NCAA Tournament: Which Teams Have Had the Toughest Paths to the Sweet 16?
Even before the tournament started, we were debating which teams (particularly 1 seeds) had the toughest road to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four.
Well, over the past five days, we've figured out which teams those were. And now the NCAA Tournament has just a quarter of the teams we started out with Thursday afternoon.
Each of the 16 remaining teams have their own story that has brought them to this point. Some have managed a couple of dominant blowout performances, while others have navigated through two nail-biters. Either way, they've all won two games in a row.
But who among the field has endured the toughest road? Who has skated right on into the Sweet 16?
nERD -- our metric that acts as an estimate of a team's average point differential against a league average team on a neutral court (like in the Tournament) -- gives us the answers to those questions.
|Team||Opponent nERD Total|
The Toughest Paths
With a cumulative opponent nERD of 26.77 through the first two rounds of play, Wisconsin has experienced the toughest path to the Round of 16. They defied the odds by defeating Pittsburgh and Xavier -- two teams that, according to the numbers, were better than the Badgers -- even if it took a last second shot to pull it all off.
Not surprisingly, the 11-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, the lowest remaining seed, are close behind the Badgers for having gone through the most challenging start of all the Sweet 16 teams. They took down the 6 seed Seton Hall Pirates and the 3 seed Utah Utes in impressive fashion, with victories of 16 and 23 points, respectively.
Indiana didn't have much trouble with Chattanooga in the Round of 64, but in its second round showdown with Kentucky, the Hoosiers really impressed. Though seeded just a slot below the Wildcats the Hoosiers were big underdogs going into this one. In fact, Kentucky was the seventh best team in the country, according to our power rankings.
The Easiest Paths
The teams with the easiest paths to the Sweet 16 are the ones that you'd fully expect to appear at the bottom of a chart like this.
Oregon, Virginia, Kansas and North Carolina -- all 1 seeds -- each disposed of 16 seeds that possessed negative nERD scores on the season. It's a little shocking, however, that Oregon has actually had the easiest path of them all, considering they were likely the last team on the 1 seed line coming into the Big Dance.
If asked to decide which 1 seed has had the most impressive win, it'd have to be Kansas with their 12-point victory over the blazing hot Connecticut Huskies, who were probably under-seeded according to their 27th ranked nERD.
Of the teams that fall in the middle of easy and tough, the one that sticks out most are the Syracuse Orange. One of the last and most controversial teams to get into the tournament in the first place, Jim Boeheim's squad has taken full advantage of a decent draw and an unlikely upset. As a result of their matchups with Dayton and Middle Tennessee State, Syracuse has yet to face a team with a double-digit nERD or a ranking inside our top 50.
They'll face off again 21st-ranked Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, so don't worry -- we'll get to see Syracuse's true color (get it?) real soon.