By Sarah Berkowitz
The 16 remaining schools in March Madness are preparing for Sweet Sixteen weekend, and ESPN has placed a Vegas-inspired Power Rating on each team.
Kentucky, naturally, is No. 1, but Arizona, with Philly’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a Chester High School star (photo above), holding the key to their championship hopes:
1. Kentucky Wildcats (Power rating: 102.5)
While continuing their historic run at 36-0, the Wildcats continue to fall short of dominance against the spread at 18-16-2 ATS on the season after falling short against Hampton and Cincinnati. That earned them a half-point downgrade from the panel, which is still three points better than our No. 2 team.
Previous rating: 103
2. Arizona Wildcats (99.5)
These Wildcats stayed the same in our power ratings, but were nearly upgraded. They jumped all over Texas Southern but coasted and ended up not covering as 24-point favorites. Arizona then covered in its 73-58 win over Ohio State as a 10-point favorite. We still see them as having the best chance to knock off UK (if they get to meet).
Previous rating: 99.5
3 (tie). Wisconsin Badgers (98)
The Badgers stayed on a collision course with Arizona, but failed to cover in their victories over Coastal Carolina and Oregon. The game against Oregon was especially troubling as they were in danger of losing outright and they ended up being downgraded half a point.
Previous rating: 98.5
3 (tie). Duke Blue Devils (98)
The Blue Devils are our highest ranking team to go 2-0 ATS over the weekend as they rose to the occasion to blow out both Robert Morris and San Diego State. I said this last week but I’ll say it again: Duke has lost only two games since Jan. 13 and both of them were to Notre Dame, so they’re probably happy to see the Irish on the other side of the bracket.
Previous rating: 97.5
5. Gonzaga Bulldogs (95.5)
The Zags maintain their position with a 1-1 ATS mark over the weekend. They let North Dakota State hang around and failed to cover as 17.5-point favorites, but then dominated and covered the 6-point spread in a 87-68 rout of Iowa.
Previous rating: 95.5
6. Utah Utes (95)
The Utes’ spread-covering win over Stephen F. Austin wasn’t overly dominant (they won 57-50 as 6.5-point faves) but they won convincingly over Georgetown to go 2-0 ATS over the weekend and improved to 22-11 ATS (66.7 percent) as they continue to exceed expectations.
Previous rating: 94.5
7. North Carolina Tar Heels (94.5)
Our panel had the Tar Heels rated several spots higher than their seeding last week and they validated our opinion. They did fall short of covering against Harvard after giving up a late run but then beat Arkansas 87-78 as 5-point favorites.
Previous rating: 94.5
8. Wichita State Shockers (93.5)
We had the Shockers in our top 16 despite their No. 7 seed and we were glad to see them live up to the billing. They did fall short of covering against Indiana, but they maintain their position here after the minor upset over Kansas.
Previous rating: 93.5
9 (tie). Oklahoma Sooners (93)
We had the Sooners on the low end of their No. 3 seed last week and they didn’t cover in their 69-60 win over Albany as 13-point favorites but ended up covering in their 72-66 win over Dayton as 4.5-point favorites. That also earned them a downgrade but we kept them the same.
Previous rating: 93
9 (tie). Michigan State Spartans (93)
The Spartans earned a half-point upgrade after their spread-covering win over Georgia and then the upset of No. 2 seed Virginia. We almost made this a full-point increase (and maybe we should have), so we’re not surprised that oddsmakers opened Michigan State as a small favorite over Oklahoma.
Previous rating: 92.5
11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (92.5)
The Irish have done some impressive things of late, including winning the ACC tourney and outlasting Butler 67-64 in OT, but the fact is they went 0-2 ATS over the weekend so we ended up downgrading them half a point.
Previous rating: 93
12. Louisville Cardinals (92)
Here’s the start of the five teams that we had outside of our top 16 heading into last week. The Cardinals almost made an early exit before holding off Cal Irvine 57-55 as 8.5-point favorites but then redeemed themselves by dominating Northern Iowa 66-53 as 2.5-point underdogs.
Previous rating: 92
13. Xavier Musketeers (90.5)
The Musketeers are peaking at the right time (their only losses in their past six games were both to Villanova). They blew out Mississippi and were mostly in control over Georgia State as they covered both and are 19-13 ATS (59.4 percent) overall.
Previous rating: 90
14. West Virginia Mountaineers (90)
While most of their higher-rated Big 12 brethren failed to make it out of the weekend, the Mountaineers improved their stock by half a point by covering against Buffalo and also after closing as a 1-point favorite over Maryland.
Previous rating: 89.5
15. North Carolina State Wolfpack (89)
A lot of people are probably bumping the Wolfpack in their power ratings after they upset No. 1 seed Villanova, but we kept them the same considering they nearly lost to LSU on Thursday and didn’t cover as a consensus closing 2.5-point favorite in their 66-65 victory.
Previous rating: 89
16. UCLA Bruins (88.5)
A lot of people didn’t think the Bruins would make the field and nearly as many were surprised when they were a No. 11 seed. We had them ranked 36th, so more like a No. 9 seed and they justified our love with the upset of SMU and then covering in a 92-75 rout of UAB.
Previous rating: 88