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Reseeding the Sweet 16 from most to least likely to win a national title

 

The opening weekend of the NCAA tournament produced plenty of surprises, but it did not change the favorite to capture the national title. That remains No. 1 overall seed Florida, which easily advanced to the Sweet 16 with victories over Albany and Pittsburgh.

With the regional semifinals set to tip off Thursday evening, here's ranking of the 16 teams still alive from most likely to least likely to win a championship. To be clear, this is not merely a best-to-worst list – it also takes into account upcoming draw and where those games will be held.

1. Florida
How they got here: Defeated Albany (16), Pittsburgh (9)
Up next: UCLA (4)
Outlook: The way Florida's defense methodically squeezed the life out of a dangerous Pittsburgh team only reaffirmed the Gators' status as national title favorites. They got a break with potential Elite Eight opponents Kansas and Syracuse both falling early, but their Sweet 16 matchup with surging UCLA promises to be a real challenge. Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and the rest of UCLA's high-scoring perimeter unit will test Florida's defense, but the Gators should have a big size and strength advantage on the low block and on the offensive glass.

2. Arizona
How they got here: Defeated Weber State (16), Gonzaga (8)
Up next: San Diego State (4)
Outlook: If the rest of the West Region needed a reminder why Arizona will arrive in Anaheim as the favorite to reach the Final Four, the Wildcats' one-sided rout of Gonzaga offered plenty of evidence. Arizona forced 21 turnovers, led by double figures for the final 30 minutes of the game and made enough YouTube worthy dunks and blocks to fill a highlight reel. The West Region draw is favorable for Arizona with an opponent it has already beaten up next and no national powers looming in the Elite Eight. If the Cats can avoid any prolonged scoring droughts, North Texas may be in their future.

3. Virginia
How they got here: Defeated Coastal Carolina (16), Memphis (8)
Up next: Michigan State (4)
Outlook: Patient but clinical motion offense and bruising, disciplined defense has carried Virginia to a sweep of the ACC regular season and tournament titles and to a pair of NCAA tournament victories. Now the top-seeded Cavaliers will test their mettle further against a trendy Final Four pick in fourth-seeded Michigan State. The winner of that regional semifinal will be a clear favorite to reach the Final Four two days later whether it's against seventh-seeded UConn or an Iowa State team missing Georges Niang.

4. Michigan State
How they got here: Defeated Delaware (13), Harvard (12)
Up next: Virginia (1)
Outlook: Finally healthy after enduring a rash of key injuries throughout the regular season, Michigan State rolled through the Big Ten tournament and entered Selection Sunday with ample momentum. The Spartans looked the part of title contenders against Delaware and survived a second-half surge from Harvard to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six years. Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State has never had a senior class graduate without reaching the Final Four at least once. To avoid being part of the first, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling must find a way to solve Virginia's vaunted pack-line defense.

5. Louisville
How they got here: Defeated Manhattan (13), Saint Louis (5)
Up next: Kentucky (8)
Outlook: Having survived a poor all-around performance against Manhattan and a turnover-laden effort against Saint Louis, Louisville advanced to the portion of the tournament in which better games will be necessary to win. Rival Kentucky already beat the Cards earlier this season in Lexington and its offensive rebounding and ability to draw fouls is a concern. Were Louisville to win, a potential national title game rematch with Michigan looms. 

6. Kentucky
How they got here: Defeated Kansas State (9), Wichita State (1)
Up next: Louisville (4)
Outlook: Kentucky can win a national championship if it plays with the togetherness, intensity and intelligence it demonstrated Sunday against Wichita State. The question is whether the Wildcats can sustain that over the next four games when they've barely been able to string together consecutive halves of that caliber during the regular season. The Midwest Regional could be a rivalry tour for the Wildcats depending on how things play out. Up first is a Louisville team Kentucky already beat once this year. Then perhaps SEC rival Tennessee if the 11th-seeded Vols can upend Michigan. 

7. Michigan
How they got here: Defeated Wofford (15), Texas (7)
Up next: Tennessee (11)
Outlook: When Michigan lost Mitch McGary to a season-ending back injury in December, it seemed as though the Wolverines might not even be a lock to make the NCAA tournament. Not only has Michigan made that look ridiculous by winning the Big Ten regular season title, the Wolverines have reached the Sweet 16 as the highest-seeded team left in their region. A Sweet 16 matchup with Tennessee won't be easy because the Vols have the interior heft to make Michigan miss McGary. Should the Wolverines survive that, a national title game rematch with Louisville looms if the Cardinals can defeat rival Kentucky.  

8. UCLA
How they got here: Defeated Tulsa (13), Stephen F. Austin (12)
Up next: Florida (1)
Outlook: Having refocused after a loss to lowly Washington State in its regular season finale, UCLA blew through Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals and semifinals, upset Arizona in the title game and overwhelmed Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin in the NCAA tournament. Now comes a team that has eliminated the Bruins from the NCAA tournament in three of their last five trips: Florida. UCLA's high-octane offense will be challenged by Florida's smothering defense and the Bruins' thin frontcourt will have its hands full keeping the deeper, stronger Gators off the glass.

