SHUT DOWN

SportsPulse: While there are no real Cinderellas in the tournament yet, Trysta Krick, USA TODAY explains why that's okay and looks at the Sweet 16.
USA TODAY

And then it was 16.

The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament reduced the 64 teams to 16, and now these survivors will fight Thursday through Sunday in the Sweet 16 and Elight Eight with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Which of these teams has the best chance of restraining the networks in Minneapolis? USA TODAY Sports counts the Sweet 16 teams by title potential.

1. Gonzaga (Seed No. 1, 32-3): Bulldogs' high-octane offense has shown no signs of slowing and blowing Fairleigh Dickinson and Baylor out. Rui Hachimura (20.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Brandon Clarke (16.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg) are versatile 6-8 strikers against whom it is difficult to assert themselves. Hachimura was a first-team All-American team, but it was Clarke who broke Baylor in the second round of the "Zags" with 36 points and five blocks. Coach Mark Few has proven that he can train his rivals, best documented by his November win over Duke.

Gonzaga Bulldog striker Brandon Clarke (15) reacts with striker Corey Kispert (24) in the first half of the NCAA 2019 second round against the Baylor Bears at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

2. Virginia (Seed No. 1, 31-3): The Cavaliers have the best defense, limiting their opponents to 55 points per season this season and holding their opponents on the first weekend – Gardner-Webb and Oklahoma – 53.5 points per game. This is also the tournament's best three-point shooting team (41 percent), though Kyle Guy was shot from three to 0 in the UVA win over OU. The Cavs had survived a first-half deficit in their first game – a performance that last year went from no. 16 UMBC had been upset – and now play with added motivation.

3. Duke (# 1 seed, 31-5): The Blue Devils survived a game against UCF No. 9, in which even coach Mike Krzyzewski realized that his team should have lost. This happens when a well-trained team like UCF plays with urgency and forces Duke to shoot outside (Tre Jones was 1-8 in the UCF game). The disturbing fact on Sunday showed how beatable Duke is and makes the Blue Devils title opportunities suddenly feel a lot more difficult, but Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett have the ability to improve in punchy situations.

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4. North Carolina (Seed No. 1, 29-6): The Tar Heels looked like the title fighters in their second halves after coach Roy Williams made adjustments. Their first half, however, was another story, with UNC at halftime # 16 Iona. Luke Maye remains a consistent force, while point-keeper Coby White has blossomed into a star. Naz Little delivered 20 points and seven rebounds from the bank against Washington.

Florida State (Seed No. 4, 29-7): The Seminoles pounded Murray State to rise to the Sweet 16 to continue their strong game late in the season. Their only losses in the past two months have come against Duke and North Carolina. Leonard Hamilton's team is big – starting with 7 foot 4 man Christ Koumadje. Leading scorer Mfiondu Kabengele, a 6:10 striker, beat an average of 21.5 points and 8.5 boards in the tournament.

6. Texas Tech (Seed No. 3, 28-6): The profile of the Red Raiders has increased from a Final Four pick to one of the frontrunners. Jarrett Culver was exceptional in the NCAAs. He scored 29 points in the first round against Northern Kentucky, scoring 16 points and 10 rebounds against Buffalo, who were capped at 58 points in the season.

7. Kentucky (Seed No. 2, 29-6): The Wildcats survived a frightened Fear of Wofford and advanced to Sweet 16 with no leading scorer and rebounder PJ Washington to play this weekend. Kentucky has perhaps improved more than any other team this season from November to March, and it starts with the British first semester. Veteran Reid Travis has added an extra dimension since returning from injury, averaging a double-double (16 points, 10 boards) in these NCAs.

8. Michigan State (Seed No. 2, 30-6): The Spartans did not look very good in these NCAAs. They struggled to knock out No. 15 seed Bradley and turned the ball over 22 times in their second round against Minnesota. However, Cassius Winston gives this team a chance to win every night, and tall man Nick Ward is nearing the state of his health.

9. Michigan (Seed No. 2, 30-6): The Wolverines look like a national title contender if they do not play Michigan State, which they have lost three times this season. Michigan moved past Florida in the second round and coach John Beilein raised the team's defenses to the level of second place in the national title last year, with Virginia lagging only in points. The Wolverines are insulted in various ways, but the point-keeper Zavier Simpson is the catalyst. Do you need proof? See Simpson's cross-court rebound passes to Isayah Livers,

10. Purdue (Seed No. 3, 25-9): The Boilermakers brought down the defending champion Villanova by 26 points in the second round. Carsen Edwards's 42 points in this routine helped the All-American Guard break out of a shooting slump and showed what a threat Purdue can be if his offense matches his defensive value.

11. LSU (Seed No. 3, 28-6): As head coach Will Wade was suspended, the tigers were considered vulnerable. But the SEC champion in the regular season still stands after beating Yale and Maryland. On paper, this could be the most talented team in the tournament. Tremont Waters (15.1 ppg, 6.0 apg) leads four players averaging double digits, and Naz Reid, a 6-10 tall man, is an NBA talent who plays this team with his game on both ends can ignite.

Emmitt Williams (24), striker of the LSU Tigers, celebrates his victory over the Maryland-Terrapins in the second round. (Photo: Matt Stamey, USA TODAY Sport)

12. Houston (Seed No. 3, 33-3): The Cougars crossed Georgia State and Ohio State on the first weekend, beating both teams by a total of 45 points. Houston was clearly the best team in the American Athletic Conference, with UCF and Cincinnati as the best challengers. Now it could reach the Final Four. Corey Davis Jr., with an average of 23.5 points, was one of the tournament's biggest stars, scoring seven three-point points against Georgia State.

13. Auburn (Seed No. 5, 28-9)The Tigers have won 10 games in a row, including an impressive, pace-controlling win over Kansas in the second round and a one-point win over New Mexico State in the first round. This team lives and dies of the three. The backcourt duo of the Jared Harper and Bryce Brown tigers scored 43 points against KU, which made up nine out of 13 Auburn's threes.

14. Oregon (Seeds No. 12, 25-12): The Ducks have a ten-step winning streak and coach Dana Altman has made this team a defensive juggernaut. In the wins against Wisconsin in the first round and against UC Irvine in the second round Oregon looked dominant. Kenny Wooten (seven blocks against UC Irvine) and Payton Pritchard (an average of 18.5 points and 7.5 assists in the NCAAs) are the main factors influencing this outsider.

15. Tennessee (# 2 seeds, 31-5): The Volunteers avoided one of the biggest breakdowns in NCAA tournament history. They were 25 points clear of Iowa but won overtime in the second round. SEC Player of the Year, in which Grant Williams had six points and an assistant in OT. In postgame comments, Admiral Schofield aptly summarized why the Vols on this Sweet 16 list are so low: "The way we started the game is the team we win with. we can not have that as we finished the game. "

16. Virginia Tech (Seed No. 4, 26-8): The Hokies played two defeated opponents in Saint Louis and Liberty and did not show much. Point Watcher Justin Robinson's return was a huge boost, but it will not be enough to repeat February's win over Duke when Williamson missed a knee injury.

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