Sweet 16 teams, ranked by chances to win March Madness in 2023 men’s NCAA tournament

The first weekend of March Madness produces some stunning results and dramatic moments every year, and the start of the 2023 men’s NCAA tournament was no different. We saw a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed for only second time ever when Fairleigh Dickinson did the unthinkable vs. Purdue. We saw a No. 15 seed beat a No. 2 seed for the third year in a row with Princeton knocking off Arizona, and the Tigers’ run isn’t done yet. While we didn’t have a true buzzer-beater, JP Pegues’ three-pointer in the final seconds to help Furman upset Virginia was close enough.

We’re now left with 16 teams and eight awesome games when the tournament resumes on Thursday to start the second weekend. With half of the No. 1 seeds and half the No. 2 seeds already eliminated, it truly feels like almost anyone can win the whole thing.

Before March Madness picks up again, here’s how we’d rank the 16 team still standing based on their chances of winning the national title. Each of our five writers ranked the teams 1-16, and the final rankings were determined by the averages.

No. 16 Princeton Tigers (15-seed)

Princeton made some history with Saturday’s win over Missouri to advance to the Sweet 16. The Tigers became the first Ivy League team to make it to the Sweet 16 since Cornell back in 2010, and they became just the fourth No. 15 seed in NCAA men’s tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16, joining Florida Gulf Coast, Oral Roberts, and St. Peter’s. While their win over Arizona on Thursday was a tight-knit affair, Saturday’s win over Missouri showed that Princeton can take control of a game. The Tigers built a 33-19 lead in the first half, and after Missouri closed the gap before halftime, a 10-0 run in the second half saw Princeton pull away for good. What perhaps stood out most was the work the Ivy League champions did on the glass. Princeton won the battle of second-chance points 19-2 while out-rebounding Missouri 44-30. That advantage for Princeton included a 16-8 advantage in offensive rebounding. Caden Pierce led the way for Princeton with a career-high 16 boards, including seven on the offensive end. That advantage could be tested in the Sweet 16, as both Baylor and Creighton is also solid on the glass. The Bluejays ranked 12th in the nation in OR% on defense, ahead of the Tigers. — Mark Schofield

USC v Michigan State

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No. 15 Michigan State (7-seed)

Death, taxes, Tom Izzo in March. Sure it’s a cliche, but unbelievably accurate. This is far from Izzo’s best team on paper, but that’s meaningless in moments like this. Beating No. 2 Marquette proved why Izzo is one of basketball’s greatest strategists, as he worked the entire offense through Tyson Walker, with Joey Hauser’s rebounding strength shining en route to a double-double. Balanced on both sides of the ball, the Spartans relish in playing spoiler, and this is easily a team that could continue to shock. Kansas State represents a serious threat in the Sweet 16, but so did Marquette and we saw how that ended up. With time to prepare Izzo will have this team ready to compete, and counting out Michigan State is a fool’s errand. Keep watching Tyson Walker in this tournament. While he was slightly flat against USC in the opening round, he broke out in the big way against Marquette, giving the team a headache as he used his athleticism to drive the lane and force foul after foul, shooting 7-8 from the line as he finished with 23 points. — James Dator

No. 14 Florida Atlantic Owls (9-seed)

Has it been the prettiest of wins? No, not at all. But the Owls keep dancing, and are headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. What’s made the Owls’ run so impressive is that they’ve managed to turn up the defense while the offense finds its shot. The Owls have held their opponents so far to under 30% shooting from deep, and in their 78-70 win over Farleigh Dickinson, the Owls defense held the upstart 16-seed to 38% from the field and forced 11 turnovers. The Owls have also gotten major contributions from their best players, who have made tough shots all year. Johnell Davis poured in 29 points to go with 12 rebounds, five assists and five steals, the first player in NCAA history to have that statline in the tournament. The scariest part? FAU hasn’t found their shot from deep yet. The Owls normally shoot almost 37% from deep and make ten threes per game, but that hasn’t fallen yet. When it does, watch out because we could have an upstart crashing the Final Four. — JPA

