Sweet 16 Rootability Rankings (Part 2)

Submitted by Alex Cook on March 26th, 2015 at 5:14 PM

Yesterday, I posted the eight teams you should root for the most in this year’s Sweet 16. With games starting tonight, here’s the next eight. As a reminder, the top eight teams you should root for, in order, are Wichita State, Oklahoma, Arizona, Gonzaga, North Carolina State, Utah, Xavier, and Notre Dame.

Caution: hot takes.

9. North Carolina

roy williams

“I have horrible taste in blazers blah blah blah”

I really don’t know what to say about this North Carolina team. I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it; I don’t think they’ve been particularly impressive, but on the other hand, they haven’t exactly been underwhelming either. As a team, they can’t shoot worth a lick, but the Heels feature a seemingly endless army of tall, variably athletic guys with overlapping skill sets. Recruiting guru approval only carried Carolina so far – there’s ridiculous Thad Matta-like consternation over the state of the program in recent years. Marcus Paige, the Heels’ go-to guy and only reliable shooter, hasn’t fulfilled All-American promise, and the rest of the team is still very young.

It’s perfectly fair to say that UNC acquitted themselves well this year despite failing to meet some of the loftiest annual expectations of any program in the country. Being among college basketball loyalty has its pluses and minuses: UNC has the facilities, financial resources, and recruiting cachet to remain forever stocked with talent – though this group seems starkly lacking in that there’s not a surefire NBA player in the whole bunch – but there’s the looming expectation that they have to remain extremely competitive in the ACC and must contend for Final Fours and National Championships.

Carolina finished 24-11 and fifth in the league, and although they managed a surprise run to the ACC Tournament final (where they lost to Notre Dame), they weren’t in the hunt for the regular season conference crown and were swept by their hated rival Duke, who has the future lottery picks and number one seed that Carolina envies. It’s tough.

Still, it’s not easy to feel bad for them. They’re still a four-seed and their front line of bouncy junior center Brice Johnson, burly sophomore power forward Kennedy Meeks (who is battling a knee injury), and lanky freshman swingman Justin Jackson will provide an interesting matchup against Wisconsin, though I think the Badgers have an advantage in each individual matchup. UNC isn’t a realistic Final Four contender – they’d need to beat Wisconsin and Arizona, a tall task for a teams that are far more well-rounded than UNC is.

Whatever. They’re nine.

10. The Monstars Kentucky

cal kat

Karl-Anthony Towns is a national treasure and my goodness that young man can play some basketball.

[30 for 30 voice]

What if I told you, that in college basketball’s greatest bastion, in an era of increasing selfishness and commercialization, there was a group of young men who put aside their egos and banded together to play basketball The Right Way, with tenacious defense, egalitarian offense, and a desire to win, first and foremost, without any thought of personal gain.

That’s Kentucky. I’m not sure if they’re better than the Anthony Davis – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Cats back in 2012 (who received the top overall seed and romped to a national title), but this iteration of Cal’s Wildcats are four games away from the first undefeated season in almost 40 years. They have future NBA stars – Karl-Anthony Towns, in addition to being a funny and kinda weird dude, should be the top overall pick in my opinion, and junior (junior!) center Willie Cauley-Stein projects to be a plus-plus defender and rim protector at the next level. On average, they play about 23 minutes per regulation game, because they’re backed up by more freakishly huge, athletic, and imposing big guys.

Because it’s Kentucky – home to college basketball’s answer to Alabama and Florida State’s football fanbases – and because the team is guided by John Calipari, a shameless self-promoter who inspires precious little confidence in he and his program’s ethical legitimacy, for reasons both fair and unfair, people don’t like Kentucky. That’s fine. That’s why I have them way down at #9.

