Sweet 16 strengths and weaknesses

Welcome to the neighborhood known as the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. It's a block where the ACC has the most property with five schools remaining, but the Kentucky Wildcats are building the most enviable and impressive residence. No team wants to go home, but only four teams will stick around for another week. Here's a look at what it will take to keep playing or get sent packing:


Kentucky Wildcats

Reasons the Wildcats advance: Doesn't seem like the Wildcats need any advice in this category, seeing as how they haven't lost yet this season. The same reasons they've remained unbeaten are the same reasons they can advance to the Final Four in Indianapolis. Kentucky is better than its opponents, top to bottom. The Wildcats have more future NBA players than any other team, and they include center Karl-Anthony Towns, who could make a run at Jahlil Okafor to be the No. 1 draft pick. The Wildcats have more height, more length, more depth than any team they will face.

Reasons the Wildcats go home: What they don't have is more outside shooting. Take away Devin Booker, and that could be the offensive weakness that finally gets exposed. If the Wildcats can't hit from outside, an opponent might just clog the lane, making it difficult to score. Or maybe the pressure of trying to finish a historic undefeated run will finally become too much. A close game at these late stages of the tournament? Maybe that's what causes Kentucky to fold. Otherwise, it might just take one of those days. One of those semimiraculous moments that have made the NCAA tournament what it is. NC State-Houston in 1983. Villanova-Georgetown in '85. Sometimes the perfection comes from the underdog no matter how overwhelming the favorite is.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Reasons the Mountaineers advance: Remember that time in the 2010 tournament when the Mountaineers played a Kentucky team folks were ready to hand the crown? That game ended with West Virginia heading to the Final Four. Think that might come up a few times in Morgantown this week along with the fact that coach Bob Huggins is 8-2 in head-to-head meetings against Kentucky coach John Calipari? Huggins has a way of coming up with a wrinkle -- like the 1-3-1 zone he employed in 2010 -- that Calipari's teams can't solve. The Mountaineers force turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in the country. They can make the game ugly for Kentucky's guards.

Reasons the Mountaineers go home: The flip side of causing so many turnovers can be twofold. First, if an opponent handles the press, that usually means it's scoring in transition. The Mountaineers score 28 percent of their points off turnovers, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which is the most among major conference schools. So if they're not getting turnovers? Yep, that means they're not scoring much. The Mountaineers rank 14th of the remaining 16 teams in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Reasons the Fighting Irish advance: The Fighting Irish can score. In flurries. Guard Jerian Grant has mastered the art of the drive-and-kick that has led to points in bunches for his teammates. (Not to mention a 6.6 assist average.) Pat Connaughton is a matchup problem as a 6-foot-5 guard who gets enough rebounds to play power forward on defense and generally obliterates opposing big men who have to guard him on the perimeter. The Irish share the ball well offensively but don't turn it over, which is a winning formula in March.

Reasons the Fighting Irish go home: The Irish are awfully thin in the frontcourt. Problems could arise quickly if Zach Auguste gets into foul trouble during a game. Or in the event they play a frontcourt with imposing size (i.e., Kentucky), they might get dominated on the boards to the point where coach Mike Brey has to abandon his four-guard lineup. Going small is what has given the Irish an offensive advantage all season, and if they get in a situation where they don't have that edge, it might lead to their getting sent packing.

Wichita State Shockers

Reasons the Shockers advance: No way are the Shockers looking past Notre Dame, but you'd best believe they are eyeing Kentucky. The Wildcats ended the Shockers' perfect season in 2014, and coach Gregg Marshall and crew would love the chance to return the favor. Their motto of "play angry" just ended in an upset of Kansas in which the Shockers limited the Jayhawks to just 35 percent shooting from the field. Wichita State's backcourt of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker matches up favorably with the Irish and is arguably one of the better defensive tandems Notre Dame has played.

