Help Filling Out NCAA Tournament Brackets: Sweet 16 Surprises
When the NCAA Tournament goes exactly to form, we would expect to see a Sweet 16 that is populated entirely by the top four seeds. No. 1 would play No. 4, and 2 and 3 would battle away. Of course, it rarely works out so smoothly. And last year was a great reminder that sometimes it isn't even close.
In 2018, nine of the last 16 teams standing were seeded lower than expectations. The craziness peaked in the South Regional, where all four teams were party crashers - No. 5,7,9 and 11. All four regions had at least one crasher, though, so the chaos was well distributed. Last year was to an extreme, but we also see several unexpected Sweet 16 teams. In 2017 there were four. It was six, seven, and six in the prior three years. So, it should be obvious what our job is now - to offer help filling out NCAA tournament brackets with some Sweet 16 surprises. These teams stand a decent chance of winning two games this week. I'm going to leave out any teams that would have to win three games because they are in a play-in, though both Belmont and Arizona State could easily be on the list:
No. 12 Murray State: Ja Morant, the Murray State guard who is averaging a double-double, is likely to be the second pick in the NBA Draft behind Zion Williamson. When you take a well-coached team with a history of success and put a player that good on it, then magical things can happen. And they got a solid enough spot in the bracket - which is all you can hope for as a No. 12. They open against a Marquette team that has a superstar scorer of their own but lacks balance and is overseeded. Murray State has a strong chance of the upset. Then they would face a Florida State team that is long and athletic but which isn't always mentally reliable. The Racers are definitely Sweet 16 party crasher contenders.
No. 7 Nevada: This pains me to pick because of personal allegiances, but it is unavoidable. Nevada came into the season massively hyped. And while they have had a solid season, they haven't quite met those expectations. But their talent runs deep, and they can be dangerous when dialed in. They open against a Florida team that I just don't respect that much. If they get past that, then they will likely face Michigan. If the Wolverines are at their best, like they were in the first two games of the Big Ten Tournament, then this will be a bloodbath. But Michigan hasn't always been mentally reliable the second half of this year and is coming off a concerning late collapse against Michigan State. Nevada's best versus a Michigan team back on their heels could create an upset.
No. 12 Oregon: The No. 12 line is really strong this year. The Ducks are only a couple of years removed from a Final Four, and Dana Altman is a very dangerous coach with a seed this low. The team has had some concerning stretches of underwhelming play this year, and the loss of Bol Bol was massive (pun intended). But they are on a nice eight-game winning streak, including an impressive run to win the Pac-12 Championship as the sixth seed. They face two quite vanilla and somewhat underwhelming higher seeds in Wisconsin and Kansas State. Both can be very good, but neither is often enough. Oregon could take advantage if they can keep their streak rolling.
No. 11 Saint Mary's: This team pulled off a shocking upset of Gonzaga to win their conference, so they come in on a high. What this team does best is guard against the three, which makes them an intriguing matchup against a Villanova team that relies heavily on the outside shot. Get past that, and they could face a Purdue team that somehow won a piece of the Big Ten regular-season title despite never really playing inspiring ball.
No. 6 Villanova: It might seem like I am hedging by taking both sides of a game, but Villanova is interesting. They have had a troubled season and could easily lose early. But they shook off some bad play down the stretch to win the Big East Championship, so they are in form. They certainly know how to win in March. Saint Mary's could be in for a letdown after their big win, and Villanova is the better team. And the Wildcats would be, at worst, up for a fair fight against the Boilermakers.
No. 12 New Mexico State: Like I said, I am really high on the No. 12 line this year. I should note, though, that this is the second straight year that I have picked New Mexico State to crash the Sweet 16 party as a No. 12, and last year was a serious disappointment. I'm not worried. The team won 30 games this year, including their last 19 in a row. They are dialed in and talented. Auburn could be prime for a letdown after their impressive SEC title win, and the Tigers are going to be in real trouble on the boards. And Kansas, while obviously talented, is the most vulnerable they have been in years. Things set up pretty well for the Aggies, who have now made seven of the last eight editions of the NCAA Tournament but have not won a game once they got there, to finally have a breakthrough.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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