A road map to the Sweet 16

No. 2 Michigan

How they got here: How good is John Beilein? The Wolverines lost national player of the year Trey Burke and starting shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA draft. In December, they lost forward Mitch McGary -- the breakout star of last year's Final Four run -- to (likely) season-ending back surgery. But Beilein recalibrated his team, got a bona fide star turn out of guard Nik Stauskas and went out and won the Big Ten anyway. On Saturday, Michigan was on full display against No. 7 seed Texas. The Wolverines shot 14-of-28 from 3, scored 1.39 points per trip and barely broke a sweat.

Key trait: Perimeter shooting. Michigan entered the tournament, alongside Creighton, as the field's two highest-variance teams -- capable of an early-round exit or a deep title run depending almost entirely on how well they shot the ball. You saw what happened to Creighton. Fun fact: The Wolverines ranked 10th in the Big Ten this season in defensive efficiency. Simply put, they are not a good defensive team. If Stauskas has an off night, or Caris LeVert or Derrick Walton struggle, the Wolverines could get run. If they're on, boy, are they ever on.  

No. 11 Tennessee

How they got here: As we wrote on Selection Sunday, no team entered the tournament with a wider gap between its seed (a First Four-bound No. 11) and what its per-possession performance told us about how good it actually was. Despite entering the tournament ranked in the top 15 in adjusted efficiency, Tennessee earned its seed by getting swept by Texas A&M and losing to Vanderbilt in SEC play (among other foibles, such as Nov. 28's neutral-court loss to UTEP). But like Kentucky, the Vols figured it out just in time. Since beating Iowa in the First Four, UT has utterly destroyed UMass and Mercer, and no team enters the second weekend looking more dangerous than this one.

Key trait: Girth. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon are not, by basketball standards, tall: Both are listed at 6-8, and even that may be generous. But they are as physically imposing a combination as any in the country. On Sunday, the Vols grabbed 83 percent of their misses in the first half against Mercer, which is so off the charts it's almost hilarious. Pair that with scoring from Jordan McRae and emergent stuff from Josh Richardson on the wing, and you've got a daunting inside-out group well-suited to bullying the Wolverines.


Baylor vs. Wisconsin (Thursday, 7:47 p.m. ET); Arizona vs. SDSU (Thursday, 10:17 p.m. ET)

No. 1 Arizona

How they got here: In the year of the freshman, no freshman has been both as good and as taken for granted as Arizona's Aaron Gordon. Gordon isn't just a freaky-athletic 3/4 flying at the rim for alley-oops (though he is most certainly that). He's also the versatile linchpin of a Wildcats defense that carried Arizona to a Pac-12 title and a No. 1 seed despite the midseason loss of one of its most important players (forward Brandon Ashley). On the perimeter, Nick Johnson has submitted an All-American-level two-way season, while point guard T.J. McConnell and center Kaleb Tarczewski (and freshman wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) fill out a team that most resembles the Monstars from "Space Jam."

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