Postseason Power Rankings: Sweet 16 version
The 2009 NCAA tournament is down to 16 teams. And from where I stand, as many as eight schools have a legit shot at cutting down the nets in Detroit.
Who's playing the best heading into the Sweet 16? Let's rank them 1 to 16 before the festivities begin again Thursday in Boston and Glendale, Ariz.
1. North Carolina
The Tar Heels struggled to pull away from LSU in their second-round game, but point guard Ty Lawson more than answered questions about his lingering toe injury. Unless Lawson re-injures his right toe, the Tar Heels might be the team to beat the rest of the way. No other team has as much inside-outside balance or overall depth.
The Huskies were another team that entered the NCAA tournament with lingering concerns, but perhaps no team played better in the first two rounds. Jeff Adrien has stepped up his game after the Huskies lost Jerome Dyson to a season-ending knee injury, and A.J. Price is capable of scoring 30 points per game.
The Cardinals had a tough time getting past upstart Siena in the second round, but they stood up to the challenge and are battle-tested heading into the Sweet 16. Terrence Williams continues to show why he's one of the best players in the country. But will Louisville's guards hold up the rest of the way?
The Tigers are as deep and talented as any team left in the field. They can lock down opponents on defense, and run up and down the court with almost anyone. Forwards Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier are effective inside scorers, and reserve Roburt Sallie has emerged as another threat beyond the 3-point line.
The Sooners might have been the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if All-American forward Blake Griffin hadn't suffered a concussion against Texas in mid-February. Now that Griffin is healthy again -- and dominating opponents like never before -- Oklahoma is going to be a tough out in the Sweet 16. But can Tony Crocker and Willie Warren make enough perimeter shots against Syracuse's 2-3 zone?
Something just seems to be missing from the Panthers, who beat No. 16 seed East Tennessee State by 10 points in the first round and No. 8 seed Oklahoma State by eight in the second round. That being said, is there another team in the field with a trio like Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields?
Everybody keeps waiting for the Orange to get tired, but they keep getting better. Few players are doing more for their teams than point guard Jonny Flynn, and Eric Devendorf is as hot from beyond the 3-point line as he's ever been. But can Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson slow down Blake Griffin?
8. Michigan State
If there were any doubts about the Spartans' athleticism or ability to play outside the Big Ten, they were answered in the victory over USC. Michigan State still needs more from Raymar Morgan to advance past Kansas.
I think this might be Mike Krzyzewski's best coaching job. Gerald Henderson is an All-ACC player. So is Kyle Singler, but he's not as good as a lot of the other players in that league. The Blue Devils don't have a traditional point guard and don't have a post player who's really going to intimidate. I think Duke's lack of frontcourt punch and depth will catch up with it eventually, maybe against Villanova.
The Wildcats benefited greatly from playing the first two rounds in Philadelphia. Now Villanova has to play Duke in Boston. The Wildcats struggled mightily against American in the first round but then beat up UCLA in the second. They have a chance to win any game with Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham on the court.
The defending national champions keep surprising everyone. Sherron Collins is the only regular contributor back from last season's team that beat Memphis in the title game. Sophomore Cole Aldrich is playing as well as any big man in the tournament, and other players such as Tyshawn Taylor are starting to contribute. Can we go ahead and name Bill Self the national coach of the year?
This probably isn't the Sweet 16 matchup Memphis coach John Calipari or Missouri coach Mike Anderson would have preferred. The programs are familiar with each other because Anderson used to coach at UAB and faced Memphis twice per season. Memphis is equipped to run up and down the court with Missouri. Can Missouri slow down Memphis?
This might be the best team Gonzaga has sent to the NCAA tournament. Josh Heytvelt is big enough and strong enough to battle UNC's Tyler Hansbrough inside. Jeremy Pargo is fast enough to stay in front of Ty Lawson some of the time. But Matt Bouldin is the player who makes the Bulldogs go, and if he plays well, they'll have a chance to shock the Tar Heels.
The Wildcats aren't your typical No. 12 seed. They might have been the last at-large team invited to the NCAA's 65-team field, but they're playing as well as any team left in the tournament. Arizona has two potential NBA lottery picks, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, and point guard Nic Wise is a budding star. Interim coach Russ Pennell might have worked his way into a full-time job somewhere.
The team that couldn't beat A-10 opponents Temple and Richmond at the end of the regular season defeated Portland State by 18 and Wisconsin by 11 in the first two rounds. Sean Miller has proved he's one of the best coaches in the country, and the Musketeers are patient enough to give Pitt problems. But the top three Musketeers -- B.J. Raymond, Derrick Brown and C.J. Anderson -- will have to play well.
The Boilermakers won close games over Northern Iowa and Washington to advance to the Sweet 16, but they might not have enough firepower to beat Connecticut. JaJuan Johnson has played well so far, but he'll get a major test from Hasheem Thabeet. Robbie Hummel will have to play better for Purdue to advance.
As for this round of games, here are some fearless predictions:
(Writer's warning: Do not bet real money on these)
Villanova 72, Duke 69
Pittsburgh 73, Xavier 68
Memphis 88, Missouri 80
Connecticut 68, Purdue 59
Louisville 70, Arizona 60
Kansas 68, Michigan State 64
North Carolina 87, Gonzaga 73
Syracuse 81, Oklahoma 80