March Madness Handicapping: Potential Sweet 16 Surprises
by Trevor Whenham - 3/18/2013
If everything went according to expectations, the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament would be made up of the top four teams in each region. Of course, it almost never works out that way. Almost every year in the Sweet 16 we see some surprise teams. Some are only mild surprises — a No. 5 or No. 7 seed that plays well at the right time. But then there are the real longshots that just got hot at the right time. Last year we saw No. 10 Xavier, No. 11 North Carolina State, and No. 13 Ohio crash the party, and those were far from the only double-digit seeds we have seen on the second weekend in recent years. So what Sweet 16 surprises are lurking this year? Which double-digit seeds have at least two wins in them? Here are five with a shot:
Midwest Region - No. 11 Middle Tennessee or Saint Mary’s
These two teams have provided the first reason ever that I actually care about a game in Dayton. I really like both teams, and they make a very interesting matchup. Neither team is elite in their own right. Middle Tennessee has been tested against a very tough nonconference schedule, though, and Saint Mary’s has had to face Gonzaga too many times. The winner here can beat an overrated Memphis team that has an inflated record because of a weak conference. That leaves them with Michigan State to make the second weekend. That’s a tough matchup, but Michigan State isn’t consistent and can be beaten if they get punched in the face. Both of these teams can make a fist.
South Regional - No. 11 Minnesota
UCLA has a couple of issues — their coach is on life support and is likely playing for his job, and one of their top players is out for the year with a broken foot. The Bruins have been much better recently than they were early, but there are real excuses for a poor performance here. Minnesota has been very inconsistent, but they can rise up when needed — the beat both Wisconsin and Indiana in the last month or so. Tubby Smith isn’t very secure in his job, either, but he is a good postseason coach. A win there and they would face Florida — a very overrated team in my eyes. They wouldn’t be seeded where they are if they had to play in a real conference, and they can be beaten.
East Region - No. 14 Davidson
We know from the Stephen Curry years that this is a team that can be very dangerous in March. Coach Bob McKillop, in his 24th year with the team, is no stranger to a spot like this. Their last loss came on Jan.14, so the team is on a roll. They beat a Montana team I really respect in BracketBusters, and they were well seasoned in a challenging nonconference schedule. They open against Marquette — unquestionably the most over-seeded team in the field. They are wildly vulnerable. Next up is Butler or Bucknell. Both teams are good and could win, but it will be a war. Davidson can go punch for punch with either in what would be a great game.
West Region - No. 14 Harvard
The Crimson has shown that they are very tough. They won the Ivy League over favored Princeton despite losing arguably their two top players in September when they were caught up in a cheating scandal. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, it gave them something to rally around. Freshman guard Siyani Chambers is the reason to be most optimistic about this team. He has quickly become a very impressive game commander, and he is growing with every outing. He’s the kind of guy who could really get noticed over the next couple of weeks. They have an extremely tough first-round matchup against New Mexico, but the Lobos lost to South Dakota State and their stellar point guard at home, so they can slip up at times. After that would come Arizona or Belmont — two teams that are vulnerable. Harvard is the least likely team to advance in this group, but they have a chance.
East Region - No. 13 Montana
Teams that make a surprise run often have a few things in common. They are playing well. Check — the Grizzlies were 19-1 in conference play and then won the conference tournament. They are well coached. Check — Wayne Tinkle has built a nice program here, and he will soon have a chance to climb the coaching ladder a rung or two. They have experience. Check — this is the third tournament appearance for the seniors on this team. Most importantly, they have an outstanding player who can rise to the occasion and lead his team. Check — senior guard Will Cherry is a special player who could single-handedly win games for his team. Finally, they have a bracket that is manageable. Check — Syracuse is a talented-but-troubled team that is vulnerable, and both UNLV and Cal have troubles putting their best game forward when needed.
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