trio has combined for 106 of Miami’s 147 total points (72.1 percent) in the NCAA Tournament so far, which is telling in both how good that group has been and how much they have to carry the rest of the team. With virtually no bench (354th in bench minutes) and lackluster defense (121st), Jim Larranaga‘s squad is overly reliant on that group to do everything.

13) Arkansas Razorbacks

The Razorbacks can take pride in knowing they are the only SEC team remaining in the NCAA Tournament field, which they’ve done thanks to narrow victories over both Vermont and New Mexico State. Arkansas beat the Catamounts with pace and athleticism, then knocked off the Aggies thanks to its elite defense (14th nationally).

Eric Musselman‘s squad is going to have to rely on its defense moving forward, though, but its offense has been spotty. Arkansas ranks 237th in effective field goal percentage and 314th in 3-point percentage on the season. Considering the Razorbacks are only shooting 35.5 percent from the floor and 27 percent from long range in the tournament, that’s a concern.

12) Providence Friars

I’ve thought that Providence has not gotten the credit it has deserved because of the notion this team is only “lucky.” At a certain point, winning the number of close games the Friars have is a skill, and it’s certainly a characteristic of this group.

Yes, they’re the only team remaining that does not rank in the KenPom top 30 in either adjusted offensive or defensive efficiency (six rank in the top 30 in both), and that’s why they’re only 12th on this list. That said, Providence deserves some praise considering its 27 wins and Big East regular season title. This is a really good team, and a team that just came off its most dominant performance of the season in a 79-51 beatdown of Richmond.

11) Houston Cougars

Perhaps Houston doesn’t receive much pub because we already know how its season is going to end. Eventually, the Cougars won’t have enough offense because they’re without Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, but we just don’t know when that time will come.

Kelvin Sampson’s squad has already pushed past what we thought was possible. With the way the Cougars are playing, a few more upsets may be on the horizon. Houston remains an elite defensive and rebounding team, allowing it to make up for the lack of top-end offensive options. Still, that visible ceiling and weakness keeps them out of our top 10 (though maybe I’m wrong for doing that, too).

10) Purdue Boilermakers

If Purdue is going to make its first Final Four since 1980, it will be because Jaden Ivey continues to play like the top-five pick he’s likely to be while the combination of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams remains unstoppable for opponents.

If the Boilermakers don’t, it’ll be because it has the second-worst defense remaining in the field.

The defense has plagued Purdue all season and this team’s path has avoided such issues. Yale was never going to provide a test and Texas went roughly a quarter of the game without scoring because of its own issues. I still think it’s a problem, though it may not actually appear as that until the Elite Eight.

9) Michigan Wolverines

Yes, a No. 11 seed is sitting at No. 9 in these rankings. Some of this has to deal with Michigan’s offense which, thanks to the emergence of Frankie Collins and steady play from Eli Brooks and Hunter Dickinson, has recorded at least 75 points in each of its first two tournament games against capable defenses.

The Wolverines, despite ranking 77th in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, have been solid defensively thanks to excellent gameplans designed by Juwan Howard that reminded many why he was named National Coach of the Year just a season ago.

Throw in the fact Michigan expects to have starting point guard DeVante’ Jones back this week as well and this is a dangerous team that looks more like the version of Michigan we projected in the preseason.

8) Duke Blue Devils

It feels mandatory at this point that whenever we talk about Duke, we have to mention this team’s best might be better than anyone else’s best. Paolo Banchero is the most gifted scorer in the country, Mark Williams is a dominant big man and the trio of Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach provide a steady, versatile backcourt.

When they’re clicking, we’ve seen what they can do, whether it be their November victories over Kentucky and Gonzaga or the way they played in the final minutes against Michigan State.

At the same time, there’s a reason the Blue Devils needed to be perfect down the stretch to beat a middling Michigan State team. Their defense is inconsistent, they’re vulnerable on the offensive glass and they’re not a great shooting team. Those warts may keep us from being able to see this team at its ceiling.

7) Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech also has a good deal of warts, particularly offensively. The Red Raiders really struggle to shoot (252nd in 3-point shooting) and turn the ball over on a fifth of their possessions.

