Ranking the Remaining Sweet 16 Teams: Does Any Team Compare to Kentucky?
This year's March Madness has been ripe with upsets. The 14 seed versus 3 seed upset became the new 12 versus 5, but by the time the field whittled down to the Sweet 16, only one double-digit seed (UCLA, an 11 seed) is left.
That's really no surprise, as the best teams always seem to last the longest in the NCAA Tournament.
So which of the 16 teams is best -- aside from Kentucky?
Here is how our nERD metric, which identifies the expected point differential above or below an average squad on a neutral floor, ranks the Sweet 16. The Offense, Defense, Pace, and Consistency columns refer to a team's percentile rank (e.g. Kentucky's defense (0.999) is better than 99.9 percent of the defenses in the country).
|nERD Rank||Team||Offense||Defense||Pace||Consistency||nERD||Pre-Tourney nERD||Difference|
Breaking Down the Best of the Rest
Based on nERD, the Arizona Wildcats are the second-best squad left, and they narrowed the gap between themselves and Kentucky since the tournament started by roughly half a point. Sure, that's marginal, but Arizona is trending up at the right time.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, saw their nERD drop by 0.34 points since the tournament started, but they're still the third-best team remaining. The potential Elite Eight matchup between the Wisconsin and Arizona would have been a narrow game (about 0.09 points) prior to the tournament, but the gap is now up to 0.70 in Arizona's favor.
Similarly, Duke and Gonzaga -- another potential Elite Eight matchup -- seem to be trending in opposite directions. With just a 0.20-point nERD difference before the tournament, the gap is now 0.77 in Duke's favor based on nERD alone. Duke is, by far, the most consistent squad left inside the top five overall, so this Blue Devils squad could really be poised for a title run.
Still, don't sleep on the Utes. Utah is the sixth-best team remaining in the big dance and are just 1.67 nERD points behind Duke. Utah is one of three squads to have both an offense and defense better than 96.0 percent of the country (joining Kentucky and Arizona). They're also the third-most consistent team left.
The Notre Dame versus Wichita State matchup is quite close -- not really a typical 3 versus 7 matchup. Based on the first two rounds, Notre Dame's nERD advantage has been cut in half, going from 1.53 to 0.74. This is due, in large part, to Wichita State's bump in nERD by 0.60, the largest in-tourney jump of remaining teams. Both teams are in the bottom 37 percent in pace, so expect the matchup to be one in which every possession counts.