UCLA was good. Arizona was good and lucky.
The former played with the precision of a No. 1 seed in dispatching Saint Mary’s while the latter looked like a No. 4 in its overtime escape against TCU.
And as of today, that role reversal means nothing. All that matters is the Pac-12’s top basketball programs have advanced to the Sweet 16, giving the conference multiple paths to the Final Four and its first national championship in 25 years.
Where do the Bruins and Wildcats fit within the Sweet 16 hierarchy?
Having watched both — having watched dozens of hours of Madness over the past week — the Hotline has re-ranked the 16 teams still standing.
(We included each team’s true seed in the No. 1-68 format, as determined by the NCAA selection committee prior to the bracket reveal.)
True seed: No. 1 overall
Next up: vs. Arkansas (Thursday)
Comment: The Zags were wobbly against Memphis … right up until they weren’t. Feel free to poke holes. We prefer to focus on the fact that they advanced even though their top-two NBA prospects, big man Chet Holmgren and forward Julian Strawther, scored a combined 15 points. With each passing round, the need for playmakers increases. The Zags have plenty of them.
True seed: No. 3 overall
Next up: vs. Providence (Friday)
Comment: Sure, the Jayhawks had to dig deep to escape Creighton, but match that result against those of the other No. 1s: Baylor got bounced; Gonzaga beat Memphis by four points; and Arizona required overtime against TCU. On a comparative basis, KU’s seven-point, regulation-time victory over Creighton qualifies as a blowout. Also, Remy Martin’s performance off the bench bodes extremely well for KU this week.
True seed: No. 2 overall
Next up: vs. Houston (Thursday)
Comment: The Wildcats needed a career game from Christian Koloko and a dominant finish from Bennedict Mathurin to repel TCU. The mayhem that unfolded late Sunday night in San Diego was either an indication of weakness that better teams (hello, Houston) will exploit or a coming-of-NCAA-age for an inexperienced team that now understands what it takes to survive. We have no idea which.
True seed: No. 8 overall
Next up: vs. Texas Tech (Thursday)
Comment: The victory over Michigan State was all the more impressive considering MSU made 11-of-22 shots from 3-point range and couldn’t have played any better. (Counterpoint: Duke’s wayward defense allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent from behind the line.) Few teams are as skilled as the Blue Devils. A duel with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight could produce the finest display of offense we see in the tournament. If it happens, first team to 85 wins.
True seed: No. 18 overall
Next up: vs. Arizona (Thursday)
Comment: No other top team experienced a greater disparity between its NET ranking and NCAA seed: The Cougars were No. 3 in the NET but handed a No. 5 seed by the committee because of their lack of quality wins. They proceeded to spend the opening weekend making that decision look silly, easily handling No. 12 UAB and No. 4 Illinois. If the Cougars continue to shoot well from the perimeter, a return to the Final Four will follow.
6. North Carolina
True seed: No. 30 overall
Next up: vs. UCLA (Friday)
Comment: The Tar Heels were good enough to build a 25-point lead on Baylor and resilient enough to repel the defending champs in overtime. The roster isn’t loaded with first-round picks, but the pieces fit nicely around forward Armando Bacot. We’re reminded of the 2000 NCAA Tournament, when the Tar Heels were a No. 8 seed, took out No. 1 Stanford in the second round and reached the Final Four.
True seed: No. 7 overall
Next up: vs. Michigan (Thursday)
Comment: In Collin Gillespie, the Wildcats possess the most important ingredient for success in the NCAAs: an elite point guard. They also shoot 82.3 percent from the foul line as a team. That’s a winning combination in the final minutes of a close game. Our question: Do they have what it takes to force a close game against the Wolverines and their Elite Eight opponent (Arizona or Houston)? We’re skeptical.