BUT LOOK AT THE PLAYERS. The rotation is just stupidly deep and talented: UK’s two best guards (arguably, but in my opinion) are Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, and they each come off the bench behind the Harrison twins, who were top ten prospects two years ago. Trey Lyles is 6’10 and slightly miscast as a small forward – he does play some power forward – but any offensive speed bumps are rendered inconsequential by Kentucky’s otherworldly defense. This team is insanely fun to watch and if these guys were coached by almost anyone else, they’d be celebrated.

It’s Kentucky and it’s Coach Cal though, so a legitimately fun and possibly historical outfit is side-eyed with suspicion. Instead of focusing on the negatives, let’s focus on the positives: these guys all came in with insane high school accolades and they eventually fit together as a team and fulfill whatever hokey platitudes about teamwork you’d like to throw out there. And they’re so damn good.

That’s my case for bumping up UK from the cellar of these rankings. I’ll be completely honest, the fanbase is spoiled rotten and Cal rubs me the wrong way too (even if I think exploiting the one-and-done loophole is good business and admirable in its own way). If they go undefeated, we’ll have to revisit this, but they’re a buzzsaw and we don’t get to watch teams play at this level in college basketball very often.

11. Wisconsin


This is the second result for “Bo Ryan incredulous” on Google image search.

“But Alex, they’re in the Big Ten too! Conference camaraderie, right?” “You said yourself that this wasn’t a typical Wisconsin team in that they’re actually fun to watch on offense!” “I’d rather these guys win than say, Michigan State.” “I actually don’t mind Wisconsin.”

You know what, straw men? You’re wrong. Despite everything, it’s still Wisconsin – the Trohl Center; Bo Ryan’s ceaseless badgering (hah) of the refs; defense that borders on dirty until one of their generic white dudes sticks his foot under yours on a jump shot and then, you know what, it’s just straight up dirty; it’s Josh Gasser’s bank shot in Crisler, it’s Ben Brust’s heave in Madison, it’s everything that’s regressive and problematic about college hoops! (I actually don’t believe that last part, but I was on a roll).

I’ve never been a huge participant in the Great Conference Wars of college athletics, to be quite honest. I think that the SEC hivemind that stumps for their hated rivals in out-of-conference football games is absurdly warped and stupid. I think that, you know what, even if there’s tangible benefits to a team winning, I just might not like that team. That’s it. Wisconsin’s current team isn’t all that bad – Bronson Koenig has been an awesome surprise, Frank Kaminsky is obviously the dude, and Nigel Hayes is talented and endearing. But this Wisconsin team carries the ghost of all of their predecessors and the less enjoyable things that come with them. More than anything though, I don’t like Wisconsin because they’re good. It’s not really that much more complicated than that.

* * *

I do find myself in a quandary however. After each Badger win, this CBS guy Jon Rothstein tweets, verbatim, “Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan.” While I do enjoy that Bo Ryan is juxtaposed with each of those horrible things, it’s tired and roundly mocked on Twitter after Wisconsin victories. If Rothstein’s right though, what happens if we topple the great undead tax collector? Death and taxes would be vanquished forever!

Now, that sounds good, but let’s pause for a minute. If the unholy triumvirate of death, taxes, and Bo Ryan were to be defeated, we’d have immortality, 100% of our earnings, and no more Wisconsin in the tournament. Immortality sounds great, but it really would probably be the shittiest thing ever; taxes are an unfortunate necessity and our civilization would collapse completely without them. So, yeah, we need Bo Ryan to keep winning. And if Wisconsin manages to hoist the first national championship trophy in a decade-and-a-half for the Big Ten, so help me, I’m gonna stick another needle in my Bucky Badger voodoo doll.

This riff probably didn’t make any sense, and I’m sorry for that. Go Heels.

