NCAA Tournament Projections: Dangerous Lower Seeds
by Trevor Whenham - 3/13/2012
VCU made a remarkable run to the Final Four last year as a No. 11 seed, and in the process heightened the already burning desire in virtually every college basketball bettor to be able to spot the next big Cinderella team. That can be very profitable, and more importantly it can give the bettor all sorts of bragging rights.
Past history would suggest that there isn’t going to be another team this year that pulls off such an impressive run. We can dare to dream, though. Here, then, are five teams from the bottom half of the seeds that could have what it takes to take their turn shocking the world this year (all odds are from Bovada):
Belmont (18/1 to win the Midwest Regional)
Belmont is one of those teams that always seems to be under-appreciated in the Tournament. All you need to know about how good these guys are is that despite being a No. 14 seed they are tied for the fourth lowest odds in the Regional to win the group.
There is a lot to like about this team. They have tournament experience. Their guards are very good. They got more points per game from their bench than any team in the country, so their depth is as good as it gets. They score like crazy, and are especially effective from three-point range. Long range success is a characteristic of tournament success.
Their defense is strong, and they rebound well. They are simply a very good, well-rounded team. They also play in a regional that, while certainly not easy, could be tougher.
Davidson (100/1 to win the West Regional)
This is not the team that Stephen Curry made so fun to watch, but they are still a dangerous squad. What makes them so challenging is that they like to shoot. A lot. They throw up more than 23 three pointers per game, they shoot from almost anywhere, and they get to the free throw line a lot. They don’t really play defense, but they can overwhelm by sheer volume, and that can be a very dangerous approach if they are hitting their shots.
They play Louisville in the opener. Despite the Big East Conference Championship, Louisville is a team that has been hard to trust in the NCAA Tournament recently, and they could certainly be vulnerable to a hot Davidson team.
Harvard (60/1 to win the East Regional)
This is the first time Harvard has been in the tournament since WWII. That’s a long time, so we can’t rely on their experience to carry them. What we can count on, though, is their defense. They play relentless, disciplined defense, and they are all committed to it. Coupled with that defensive intensity is a very deliberate intensity — they sit 330th in the country in tempo. The combination of smothering defense and glacial offense can really frustrate opponents.
If those opponents can’t maintain their composure and force Harvard to play out of their comfort zone then the Crimson could go on a run. It really helps that they open against Vanderbilt. The Commodores have lost to double-digit seeds their last three times in the tournament, and they face the very tough task of regaining their composure after a shocking SEC Championship win.
South Dakota State (200/1 to win the South Regional)
South Dakota isn’t exactly the heartland of basketball excellence, but the Jackrabbits have two big things going for them. First, they are very good at shooting three pointers — they hit almost 40 percent of their shots during the season. A team that can shoot that well can be very dangerous in the tournament, and they can use their shooting to overcome a severe skill deficit — which South Dakota State will certainly face.
More significantly, in junior point guard Nate Wolters they have one of the best unknown players in the country. He averaged more than 21 points per game, and he dishes the ball very nicely. He’s a future NBAer, and he’s just the kind of player who can lead his team on a surprising run in the Big Dance.
The Jackrabbits play Baylor in the first round. A couple of months ago I would have thought that the Bears were a lock, but they haven’t been nearly as impressive since, and it’s not impossible to imagine them losing.
Long Beach State (65/1 to win the West Regional)
This is a dangerous squad. They beat two ranked teams this year, and they led at North Carolina by five before ultimately losing by eight. They are a very deep squad, with all five starters averaging at least 9.6 points per game. Four of those starters are seniors, so they have an excess of experience and leadership.
Their guard play is particularly strong, led by two-time Big West Player of the Year Casper Ware. Dan Monson is a very good coach, and he is creative enough to give opponents headaches.
I like this team. I’d really like them if they hadn’t drawn New Mexico in the first round — the Lobos are a talented and hot team that I like even more than the 49ers.
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