Now, we breathe. For a few days, at least.
The first four days of the NCAA tournament somehow exceeded the expectations. Paul Jesperson's half-court, game-winning heave to beat Texas is now the second most important Northern Iowa storyline after Sunday's collapse against Texas A&M. Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds of Wisconsin's win over Xavier. Buddy Hield scored 29 points in the second half of Oklahoma's win over VCU.
So many fireworks in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Next: the Sweet 16.
This week's Sweet 16 will feature six squads from the ACC (Miami, Duke, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Virginia and Syracuse), three from the Big 12 (Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State), three from the Big Ten (Maryland, Indiana and Wisconsin), one from the Pac-12 (Oregon), one from the SEC (Texas A&M), one from the Big East (Villanova) and one from the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga).
Kansas, Virginia, UNC and Villanova were all bullies in the first two rounds. But that second-half explosion by the Tar Heels in their win over Providence was the most powerful display of strength we witnessed among the top seeds in the second round. They swatted the Friars away from the field as if they were flies at a summer picnic. That's why the Tar Heels get the slight edge over the rest and the top overall seed.
The following is one man's attempt to rank and reseed the Sweet 16 teams according to their performances in the first two rounds and their efforts relative to their original seeds:
1. North Carolina (Reseed: top overall seed; previous seed: 1)
While the underdogs of the first weekend confirmed the slim gap between the Power 5 programs and the rest of country in 2015-16, the squads with the most potential to be dominant in the NCAA tournament punched through their initial games. North Carolina's dismissal of 16-seed Florida Gulf Coast and 9-seed Providence -- by a combined margin of 35 points -- justified its standing as a top seed and, arguably, the best team in the field. The Tar Heels held Florida Gulf Coast to a 30 percent clip in the second half and accrued a 17-0 advantage in transition points in the game. Against Providence, they outscored the Friars 44-25 in the final 15 minutes, 35 seconds. In two games, Roy Williams' squad grabbed a ridiculous 44.6 percent of its missed shots and made 52 percent of its attempts inside the arc. North Carolina competed with the edge of a national champion throughout the first two rounds.
2. Kansas (Reseed: 1; previous seed: top overall seed)
Bill Self's squad extended a winning streak that dates back to Jan. 25 by recording a pair of double-digit victories over Austin Peay and UConn. Kansas, the only NCAA tournament participant that reached triple digits in the first round, collected 58 points in the paint in a 105-79 win over Austin Peay. Yes, the Jayhawks faced a 16-seed in the opening round. But 1.36 points per possession and 10 turnovers is impressive regardless of the opponent. UConn didn't wilt so easily, but Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis combined to score 43 points in the second-round win. And the entire roster turned the paint into a UFC fight. UConn finished with just five offensive rebounds, and Kansas snatched 88 percent of its misses. The Jayhawks skated through the first two games with their proficiency inside.
3. Virginia (Reseed: 1; previous seed: 1)
Hampton probably entered the NCAA tournament as the worst team in the field. The MEAC tournament champion had suffered lopsided losses to SMU and Colorado this season and was expected to lose big to its first-round opponent, Virginia. Considering how heavily favored the Cavs were, it was difficult for them to impress in this matchup, but there's just something about holding a Division I opponent to 45 points and outscoring that opponent by 36 points that still feels remarkable. The follow-up to that performance? Just a 73 percent shooting clip and a 54-point outburst in the second half of a win over 9-seed Butler. Yeah, the Cavs justified their No. 1 seed.
4. Villanova (Reseed: 1; previous seed: 2)
For the first time since 2009, Villanova will participate in the Sweet 16. How? Via strong defense and depth that Jay Wright's squad used in its dazzling first- and second-round victories. In the first round, 15-seed UNC Asheville scored just 56 points against Nova's pressure in a 30-point loss. Five Wildcats recorded double figures in that game. Against 7-seed Iowa -- the same Iowa team that once warranted consideration for a top seed before its late-season collapse -- Nova made 63 percent of its shots inside the arc and 53 percent of its attempts from beyond it in a 19-point win over a Hawkeyes squad that swept Michigan State during the regular season. If you could reseed the remaining 16 squads, Villanova would warrant one of the four No. 1 slots. So we'll give them one.
