When you are looking at your NCAA Tournament bracket you know that if things turned out exactly as expected the Sweet 16 would be made up of just Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds. It never works out like that, though, and this year is unlikely to be an exception. Top seeds will falter, and lower seeds will rise up and make a nice run. The trick, of course, is to figure out which of those lower seeds are going to shine.
Here are six candidates to be Sweet 16 surprise teams. Admittedly, some would be more surprising than others. Through all of them, though, a theme keeps recurring - while the selection committee got all the right teams into the tournament, the seeding was often moronic. In most of these cases we either have a team that is seeded lower than it should be or one that is playing an opponent that isn't as good as their seed suggests:
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No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast: The last time that this team made a nice tournament run into the Sweet 16, head coach Andy Enfield parlayed it into the USC job. So, will Joe Dooley earn a big raise this time around? The opportunity is there. The Seminoles are a very talented team, but they have glaring weaknesses. For one, they were unbeatable at home but very underwhelming away - especially on neutral courts. Second, they are shockingly tied to their style of play. They need to play fast, so if a team can slow things down then the Seminoles are totally incapable of adjusting. FGCU is not a particularly high-tempo team anyway, so if they can find ways to slow the tempo way down they could have more than a fighting chance. The Eagles also got a big break playing in Orlando. That's just 150 miles from home, so the crowd won't be nearly as lopsided towards the Seminoles as it could be almost anywhere else. Neither Maryland nor Xavier are dialed-in teams right now, so the second-round matchup is manageable as well. The Eagles could indeed rise again.
No. 6 SMU: I don't know if you would really consider a No. 6 a huge Sweet 16 surprise, but according to seed it's one round further than they are expected to go. Either way, the idea that SMU is a No. 6 is absurd. The Mustangs have won 16 straight, including two beatdowns of a Top 15 Cincinnati squad. They lost only four times, and three of them were in November - an eon ago in a college basketball season. What I like about this team so much is that they are not bound to one style of play - they do what it takes to win and have exceptional coaching. Their path through the USC/Providence winner and potentially Baylor is very manageable as well - I like very little about the Bears right now. At this point, frankly, I would be more surprised if SMU isn't in the Sweet 16 than if they are.
No. 7 Michigan: The Wolverines are another team that is absurdly seeded. They just rolled through the Big Ten Tournament - starting the day after a plane crash. That wasn't just lightning in a bottle, though - this has been a profoundly different team since the end of January. Derrick Walton Jr. is torching teams on the point, and the younger players have found themselves. Oklahoma State is manageable - they score a lot but don't defend, and Michigan is playing great defense right now. Then comes a national title rematch with Louisville. That's a tough game, but if they play like they did through the Big Ten Tournament then they will win. There are two easy mistakes here - you could think of this team as a typical No. 7 seed, and you could taint them because the Big Ten had a rough year. Both would be mistakes right now.
No. 12 Middle Tennessee State: This is going to be a very sexy upset pick. They have earned it, too - they upset Michigan State as a No. 15 last year, and the core of that team returns as seniors and has been even better this year. They are good, and they won't be scared of anything. Minnesota limped into the Big Ten Tournament and limped out of it. The Gophers are grossly overseeded. Butler, the likely second-round opponent, is solid but flawed and also slightly overseeded. This path could certainly be worse. The biggest issue here is from a betting perspective - they will be bet down far more than they should. If your concern is filling out a bracket, though, these guys are worth serious consideration.
No. 10 Wichita State: A 30-4 team with a coach that consistently excels in the postseason as a No. 10 seed? It's just plain insulting. They should be higher. Much higher. It's not an easy path - Dayton is no slouch in the opener, and they'd face Kentucky in the second round. The last time the Shockers played Kentucky in March it didn't go well. Still, this is a strong team that has forgotten how to lose lately, and they will be a tough out.
No. 11 Rhode Island: This team is on a roll lately, and they come into here off a win in their conference tournament. While there is a lot to like about the team, what stands out most, though, is their very fortunate draw. They open against Creighton - a strong team that hasn't been the same since losing their best player to injury in January. Rhode Island is very good at slowing things down and frustrating opponents. Creighton is a strong shooting team that does not adjust well if they are thrown off their game. If the Rams win that then they would likely face Oregon, a team that also just lost a top player to a season-ending injury. It could be a good set of circumstances for this squad.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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