Reasons the Shockers go home: Wichita State likes to play at a deliberate tempo, and should it fall behind by a sizable margin against teams with the talent level of this field, it could be too much to come back from. It doesn't score points in bunches. VanVleet might be more important to his team than any other player left in the tournament. If he has a bad night, they might not recover from it. The Shockers also don't have a lot of size in the frontcourt; sometimes, not even playing angry can compensate for such deficiencies.


North Carolina Tar Heels

Reasons the Tar Heels advance: Since the postseason began -- not to mention since he's been fully healthy -- Marcus Paige has elevated his game. He's averaged 17.0 points and 5.0 assists and is shooting 41 percent from the 3-point line. He has the clutch gene, too, as "Second Half Marcus" emerged to score 20 of his 22 points against Arkansas after halftime. Paige has to put his unassuming and unselfish tendencies to the side and be more assertive from the beginning of games. He's a point guard capable of carrying the Tar Heels to the Final Four. Coach Roy Williams just hopes he doesn't always wait until the second half of games to do it.

Reasons the Tar Heels go home: The two things that have hurt the Tar Heels the most this season are being careless with the ball and clueless about how to close out games. They nearly were eliminated by both against Harvard in the second round after committing 17 turnovers and squandering a 16-point lead. The tournament isn't the time when a team's identity can be changed. Considering the margin of error gets extremely thin from here on out, Carolina's weakness could finally end its season.

Wisconsin Badgers

Reasons the Badgers advance: If Frank Kaminsky isn't flat-out better than the center who attempts to guard him, he's still more versatile. Kaminsky is one of the most versatile big men in the nation. He can step outside and knock down 3s or post up and score in the paint. Forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes give Wisconsin a formidable frontcourt that's not limited to trying to score from back-to-the-basket post-ups. Dekker's ability to operate on the wing and Hayes in the post gives them a well-rounded trio that's hard to plan against. The Badgers don't turn the ball over much and have maintained the offense that ranks No. 1 in efficiency, according to KenPom.com.

Reasons the Badgers go home: Should they fall behind in a game, they haven't been good at generating turnovers, ranking 317th in defensive turnover percentage by Pomeroy. Despite its offensive efficiency ranking, Wisconsin averages about five fewer possessions per game than it did last season. If the Badgers get into a situation where their shot isn't falling, it could have catastrophic results for a team banking on consecutive Final Four appearances.

Xavier Musketeers

Reasons the Musketeers advance: Senior Matt Stainbrook put aside his job as an Uber driver to lead the team in scoring and rebounding. The 6-foot-10 center and 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Jalen Reynolds bring the size to the Musketeers' lineup. They keep opponents from collecting offensive rebounds. Xavier constantly improved during the course of this season under coach Chris Mack, going from a team that lost to Auburn, UTEP and Long Beach to one that's a win away from playing for a Final Four berth. Xavier can score, too -- it's averaged 126.0 points per 100 possessions, according to ESPN Stats & Info, a stat that ranks fourth among Sweet 16 teams.

Reasons the Musketeers go home: The Musketeers haven't advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2012, and only one of their three seniors was in the rotation then. Guard Dee Davis played just eight minutes when the Musketeers were eliminated by Baylor. Xavier's inexperience in playing this late in the calendar could hurt, especially against Arizona and potentially Wisconsin, who were just in the same position advancing to the Elite Eight last year.

Arizona Wildcats

Reasons the Wildcats advance: The Wildcats have been focused on getting past the Elite Eight ever since the buzzer sounded on their one-point overtime loss to Wisconsin last season. Unlike last year, when Brandon Ashley's injury sabotaged their rotation, the Wildcats are fully healthy during their run this year. Coach Sean Miller has Arizona on a roll, having won 13 straight games. It helps that freshman Stanley Johnson is playing as advertised, leading the team in scoring, and was just 12 shy from leading them in rebounds. T.J. McConnell is a hard-nosed point guard who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Their starting five can match up with anyone.

