NCAA Tournament Handicapping: Overrated and Underrated Clubs
by Trevor Whenham - 03/18/2009
It's the eve of the NCAA Tournament - the best event in sports opened by the best two days possible. That means that every second between now and the first tip-off will be spent dissecting the bracket, second guessing your Final Four, and wondering which team is going to rise from nowhere to crush the dreams of teams with high expectations. As I look over the bracket for the 200th time I can't help but think that a few teams have been given a higher seed than they deserve, and a few others were placed too low and are dangerous. Here's a look at three of each:
Arizona Wildcats - I'm very tired of all the talk that Arizona got St. Mary's tournament bid. The Gaels are a nice story, and Patrick Mills could have a bright future. There are problems, though - Mills isn't entirely healthy, the team lacks a jaw-dropping win, and they lost to Gonzaga three times. Arizona, in contrast, beat Gonzaga, Kansas, UCLA, Washington and others. They also have three very impressive players at their core. They may have underachieved, but they weren't an embarrassment, and they had to struggle through a bizarre coaching the last two years. Teams can be dangerous in the tournament if they can score, they have an inside presence, and they can move the ball well. The trio of Chase Budinger, Nic Wise and Jordan Hill can check all of those boxes. They also provide a serious matchup challenge for opponents because you can't shut down the team by containing one player. This group has far more talent than a typical 12 seed, and that makes them dangerous.
Maryland Terrapins - On the surface it doesn't seem unreasonable for a team with 20 wins to be a No. 10 seed. Maryland is an interesting and challenging case, though. They have the ability to look very average, but they have also risen up against competition that should outmatch them more than any other team in the country. They have wins over Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. Tournament games are often won by teams that can handle the ridiculous pressure, and ones that have a player who can take the team on his shoulders and win it himself. Maryland clearly is able to play their best when it matters most (though not as consistently as would be ideal), and Greivis Vasquez is a very good player who ripped North Carolina apart.
Purdue Boilermakers - The team was second in the very tough Big Ten in the regular season, and they won the conference tournament. Winning that conference is far from an easy thing to do. Purdue would likely have had an even better year if Robbie Hummel had been healthy all year. He's looking good now, though, and that makes this team dangerous. A team that won a major conference without being a fluke - they won 25 games - and which has the depth and versatility of this squad is a dangerous No. 5 seed.
North Carolina Tar Heels - I haven't been particularly high on the Tar Heels all year, but I'm not just picking on them here. They are obviously ridiculously talented, but there are a lot of reasons to be uneasy about them this year. Tyler Hansbrough hasn't consistently been quite the beast he was in the past, the team has lacked cohesiveness, and now that Ty Lawson is injured they are certainly vulnerable. The team certainly still has Final Four potential if all goes well, but they are not the force they should have been, or that we might have expected from a No. 1 seed.
USC Trojans - The Trojans got hot at the right time to win their conference. If they hadn't pulled off that unlikely feat, though, then they never would have been in this field. They have lots of talent, but it has been the underachieving kind this year. They are potentially dangerous - they got hot once, so they could certainly keep it going. I don't expect that, though. Instead, I think that this is a team that has trouble playing to their full potential - bad attitudes and coaching I don't trust make for a rough combination. They finished strong, but they haven't played nearly as well all year as the other three No. 10 seeds.
Marquette Golden Eagles - The Eagles deserve a better fate after the start they had. The loss of Dominic James has just ripped this team apart, though. They have lost five of their last six games, and have not at all looked like the same team. They earned their No. 6 seed because of their early wins and the circumstances of their decline, but it is very hard to argue that this is a strong six seed at all.