Emma: Sweet 16 Power Rankings, Storylines
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By Chris Emma-
(CBS) The national spotlight of the NCAA Tournament shines a light on some of college basketball’s rising stars. The game’s best players receive great exposure, boosting a legacy and even a draft stock. But for coaches able to get their teams on a run through the tournament, millions of dollars can also be made.
Take a look at Dayton’s Archie Miller, now known to all but Greg Gumbel as more than Sean Miller’s brother. The Flyers’ 35-year-old coach is going to become a commodity, now. That’s what upsets of Ohio State and Syracuse — and potentially another few wins — can do. Schools like Marquette and Wake Forest would be foolish not to dial Dayton’s 937 area code and begin forming an offer for Miller.
Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg may have opened up a different door. The former Bulls point guard could be a prime candidate for an NBA head coaching job. His success in Ames, bolstering a roster with transfers, is certainly admirable to NBA executives. His background in the league fits with a job on the bench.
Two of the hottest coaching names left in the tournament are Virgnia’s Tony Bennett and Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin, each experiencing unique ascents to this position. Bennett, who has turned both Washington State and Virginia into successful programs, is just 44 and a proven winner. He’ll be a prime candidate for a premier program should an opening arise.
Martin’s case is different. The Volunteers’ coach was on the hot seat before the postseason began. Tennessee received a break in its play-in game appearance and now has rattled off three straight tournament wins. Suddenly, Martin is being celebrated in Knoxville.
Success on the game’s biggest stage can make a coaching career. That national spotlight shines pretty bright.
Emma’s Sweet 16 Power Rankings
1.) Florida (1) – The top overall seed in the field of 68 has hardly sweated during its first two games. Better yet, all that’s holding it back from a Final Four appearance is an inconsistent UCLA squad, then Dayton or Stanford. Chalk up the Gators for a trip to Dallas.
2.) Virginia (1) – The brief scare offered up by Coastal Carolina was quickly forgotten after the Cavaliers pounded Memphis by 18. Success in the ACC solidified Virginia’s respect, but a win over Michigan State would really be impressive.
3.) Michigan (2) – Everything seems to be clicking for the Wolverines. For a second straight year, John Beilein’s team is playing its best basketball in the month of March. A stomping of Texas really opened some eyes. Michigan won’t be far from home, playing Tennessee in Indianapolis.
4.) Michigan State (4) – So, the Spartans haven’t been as dominating as expected. At least not yet. Harvard gave Michigan State a bit of a scare, but this could wake it up entering the Sweet 16. Tom Izzo’s team will have to be ready for Virginia, its greatest test yet.
5.) Wisconsin (2) – Can the Badgers finally get over the hump with a deep tournament run? That sure seemed in doubt during much of the game with Oregon, but this Wisconsin team may be different. However, Baylor’s tough 2-3 zone will offer some problems.
6.) Louisville (4) – Let’s not forget the defending champions. The Cardinals embarrassed St. Louis with stifling defense, cruising their way to the Sweet 16. This is where Russ Smith’s experience will prove to be the difference for Louisville.
7.) Arizona (1) – The Wildcats would be much higher if one could just believe in them. However, without Brandon Ashley healthy, they just aren’t a threat to reach the Final Four. Arizona’s offensive woes are about to be exposed by a dominant defensive team in San Diego State. A win would inspire some belief.
8.) Baylor (6) – Not a bad first two games for Scott Drew’s crew. First, an impressive win over red-hot Nebraska, then a dominating 30-point win over Dougie McBuckets (sorry) and Creighton. You best believe the Bears will give Wisconsin some issues with their 2-3 zone.
9.) Kentucky (8) – Finally, finally, the Wildcats’ talent is clicking. There was no early exit or disappointing finish for Kentucky. Maybe its season is just beginning.
10.) UConn (7) – Because the AAC received such little respect from the selection committee, I’d like to offer it to the Huskies. Shabazz Napier is one of the best players left in the tournament, and UConn is a threat to reach the Final Four.
11.) UCLA (4) – Perhaps the Pac-12 Tournament winners are for real. A win over top-seeded Florida would secure that thought.
12.) Dayton (11) – Major props to Archie Miller’s team for beating Ohio State and Syracuse in consecutive games. The Flyers’ first two tournament games have been so impressive. Get by Stanford and a trip to the Elite Eight is in store.
13.) Stanford (10) – Sure, Kansas was due for its early exit in the tournament, but the Cardinal’s showing was very impressive. Maybe Stanford has another win or two left in it.
14.) Iowa State (3) – The Cyclones are a different team without Georges Niang in the lineup. Thanks to DeAndre Kane, they avoided a defeat from North Carolina. However, Connecticut may be the one that sends Iowa State back to Ames.
15.) Tennessee (11) – The Volunteers have rolled off three straight wins, but they came against Iowa, UMass and Mercer. The respect will come with a win over Michigan. That’s easier said than done.
16.) San Diego State (4) – A sexy Final Four pick, the Aztecs haven’t proved anything yet in the tournament. A near-upset handed by New Mexico State served as an eye-opener, then a victory over North Dakota State didn’t show much. Steve Fisher’s team needs a win over Arizona to keep its run going.
Player of the Tournament
Shabazz Napier, UConn guard – Putting up big numbers and hitting important shots is one thing, but Napier has carried his Huskies through two tournament wins. UConn’s talented guard may have more good basketball left to play.
Team of the Tournament
Dayton – A win over Ohio State seemed unlikely, but following it with an upset of Syracuse was even more unpredictable. The Flyers are red hot and proving their poise with a notable postseason run.
1.) Three Big Ten teams in the Final Four?
It’s very possible that the Big Ten could put together a special finish to an exciting season. Its three best teams, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, are each poised for runs deeper than the Sweet 16. In separate regions, it’s possible that the Big Ten could see three teams in the Final Four. Sure, it’s a long shot, but which of those three teams could you count out?
2.) What could’ve been
The seasons of Arizona and Iowa State are still going, but it’s hard to see much more tournament success. Unfortunate injuries are likely to keep each team from their true potential. The Wildcats are without star forward Brandon Ashley, while the Cyclones are missing Georges Niang, lost in a first-round win. Each would be a Final Four favorite with their key players in the lineup. The regionals often expose a team’s weakness, as the case could be here.
3.) Hats off to the Vols
It’s hard to believe Cuonzo Martin was on the hot seat just a few weeks ago. Thanks to three big tournament wins and the standout play of Darnell Stokes, the Vols are a Sweet 16 team. Regardless of the outcome in Friday’s game with Michigan, the run Tennessee has put together is very impressive. The Vols have a great coach in Martin.