Sweet 16 Predictions: Which Teams Are Projected to Reach the Elite Eight and Beyond?
Was this the craziest weekend in the history of March Madness?
Quite possibly. We have 15th-seeded Princeton in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. We saw a 16 seed win for just the second time in tournament history – and Fairleigh Dickinson nearly made it to the Sweet 16 as well!
Purdue and Kansas are out. Marquette and Arizona are out. Just when we thought that Furman would be the craziest upset of the tournament, we got more chaos.
And boy, it has been fun. Plus, it is not the only tournament that has been wild. The women’s NCAA Tournament has had its own surprises.
Let’s highlight how crazy the tournament has been with some research.
In the last three tournaments, Matt Painter’s Purdue Boilermakers have lost to a 16 seed in FDU, a 15 seed in Saint Peter’s and a 13 seed in North Texas. Big yikes for a team that has not reached the Final Four since 1980.
Virginia lost to No. 16 UMBC in 2018 but has never lost to a 15 seed. So Purdue is the only team to lose to both a 15th- and a 16th-seeded team. But how many different seeds has Purdue lost to? The answer is 12 (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16) – one away from a tie for the most by any team.
Arizona, which lost to 15th-seeded Santa Clara in 1993, is tied for the most with 13 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15) and is the only team to have lost to two 15 seeds in tournament history.
Who will be the first team to lose to all 16 seeds in tournament history? We’ll have to wait years to find out, but Purdue may be on the best track to get there.
One team on this list is Indiana, mostly because of the rich history the school has had in the NCAA Tournament. However, Sunday and Monday were arguably its worst days for college basketball in years. The men’s team, led by an all-time player in Trayce Jackson-Davis, lost to Miami (FL) on Sunday. This likely ended the careers for Jackson-Davis and teammate Jalen Hood-Schifino, who is likely headed to the NBA.
Then the women’s team lost in the round of 32 on Monday. The Hoosiers were upset as a 1 seed and were favorites to meet South Carolina in the national championship game.
Who did the women’s team lose to? Miami. You’ve gotta be kidding.
How many times has a team lost to the same school in both the men’s and women’s tournament? It was the 10th time that it happened in NCAA Tournament history. What’s crazy is that Miami beat Indiana in the same round, too – that has only happened two other times.
In 2014, Connecticut beat Saint Joseph’s in the round of 32 of the women’s tournament and the round of 64 in the men’s tournament. Technically, these are both “Round 2” since the 2014 men’s tournament counted the First Four games solely as part of the first round.
One could include the Huskies in this list, but since they were not during the same “round of (teams left)” title, I excluded them. Note that UConn won both titles in 2014.
Indiana was not the only 1 seed in the women’s tournament to go down. Stanford was upset by eighth-seeded Ole Miss in the round of 32.
How many other times in both men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments have at least two 1 seeds fell before the Sweet 16? That would be zero. Truly insane.
With all this chaos, where does this leave us? Who is now most likely to win? Using TRACR, our Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster, we have the projections.
The Purdue loss did not change much in terms of who would win the tourney, but the top two seeds losing in that region makes it a whole new game.
Tennessee (No. 6 in our TRACR rankings) has a 65.83% chance of beating Florida Atlantic (23rd) and a 42.3% chance of reaching the Final Four. Only the remaining 1 seeds, Alabama (No. 1, 47.7%) and Houston (No. 3, 45.3%) have a higher chance of winning its region.
This region might have the most exciting Sweet 16 matchup in Michigan State versus Kansas State. Though the Spartans are four seeds lower than the Wildcats, TRACR projects this to be the closest game of the round. Kansas State, which got past Kentucky, is the underdog at 47.2%.
Michigan State has a higher chance of making it to the Final Four than Kansas State – 23.7% versus 17.9%. If the Spartans win, TRACR likes how they match up with either Tennessee or the FAU Owls better than the Wildcats do. Is this yet another tournament in which head coach Tom Izzo leads a team to the Final Four? It would be an incredible run if he did.
If you’re looking for Sweet 16 matchups that will not be as close, look to the South Region. Creighton (10th) knocked off third-seeded Baylor (22nd) and will face 15 seed Princeton (81st). Saint Peter’s reached the Elite Eight as a 15 seed last year – could Princeton do the same?
TRACR doesn’t like the Tigers’ chances, giving the Bluejays a 76.1% chance of making it to the Elite Eight – the highest probability of any team.
