Ranking the national title probabilities of every March Madness Sweet 16 team

If the NCAA Tournament played out as it was seeded, the Sweet 16 would simply feature the top four seeds from each region. Thankfully, March Madness is a lot more unpredictable than that -- especially this year.

The first weekend of March Madness saw nine top-four seeded teams fall, starting with Arizona’s 89-68 loss to No. 13 Buffalo on Thursday night and ending with Xavier’s 75-70 defeat to No. 9 Florida State on Sunday. The South region is the first in NCAA Tournament history to have its top four teams knocked out before the Sweet 16. The average remaining seed is 5.3, which is the highest since 2000, according to Yahoo Sports.

In other words, it’s not just your bracket that’s busted -- pretty much everyone else’s is, too. The seeds assigned to each school by the NCAA are outdated, and it’s time to reset how we think about these teams.

The gallery below ranks each of the remaining 16 teams, from least likely to most likely, on their chances to win the national championship, according to FiveThirtyEight win probabilities.

Click through to see the championship probabilities of each remaining team:

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Ranking the March Madness Sweet 16 teams
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Ranking the March Madness Sweet 16 teams

Syracuse, No. 11 Midwest

Next opponent: Duke

Championship probability: 0.4%

The Orange were the final team granted a bid into the NCAA Tournament, but that didn’t stop them from upsetting one of the tournament’s favorites in Michigan State on Sunday. Their next task -- defeating Duke -- will be a lot tougher since the Blue Devils are familiar with Syracuse’s unique 2-3 defensive zone scheme from the schools’ annual ACC matchups.

FiveThirtyEight gives Jim Boeheim’s squad a 15 percent chance of advancing to the Elite Eight, the worst odds of any team.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Loyola Chicago, No. 11 South

Next opponent: Nevada

Championship probability: 0.6%

Following the fall of UMBC in the second round, the Ramblers are America’s favorite underdogs who are still standing. That’s pretty indisputable after Loyola Chicago secured their spot in the Sweet 16 with a pair of game-winning shots in the final seconds against Miami and Tennessee -- with America’s new favorite nun cheering them on through it all.

They could conceivably get past Nevada in a Sweet 16 matchup that FiveThirtyEight views as a virtual toss-up, but it’d be asking a lot for this mid-major squad to best a Kentucky squad brimming with NBA prospects in the Elite Eight.

(Photo by Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)

Nevada, No. 7 South

Next opponent: Loyola Chicago

Championship probability: 0.9%

The Wolf Pack have overcome double-digit deficits against a pair of ferocious defensive teams in Texas and Cincinnati, so they shouldn’t be deterred much by anything Loyola Chicago throws at them.

However, you can bet that coach Eric Musselman is preaching defensive discipline to his own team this week after they dug themselves a deep hole in each of their two games so far. That won’t fly in the later rounds.  

(Photo by Steve Roberts/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Florida State, No. 9 West

Next opponent: Gonzaga

Championship probability: 1%

Florida State’s length stymied Xavier, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, down the stretch during their upset victory in the second round. FiveThirtyEight doesn’t think they’ll be able to do the same against another talented scoring team in Gonzaga, giving them a 28 percent chance to win -- the third-lowest probability among Sweet 16 schools.

The Seminoles’ strong, physical brand of defense could be the perfect antidote for Gonzaga’s finesse style of offense. They could also be overmatched by the Zags’ smart passing and superior depth.

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Clemson, No. 5 Midwest

Next opponent: Kansas

Championship probability: 2%

The Tigers are a hard team to gauge. They lost all six road/neutral games against NCAA Tournament teams after losing star forward Donte Grantham in late January, but then posted double-digit wins against New Mexico State and Auburn (who lost their own star player themselves late in the year).

Now they must face off against the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, against whom FiveThirtyEight only gives the Tigers a 28 percent shot at beating – the second-lowest mark for any team in the Sweet 16.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Texas Tech, No. 3 East

Next opponent: Purdue

Championship probability: 2%

The Red Raiders are unlucky to be in the only region that was largely unscathed by the upset bug. Even though Purdue was weakened by the loss of star center Isaac Haas to a broken elbow, Texas Tech will still likely have to get through tournament favorite Villanova in the Elite Eight.

Due to that looming obstacle, FiveThirtyEight gives Texas Tech the second-worst odds of any team to advance to the Final Four at 8 percent.

(Photo by Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Kansas State, No. 9 South

Next opponent: Kentucky

Championship probability: 2%

Kansas State is the definition of a mid-tier squad. The Wildcats couldn’t knock off any of the Big 12’s best three teams (Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech) during conference play, instead fattening up their record on the teams who finished below them. That’s a fine enough strategy when you’re gifted the chance of playing a No. 16 seed in the second round, but the going will get tougher from now on.

Leading scorer Dean Wade, who missed K-State’s first two tournament games, could provide a boost for the Wildcats against Kentucky. They might even keep this run going to the Final Four, thanks to the topsy-turvy South region. But when this squad finally does run into a clearly superior team, they’ll be expected to fall because they haven’t yet shown they can punch above their weight.

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Purdue, No. 2 East

Next opponent: Texas Tech

Championship probability: 5%

If star center Isaac Haas is truly done for the year with a broken elbow, FiveThirtyEight is likely overestimating Purdue’s shot at the program’s first NCAA championship. Haas is the rare 7-footer who serves as the fulcrum of an offense, directing traffic from the high post. He’s sort of irreplaceable for the Boilermakers.

