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Arizona Wildcats sixth in ESPN’s ranking of Sweet 16 teams

Arizona guard Rawle Alkins (1) looks to shoot as Saint Mary's forward Calvin Hermanson (24) defends during the second half of a second-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/George Frey)

Two rounds into the NCAA Tournament, pre-tournament thoughts on the schools are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as teams like the No. 1-seeded Villanova Wildcats and No. 2-seeded Louisville Cardinals and Duke Blue Devils have already been eliminated by teams thought to be inferior.

The second-seeded Arizona Wildcats are still alive, however, after victories over the 15th-seeded North Dakota Fighting Hawks and seventh-seeded St. Mary’s Gaels.

But while the Wildcats are still standing, they are not the best team left, according to ESPN writer Myron Medcalf’s reseeding of the schools in the Sweet 16. In fact, Medcalf has Arizona ranked as the sixth-best remaining squad.

Many casual fans were introduced to Lauri Markkanen when he led Arizona with 16 points in a win over Saint Mary’s, a 7-seed probably slotted too high on Selection Sunday, following a 20-point effort in a first-round effort over North Dakota. But Arizona showcased its defensive capabilities when it held the Gaels to a 1-for-10 clip on contested 3-pointers. They held the Gaels to a 0.97 points per possession overall. Plus, Markkanen led four Wildcats who reached double figures in that game. This Arizona squad weathered difficult moments against Saint Mary’s, but the Wildcats won. The Pac-12 tournament champions haven’t lost a game since Feb. 25. They have size with Markkanen and Dusan Ristic. They have stars like Allonzo Trier and bulldogs like Rawle Alkins and Kadeem Allen. They’re capable of making a run.

Arizona trails the Kansas Jayhawks, North Carolina Tar Heels, Wisconsin Badgers, Gonzaga Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines in Medcalf’s rankings.

It’s no shock that the top-seeded Jayhawks, Tar Heels and Bulldogs are ranked ahead of the Wildcats. But the Badgers and Wolverines, who were eight and seven seeds, respectively, leapfrogging Arizona may come as a surprise to some.

This comes after Wisconsin upset overall top seed Villanova 65-62 and Michigan knocked off Louisville 73-69 in the second round.

Through two rounds, the Wildcats have proven that they can compete in both shootouts and defensive slug-fests by following up a 100-82 victory over the Fighting Hawks with a hard-fought 69-60 win over the talented Gaels.

The team’s scoring has been relatively balanced over the first two rounds, as four starters scored in double figures against St. Mary’s, after all five accomplished this feat against North Dakota.

Arizona will play the 11th-seeded Xavier Musketeers in the Sweet 16 Thursday after the Musketeers upset both the sixth-seeded Maryland Terps and third-seeded Florida State Seminoles by double digits in the first two rounds.

Xavier is 14th in Medcalf’s rankings and is the lowest-seeded team remaining in the tournament.

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