Reasons the Wildcats go home: Arizona doesn't have the kind of offensive explosiveness that can bury an opponent. If Gabe York isn't hitting shots from outside, the Wildcats can be vulnerable. York primarily comes off the bench now after starting 13 games, but Miller doesn't particularly have much depth to choose from. If any of the starters gets into foul trouble or is simply ineffective, Arizona's options are limited in how it will combat its troubles.


Duke Blue Devils

Reasons the Blue Devils advance: Duke has more weapons than you. It all starts with the Blue Devils having arguably the nation's best center in Jahlil Okafor. Whether he has the ball or not, he commands attention. That's partially why Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow have been open to connect on 40 percent of their 3-pointers. Winslow's ability to play power forward gives coach Mike Krzyzewski the versatility to start a small lineup that complements Okafor from the perimeter. And while most years, the thought of a freshman point guard leading a team would be reason to question its title credentials, Tyus Jones has shown throughout the season (against Michigan State, Wisconsin and North Carolina, especially) he comes up big in the biggest moments.

Reasons the Blue Devils go home: Even with a dominating presence like Okafor inside, when Duke isn't hitting 3-pointers, results like its 74-64 loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament semifinals can happen. The Blue Devils shot 3-of-17 from behind the arc despite getting 28 points from Okafor. The freshman center has been a liability at the free throw line, where he shoots just 51 percent. In a tight game late, opponents might opt to send Okafor to the place on the court this season he's proved he can't deliver.

Utah Utes

Reasons the Utes advance: Delon Wright, a 6-foot-5 guard, should have a size advantage over smaller Duke guards. He can either take them in the post or simply shoot over them. The Utes' 7-foot center Jakob Poeltl has the size to at least stand toe-to-toe with Okafor. Maybe that means the Utes don't have to double-team. They pride themselves in helping on defense anyway; that's why they've allowed just 21.8 points per game in the paint, which is the seventh-fewest among major conference teams, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Reasons the Utes go home: Utah last reached the Sweet 16 in 2005. The Utes could get starry-eyed not only from playing in the second weekend but also from facing a marquee team like Duke. The Blue Devils will put pressure on Utah to keep up with their scoring, but that hasn't been a strength in the last part of the season. In losing four out of seven to close the regular season and into the Pac-12 tournament, Utah averaged just 68.1 points. The Utes are going to need more than that to keep playing.

UCLA Bruins

Reasons the Bruins advance: "The team that shouldn't even be here" is the only double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. The Bruins should play loose knowing that, for once, the blue blood program will be considered an underdog. If that somehow leads to more 3-pointers than the 15 UCLA has already made in two NCAA tournament games, look out. Guard Bryce Alford had nine of those 3s in one game as he helped send SMU packing. The Bruins aren't all about finesse, though; Kevon Looney -- not Okafor -- has the most double-doubles for a freshman this season with 15. Tony Parker's 22 points in the paint against UAB were the most by any player in a game in the tournament.

Reasons the Bruins go home: The Bruins' play sometimes resembles more of a collection of individuals than a cohesive team. The downside of making so many 3-pointers early is they could easily get infatuated with the idea of launching too many at the expense of their inside game. Defensively, UCLA isn't very good at defending the 3, allowing opponents to shoot 36 percent from behind the arc. Only Wisconsin and West Virginia allow higher percentages among the remaining field.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Reasons the Bulldogs advance: Forward Kyle Wiltjer has dropped 45 points in a game this season and is as good a stretch-4 as there is in college basketball. Point guard Kevin Pangos can go head-to-head against anyone. The Zags are tough to stop offensively, and their 52.6 field goal percentage provides a good omen. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that's on pace to be the highest shooting percentage by a Division I team since Florida in 2006-07. That Gators team just happened to cut down the nets as national champions. Gonzaga also averages 121.3 points per 100 possessions, which is on pace to be the most efficient offense in the last 15 seasons.

Reasons the Bulldogs go home: It's been called arguably the best team Mark Few has assembled -- potentially better than the squad that was a No. 1 seed in 2013. Gonzaga has had season-long expectations of capturing the program's first Final Four. But those are the kind of expectations that could turn into a burden -- especially against UCLA in a game the Zags will be favored.


