March Madness is upon us with Selection Sunday (this Sunday March 17th) only a few days away. So, without further adieu here’s a rundown of teams you CAN and CAN’T trust and some Sleepers/Cinderella’s to watch in this year’s NCAA Men’s Division One College Basketball Tournament:
You Can Trust:
Duke– Likely number one seed, went 14-4 in the ACC and 27-4 overall. Has one of the richest tournament histories and recently got back playmaker Ryan Kelly. Kelly dropped 34 points in Dukes revenge win over this year’s ACC Champion Miami Hurricanes. All reasons to trust the Blue Devils.
Key Wins: Nov.24th vs. then second ranked Louisville 76-71, Nov. 28th vs. then fourth ranked Ohio State 73-68, Mar. 5th vs. then fifth ranked Miami 79-76. Key Losses: Jan.12th vs. North Carolina State 84-76, Feb. 16th vs. Maryland 83-81, Feb.28th vs. Virginia 73-68.
Indiana– Likely number one seed, went 14-4 in the Big Ten and 26-5 overall. Spent time this season as the number one ranked team in the nation and have a sensational offensive/defensive combo in playmakers Cody Zeller and potential POY Victor Oladipo. Led by coach Tom Crean the Hoosiers are as reliable as they come this year.
Key Wins: Nov. 20th vs. Georgetown in OT 82-72, Feb.2 vs. then first ranked Michigan 81-73, Feb.19 vs. then fourth ranked Michigan State 72-68. Key Losses: Dec. 15 vs. Butler in OT 88-86, Feb.7th vs. Illinois 74-72, March 5th vs. Ohio State 67-58.
Miami– Likely a second seed team, won the ACC championship outright. Started the season unranked and have been ranked as high as second in the nation. Led by seniors Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson along with coach Jim Larranaga (coached the 2006 George Mason Patriots to an improbable final four appearance) the Canes can be trusted.
Key Wins: Nov.28th vs. then thirteenth ranked Michigan State 67-59, Jan.23rd vs. then first ranked Duke 90-63, Feb.2nd vs. then nineteenth ranked North Carolina State 79-78. Key Losses: Nov.13th vs. Florida Gulf Coast University 63-51, Dec.25th vs. Indiana State in OT 57-55, Feb.23rd vs. Wake Forest 80-65.
Gonzaga– Likely a number one seed, went undefeated at 16-0 in the West Coast Conference and 31-2. Gonzaga is the number one ranked team in the nation and have been led by the likes of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, don’t let the WCC schedule fool you, the Zags are trustworthy this year.
Key Wins: Nov.23rd vs. Oklahoma 72-47, Dec.31st vs. then twenty second ranked Oklahoma State 69-68, Mar.11th vs. Saint Mary’s 65-61. Key Losses: Dec.8th vs. then thirteenth ranked Illinois, and Jan.19th vs. then thirteenth ranked Butler 64-63.
Louisville– Likely a number one or two seed (depending on whether or not they win the Big East Conference Tournament), went 14-4 in the Big East and 26-5 overall. The Cardinals have a good chance of winning the Big East tournament and securing a number one seed because of the dynamic play of Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, and Peyton Siva. Coached by tournament hardened veteran Rick Pitino, the Cards offer a solid sense of security this year.
You Can’t Trust:
Kansas– Yes the Jayhawks went 14-4 in the Big 12 and have a 26-5 record, and yes they will likely earn a second seed in the big dance, however, given Kansas’ tournament resume’, they don’t have a leg to stand on this year. Since 2005 Kansas has been upset a total of four times, two of which came in the tournaments first round. To their credit the Jayhawks were in last year’s National Championship Game and won it all in 2008, but given their topsy-turvy tournament track record don’t be shocked to see them going home early…
UNC– The Tar Heels went 12-6 in the ACC with a 22-9 overall record and suffered some struggles this season. While UNC has one a pair of National Championships since 2005 (05′ and 2009) the Heels have fallen short of the Final Four a total of four times, with a Final Four loss to Kansas in 2008. With their up-and-down style of play UNC is far from a safe bet in this year’s tourney.
UCLA– The Bruins were once a household name when it came to the Big Dance, but the glory days of the 60’s and 70’s have long been over. UCLA had a stretch of tournament success from 2006-2008 with three Final Four appearances and a National Championship appearance, however they have also been upset three times as well (2005 1st round, 2009, 2011 2nd round)and didn’t even make it to the dance in 2010 and 2012. Given UCLA’s inconsistency, they simply can’t be trusted.
Syracuse– The Orange Men have been feeling a bit blue lately going 2-4 in their last six games losing recently to Georgetown 61-39. Cuse did manage to go 11-7 in the Big East and 23-8 overall but have struggled thus far in the Big East Tournament. Since their one and only National Championship in 2003 Syracuse has failed to advance beyond the Sweet 16 in six of the previous seven tournament appearances, the most recent was an Elite 8 loss last year to Ohio State. With the Orange Men having the longest case of an Upset Stomach I’ve seen in a while, they have yet to earn any amount of trust.
