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

The Dagger
Ranking the Sweet 16 from most to least likely to win a national title
Ranking the Sweet 16 from most to least likely to win a national title

For all the wild finishes and stunning upsets during the NCAA tournament's opening weekend, the 16 teams advancing to the second weekend contain many of the usual suspects. 

All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012. So did six other top-four seeds. The closest thing to a mid-major in the Sweet 16 is name-brand, big-budget Gonzaga, which means that Cinderella has already packed up her glass slippers and returned home for the year.

The major surprise is that the Sweet 16 does not include Michigan State or Kentucky, two of oddsmakers' five title favorites when the NCAA tournament began. Here's a look at how I'd rank the Sweet 16 from most likely to least likely to win the national championship:

1. Kansas
How it got here: Defeated Austin Peay (16), UConn (9)
Up next: Maryland (5)
Outlook: The most encouraging part of Kansas' two convincing opening-weekend victories was the performance of Wayne Selden. The shooting guard notorious for past NCAA tournament struggles scored an efficient 14 points in 19 minutes against Austin Peay and then erupted for 22 points and seven rebounds against UConn. That's an encouraging sign for a Kansas team that got a total of eight points out of Selden in four NCAA tournament games during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

2. North Carolina
How it got here: Defeated Florida Gulf Coast (16), Providence (9)
Up next: Indiana (5)
Outlook: The urgency North Carolina sometimes lacked during the regular season has been present throughout the postseason so far. The Tar Heels dominated the offensive glass, scored efficiently from inside the arc and held both Florida Gulf Coast and Providence to sub-45 percent shooting. Especially good was Brice Johnson, North Carolina's All-American forward. Johnson's combined output against the Eagles and Friars: 39 points, 17 rebounds, 14-for-20 shooting and 10 blocked shots.

3. Virginia
How it got here: Defeated Hampton (16), Butler (9)
Up next: Iowa State (4)
Outlook: Butler put a scare into Virginia, but the Cavaliers survived thanks to a scary-efficient second-half performance. They scored 54 second-half points, shot shot 73 percent from the field and even rebounded three of their first five misses. Sweet 16 foe Iowa State might actually be a more favorable matchup than Butler if only because of the contrast in styles. The free-flowing, fast-paced Cyclones want to run, however, nobody is better at controlling the pace of play than the methodical Cavaliers.

4. Oklahoma
How it got here: Defeated Cal State Bakersfield (15), VCU (10)
Up next: Texas A&M (3)
Outlook: College basketball's most lethal scorer has somehow only gotten tougher to stop in the NCAA tournament. He's averaging 31 points per game after torching VCU for 36 on Sunday. The record for average points by one player in an NCAA tournament is 52.7 by Notre Dame's Austin Carr in 1970, but Hield has an outside chance to crack the top 10 with a huge game or two in Anaheim this week. Tenth is Houston's Elvin Hayes, who averaged 33.4 points during the 1968 NCAA tournament.

5. Oregon
How it got here: Defeated Holy Cross (16), St. Joseph's (8)
Up next: Duke (4)
Outlook: The last beacon of hope for a beleaguered Pac-12 is the team that swept the conference's regular season and tournament titles. Oregon rallied from a late seven-point deficit against St. Joseph's to advance to the NCAA tournament's second weekend and earn a crack at defending national champion Duke in the regional semifinals. In some ways, the Blue Devils may be a more favorable matchup than the Hawks were. Duke's suspect perimeter defense will be tested early and often by Oregon's array of quick, athletic swingmen.

6. Villanova
How it got here: Defeated UNC Asheville (15), Iowa (7)
Up next: Miami (3)
Outlook: Seldom has a team come up bigger in a more pressure-packed spot than Villanova did in the second round against Iowa. The Wildcats' aggressive defense and torrid 3-point shooting propelled them to a 65-31 second-half lead before they eased their foot off the gas pedal. The victory sent Villanova to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. The Wildcats had suffered painful upsets in the second round against seventh-seeded UConn in 2014 and eighth-seeded NC State last March.

7. Indiana
How it got here: Defeated Chattanooga (12), Kentucky (4)
Up next: North Carolina (1)
Outlook: What was so impressive about Indiana's second-round victory over Kentucky wasn't merely the outcome. It was that the high-scoring Hoosiers did it with defense, holding the Wildcats to just 0.94 points per possession, silencing their talented but erratic frontcourt and forcing Jamal Murray to take 18 shots to get his 16 points. Indiana has the firepower to contend for a national title if it can continue to defend at that level, but the Big Ten champs do not have an easy path. Up next for the Hoosiers: a showdown with ACC champion North Carolina.

8. Duke
How it got here: Defeated UNC Wilmington (13), Yale (12)
Up next: Oregon (1)
Outlook: UNC Wilmington gashed Duke off the dribble and in transition in the first half of their opening-round matchup. Yale used a ball-hawking full-court press to trim a 27-point Blue Devils lead to three in the second round two days later. Expect Oregon to try to exploit some of those same issues in the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils do not have an elite point guard this season, nor is staying in front of athletic perimeter players a strength. Duke instead will try to outscore opponents behind the formidable duo of Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram.