However, if the school’s vaunted engineering program somehow comes up with an NCAA-approved super brace for Haas, Purdue can’t be counted out yet.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Texas A&M, No. 7 West

Next opponent: Michigan

Championship probability: 5%

Texas A&M was in turmoil as recently as February after dismissing two guards due to disciplinary issues. Because of that, the Aggies’ lack of guard depth is a real concern.

But Billy Kennedy’s squad showed against North Carolina that they have enough frontcourt length and athleticism to bother any squad left on their side of the bracket. If D.J. Hogg can continue his sharp shooting from beyond the arc while leading scorer Tyler Davis and NBA prospect Robert Williams hold down the fort inside, the Aggies could ride this train all the way to the national championship game.  

(Photo by Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan, No. 3 West

Next opponent: Texas A&M

Championship probability: 5%

Michigan’s four-guard lineup has defied the odds to become one of the nation’s best defensive teams under John Beilein. But Beilein’s usually potent offense has yet to show up in the Big Dance, as the Wolverines had to win an ugly contest against No. 14 seed Montana before a miraculous long-distance shot from Jordan Poole bailed them out against a Houston team that outplayed them in the second round.

Leading scorer Moritz Wagner, a stretch five at the heart of this offense, averaged just 8.5 points in Michigan’s two games so far. He’ll have to step up going forward, because the frontcourts still alive in the West Region all bring a unique set of skills that he’ll have to counter as the Wolverines’ lone starting forward.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

West Virginia, No. 5 East

Next opponent: Villanova

Championship probability: 6%

The Mountaineers showcased just how tough it is for some teams to prepare for Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” defense by whipping Murray State and Marshall. West Virginia was also completely dominant on the offensive glass in those two wins, collecting a whopping 45 percent of their misses, according to ESPN.

But now they’re facing one of the few top dogs left in Villanova, which boasts a bevy of capable ball-handlers who will have nearly a full week to prepare for West Virginia’s frantic style. FiveThirtyEight gives Jevon Carter and Co. just a 30 percent chance of knocking off the most battle-tested team left in the field, but if they do, anything is possible from there.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Gonzaga, No. 4 West

Next opponent: Florida State

Championship probability: 8%

Gonzaga is considered the favorite to emerge from the West region, as FiveThirtyEight gives the Bulldogs a 41 percent chance to reach the Final Four (Michigan is the next closest at 26 percent). That’s pretty impressive considering how many key contributors this team lost from its run to the national title game last year.

If the Zags are to return to that stage, they’ll have to overcome a stereotype that’s long been perpetuated against Mark Few’s program and the international big men he recruits -- that they’re soft and can be challenged by physical opponents. That theory will be tested in the Sweet 16 against Florida State, and perhaps versus potential future opponents Texas A&M and Kentucky.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Kansas, No. 1 Midwest

Next opponent: Clemson

Championship probability: 11%

Kansas is somehow the only regular-season power conference champion left in the Big Dance. They should waltz into the Elite Eight since they have a de facto home game in the Sweet 16 against Clemson in Omaha, Nebraska (just 200 miles from their campus).

But standing in their way after that will likely be the Duke, favored by many now to take home the national title even though they’re a lower seed than the Jayhawks. Senior guard Devonte Graham, who shot 1-for-7 against Seton Hall in the second round, will have to play like the All-American he is to prevent that from happening.  

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)

Kentucky, No. 5 South

Next opponent: Kansas State

Championship probability: 11%

Given the absolute anarchy that’s unfolded around them in the South Region, the Kentucky Wildcats might have already played their toughest game before the Final Four. The mighty Big Blue fan base should give Kentucky a de facto home-court advantage in Atlanta, since none of their three potential regional opponents (Kansas State, Loyola Chicago, Nevada) boast large fan bases or campuses in the South.

FiveThirtyEight gives the Wildcats a tournament-best 57 percent chance of playing in the Final Four. But they’ll eventually have to play a higher-seeded team with an elite offense. Does this group of athletic underclassmen have the shot-making ability and mental toughness to keep up against those outfits?

(Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Duke, No. 2 Midwest

Next opponent: Clemson

Championship probability: 18%

Armed with future NBA lottery picks Marvin Bagley Jr. and Wendell Carter, not to mention senior point guard Grayson Allen (who’s quietly improved as a passer and defender this year), Duke is the most talented college basketball team on the planet. They should prove no match for Syracuse -- a team they already defeated by 16 points during the regular season -- and FiveThirtyEight gives them a 49 percent chance of reaching the Final Four.

If the Blue Devils play defense like they have been over the past couple months since incorporating a zone scheme into their rotation, Coach K should be able to cut down the nets for his sixth national championship (and Allen’s second following his breakout performance against Wisconsin in the 2015 final).

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Villanova, No. 1 East

Next opponent: West Virginia

Championship probability: 22%

Duke might be the most talented team in the field, but Villanova possesses the ideal combination of experience and scoring prowess with junior guards Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, who were both around for the instant classic win over North Carolina in the 2016 title game. The Wildcats also have more depth, going six deep on double-digit scorers.  

Those factors help Nova land the best power rating and championship probability from FiveThirtyEight. But even Jay Wright’s squad can’t be considered a sure thing with tough matchups against West Virginia and either Texas Tech or Purdue on the docket -- not to mention what would be a monumental clash against Kansas or Duke in the Final Four.

As you’ve probably learned by now, predicting March Madness can be a fool’s errand. Our advice is to sit back and enjoy the insanity.  

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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