The Alabama-San Diego State meeting is not projected to be as close either. While the Aztecs (15th) could pull off the upset thanks to their tremendous defense, the Crimson Tide have been hitting on all cylinders. They shot just 39.7% from the field against Maryland in the second round and still won by 22. This team is showing why it deserved the No. 1 overall seed.
Brandon Miller and Alabama have a 67.5% chance of beating SDSU and a 47.7% chance of making it to the Final Four. The Tide are not only the top candidate to reach Houston, but they also have the highest probability of making the championship game (30.9%) and winning it all (17.2%).
The Kansas loss made modest changes to the predictions, but not as much as you might think. TRACR actually had the Jayhawks (No. 8) with just a 13.7% chance to win this region, as they were ranked lower than UConn (No. 2), the UCLA Bruins (No. 4) and Gonzaga (No. 7) despite being the top seed.
Though TRACR predicted Kansas to make the Sweet 16, it was expected to lose to the Huskies if UConn made it that far (it did by knocking off Saint Mary’s). In fact, losing to Arkansas (19th) was not as bad as expected, either. TRACR projected the Razorbacks as a 6 or 7 seed based on their overall rating.
The West Region is by far the toughest in the tourney, as teams in that region entered the tournament with an average TRACR of 19.7. That is almost three points higher than every other region (the South region was second at 16.9). We still do not have a clear indication of who will make it out of the West – UConn is favored at 37.3%.
Houston and Texas (No. 5) are projected to get past Miami and Xavier, respectively, and face off in the Midwest final. And boy, would that be a fun one. The Cougars has a 13.5% chance to win it all after ousting Auburn, while the Longhorns have an 8.7% probability of doing so after taking down Penn State. Those rank second and sixth, respectively, among the remaining teams.
Whoever wins that potential Elite Eight matchup will see its chances of winning it all shoot up, as its biggest blocker at the moment lies in the regional final.
In the Women’s Bracket
Will there be as much chaos with the final 16 teams in the women’s tournament?
Possibly, though we do not have a double-digit seed remaining.
Women’s TRACR Rankings and Probabilities of Advancement
Indiana losing makes LSU (No. 2 in women’s TRACR) a top candidate to reach the Final Four. TRACR was split between the Hoosiers (No. 5) and the Tigers on winning the region, but LSU now has the second-highest chance of reaching the Final Four (54.1%), championship game (33.0%) and winning it all (12.2%).
The biggest test for LSU will be in the Sweet 16 against Utah (No. 8). The Utes might be the sportsbook favorite since they are the 2 seed, but third-seeded LSU has about an 8.7-point advantage per TRACR. Utah has just a 18.6% chance to reach the Final Four, but beating LSU would change the projection dramatically.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks continue to roll. South Carolina has a 91.7% chance to beat UCLA and an 80.8% chance to win the region. Have you ever seen a team so good that it has more than an 80% probability of reaching the Final Four?
That shows how good this squad is at 34-0.
Remember when I said to take South Carolina over the field? That still holds true today – the Gamecocks have a 56.3% chance at winning it all. It is slightly higher than their probability entering the tournament (they came in with a 54.5% chance). The lack of difference is because they were expected to make it this far with a 93.2% shot at reaching the Sweet 16.
South Carolina has had no trouble, beating both of its opponents by more than 30 points. The last women’s team to win each of its first three NCAA Tournament games by at least 30 points was Baylor in 2017. However, the Bears would go on to get upset by Mississippi State in the Elite Eight. Will the same happen thing to the Gamecocks?
Stanford losing opens things up for Caitlin Clark and Iowa as well. The Hawkeyes have a 43.0% chance of advancing to the Final Four. Clark averaged 24.0 points and 12.0 assists while going 7 of 16 (.438) from beyond the arc in the first two games. Monika Czinano has stepped up as a scorer with at least 20 points in both games.
Could there be a Cinderella here? Colorado might be the team. The Buffs upset Duke in overtime after crushing Middle Tennessee, which we had as a possible upset candidate. Aaronette Vonleh, the sister of NBA player Noah Vonleh, has averaged 16.2 points while shooting 69.2% from the field over her last five games.
Will Iowa have what it takes to stop the center? If Clark struggles, Colorado could shock the world. The Buffaloes have a 31.9% chance of beating Iowa on Friday.