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March Madness: Ranking the title chances of this year's Sweet 16 teams

Ranking the Sweet 16 in order of best to worst shot at winning the national title ...

College Hoops Power Rankings
1Louisville <a href=Cardinals" title="Louisville-Cardinals">
Just how much thievery did the Cardinals pull off in their first two NCAA tournament games? They forced 47 turnovers on an estimated 131 defensive possessions, putting their turnover percentage at 35.9. For context, their season-long TO% is 28.0 -- and that ranks No. 2 in the nation, behind only VCU's 28.5.

Rather than focus on just one Louisville player, I reviewed film of all 47 turnovers and created a full-team Turnometer. If you weren't already calling Russ Smith the early tournament MVP for his offense, you should after seeing this:



It's only a two-game sample, but still, Smith's personal turnover percentage of 12.9 percent is incredible. Ohio State pest Aaron Craft, who inspired this whole Turnometer concept in the first place, finished the regular season at just 6.3 percent, and in the tournament, he's at 9.5.
 
2Indiana <a href=Hoosiers" title="Indiana Hoosiers">
Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams loves to get out on the break, but will his transition offense be neutralized by Cody Zeller's rim runs, known here as GaZellers? The Power Rankings has done season-long charting of Zeller's transition points relative to the nation's other pro-prospect centers, and he's a full bucket better than anyone left in the tournament:



(PPTP in chart computed from Synergy Sports Technology logs.)
 
3Duke <a href=Blue Devils" title="Duke Blue Devils">
The Return of the White Raven (aka Ryan Kelly's 36-point explosion in Duke's 79-76 win over Miami on March 2) was a major event in the national title race. Kelly lifted the Blue Devils' offense to a scary level that day, making 10-of-14 shots and spreading out the Hurricanes' defense. But since then? His shooting has regressed into a chilly state, with an effective field goal percentage of just 37.5 over their past five games.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of Kelly's Miami and post-Miami shot charts:

 
4Florida <a href=Gators" title="Florida Gators">
The Gators, who've topped kenpom.com's Pythagorean rankings for months, still have the best national title odds (at 29.2 percent) in Pomeroy's Sweet 16 log5 calculations. Of the four primary title contenders -- Florida, Louisville, Indiana and Duke -- the Gators also have the biggest gap between their kenpom title odds and their Vegas odds, which are 12.5 percentage points lower. (Louisville, on the other hand, is valued the same in both places.)



(Futures odds taken from vegasinsider.com.)
 
5Ohio State <a href=Buckeyes" title="Ohio State Buckeyes">
The Buckeyes have an elite defense, but it isn't in Louisville's league when it comes to turnover-creation: They've forced 35 in 147 NCAA tournament possessions, for a rate of 23.8 percent. I created a team Turnometer for them, too, and it has Craft at 9.5 percent ... or 8.7 percent, if you refuse to count his raised-heel charge against Iowa State:

 
6Michigan <a href=Wolverines" title="Michigan Wolverines">
The Wolverines have all kinds of interesting splits, starting with the fact that over the past two seasons, they are 16-0 when Tim Hardaway Jr. makes three or more treys, and 36-17 when he doesn't. You think Kansas will be running him off the three-point line on Friday?

Glenn Robinson III's competition-based offensive splits are just as notable. The fact that he dominated nonconference and lesser Big Ten opponents suggested he'd do rather well in the first few rounds of the NCAAs -- and he has, scoring 20.0 points per 40 minutes and posting a true shooting percentage of 88.0. But when the Wolverines face teams this weekend that resemble upper-level Big Ten competition (Kansas and Florida), will he be less of a factor?



 
7Miami Hurricanes
It's a shame that mammoth backup power forward Reggie Johnson -- whom I last saw praising pizza rolls, and giving no indication he was injured, during Miami's locker-room celebration after it beat Illinois -- will have to miss the 'Canes' run through DC this weekend. It shouldn't hurt their offense, because Johnson's offensive rating in March was an atrocious 63.1, and 7-foot freshman Tonye Jekiri, who can slide into that spot in the rotation, produces a similar volume of offensive boards (4.9 per 40 minutes) as Johnson did (4.4).

Where it will hurt is on D, where Johnson was by far Miami's best defensive rebounder (at 7.2 per 40), and his size made him nearly impossible to back down in the post. Senior center Julian Gamble is a superior shot-blocker, but he'll need to be more foul-conscious (thus taking few risks) with Johnson unavailable. Don't count the 'Canes out of the Final Four picture, though. Remember that these guys aren't just fighters; they're Muhammad Ali.