True seed: No. 42 overall
Next up: vs. Villanova (Thursday)
Comment: The surprise isn’t that Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16. It’s that the Wolverines did so as an 11th seed. Juwan Howard’s team was No. 6 in the AP preseason poll, possesses one of the nation’s top big men in Hunter Dickinson and has former five-star recruits in the rotation. In other words, the foundation exists for UM basketball to duplicate the football program’s feat and reach its sport’s final four.
True seed: No. 13 overall
Next up: vs. North Carolina (Friday)
Comment: A team built for the rock fights of March showed its NCAA savvy with the second-round thumping of Saint Mary’s. Guards Tyger Campbell and Jules Bernard are capable of making big shots, but the Bruins will need 35 combined points each game from Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. the rest of the way. Also, they have struggled against size, and North Carolina has plenty of it.
True seed: No. 11 overall
Next up: vs. St. Peter’s (Friday)
Comment: An impressive second-round Texas takedown sent the Boilermakers into the most coveted pairing in the Sweet 16. Only the 15th-seeded Peacocks stand in the way of another trip to the Elite Eight for the Boilermakers. Time for star guard Jaden Ivey to lead the way, and for Purdue’s defense to rise to the occasion against the dazzling St. Peter’s attack.
11. Texas Tech
True seed: No. 12 overall
Next up: vs. Duke (Thursday)
Comment: A fabulous contrast in styles and strengths looms in the West. The Red Raiders own the No. 1 defense in the country (per Pomeroy efficiency ratings), while Duke claims the No. 4 offense. One team is loaded with inexperience and future NBA Draft picks, the other with savvy, bruising role players. Easy to see the Red Raiders taking Duke to the wire but not having quite enough offense to make the play that puts them over the top.
True seed: No. 38 overall
Next up: Iowa State (Friday)
Comment: The Hurricanes dispatched two higher seeds (No. 10 USC and No. 2 Auburn) despite making 4-of-29 shots from 3-point range. How? They committed just seven turnovers in 80 minutes and claim scoring balance that would be the envy of many teams. Pac-12 fans might remember Miami point guard Charlie Moore, who began his career at Cal during the Obama Administration, then played for Kansas and DePaul before settling in with the Hurricanes.
True seed: No. 16 overall
Next up: vs. Gonzaga (Thursday)
Comment: Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman is in the Sweet 16 for the third time in the past four tournaments (with two different teams). His Hogs are long on grit and athleticism but are challenged offensively (30.7 percent from 3-point range). We’re intrigued by the potential matchup of Gonzaga 7-footer Chet Holmgren facing Arkansas’ 7-foot-3 Connor Vanover (another former Cal Bear). But Vanover hasn’t played in months, so the odds of a string bean battle seem slim.
True seed: No. 15 overall
Next up: vs. Kansas (Friday)
Comment: The Friars advanced to their first Sweet 16 in a quarter-century with victories over No. 13 South Dakota State and No. 12 Richmond. Now comes a leap in class. Ed Cooley is one of the few who can mount a credible challenge to Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd for national Coach of the Year honors. At this point in the tournament, you need high-level talent to advance. Providence doesn’t have enough.
15. Iowa State
True seed: No. 41 overall
Next up: vs. Miami (Friday)
Comment: The 11th-seeded Cyclones were one of the last teams in the field but made the most of facing an opponent without a head coach (LSU) followed by an opponent without an offense (Wisconsin). Now, they’re involved in just the fourth No. 10 vs. 11 matchup in tournament history. With a victory, they likely would face Big 12 rival Kansas in the Elite Eight.
16. St. Peter’s
True seed: No. 60 overall
Next up: vs. Purdue (Friday)
Comment: The third No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 has a reasonable chance to become the first to make the Elite Eight, for Purdue hardly possesses overwhelming talent. The Peacocks will need a big game from guard Daryl Banks III, who shredded Kentucky for 27 points, and a few fortunate bounces. But a school that had never won an NCAA Tournament game before last week is a few steps away from being a few steps away from the Final Four.
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