12. West Virginia

couch burninhg

Country Roads, take me home ♫

Since WVU is probably going to play Kentucky’s game and, in the process, try to debase the beauty of the game of basketball as much as they possibly can, I’m not really a fan. Perhaps I’m too aestheticist, but for the love of all that’s good and pure about hoops, I can’t stand West Virginia’s brand of basketball. Play physical defense and dare the ref to give you five fouls; run offense that can most generously be described as “rudimentary” and just chase offensive rebounds; and, really, play the most extreme form of defense possible – the Mountaineers are first nationally in forcing turnovers and worst nationally in allowing free throws. Get a steal or hack the shit out of someone. It’s ugly. It’s not fun. It’s West Virginia hoops! Bob Huggins just told his team to run Beilein’s offense when he got there because he didn’t want to install his own. I’m not a fan of Huggins, but that’s not really here nor there.

And, really, since they’re almost definitely going to lose to Kentucky, it’s not worth our time to discuss them much further.

13. UCLA


Life’s not fair.

Firstly, UCLA probably should not have made the tournament in the first place. They were rewarded for testing themselves with a murderer’s row of a schedule, but only tallied one truly great win – over Utah at home. Colorado State and Temple, for example, probably should have gotten in ahead of the Bruins, and that UCLA missed out on playing one of the First Four games in Dayton was a complete joke. Their wins in the tournament don’t validate their inclusion – the committee had to work with the data available at the time and made the incorrect choice.

Beyond that though, UCLA was the beneficiary of the biggest officiating controversy of the tournament thus far. They led SMU comfortably in the 6 / 11 game in the Round of 64 before falling apart in the second half and the Mustangs led the Bruins by seven points with a minute and a half there. In all fairness, SMU completely collapsed down the stretch, but the game winning “three” – screenshotted above – came as a result of an incredibly dubious goaltending call. SMU’s Yanick Moreira went up for the rebound on a ball that was clearly off the mark by about a foot. The Mustangs bungled the subsequent possession and wound up losing by one, 60-59.

UCLA then dispatched 14-seed UAB easily in the Round of 32, setting up a rematch of the infamous “Adam Morrison crying” game with Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen.

They’re the worst team left in the field, per Kenpom, and quite frankly, they shouldn’t be here because of multiple reasons. Sorry, UCLA, but we’re going to hold that against you. Hopefully the Bulldogs exact Morrison’s revenge.

14. Louisville

Apr 8, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino celebrates winning the national championship 82-76 against the Michigan Wolverines during the second half of the championship game in the 2013 NCAA mens Final Four at the Georgia Dome.  Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports


I was on the floor of the Georgia Dome for Michigan’s tragic defeat in the National Championship two years ago so it should really go without saying that I absolutely, unequivocally hate Louisville for that. That block was clean, dammit. The happiness in the picture above inversely correlated with my misery that fateful April night and I probably won’t be able to stop wondering what could have been if a few more possessions had gone our way.

That said, there’s more to hate about Louisville! I mentioned West Virginia’s brutish style above and Louisville is much of the same, except they have the recruiting ability to aspire to be something greater than that. Right now, Louisville might actually surpass the Mountaineers as the ugliest team left in the tournament – their offense is a mess without any spacing and each game of theirs seems to devolve into a 1980’s Big East bar fight. Montrezl Harrell is an exciting player who can dunk about as well as anybody in college basketball, but even he falls in love with terrible mid-range or three-point shots. Chris Jones, the most baffling and frustrating player on the team was kicked off the squad about a month ago.

On top of that, Rick Pitino’s often a grating figure – consider this wholly unnecessary attack towards a college kid in a press conference in response to a wholly reasonable question -- Papa John’s pizza sucks, and Louisville is and forever will be the little brother to Kentucky. Between their style and the championship game two years ago, watching Louisville’s been excruciating on more than one level. The Cards were fortunate to receive a lifeboat from the ACC after the dissolution of the Big East (and a brief purgatorial stay in the American Conference) and, unfortunately, between Pitino and conference relevance, Louisville doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.

Between the loss two years ago, Louisville’s brand of bully-ball, and Rick Pitino, it’s easy not to like Louisville.