5. Oregon (Reseed: 2; previous seed: 1)
As expected, Oregon destroyed 16-seed Holy Cross in the first round. The Ducks scored 52 points in the paint. Holy Cross finished with 52 points in a 39-point loss. Oregon had more trouble with a Saint Joseph's squad that led in the final minutes. But this is the same Oregon team that defeated Utah by 31 points in the Pac-12 tournament title game. Its offense, ranked No. 22 in overall efficiency, changes games. The Ducks outscored Saint Joseph's 18-6 in the final 5:33 to turn a seven-point deficit into a five-point victory. The Ducks finished like a high seed should.
6. Oklahoma (Reseed: 2; previous seed: 2)
Buddy Hield's national player of the year campaign continued in Sunday's victory over 10-seed VCU. Hield scored 29 of his 36 points in the second half of an 85-81 thriller and he scored 27 points in a first-round win over Cal State-Bakersfield. Hield's Superman-act propelled Oklahoma into the Sweet 16, but it wasn't without drama. Oklahoma saw its 13-point halftime lead disappear and faced a deficit when Virginia Commonwealth seized a 65-63 advantage on Michael Gilmore's free throws with 8:10 remaining. The Sooners held on, but they couldn't preserve or extend that lead at the break against a confident VCU squad. Does that warrant a seed adjustment? Not for a team that played like a top-three seed for 80 percent of its first two matchups.
7. Indiana (Reseed: 2; previous seed: 5)
Louisville couldn't do it. Duke and Kansas failed, too. Indiana's defensive performance against Kentucky, ranked second in KenPom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings, was the best against the Wildcats since Auburn's victory over UK in January. The Hoosiers held Kentucky, a team that had averaged 87.8 points in its previous six matchups, to 67 points overall and just 0.94 points per possession. Auburn held Kentucky to 0.93 PPP in January. Sure, the Hoosiers can score, but they also finished the regular season as the No. 3 per-possession defense in Big Ten play. Chattanooga entered its first-round matchup against Indiana ranked 54th in defensive turnover rate. Indiana committed 12 turnovers against the Mocs but also connected on 63 percent of its 3-point attempts. The underseeded Big Ten champ deserved a better slot from the selection committee. Don't worry. We'll take care of that.
8. Gonzaga (Reseed: 2; previous seed: 11)
This season, an 11-seed made sense for a Gonzaga team that entered the tournament via the WCC's automatic berth after securing few quality wins during the regular season. But Gonzaga saved its best basketball for a 16-point win over 6-seed Seton Hall and a 23-point victory over 3-seed Utah at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Domantas Sabonis elevated his NBA draft stock by averaging 20 points, 13 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 blocks in the two wins. And the Zags' offense made 53 percent of its shots inside the arc. But it was Gonzaga's defense that changed its path. Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead (4-for-24), an all-Big East first-teamer, and Utah's Jakob Poeltl (five points), the Pac-12 Player of the Year and an NBA lottery prospect, recorded their worst offensive performances of their respective seasons against the Zags.
9. Iowa State (Reseed: 3; previous seed: 4)
By Monday morning, a personalized bouquet signed "Thanks for everything!" from Iowa State's Steve Prohm should reach West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue's collapse in the final five minutes of regulation in a double-overtime loss to Arkansas-Little Rock allowed the Cyclones to face back-to-back double-digit seeds: Iona (13) and Little Rock (12). According to ESPN Stats & Info research, Iowa State entered Saturday's matchup against Little Rock with an 82 percent chance to win and advance to the Sweet 16. The Cyclones earned their place, however, by checking Iona star A.J. English (2-for-8 from the 3-point line) and Little Rock's Josh Hagins (eight points after scoring 31 against Purdue) in easy double-digit wins over both teams. Georges Niang played like a first-team All-American, scoring 28 points in each game. The Cyclones excelled. But that's what you're supposed to do when you have one of the easiest paths to the Sweet 16.
10. Syracuse (Reseed: 3; previous seed: 10)
The 10-seed Orange crushed 7-seed Dayton by 19 points in the opening round and then ruined Middle Tennessee 48 hours after the Blue Raiders sent Michigan State, a 2-seed and Big Ten tournament champion, back to East Lansing. Cuse held Dayton to a 34.5 percent clip in the paint with its strict zone. The Blue Raiders registered 90 points overall and 1.32 points per possession against Michigan State, possessor of the Big Ten's most efficient defense in conference play. Against Cuse? MTSU recorded just 0.82 PPP. Beyond its strict defensive pressure in the first two rounds, Syracuse made 38 percent of its 3-point attempts, too. Not the best remaining team in the field but Cuse won with balanced performances against a higher seed and a Cinderella. That's worth something in this conversation.