Arkansas v Kansas

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No. 13 Arkansas Razorbacks (8-seed)

It’s easy to see four potential NBA draft picks on Arkansas’ roster headlined by arguably the most star-studded freshmen class in the country and believe these Razorbacks succeed by being a glitzy offensive powerhouse. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Arkansas survived a late push from Illinois and wiped away a double-digit second half deficit against No. 1 seed Kansas by grinding out possessions and giving up nothing easy on the defensive end. While projected lottery pick Nick Smith went scoreless against the Jayhawks, fellow freshman studs Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh swung the game with their tremendous defense against KU stars Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick. The Razorbacks have some reliable veterans, too, and they wouldn’t still be playing without Devo Davis and Ricky Council IV coming up so many clutch buckets in Des Moines. Arkansas has the talent to play with anyone, but they win because they use it mostly to dig deep on the defensive end. After knocking off the defending champs, Arkansas has to believe it can play with anyone still standing in the West. — Ricky O’Donnell

No. 12 San Diego State Aztecs (5-seed)

The Aztecs might not win in the prettiest of ways, but it’s damn effective. San Diego State has suffocated teams en route to the Sweet 16, only giving up 57 and 52 points in their first two games. With their full court press and the physicality they play with, they can turn any game into a slugfest. Offensively, they want to get the ball into the post and are primarily run through their bigs, but their best player so far has been guard Matt Bradley. The 6’4, 220-pound senior is able to create his own shot and get tough buckets for the Aztecs when they need to score. They don’t shoot it as well as most other teams in the tourney, but if they can continue to get good performances from sharpshooter Micah Parrish, the Aztecs will continue to dance. — JPA

Pittsburgh v Xavier

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No. 11 Xavier Musketeers (3-seed)

A year to the day after Sean Miller agreed to return as the head coach at Xavier, he saw the Musketeers punch their first ticket to the Sweet 16 since 2017. Xavier’s 84-73 win over Pittsburgh followed a model the Musketeers relied on all season long: Unselfish play. Xavier was sixth in the nation in Assist Percentage, with an assist coming on 64.1% of Xavier’s baskets this season. Against the Panthers, the Musketeers had a combined 22 assists, with 17 coming on their first 19 baskets as they built a 14-point lead at halftime. Three players — guards Souley Boum, Colby Jones, and Adam Kunkel — averaged at least three assists per game this season, and they combined for 15 assists against Pittsburgh. In addition, the Musketeers got another big game from their man in the middle, as Jack Nunge led the way with 18 points. It was Nunge’s critical block at the end of Xavier’s opening-round win over Kennesaw State that put Xavier into the Round of 32. Their strong guard play, and unselfish offensive philosophy, is a great combination for a run to the Final Four. — Mark Schofield

No. 10 Creighton Bluejays (6-seed)

This Creighton team always felt like it had all the pieces for a deep NCAA tournament run dating back to the preseason when sharpshooter Baylor Scheierman signed on as the final addition from the transfer portal. It was a rocky road for the Bluejays for most of the season in a tough Big East, but now the vision of what this team always could have been is starting to come into focus. Creighton has ball handling, shooting, and rim protection, and each part of the lineup made key contributions in their wins over No. 11 NC State and No. 3 Baylor. Center Ryan Kalkbrenner is one of the country’s best shot blockers, but it was his scoring (31 points) that carried Creighton against the Wolfpack. The win over a very good Baylor squad was a true team effort, spearheaded by point guard Ryan Nembhard’s ability to get into the paint for easy buckets and free throws. Creighton has been a consistently good program, but they’ve never made an Elite Eight before. With a favorable matchup against No. 15 seed Princeton coming up, this is the time to do it. — ROD

Kentucky v Kansas State

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No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats (3-seed)