15. Michigan State

happy valentine

January February IZZO April May June July August September October November December

Chances are, as a Michigan fan, you probably don’t like Michigan State. It’s alright – I don’t either (although I should note that there are plenty of amazing MSU fans that I interact with on Twitter on a regular basis. I know some of y’all are reading this so just know that it’s nothing personal – strictly business). And, to be quite frank, Michigan State’s success is bad for business, as far as Michigan’s concerned.

Predictably, the national media focused on East Lansing and fawned over Tom Izzo like he was the reincarnation of Dr. James Naismith himself – and the worst part is, you can’t really argue. Michigan State has become one of the premier programs in college basketball because of the Spartans’ success in March. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. And it makes it even easier to resent them and pull hard against them, no matter the opponent.

As for the whole “Big Ten solidarity” thing: again, IT’S BAD FOR MICHIGAN IF MICHIGAN STATE MAKES A FINAL FOUR OR WINS A NATIONAL TITLE. Beilein and Izzo will be locked in some head-to-head recruiting battles over the next few cycles; highly-touted prospects will come down to a choice between Michigan and Michigan State. It’s not good for Michigan if MSU continues their surprise run through this NCAA Tournament, not even close.

And, of course, a lot of things really go without saying, but hey, why not go through one of them anyways. Let’s consider Michigan State’s fabled “Little Sister” chant as, well, somewhat microcosmic, a clever commentary on what happens when the hegemonic gaze is refocused back at the one who gazes… hah no, it’s just a terribly uncreative, reactionary chant that reeks of misogyny and an inferiority complex. “It’s an isolated thing,” you say. Not when the whole student section chants it. Way to go, guys. Hearing that at Crisler after they punked us at our own place made my blood boil. State absolutely hates us and they’re under our skin, definitely, especially considering their recent run of football dominance.

Of course, there are plenty of great Spartan fans out there, and for them, I wish nothing but the best – save for a humbling loss at the hands of my Oklahoma Sooners. And for all the recent sports success in East Lansing, it’s only natural to become anxious – when will something go wrong? Not this year, as State exceeded every expectation and made the Sweet Sixteen… so let’s just hope they won’t go any further.

16. Duke

Duke’s last. It’s a principle thing.


M Fanfare

March 26th, 2015 at 5:32 PM ^

"fawned over Tom Izzo like he was the reincarnation of Dr. James Naismith himself " I get the point you're making here and I agree with it...but James Naismith was actually a mediocre/bad coach despite the fact that he invented the game.

Fun fact: he's the only head coach in the history of the Kansas Jayhawks basketball program to end his career with a losing record (55-60, .478). He only had two winning seasons, 7-4 in 1898-99 and 12-7 in 1905-06.

I wish Izzo was a reincarnation of Naismith, because then MSU would kinda suck.

Rick Grimes

March 26th, 2015 at 5:33 PM ^

Definitely not what I expected overall. I thought Kentucky would be lower among other things. I personally would have Sparty at #16 because their success harms Michigan more than Duke's success does and they are our biggest basketball rivals.


March 26th, 2015 at 5:41 PM ^

UNC is too high for my liking.  I have a real difficult time seeing them do well now that the academic fraud is out in the open.  (Yeah, there is some degree of it on many campuses and blah blah blah, but what they've done is as blatant as it gets.)



March 26th, 2015 at 5:52 PM ^

Michigan State is 16th, no 17th.  Fix it.

As for the rest, Kentucky and Callipari have cheated in the past, and while some of you out there think U.S. judiciary standards apply, they still cheat.  They need to go down closer to Michigan State.

Duke, meh.  It's been a while since I got worked up about them, but if you want them down on the list fine.  Same with Wisky, though my daughter is going there next year.

UCLA?  Who cares?


March 26th, 2015 at 6:04 PM ^

Which was the year that Jason Williams and the other Freshmen also entered Duke.

Although she knew all of those guys because they were in the same dormitory, she never went to a game.  She just thought that the whole atmosphere of camping out and wearing goofy shit was well, goofy.

She did party when Duke won the NCAA in 2011.

Duke Football won only one game during her four years there.