11. Texas A&M (Reseed: 3; previous seed: 3)
Wow. What else can you say about Texas A&M's come-from-behind win over 11-seed Northern Iowa? Down 12 with 44 seconds to play and the Aggies still found a way to win. They fought through a 15-point deficit earlier in the half. Texas A&M merged messy and effective in their win that guaranteed a trip to the Sweet 16. The Aggies scored 92 points against both 14-seed Green Bay in the opening round and Northern Iowa on Sunday. Neither opponent surpassed a point per possession on offense. Danuel House (42 points in two games) led the way for a Texas A&M squad that fought off a dangerous UNI team on Sunday. Their weekend was bigger than Sunday's comeback.
12. Miami (Reseed: 3; previous seed: 3)
Miami's path to the Sweet 16 seemed favorable with matchups against double-digit seeds Buffalo (14) and Wichita State (11). The Hurricanes had minimal issues against Buffalo -- five players reached double digits in the first-round win. In the second round against the underseeded Shockers, however, the Hurricanes looked like the same inconsistent team we witnessed all season. Miami's 27-6 advantage with 8:28 remaining in the first half became a 43-42 deficit with 10:29 to play in the second half. Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan made grown-man plays down the stretch to secure the victory, but the Hurricanes surrendered a 21-point lead against a double-digit seed. We can't overlook that. It speaks volumes about Wichita State's heart, but it also makes you wonder about Miami's Final Four potential.
13. Duke (Reseed: 4; previous seed: 4)
This much is clear: With NBA prospects Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen on the floor, the Blue Devils boast an offensive juggernaut that's capable of anchoring another trip to the Final Four. Along with Marshall Plumlee's monstrous 23-point, eight-rebound effort in a first-round win over UNC-Wilmington, Ingram and Allen added 43 points combined. Against 12-seed Yale in the second round, the young duo finished with 54 points combined in a seven-point win. But can Duke handle elite teams and advance to Houston with a subpar defense? Before its encounter with Duke, 13-seed UNC-Wilmington hadn't registered 85 points or more since its Feb. 11 win over Elon (86-82). Yale connected on 50 percent of its attempts inside the arc against the Blue Devils and finished with a higher points-per-possession rate (1.03) than it accrued in previous matchups against Harvard and Princeton. Yale and UNC-Wilmington aren't ranked among the top 70 squads in KenPom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. That should concern Blue Devils fans.
14. Wisconsin (Reseed: 4; previous seed: 7)
So that's how the Greg Gard era begins? Bronson Koenig hit two 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds to give Wisconsin a 66-63 win over 2-seed Xavier -- a team that many picked to reach Houston -- on Sunday. The Badgers made just 42.4 percent of their field goal attempts and needed a late miracle to win, but they've exceeded the expectations of their seed with that performance, which followed Friday's ugly 47-43 victory over Pitt (Nigel Hayes connected on 17.6 percent of his field goal attempts). Wisconsin has not matched the offensive potency of other Sweet 16 squads, but the Badgers advanced with a win over a 2-seed. That's not insignificant.
15. Maryland (Reseed: 4; previous seed: 5)
The Terps advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 with wins over 12-seed South Dakota State and 13-seed Hawaii, which defeated Cal in the opening round. Survive and advance. That's the motto. But Maryland didn't make anything look easy. In the Terps' five-point win over SDSU, they allowed a late Jackrabbits run and committed turnovers on nearly one-fifth of their possessions. Against Hawaii on Sunday, the Terps held off a squad with solid fan support in Spokane, Washington. Melo Trimble's 24-point effort and relentless defensive pressure (Hawaii managed just 0.86 points per possession) set up the win. But we can't overlook -- or forget -- that 1-for-18 clip from the 3-point line. Yes, the Terps won. That's what matters. Few style points, though.
16. Notre Dame (Reseed: 4; previous seed: 6)
Rex Pflueger's game-winning tip-in should earn some space on the final "One Shining Moment" reel. It sealed Notre Dame's hard-fought win over 14-seed Stephen F. Austin in their second-round matchup on Sunday, which is important, but the Fighting Irish's efficient shooting fueled this trip to the Sweet 16. Notre Dame made 61 percent of its shots inside the arc and 53 percent of its 3-pointers against 11-seed Michigan on Friday and made 67 percent of its shots inside the arc against Stephen F. Austin. It avoided West Virginia -- thanks, SFA -- but competed well in a pair of difficult matchups. Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste and V.J. Beachem all helped Notre Dame finish strong. The Irish lived up to their seed.