NC State Wolfpack

Reasons the Wolfpack advance: The NCAA tournament usually comes down to guard play, and Anthony "Cat" Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner are as good a tandem as any three guards in the remaining field. Barber might just be the fastest player in the nation with the ball in his hands. NC State improved collectively once he learned the nuances of when to dial it back and when to go al- out. At 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, Lacey is a physical guard who can finish despite contact in the lane. Turner doesn't need much separation from a defender in order to get his shot off. And when they're all making shots, they become a headache to defend.

Reasons the Wolfpack go home: The Pack have been capable of pulling upsets all season, like their wins over Duke, at North Carolina and at Louisville. Their shooting tends to be streaky; that's why they've also proved to be capable of letdowns like against Wofford, at Wake Forest and at Boston College. The NCAA tournament is a not-so-forgiving place for a letdown, and their inconsistent nature could lead to their elimination.

Louisville Cardinals

Reasons the Cardinals advance: The top two seeds in the region are gone, and coach Rick Pitino is at the helm. His only loss in the Sweet 16 (11-1) came last year to Kentucky. Give him a week to prepare and basically give him a Sharpie to write Louisville into the Elite Eight. Guard Terry Rozier has been responsible for 54 percent of the Cardinals' offense in the NCAA tournament, which is the most among any player, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The experience of having been there before helps, too, as Louisville makes its fourth straight appearance in the Sweet 16. Senior Wayne Blackshear has been to two Final Fours and has never known a first-weekend exit in the NCAA tournament. He showed that experience matters with a game-tying shot against UC Irvine.

Reasons the Cardinals go home: Because of Chris Jones' dismissal, the Cardinals had to thrust freshman Quentin Snider into the starting lineup. Snider has been solid but is still very much learning on the job, especially when it comes to shot selection, given a game's time and situation. Then there are the scoring droughts. They're untimely, but they come like clockwork, way more often than Pitino would like. Louisville is limited offensively, and a well-played zone defense could end up being its kryptonite.

Oklahoma Sooners

Reasons the Sooners advance: The Sooners can get out and run. They averaged 19.7 fast-break points per game this season, which was the most among major conference teams, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Oklahoma has good balance on offense because it has multiple players who can shoot, led by leading scorer Buddy Hield. Coach Lon Kruger has used the same starting five all season; these guys have been on the same page for a while, and it shows in their play. They don't fold in tight games, either. The Sooners shoot 73 percent from the free throw line, which led the Big 12 this season.

Reasons the Sooners go home: During two NCAA tournament games, the Sooners have more turnovers (24) than assists (23). Their lack of a true big man makes it easy to forget about the post, and Oklahoma can sometimes resort to settling for too many jumpers. Defensively, the Sooners' lack of a center means they don't have a shot-blocking deterrent to driving the lane. Against a team like Michigan State that goes to the rim and the boards aggressively, that could be problematic.

Michigan State Spartans

Reasons the Spartans advance: The Spartans weren't a typical Tom Izzo-coached team defensively during the regular season, but they have all of a sudden gotten stingy during the NCAA tournament. In two games, they've held Georgia and Virginia to shoot a combined 28 percent from the floor and just 17 percent from 3-point range. That's the best and second-lowest percentages, respectively, of remaining teams. Guard Travis Trice is making the big plays with his chance in the spotlight after spending three seasons behind Keith Appling. Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine are two forwards Izzo can rely on to simply get things done.

Reasons the Spartans go home: Michigan State's pattern throughout the season has been playing solid for 35 minutes before falling apart in the decisive minutes of a game. The Spartans still wince when recalling how they squandered an 11-point lead and lost to Wisconsin in overtime of the Big Ten tournament title game. Part of that is because the Spartans were 330th in the nation in shooting 63 percent from the free throw line. They seemed to get over that hurdle with their opening wins over the Bulldogs and Cavaliers, but there's always a chance they revert to what has defined them this season.