Jay Williams is a very nice guy who really did everything possible to improve his game until he graduated.  The motorcycle accident was a tragedy, but its good to see him working on ESPN.

Most of the folks in the Triangle think that K is a Dick, even a lot of alumni, but it's hard to argue with his record.

So..........i root for Duke because I have a significant financial investment in that school, certainly not for K.

So it's a matter of principle for me as well.

Carolina Wolverine

March 26th, 2015 at 6:28 PM ^

16. UNC-I have to live with their "fans". The quicker they lose and go on probation, the better
15. State-Self explanatory
14. Notre Dame-they're too cocky already
13. UCLA-Just don't like them
12. Louisville-Vengeance
11. Duke-Because they're Duke
10. West by God Virginia-Because the actually call theirselves that
9. Arizona-Kentucky wannabe
8. Xavier-They're from the Big East

I'm cheering for N.C. State, then Wichita State, and Gonzaga. I wouldn't mind seeing Kentucky win it all just because they're that good and deserve it. Plus, they play great Defense


March 26th, 2015 at 6:29 PM ^

The best thing Izzo did this March was get into a region that didn't contain Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona, or Gonzaga.

That Virginia squad just collapsed under the pressure in March (start 28-1, finish 2-3). That Georgia team's best win was a 9-point loss to Kentucky, they beat no one all year.

I don't have confidence in either Oklahoma or Louisville to finish the job, either.


March 26th, 2015 at 10:31 PM ^

The thing is, it has nothing to do with the perceived weakness of the female gender. It was a mindless swap by MSU fans so they could believe they were being a tad bit original.

We could argue about how much the intentions of the young MSU students who chanted "Little Sister" factor in, but either way I think mysogyny is too strong of a word. 


March 26th, 2015 at 11:53 PM ^

Sorry...it has everything to do with an insult that puts down females. My sparty brother (yes, my little brother) who very unoriginally shoots a "Little Sister" at me every so often, also very cleverly refers to NBC's cable network as PMSNBC. Along with his Fox News watching, it's very self-evidently misogynist. Fuck sparty...they're 16.


March 26th, 2015 at 9:26 PM ^

"Predictably, the national media focused on East Lansing and fawned over Tom Izzo like he was the reincarnation of Dr. James Naismith himself – and the worst part is, you can’t really argue."

You can't?  I'm supposed to agree with the fawning over Izzo because his preseason #18 squad made it to the Sweet 16 by beating Georgia and a Virginia team that finished the season 2-3?  It's hilarious how the media (including our own writers evidently) create a narrative and stick with it regardless of the facts.


March 26th, 2015 at 10:03 PM ^

No - it's hilarious how some people can convince themselves of utter nonsense. Virginia the school that was 28-1 at one point? The virginia team that almost everyone had in the final 4? I am sure you predicted MSU to beat them in your bracket right? You are delusional if you really believe MSU has not over-achieved this year.


March 27th, 2015 at 8:13 AM ^

I really can't say I hate Duke as much this year. No Redick, no Singler, no Mason Plumlee. And all indications are that Coack K runs a clean program. 

Kentucky, on the other hand, can all get run over by a bus as far as I'm concerned. Especially Cal.


March 27th, 2015 at 9:15 AM ^

Let's put things in perspective, ok?  February, Izzo, April, May June, July, Harbaugh, Harbaugh, Harbaugh, Harbaugh, December, Harbaugh...  and that's not including recruiting season.


March 27th, 2015 at 9:54 AM ^

I'd prefer that MSU not win it all. Other than that, the results won't impact me emotionally all that much..... except if I win the brackets and fantasy pools I'm in. So..... I'm routing for money.

Blue In NC

March 27th, 2015 at 10:03 AM ^

Not bad but according to this list, I was supposed to be rooting for UK over WVA?  No way, it's very questionable whether I would want Kentucky to win over Duke or MSU.  I would even root for UNC over Kentucky and that's with the whole academic fraud thing.  Kentucky and UNC should go much lower.