9. Miami
How it got here: Defeated Buffalo (14), Wichita State (11)
Up next: Villanova (2)
Outlook: If it's true that Miami goes as Angel Rodriguez goes, then the Hurricanes need their feast-or-famine point guard to continue his March hot streak. Rodriguez averaged 26 points against Buffalo and Wichita State, shot 15-for-26 from the field and got to the foul line 19 times. The biggest play Rodriguez made was a pinpoint alley-oop pass from mid-court to Sheldon McClellan to halt Wichita State's momentum midway through Saturday's second half. He also put the Shockers away down the stretch, scoring 10 points in the final 2:07.

10. Iowa State
How it got here: Defeated Iona (13), Arkansas-Little Rock (12)
Up next: Virginia (1)
Outlook: Just because Iowa State faced two double-digit seeds in the opening rounds doesn't mean the Cyclones didn't accomplish a lot in a pair of one-sided victories. They avoided the upset bug that big them the previous year against UAB, they defended effectively against high-scoring guards A.J. English and Josh Hagins and they got a pair of 28-point performances from All-American candidate Georges Niang. Virginia's disciplined defense and methodical tempo may be a step up in class in the Sweet 16, but Iowa State is dangerous if it can get the pace of play in its favor.

11. Maryland
How it got here: Defeated South Dakota State (12), Hawaii (13)
Up next: Kansas (1)
Outlook: Maryland's starting five is more talented than several of the teams ranked above it, but the Terps have yet to play well enough to make a convincing argument they can beat Kansas and either Villanova or Miami to advance to a Final Four. They beat Hawaii despite going 1-for-18 from behind the arc and surrendering 16 offensive boards. The good news for Maryland is that Melo Trimble appears to have emerged from his slump even if his outside shot is still misfiring. The point guard had 24 against Hawaii and got to the foul line 23 times in two games.

12. Texas A&M
How it got here: Defeated Green Bay (14), Northern Iowa (11)
Up next: Oklahoma (2)
Outlook: It took nothing short of the biggest final-minute comeback in college basketball history for Texas A&M to make it to Anaheim. The third-seeded Aggies rallied from 12 down in the final 40 seconds against Northern Iowa en route to a double-overtime victory. Sunday's game rightfully will be remembered more as a Northern Iowa collapse than a Texas A&M comeback, but give the Aggies credit for their never-say-die mentality. They defend and rebound well enough that they'll still be a tough out in Anaheim.

13. Gonzaga
How it got here: Defeated Seton Hall (6), Utah (3)
Up next: Syracuse (10)
Outlook: Two weeks ago, Gonzaga needed to win the WCC tournament just to avoid the NIT. Now the Zags are a slim favorite to advance to the Elite Eight for a second straight season. Gonzaga notched its two strongest victories of the season this week, first dispatching of surging Seton Hall and then waylaying Pac-12 power Utah. The key has been improved guard play. The Gonzaga backcourt is complementing Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis with better decision making, outside shooting and perimeter defense.

14. Notre Dame
How it got here: Defeated Michigan (11), Stephen F. Austin (14)
Up next: Wisconsin (7)
Outlook: The most unlikely hero of the NCAA tournament's opening weekend was a Notre Dame freshman who could not get off the bench his first two months of the season. Rex Pflueger played his way into the rotation during ACC play and then came up huge in the final seconds on Sunday against Stephen F. Austin. Pflueger's late go-ahead tip-in capped Notre Dame's comeback from a five-point deficit in the final two minutes and sent the Irish to the Sweet 16. It was Pflueger's only points of the day and his first basket since before the ACC tournament.

15. Wisconsin
How it got here: Defeated Pittsburgh (10), Xavier (2)
Up next: Notre Dame (6)
Outlook: At one point this season, Wisconsin was 9-9 overall, three weeks removed from a coaching change and coming off a terrible loss to Northwestern. The Badgers have since won 11 of their final 14 games capped by Sunday's dramatic upset of second-seeded Xavier. Bronson Koenig's back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 15 seconds clinched Wisconsin's fifth Sweet 16 appearance in the last six years. The list of teams that have done that? Just the Badgers.

16. Syracuse
How it got here: Defeated Dayton (7), Middle Tennessee (15)
Up next: Gonzaga (11)
Outlook: An improbable NCAA tournament bid and a favorable draw greased the wheels for Syracuse's Sweet 16 run, but give the Orange credit for taking advantage. They looked the part in ousting Dayton in the opening round and pounding giant-slaying Middle Tennessee two days later. Especially encouraging for Syracuse is that Trevor Cooney appears to have rediscovered his stroke after a 12-for-52 slump to end the regular season. Cooney went 5-for-12 from behind the arc against Dayton and Middle Tennessee.

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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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