Jerome Tang was supposed to have a multi-year rebuild on his hands when he left his assistant position at Baylor to take over Kansas State: the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the Big 12 coming into the season with a roster mostly pieced together in the transfer portal. Instead, K-State started 15-1, rose to No. 5 in the AP Poll at one point, and placed top-three in the toughest conference in America. Their Sweet 16 run has proved this team is no fluke: after taking out Montana State in round one, Kansas State won the battle of the Wildcats by outlasting Kentucky in one of the best games of the tournament. At this point, it feels like Tang’s team has the talent to compete with anyone. The 5’8 Marquis Newell has become one of the best point guards in the field, Keyontae Johnson continued his remarkable comeback story with a clutch step-back three to sink Kentucky late, and everyone else gets after it defensively. Suddenly, the Wildcats are the highest seed still standing in the East Region. This Kansas State run feels real, even if no one would have believed it back in Oct. — ROD

No. 8 Miami Hurricanes (5-seed)

When you play the Hurricanes, you better be ready for a track meet. Miami plays at a frenetic pace, getting up and down the court and letting their guard play dictate the game. Guards Isaiah Wong (the ACC Player of the Year) and Nigel Pack can torch defenses with their speed and ability to get to the rim, just as they did against Indiana. Against the Hoosiers, Wong, Pack and Jordan Miller combined for 58 points, carving the Hoosier defense up every time they went to the rim. Defensively, they play with a lot of activity, but can be susceptible to large scoring runs. However, if you want to beat Miami, you gotta catch them first, and that might be your biggest issue. — JPA

Duke v Tennessee

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No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers (4-seed)

This Tennessee basketball team has a very special set of skills, one that makes them a formidable opponent in March: they play defense as good as any team that’s left in the tournament. Without star floor general Zakai Zeigler, the Vols have had to lean on their physicality and defense even more, and it makes them an absolutely terrifying opponent to play against. They don’t allow teams to make many three pointers, and their length combined with their physicality gives a lot of teams problems. Offensively, they can enter long periods without scoring points, but they get contributions from everyone, such as seniors Santiago Vescovi and Olivier Nkamhoua. Defense is their strong suit though, and if they’re making a deep run, it’ll be because of their defense. — JPA

No. 6 Gonzaga Bulldogs (3-seed)

There’s a certain type of college basketball fan that views Gonzaga as a March Madness underachiever because they haven’t won a national title, but in reality no program in the country succeeds at a high level more consistently. The Zags are into the Sweet 16 for the eighth consecutive year, a truly remarkable accomplishment that has included two appearances in the national title game if no championship rings. This isn’t Gonzaga’s best team over that stretch, but it’s still a very good one. The Zags currently have the No. 1 offense in the country, led by the tremendous all-around game of senior center Drew Timme, who put up a heroic 28-8-3 performance in a tight win over TCU in the round of 32. Anton Watson provides additional defensive support on the inside, while Julian Strawther is one of the best shooters left in the field at 6’7. The looming matchup with Gonzaga feels like the best of the regional semifinals. Can they get enough stops to make one more Final Four run with Timme? If not, we can’t wait to see them try to out-score the Bruins. — ROD

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Albany

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No. 5 UConn Huskies (4-seed)

UConn is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since their improbable run to the 2014 national championship as a No. 7 seed. This time, it doesn’t feel so surprising. The Huskies felt seriously under-seeded when the bracket listed them as No. 4 seed despite being top-5 in KenPom efficiency rankings and top-10 in the NET. UConn had size, it had shooting, and it had impressive balance on both ends of the floor. So far, all of those things have shined through in their first two wins. We ranked junior big man Adama Sanogo as a top-10 player in March Madness entering the tournament, and he proceeded to dominate the opening weekend: after dropping 28 points and 13 rebounds on Iona, he followed it up with 24 points and eight rebounds during a win over Saint Mary’s. UConn’s shooters have been on fire, too, hitting about 45 percent of their threes across the two wins. The defense? Yes, that’s good, too, with both tournament opponents held under one point per possession. With top seed Kansas out in the West Region, the Huskies can dream of another Final Four run. They really do have the pieces to do it. — ROD

