With the First Four round concluding tonight and the round of 64 set to tip off on Thursday afternoon, many are still putting the finishing touches on their brackets. But in order to successfully win a pool, it’s often the folks that not only can predict most or all of the Final Four, but also those that can nail a few of the early round shockers.
Cinderella is always the key when it comes to March Madness – and here is a list of seven teams that I feel will “exceed its seed” – and become the official “Bracket Busters” of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Here’s who and why:
Sexy 7: KP’s Bracket Busters for March Madness 2011
Oakland Golden Grizzlies (#13 – West Region)
For those that have Texas in the Final Four, you have been warned. Oakland is the real deal. The Golden Grizzlies have the highest ranked scoring offense in the tournament (85.6 PPG), and they are second to Kansas in field-goal percentage (49.4%). Oakland is also battle tested after facing seven tournament teams during the regular season, including a win over Tennessee and a loss to Michigan State by one point. They also have size to compete with the big boys, specifically 6’11” senior Keith Benson, who averages 18 points and 10-plus boards a game. Don’t be shocked if the Golden Grizzlies knock out the Longhorns.
KP’s Bold Prediction: Oakland upsets Texas, but defeated by Arizona in 3rd round
Utah State Aggies (#12 – Southeast Region)
Like Texas, a lot of folks have Kansas State going far in the tournament. Here’s yet another warning. Utah State (30-3) is a veteran team, with four seniors and a junior in its starting lineup. This Aggies squad has been down the road before, and had success. USU is ranked 3rd in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 58.2 PPG.
Kansas State is one of two high seeds (Vanderbilt, the other) that have an assist turnover ratio under 1.0 (more turnovers than assists). That won’t bode well against a solid defensive team. The Wildcats also commit over 20 fouls per game, and struggle from the free throw line.
KP’s Bold Prediction: Utah State eliminates Kansas State, beaten by Wisconsin in 3rd round
Richmond Spiders (#12 – Southwest Region)
Richmond is going to be a tough out for anyone. The Spiders won three games this year against the RPI Top 50, including victories over tourney teams Purdue, VCU and Temple. They feature a lethal veteran duo of guard Kevin Anderson and 6’10” big man Justin Harper, a tandem that averages a combined 34 points per game. Like Utah State, Richmond also has four seniors in its starting lineup, and riding the momentum of its Atlantic 10 conference championship, the Spiders will give Vandy headaches in its opening game.
KP’s Bold Prediction: Richmond knocks out Vanderbilt, eliminated by Louisville in 3rd round
Gonzaga Bulldogs (#11 – Southeast Region)
John Stockton’s son David (a freshman) has had an impact on the team down the stretch, and the ‘Zags have lost just once over its last 12 games. Mark Few and Gonzaga excelled as an underdog in the past, and perhaps this team can relish that role and return to being a talked about presence in March Madness (after a few subpar performances). The trio of Gray, Harris and Sacre each average in double figures, and should have an impact.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga’s potential high-seeded opponents have issues. St. John’s lost D.J. Kennedy to a knee injury during the conference tournament. BYU, while having the nation’s leading scorer in Jimmer Fredette, hasn’t been the same team since Brandon Davies was dismissed after violating the school’s honor code.
KP’s Bold Prediction: The ‘Zags eliminate both St. John’s and BYU, but lose to Florida in the Sweet 16 round
Washington Huskies (#7 – East Region)
Both Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan Amaning each average over 16 points per game, and Washington as a team has one of the most explosive offenses in the tournament. The Huskies have the third highest scoring offense in the nation (83.5 PPG), while draining nearly 9 triples a game. A cold night from behind the arc would certainly do them in, but riding momentum from the Pac-10 tournament and potentially facing an inexperienced North Carolina team in the third round, there’s reason to believe that these Huskies can make the Sweet 16.
KP’s Bold Prediction: Washington defeats Georgia and upsets 2-seed North Carolina, but falls to Xavier in the Sweet 16 round
Xavier Muskateers (#6 – East Region)
The Muskateers were involved in arguably the most exciting game of last year’s tournament, a heartbreaking OT loss to Kansas State. This is a team that has made noise in recent tournaments, and once again, is playing well at the end of the season. Led by scoring machine Tu Holloway, Xavier has the talent to make a run, even against the Big East teams that it would potentially have to face in the opening rounds. They also have some size in the paint, led by seven-footer Kenny Frease. As long as the Muskateers can avoid any prolonged shooting slumps (especially behind the arc), expect Xavier to make a surprise run.
KP’s Bold Prediction: Xavier upsets two Big East squads in Marquette and Syracuse, and then knocks out Washington to advance to the regional final, where the Muskateers fall to Ohio State
Wisconsin Badgers (#4 – Southeast Region)
After losing its last two games (a blowout to Ohio State, and scoring just 33 points in a loss to Penn State), it’s no shock that the Badgers are a popular out in the first round, especially when taking on Belmont, an NCAA team that leads the nation in scoring margin (18.4 PPG). But this is a Wisconsin team that has plenty of veteran leadership (Leuer, Nankivil, Jarmusz and Taylor), and a team that plays very solid defense.
Here are two key reasons to look at the Badgers: 1) Wisconsin leads the nation in assist turnover ratio and 2) While Belmont is 294th in fouls committed, the Badgers have the nation’s best free throw shooting percentage.
Wisconsin – with its experience and talent – would also have a great shot to eliminate a team like Pitt, who frequently underachieves in the tournament. But Bo Ryan’s team will need disciplined defense and red-hot shooting from the trio of Leuer, Taylor and Nankivil.
KP’s Bold Prediction: Wisconsin outlasts a scrappy Belmont team, then defeats Utah State and upsets top-seeded Pitt to advance to the regional final
Who are your Cinderellas for 2011?