Notre Dame– Aside from a 5 OT thriller victory over Louisville this season the Fighting Irish have had a lack luster season posting identical numbers to Syracuse (see Cuse’ numbers above). Notre Dame’s tournament history is riddled with first and second round upsets over the decades that have past since the schools one and only final four appearance way back in 1978. The last time the Irish broke into the Sweet 16…2003. Needless to say, the Luck of the Irish has been absent for Notre Dame year-in-and-year-out. Moreover, the Irish are a historical lock to be upset.
Sleepers That Could Open Your Peepers:
Michigan State– The Spartans finished second in the Big Ten standings going 13-5 with a 24-7 overall record. Coached by tournament veteran bench boss Tom Izzo and led by the likes of Keith Appling and Gary Harris the Spartans are ranked eight in the AP Poll and will likely garner a number three seed. Michigan State has made five Final Four appearances with two National Championship appearances (won it all in 2000, lost to UNC in 2009) in the last 12 years. The Spartans have made runs before and could be poised for another deep run this year.
Saint Louis– The Billikens have only made two tournament appearances in the last 12 years (2000,2012) but they managed to make it to the second round last year and only missed making the Sweet 16 by four points losing to the aforementioned Spartans 65-61. Led by playmakers Dwayne Evans and Kwamain Mitchell Saint Louis finished in 1st place of the Atlantic-10 Conference going 13-3 and 24-6 overall. The Billikens are ranked sixteenth in the AP poll and could surprise a few teams this year.
Butler– Despite some early exits pre-2010 and missing last year’s tourney, the Bulldogs have managed to play in two of the last three National Championships and finished 3rd in the Atlantic-10 with an 11-5 record going 24-7 overall. Given the Bulldogs recent success in the big dance, Butler should not be counted out of this year’s potential sleeper group as they can surprise teams the same way they did in 2010 and 2011 this year.
Marquette– The Golden Eagles ended the regular season with a four game win streak that included W’s against Cuse and ND and have stayed hot in the Big East tournament. Marquette is ranked fifteenth in the AP poll going 14-4 in the Big East and 23-7 overall. The Golden Eagles last Final Four was in 2003, however, they have posted back-to-back Sweet 16 finishes recently. Marquette may be able to pull off a similar run like the UCONN Huskies did in 2011.
Oklahoma State– Despite recent tourney woes the Cowboys were on fire in the second half of season going 11-3 in their last 14 games with wins over higher ranked Big 12 foes Kansas and Kansas State. Led by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown (both averaging 15PPG) Oklahoma State may have the offensive scoring ability to trip a few teams up in the tournament.
Iona– The surprise MAAC Conference Champions finished the regular season with a overall record of 20-13 going 11-7 in MAAC play. The Gael’s will likely be a sixteenth seed in the tournament and as we all are aware no sixteen seed has EVER upset a number one seed in the history of the tournament. Nevertheless, this year’s crop of sixteen seeds will be some of the strongest yet and could give those trustworthy teams I mentioned early a scare…at least in the first half anyway.
South Dakota State– The Summit League Champions went 25-9 overall with a 13-3 conference record and will likely be a fifteenth seed, which gives the Jackrabbits a slight chance at an upset. Only six teams all-time have ever been a fifteen seed and upset a two seed. However, two of those upsets happened in last year’s tourney with Lehigh knocking off Duke, and Norfolk State defeating Missouri. So there’s hope for the Jackrabbits still.
Florida Gulf Coast University– This would certainly be a textbook Cinderella story as the Eagles are making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance!!! FGCU won the Atlantic Sun Conference title and will likely be dancing as a fifteen seed. The Eagles went 24-10 overall with a 13-5 conference mark. Their a feel-good-story team that could win the hearts of millions while busting millions of brackets at the same time.
Belmont– The Bruins won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in their first year as a member going 14-2 with an overall record of 26-6. Belmont has been a rising mid-major program and will likely earn an eleventh seed, meaning they could legitimately make some noise if they catch fire this year.
James Madison– Won the CAA Conference Championship to punch their ticket to the tourney going 11-7 in CAA play with a 20-14 overall record. The Dukes will likely be a sixteenth seed, but just like Iona, this team could play a number one seed tougher than we’ve ever seen.
Side Note: The odds are stacked against these Cinderella teams yes, but in March…ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!!!
Final Thoughts: Granted there were plenty of teams I left out in what will be an eventual field of 68 teams, however I personally felt as though these teams stood out amongst the rest of the field. Who do you have going all the way? Who is most likely to get upset? Leave a comment below.