The Most Impressive Teams Going into the Sweet 16

Has UCLA been the most impressive team so far?

I've heard it all over the sports world over the past couple of weeks - the opening weekend of March Madness is the best weekend in sports every year.

Well, I disagree. While it boasts a large number of games and can give you thrilling upsets like Mercer over Duke, most of the games aren't that close. In fact, the average margin of victory last round was over 12 points.

But now that we're at the Sweet 16, we're going to see some marquee matchups that we've been waiting for all year. Florida and UCLA, Virginia and Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville - these are awesome games between historic programs that we get to watch in just one 24 hour period.

Each of the 16 teams left have been impressive enough to make it here obviously, but we know that not all Sweet 16 runs are created equally - which teams have been the most impressive so far?

To look at this, we're going to use our own metric, nERD, which is the number of points you'd expect a team to win by against an average team (a team with a nERD of zero) on a neutral court. The following table breaks down how each team was rated coming into the tournament versus how they are now, in order to see who has been raising their play the most.

Want to know who will surprise, who will bust out, and who will take the tournament? Check out our bracket picks, our game simulator, and more!

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TeamPre-Tourney nERDCurrent nERDDifference
Michigan State15.0815.92+0.84
Iowa State14.1214.88+0.76
San Diego State12.0912.76+0.67

UCLA Bruins

It's interesting that we have UCLA with the most impressive run, considering they have played two double-digit seeds en route to the Sweet 16. However, their margin of victory might have something to do with it - they beat 13-seeded Tulsa by 17 points, and then took down 12-seeded Stephen F. Austin by 17 points as well.

They face a much tougher foe in the one-seeded Florida Gators tonight at 9:45 PM, who have a higher current nERD at 17.72. Whoever comes out of this game will feel very good about their Final Four chances, as they will play the winner of Stanford and Dayton, two double-digit seeded teams.

Speaking of Stanford and Dayton - while their runs have looked impressive, our numbers don't feel the same way. Stanford upset a Joel Embiid-less Kansas team and Dayton took down an overrated (by our numbers) Syracuse team in the Round of 32. It's highly likely that whoever escapes the UCLA and Florida game will be a heavy Final Four favorite.

Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers have looked absolutely dominant in their two games in the tournament. They started with a 19-point beat down of six-seeded UMass, and then killed the hopes of Duke-slayer Mercer, beating them by 20 points.

Tennessee seems like a ridiculously great 11-seed, right? Like maybe a historically great 11-seed?

If you think that, you aren't wrong. We ran the nERD numbers all the way back to 2000 and looked at how this Tennessee stacks up against the past 14 years worth of 11-seeds. You probably know where I'm going with this - they are the highest rated 11-seed, in terms of nERD, that we've seen. No wonder they've been killing their competition.

Interestingly enough, their Sweet 16 opponent, Michigan, is the only team with a negative nERD differential since the start of the tournament. This puts them right around the same rating as Tennessee. And that means you should expect to see a great game tomorrow at 7:15 PM.

Baylor Bears

Baylor has high marks, like the previous two teams, because they've crushed their competition. They got here by cruising through 11-seeded Nebraska by 14 points, and then by surprising everyone by obliterating three-seeded Creighton by 30.

They beat Creighton by holding them to 40% from the field and 20.8% from the three, while shooting out of this world on their end with marks of 63.8% from the field and 61.1% from the three. This is especially impressive when you consider that Creighton came into the game with the highest rated (in terms of adjusted ORtg) offense in the nation.

They won't be able to slow up on defense tonight when they play two-seed Wisconsin at 7:47 PM. As a reward for stifling the best offense in college basketball, they get to deal with the fourth-best offense in Wisconsin, who put up 85 points against Oregon last game. Both teams play at a slow pace, so expect to see a great halfcourt game tonight.