Sweet 16 Handicapping: Examining the Unexpected Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 3/26/2013
If everything went according to expectations, the Sweet 16 each year would be made up of all of the No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds. Of course, it almost never works out that way. Eleven of the 16 teams in the next round are Top-4 seeds like they are supposed to be. Arizona is technically an outsider, but as a No. 6 seed they are hardly unexpected. There are always a few interesting party crashers, though, and this year is certainly no exception.
Oregon only qualifies as a mild surprise. Wichita State had to work hard for their spot by knocking off a top seed. La Salle is a shock. There aren’t words to describe Florida Gulf Coast. All four teams have made it this far.
For bettors, though, what has happened is just a memory. What matters now is what is going to happen next. Can any of these teams be trusted? Are they legitimate contenders? Or is the 15 minutes of fame almost up? Let’s take a look at each:
The Ducks are the victims of the worst seeding I ever remember in the NCAA Tournament. They are not a great team, but they did win the Pac-12 Tournament in solid fashion, and they have won 28 games including a nonconference win at UNLV and wins against Arizona and at UCLA. That does not sound like a No. 12 seed to me. They have proven how silly the seeding was by totally immobilizing two very good teams in Oklahoma State and especially Saint Louis. It has been very impressive, and the team is in great form. They are also very well-coached. Dana Altman was not the first choice when he got the job in 2010, but he has proven to be a great fit — with a Pac-12 Coach of the Year award this year as proof. Can Oregon keep winning? Absolutely. Will they? I sure don’t think so. They have run into Louisville. Not only are the Cardinals the best all-round team in the tournament, but they are in excellent form. It’s not a good matchup. The team has also played at a dramatically different level in the postseason than they did late in the regular season when they were slumping. The longer the postseason run lasts, the harder it is to trust that they can play at this sustained level.
If you are totally shocked by what the Shockers have done this year, you just haven’t been paying any attention over the last several years. This team was in the Sweet 16 in 2006, ultimately losing to the George Mason team that went on their magical run. Their head coach at that time, Mark Turgeon, went on to coach Texas A&M and now Maryland. Under current coach Gregg Marshall they won the NIT in 2011. This is a solid program. They are also on a very solid run. They overwhelmed an overrated-but-still-solid Pitt squad, and then they set the tempo against Gonzaga en route to a strong win. If they play like they have already, they are very well-positioned to beat La Salle. They would be a solid underdog against either Arizona or Ohio State, but there is no reason they couldn’t win there, either. This team could make the Final Four. I think the Elite Eight is the likely end of the line, though.
La Salle has been impressive. Against Kansas State and Ole Miss they found themselves in some trouble late after a strong start, but they kept hanging on and found the way to win. Impressive — and much-needed for an A-10 conference that has otherwise been disappointing. Two narrow wins on the first weekend just aren’t going to translate into continued success, though — not for a team like this. The games get tougher, and Wichita State is a tough matchup for them. I expect them to lose this game. If they find a way to win it, though, they will lose badly next time out. The run will end this weekend.
Florida Gulf Coast
Great story. Amazing. Things like this are what is so great about the NCAA Tournament. There is also almost no chance that it continues. This is a team that has lived in anonymity and with zero expectations. They have thrived under the circumstances, but now everything has changed. Suddenly the eyes of the country are on them, and everyone wants a piece of them. Once seen as hopeless, now they are popular. They have national fans. They are on TV. It’s incredibly tough for a team to deal with that when it is all new to them. On top of that, they have drawn the most efficient overall team in the tournament. The Gators can score relentlessly, and they don’t give up sloppy points. They are by far the best-coached team FGCU has seen as well. The great run will end on Friday, the team will slowly fade from the memories of casual fans everywhere, and Andy Enfield will have to decide whether he wants to take the step up the coaching ladder he will inevitably be offered. It would take an all-time upset for FGCU to win here.
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