No. 4 UCLA Bruins (2-seed)

Despite everything, the Bruins just keep winning. UCLA is in the Sweet Sixteen for the third consecutive season, but they’ve found themselves severely banged up on the path there. Already without Jaylen Clark, one of the best defenders in the nation, the Bruins suffered another blow when sharpshooter David Singleton crumpled to the floor with an ankle injury late in their win over Northwestern. Singleton says he’s good to go, but UCLA is thin. It’s become a theme for them: last tournament Jamie Jaquez Jr. sprained his ankle so bad that he needed offseason surgery, and the year before it was Johnny Juzang who hobbled through the tournament.

The Bruins have played dominant so far, only trailing for 62 seconds of game time at the beginning of their second round game. They have one of the best backcourts in the tournament: Jaquez Jr. is scoring with ease, averaging 20.5 points and 8 rebounds per game and Tyger Campbell feasted at the free throw line (12-12) against Northwestern. Their weak point is their lack of depth at center, where senior Kenneth Nwuba is backed up by freshman Mac Etienne, who was playing about 5 minutes per game before the tournament. If Nwuba gets into foul trouble, the Bruins will have a weak point for an opportune team to attack. – Adam Ward

Penn State v Texas

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No. 3 Texas Longhorns (2-seed)

Texas was battle-tested in the country’s toughest conference all season, and the bumps they took along the way sure seem to be helping this team play its best basketball at the right time. The Longhorns were dominant on their way to a Big 12 tournament championship, and picked up where they left off to start the big dance with wins over Colgate and Penn State. This team is starting to feel like it checks every box for a national champion: they have two star guards who can create for themselves and others in Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter, they have a rotating cast of big forwards who can finish plays inside and defend the paint, and they have as much depth as any team still standing. Interim head coach Rodney Terry helped recruit so many of these players in the transfer portal, and he’s pushing all the right buttons at the moment. Texas basketball isn’t a sleeping giant anymore; they’re here, and they have every piece a team needs to win six games in this tournament. — ROD

No. 2 Alabama (1-seed)

There’s no avoiding that discussing the Crimson Tide is messy, and complicated. The off-court legal proceedings swirling around the team will linger after the season is done, and we don’t yet know if star player Brandon Miller will be charged in connection with the death of Jamea Harris. Murder charges have been filed against former Alabama player Darius Miles and his friend friend Michael Davis, and we’re yet to fully know how far out this extends.

It’s difficult balancing celebrating this team as a force on the court, while also acknowledging the situation off of it. When it comes to the Sweet 16 the best we can do is discuss the performance we’ve been presented with. Alabama has done exactly what a No. 1 seed should. They blew out Texas A&M – CC in the first round, and cruised to a 22 point win over No. 8 Maryland in the second round, putting the hammer down in the second half and pulling away, showing their depth. Miller is one of the best players in college basketball, and able to score in bunches when needed, but he’s also willing to take a back seat and allow teammates Jahvon Quinerly and Mark Sears shine against teams with stronger front courts. This variety of ways to score should propel the Crimson Tide into the Final Four, and they’re absolutely a team to favored to go all the way. — James Dator

Auburn v Houston

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No. 1 Houston Cougars (1-seed)

A shaky opening-round game against Northern Kentucky had some prognosticators wondering if Houston would be able to put together a deep run, but Saturday’s effort against Auburn, particularly in the second half, likely erased those fears. Despite trailing at the half by ten, the Cougars took over in the second half, outscoring the Tigers by 27 en route to their 81-64 victory. Houston also got some good news prior to tipoff regarding the health of All-American guard Marcus Sasser. Despite being limited against Northern Kentucky, and not playing in the second half, Sasser played without limitations on Saturday and hung 22 on the Tigers. If Sasser is healthy, and the Cougars continue to frustrate opponents with their stifling defense, Houston could put together a deep, deep run. — Mark Schofield

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