With the NCAA tournament down to 16 teams, the majority of the country's elite teams have survived, as eight of the top 10 teams in the Pomeroy Ratings advanced to the second weekend. The two that didn't? Villanova and Virginia, of course.
There are also no teams left outside of the Pomeroy top 35, though both NC State and UCLA began the tournament ranked in the 40s. UCLA is the lowest-ranked team remaining at No. 32, with the Pack one spot ahead. Here's the breakdown by region (Pomeroy Rating in parentheses).
East (Avg. Pomeroy Rating = 19.3)
No. 4 Louisville (18) vs. No. 8 NC State (31)
No. 3 Oklahoma (11) vs. No. 7 Michigan State (17)
The East is the Region Of Chaos in 2015, with the top two seeds gone and zero teams in the KenPom top 10 remaining. Every other region includes at least two teams in the top 10. This weekend is truly wide open in Syracuse, since each participant has obvious shortcomings. Louisville's and NC State's are well known by now.
Oklahoma is a mediocre shooting team with no depth--the Sooners rank 335th in bench minutes. Sparty has had some weird lapses this season, losing games at home to the likes of Texas Southern, Illinois, and Minnesota. The Spartans shoot just 63% at the free throw line, which ranks 339th.
No. 1 Kentucky (1) vs. No. 5 West Virginia (26)
No. 3 Notre Dame (10) vs. No. 7 Wichita State (9)
This is the end for Bob Huggins' house of cards, though I appreciate his taking care of Maryland first. The Mountaineers show all the tell-tale strains of a team that presses like crazy. They generate a bunch of turnovers, sure, but they are also the most foul-prone team in the nation. On the season, WVU's opponents have a 52.7 eFG%, which ranks the WVU defense 303rd in that category. The Mountaineers' 2FG% defense is ranked similarly.
Kentucky has a bunch of dudes running around on stilts and in order to mitigate WVU's defensive efforts, the Wildcats can simply keep the ball in low orbit until it is time for them to score on a dunk.
I get why people would dismiss Wichita after the Shockers' flameout in the round of 32 last season, but the thing is, their efficiency margin in league play this season was actually better than it was during their undefeated 2014 run. Seriously, they were a bit better, even with a loss thrown into the mix. They were badly underseeded to start the tournament, and now they're even money to reach the Elite Eight. That game against the Irish could be really entertaining.
No. 1 Duke (6) vs. No. 5 Utah (8)
No. 2 Gonzaga (7) vs. No. 11 UCLA (32)
I like Utah a little too much for my own good, probably--if the Utes lose to Duke, my bracket is ashes--but in my defense there's a lot to like. The Utes have strong guard play, a tremendous seven-footer, and depth. Only one of their eight losses came against a team that missed the NCAAs. Duke's still the team to beat here, but there's no reason why the Utes can't crack this region.
UCLA kinda lucked its way to the point, what with getting a 14-seed in the round of 32, but hey, the Bruins have nothing to apologize for. They do seem to be playing better, which is good since the last time they played Gonzaga, they lost by 13.
No. 1 Wisconsin (3) vs. No. 4 UNC (14)
No. 2 Arizona (2) vs. No. 6 Xavier (22)
Wisconsin's defense hasn't been great in 2015 (41st in defensive efficiency), so the Tar Heels do have an opening, especially if Justin Jackson can continue to knock down a decent percentage of his jump shots. The absence of Kennedy Meeks will be a problem, though, and there is this other thing: UNC's defense ranks only 248th in turnover rate. Wisconsin's offense is the best in the country at taking care of the ball. If the Badgers aren't gonna turn the ball over, that leaves a great deal of UNC's chances in the hands of the basketball gods.
Not many teams looked better during the first weekend than Arizona, which won its first two games by a combined 36 points. Sean Miller's brand of pack-line defense doesn't draw the same attention as Tony Bennett's, but it's really really good, too. The Wildcats are the best defensive rebounding team in the country, limiting opponents to about 22% of their misses. Twenty-two percent! That is a huge luxury.
Xavier can present some challenges up front but Arizona can counter with plenty of size of its own--it's strength on strength. The Musketeers rank 15th nationally in 2FG%, and Arizona ranks 14th in 2FG% defense. If Matt Stainbrook can't find any room to work, I'm not sure Xavier's guards are going to be good enough to bail the team out.