However, they also have the nation’s best defense — which certainly makes up a lot of ground — and several individual offensive weapons can that carry them to victory in Bryson Williams and Kevin Obanor.

Six different players scored in double figures in their first-round win over Montana State, then Texas Tech held Notre Dame to 32.7-percent shooting in the second round. The potential to be that dominant defensively and that diverse offensively makes the Red Raiders a tough team to face.

6) North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina has turned into a completely different team over its last five games, so those are really the only ones worth discussing. A once-shaky Tar Heels team has turned into a dominant offensive force that has scored at least 93 points in three of its last five games, including both NCAA Tournament games and the regular season victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor.

RJ Davis (15.0 ppg) and Brady Manek (21.0 ppg) have elevated their play during this stretch, giving UNC four terrific offensive options with Armando Bacot and Caleb Love.

Hubert Davis has really shortened UNC’s bench during this stretch, too, and his best players are responding in a way that has Tar Heels fans thinking realistically about another potential Final Four berth.

5) UCLA Bruins

The Bruins have simply been a steady, productive team all season long when healthy. This is the same core that made the Final Four a year ago and plays with that level of confidence and high level of execution on both ends of the floor. With added length and athleticism coming off the bench, the Bruins are in a good spot.

The only question is if UCLA will be healthy. Jaime Jaquez Jr. sprained his ankle in the weekend’s convincing in over Saint Mary’s. Johnny Juzang is still dealing with an ankle injury that caused him to miss time earlier this month. At full stretch, Mick Cronin’s squad might be looking at a return trip to the Final Four.

4) Arizona Wildcats

Arizona has looked like a dominant team all season long and continued to look the part in its opening round victory. Against TCU in the second round, though, the Wildcats had some familiar issues — poor defensive rebounding, turnovers, inconsistent 3-point shooting — nearly come back to bite them in the form of an early upset.

It didn’t happen thanks to the heroics of Bennedict Mathurin (and spotty officiating, depending who you ask), but those issues are still present. Kerr Kriisa‘s ankle injury also complicates things here because it’s clear he’s not 100 percent.

We know Arizona is talented enough to win the whole thing. But, as we saw against the Horned Frogs, we know its weaknesses make them vulnerable.

3) Villanova Wildcats

This Villanova team feels like a riddle. On one hand, it lacks the top-end talent and NBA-caliber prospects we’ve come to expect from a Villanova roster. It also lacks depth.

On the other is a team with excellent college players with length on the wings and one that simply does not beat itself. I refuse to believe they ever make a mistake. The Wildcats are on pace to set an NCAA record for free-throw shooting and they simply don’t turn it over very much.

Villanova won’t let anyone throw them off its game. The Wildcats simply wait for their opponent to make a mistake and then pounce. That ability and style has been good enough more often than not this season.

2) Kansas Jayhawks

I am more excited about this Kansas team now than I was at the start of the NCAA Tournament for one reason: Remy Martin. The Arizona State transfer is finally healthy and is playing his best basketball of the season, having recorded four consecutive games with at least 10 points. He has also played at least 20 minutes in three straight games for the first time since December.

When Martin is healthy and playing, he is the Jayhawks’ best (and really only) player at creating when a set play breaks down. Kansas has a roster full of guys who are great in the structure of what Bill Self wants to do, but Martin is the only one that can put pressure on the defense simply because of what he can do with the ball in his hands.

Kansas can now be the best version of itself with the added individual playmaking and shot-creating Martin provides.

1) Gonzaga Bulldogs

Yes, Gonzaga escaped a scare against Memphis in the second round, but that was a very good Tigers team, and the Bulldogs also showed the kind of resiliency and toughness that is required of a team making a long NCAA Tournament run.

Drew Timme is averaging 28.5 points per game in this tournament while Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton have both stepped up their scoring as well. Chet Holmgren continues to be the most impactful defender in the country even though he and Julian Strawther have had some offensive struggles over the last two games.

That’s what makes this Gonzaga team so dangerous — they continue to show the ability to beat teams in a variety of ways with different players having the most impactful roles. The Zags entered as the best team in the country for a reason and have shown nothing to indicate they will relinquish that title.