 
8Michigan State <a href=Spartans" title="Michigan State Spartans">
I'd have the Spartans, whose offensive rebounding was phenomenal against Valparaiso and Memphis, higher on this list if the two teams blocking their path to Atlanta weren't Duke and Louisville. The Only Colors posted a great trend chart of Michigan State's rebounding percentages this week, showing that its O-Rebbing has really taken off in March -- especially when coach Tom Izzo rolls with the three-big lineup of Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix at the 3-4-5 spots.

The following GIF from the Valpo rout should give you a sense of how devastating Sparty's dual-wave offensive rebounding attack can be. Watch Dawson and Nix press in together from the weak side while Payne drives, and then after the miss is kicked out to Gary Harris, watch Payne seal his man on the weak side to set up another board (and a trip to the free-throw line).



(GIF footage from TBS.)
 
9Kansas <a href=Jayhawks" title="Kansas Jayhawks">
North Carolina was only the latest team to get burned by Travis Releford on the break. He had eight transition points against the Tar Heels, to give him 168 on the season -- and he's the most efficient transition finisher left in the tournament, according to Synergy. The battle for fastbreak points between him and Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr., who ranks third, will be a key to Friday's Sweet 16 game.

 
10Arizona <a href=Wildcats" title="Arizona Wildcats">
The Wildcats' next opponent, Ohio State, has gone into total ball-control mode in the NCAA tournament, committing turnovers on just 12.5 percent of its possessions against Iona and 13.4 percent of possessions against Iowa State. As much is made of Craft and Shannon Scott's defensive-harrassment skills, the Buckeyes' two point guards have combined for 26 assists against just seven turnovers in the first two rounds. I'm curious to see whether Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson will try to get OSU's offense out of rhythm for the first time in the tourney, or if the Wildcats will sit back and play to their defensive strengths, which are 1) guarding the rim and 2) controlling the glass.
 
11Syracuse <a href=Orange" title="Syracuse Orange">
The Orange's biggest disadvantage in its Sweet 16 matchup with Indiana is at the free-throw line. I used TeamRankings.com's free-throw data to figure out which teams left in the tournament have the biggest margins between free throws made/allowed per 100 possessions, and the gap between IU and Syracuse is nearly nine points. The Hoosiers rank No. 1 in the tourney and No. 1 in the nation in free-throw advantage:

 
12Marquette <a href=Golden Eagles" title="Marquette Golden Eagles">
While we're on the subject of margins ... here's one that makes Reggie Johnson's absence from the Marquette-Miami game seem important: The Golden Eagles get a higher percentage of their points on the interior, and a lower percentage of their points from beyond the arc, than any other team left in the tourney:

 
13Oregon <a href=Ducks" title="Oregon Ducks">
While everyone is (justifiably) praising Florida Gulf Coast for the beauty of its run-and-gun attack, it should be noted that the Ducks play just as fast as the Eagles do, regularly getting their games into 70-plus possession territory. Oregon's problem is that "Between-the-legs bounce pass for a transition three City" isn't as catchy ...



(GIF footage from TNT.)
 
14Wichita State <a href=Shockers" title="Wichita State Shockers">
Last Week: 15
Freshman guard Ron Baker missed a 21-game stretch in the middle of the season after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot (and an injury story featuring a close-up picture of his armpit), but has returned to energize the Shockers' offense in the NCAAs. His 16 points (on four threes) were vital in their third-round upset of Gonzaga, and small-sample numbers show that he's the best spot-up marksman on an otherwise mediocre-shooting team:



(Chart data from Synergy.)
 
15Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
Dunk City isn't a nickname based only on highlights, although the highlights (and the widely blogged GIFs) are amazing. According to Synergy's data, FGCU has taken a higher percentage of its shots at the rim this season than any other Sweet 16 team ... and it also has the highest percentage of transition possessions of any Sweet 16 team.

 
16La Salle <a href=Explorers" title="La Salle Explorers">
Between Tyreek Duren's Under Armour moonboots and Tyrone Garland's braidband, the Explorers are making some serious tourney fashion statements:



According to a Philly sports-radio interview with one of Garland's cousins, Garland's mom does the maintenance on his hair -- but he's refusing to get them worked on again until La Salle loses. Hockey has playoff beards; La Salle has tourney braids.

(Photo credits: Getty Images - left side; USA Today Sports Images - right side.)
 

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