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9. Wisconsin
How they got here: Defeated American (15), Oregon (7)
Up next: Baylor (6)
Outlook: If Wisconsin is going to take Bo Ryan to his first Final Four this season, it will be because of an offense that can hurt opponents numerous ways. The Badgers have a lot of weapons, from Ben Brust's shooting, to Traevon Jackson's creativity off the dribble, to Sam Dekker's all-around brilliance, to Nigel Hayes' low-post scoring, to Frank Kaminsky's inside-outside game. Wisconsin won't have the benefit of a massive home-court advantage in Anaheim the way it did in Milwaukee.

10. Baylor
How they got here: Defeated Nebraska (11), Creighton (3)
Up next: Wisconsin (11)
Outlook: Once 2-8 in the Big 12 and in jeopardy of falling out of NCAA tournament contention entirely, Baylor rallied to win 12 of 14 games culminating in a thoroughly impressive rout of third-seeded Creighton on Sunday afternoon. One factor has been the improved health of point guard Kenny Chery. Another has been a renewed commitment defensively. Regardless of their midseason struggles, the Bears are clearly a Final Four threat in the West because of their size, length and perimeter shooting. Scott Drew has already been to two Elite Eights. Another could be in his future. 

11. Iowa State
How they got here: Defeated North Carolina Central (14), North Carolina (6)
Up next: UConn (7)
Outlook: Even after losing high-scoring forward Georges Niang to a season-ending broken foot in the first round against North Carolina Central, Iowa State showed it can still be dangerous by outlasting North Carolina in the round of 32. Now the Cyclones have five days to adjust to his absence further and see if they can devise a plan to beat perimeter-oriented UConn without him. Iowa State's ceiling is lower without Niang because he provided such a mismatch for opposing big men, but there's enough talent around Deandre Kane and Melvin Ejim to still make the Cyclones a tough out.

12. UConn
How they got here: Defeated St. Joseph's (10), Villanova (2)
Up next: Iowa State (3)
Outlook: A tough, high-scoring point guard putting UConn on his back and carrying the Huskies deep into the NCAA tournament? Haven't we heard this plot line before? Playing the role of Kemba Walker is Shabazz Napier, who shook off a bruised shin against Villanova to score 25 points and lead UConn to the Sweet 16. Rebounding and interior scoring remain issues in the long run for UConn, but Iowa State isn't the team that will take advantage of the Huskies in those areas. The matchups get more daunting in a potential Elite Eight game, however, because Michigan State and Virginia are both strong on the interior.   

13. San Diego State
How they got here: Defeated New Mexico State (13), North Dakota State (12)
Up next: Arizona (1)
Outlook: The last time the Aztecs met Arizona, they pushed the Wildcats into the final two minutes at Viejas Arena in mid-November before falling 69-60. Why would the outcome be any different four months later at a neutral site? Well, maybe because both teams have evolved since then. San Diego State remains a defense-oriented team, but it has built its offense around Xavier Thames' knack for attacking off ball screens since then and it has found a secondary scoring option in Dwayne Polee, who didn't get off the bench the first game against the Wildcats. Arizona looks similar to what it did back in November except that forward Brandon Ashley is lost for the season and standout freshman Aaron Gordon has developed into a more confident passer and defender.   

14. Tennessee
How they got here: Defeated Iowa (11), UMass (6), Mercer (14)
Up next: Michigan (2)
Outlook: To get to its first Sweet 16 since 2010, Tennessee has beaten an Iowa team that lost five of six entering the NCAA tournament, a UMass team that was more overseeded than anyone else in the field and a Mercer team that upset Duke in the opening round. Now the challenge gets considerably greater for the Vols as they face Big Ten champion Michigan with a trip to only their second-ever Elite Eight on the line. Believe it or not, however, even this is a somewhat favorable matchup for Tennessee. Michigan is loaded with talent on the perimeter, but without Mitch McGary, do the Wolverines have enough size and strength to match up with Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon in the paint.

15. Stanford
How they got here: Defeated New Mexico (7), Kansas (2)
Up next: Dayton (11)
Outlook: An underdog in stunning opening-week victories over the Lobos and Jayhawks, Stanford will now temporarily assume the unlikely role of favorite in the Sweet 16. The Cardinal will face 11th-seeded Dayton with a trip to their first Elite Eight since 2001 at stake. What carried Stanford past Kansas was the size, length and activity of its defenders in the array of zone defenses the Cardinal played. They could employ a similar strategy against smaller, quicker Dayton, but the Flyers are capable of shooting Stanford out of its zone since they hit 37.6 percent of their threes as a team.

16. Dayton
How they got here: Defeated Ohio State (6), Syracuse (3)
Up next: Stanford (10)
Outlook: They partied in the streets, burned couches and lifted the university president on their shoulders after Dayton made its first Sweet 16 in 30 years, so it's scary to think about what Flyers fans might do if the team advances any further. Dayton will be an underdog every game it plays the rest of the tournament, but the Flyers will not be an easy out for Stanford in the Sweet 16 or for Florida or UCLA in the regional final should they make it that far. Since Feb. 1, Dayton has only lost twice and it owns wins over Saint Louis, UMass, Gonzaga, George Washington and Cal to go along with its two impressive NCAA tournament victories.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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