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  could “exceed its seed” – and become the official “Bracket Busters” of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.  Here’s who and why:

Sexy Seven: KP’s Bracket Busters for March Madness 2013sexy7

Oregon Ducks (#12 – Midwest Region)

The game between #5 Oklahoma State and #12 Oregon is one of the stronger matchups in the second round.  The Ducks are riding a high after winning the Pac-12 conference championship, and likely feel disrespected after receiving a 12-seed in the Midwest region.

Starting point guard Dominic Artis returned from a foot injury a few weeks back and adds to the team’s overall effectiveness and talent on offense.  The Ducks are also a very balanced squad, with six players averaging 8.5 points or more per game.

Ole Miss Rebels (#12 – West Region)

Like Oregon, Ole Miss is riding a high after upsetting Florida and earning an NCAA bid by winning the SEC conference championship.  Marshall Henderson, the team’s emotional and flamboyant leader, is averaging 20.1 points per game and has scored above that average over his last five games.  If Henderson is on his game, Ole Miss is a dangerous 12-seed.

Wisconsin is a solid and disciplined defensive team that will give the Ole Miss offense fits.  But the Badgers struggle offensively and if Ole Miss can keep this a close game, the matchup could come down to free throws, where Wisconsin is ranked 326th in the nation – and the worst in the tournament.

marshall-henderson-ole-miss-basketball

Marshall Henderson will need to be clicking on all cylinders to take down Bo Ryan’s defense

Minnesota Golden Gophers (#11 – South Region)

Jordan Adams – UCLA’s second leading scorer – was lost for the rest of the season, leaving the Bruins with a major hole on offense.

Minnesota is 5-11 since January 12th, one reason why the Golden Gophers received a double-digit seed in the tournament.  It has to be noted that seven of those losses were against tournament teams with a higher seed.  But the talent is clearly there, headlined by the likes of Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and Trevor Mbakwe.  Tubby Smith’s job could also be on the line, which could add additional motivation.

Combine Minnesota’s talent, experience and inside presence with UCLA’s recent downgrade in its roster, and the Golden Gophers are a good bet for a potential second round upset bid.

Belmont Bruins (#11 – West Region)

Belmont has lost just twice during the 2013 calendar year.  Led by Ian Clark (18.1 points per game, 54.1% shooting), the Bruins are a very potent offensive team.

In its second round matchup against Arizona, look at the stat lines.  Belmont is 5th in the nation in field goal percentage and 12th in college basketball in three-pointers made per game.  On the other side, Arizona is ranked 297th in three-point defense.  If Belmont has a hot shooting night, it could mean an early exit for the Wildcats.

Pittsburgh Panthers (#8 – West Region)

In order to be considered a bracket buster, an eight-seed would obviously have to take down a number one, and if the Panthers can get by Wichita State in the second round, it would likely be ready to face off against Gonzaga.

The ‘Zags are a deep and talented bunch, but one that hasn’t been too battle tested throughout the year.  Facing tournament teams with an eight seed or higher, Gonzaga was just 2-2 on the season, falling to Illinois and Butler earlier in the year.

Pitt is a balanced and battle tested group that had to deal with a brutal, Big East schedule.  Statistically, the Panthers rank in the country’s top 20 in scoring defense (6th), field goal percentage (19th), rebound margin (13th) and assist turnover ratio (3rd).  If Pittsburgh can live up to these numbers, shooting efficiently, holding its own in the paint and being efficient with the rock, the Panthers would have a legitimate shot to stun the top-seeded Bulldogs and move on to the Sweet 16.

San Diego State Aztecs (#7 – South Region)

Looking at the March Madness trends over the years, a die-hard follower would know that often, a two seed falls in the third round.  Therefore, that leaves at least one 7 or 10 seed to move on to the Sweet 16.  The key is picking the right one.

San Diego State is an under the radar team heading into the tournament, but as many people know, the tournament often can come down to high quality guard play and a surprise performance.  The Aztecs feature three guards that average more than nine points a game, with Jamaal Franklin leading the way, averaging 17 points per game.

Georgetown – a likely third round opponent – has struggled to meet expectations as a high seed over the last five years of the tournament..  If these teams were to face off, it would likely result in a low-scoring game, with both teams averaging in the top 20 in field goal percentage defense.  If San Diego State can find a way to contain Otto Porter, the Aztecs could be a Cinderella story.

Michigan Wolverines (#4 – South Region)

It’s hard to call a team that was ranked near the top of the polls an underdog, but this is again a situation that involves a team exceeding its seed.  For that, Michigan would have to advance to the Elite 8, potentially having to get by upset-minded South Dakota State, aggressive VCU and top-seeded Kansas.

To add to that, Michigan is just 6-6 over its last twelve games, and has struggled to close teams out.  Still, elite talent is there, led by Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.

Statistically, the Wolverines have the talent to make a Final Four run, leading the nation in assist turnover ratio.  Translation: they protect the rock.  The team also has balance, with four players averaging in double figures.  Michigan also avoids foul trouble (2nd in fouls committed) and 8th in field goal percentage.  Plain and simple, if the Wolverines can regain some of its early season magic, a deep run is a good possibility.

But would it be a Cinderella run, or closer to an expectation?  That depends on who you ask.  Either way, it would still be exceeding its seed.

Who are your Cinderellas for 2013?

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