2016 NCAA Tournament: Beware of the Bracket-busters
As the 2016 NCAA Tournament begins today, so begins the tears and frustration of everyone who filled out the “perfect bracket.” You know how the story goes. You think to yourself, “Mercer could never beat Duke,” and then they do. There goes your perfect bracket. Here’s your last chance to rethink some of those “this could never happen” games, and find out who the real contenders are in this years tourney.
Possible Bracket-busters (Teams who will make you light your bracket on fire this year. Or break your phone. Please don’t break your phone.)
(11) Wichita State
For those of you familiar with the NCAA Tournament and having your bracket busted often, you should know about the Shockers by now. For those of you who are new to this whole March Madness thing, it’s time to learn. This will be the 5th straight season Wichita State has made the tourney. Out of those 5 years, the only time they lost in the first round was 2012 against VCU. In 2013, the Shockers literally shocked the nation (pun intended), pulling off upsets against Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, and Ohio State to make it to the Final Four as a 9-seed. In 2015, Wichita State defeated Indiana and Kansas as a 7-seed before losing to Notre Dame in the Sweet Sixteen. Here’s my point: Wichita State is a dangerous team when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers handled Vanderbilt by 20 in their play-in-game Tuesday night, giving a fair warning of what could be coming. Wichita State is led by senior guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, who are both averaging double-digits and do a great job of distributing the basketball. The Shockers are a legitimate bracket-buster threat as they would face the South Region’s 2 and 3 seeds should they keep winning. Beating Arizona, Miami, and Villanova would take Wichita State right back to the Elite Eight, where they’d get their best shot at Kansas.
(14) Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks’ method of bracket-busting would be a whole lot easier than Wichita State’s. All they have to do is win their first round match-up against 3-seed WVU to destroy a lot of brackets. ESPN’s Bracket Challenge shows that 77% of people chose WVU to beat Stephen F. Austin. I even have the Mountaineers going to the Elite Eight, and their road might not stop there. The Lumberjacks didn’t lose a single Southland game this season, going 18-0 in conference play. Stephen F. Austin might be one of the only teams that can effectively counter the widely-known full-court press of West Virginia. The Lumberjacks have a press of their own, and they can do something that WVU has really struggled with at times, score. SFA is shooting over 50% from two-point range and 37% from three-point range, allowing them to really spread the defense out. Their only real setback? Rebounding. Stephen F. Austin has a much smaller lineup than WVU’s, and will without a doubt have a hard time grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds against the Mountaineers.
The Bearcats are coming off a loss to Connecticut in the AAC Tournament game, but that shouldn’t have much impact on their momentum. Cincinnati’s worst loss this year was by 10 points to Xavier, a 2-seed in the East Region. The Bearcats have one of the best defenses in the nation, holding opposing teams to an average of just 62.9 points per game. If they can upset 8-seed Saint Joes, Cincy will face 1-seed Oregon in the second round. Now if you’re like me, it’s difficult to think of Oregon as a top seed, especially since they were an 8-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. This Cincinnati/Oregon match-up sends off the upset sirens in my head. The Ducks win games by their ability to score quick and win the turnover battle. Winning the turnover battle against the Bearcats will be a seemingly easy task, but scoring quickly is going to be an entirely different story. Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin is known for the intense defensive gameplay he has established, causing some of the best offensive teams in the country to lose focus. Oregon might be the first 1-seed headed home in 2016.
(11) Northern Iowa
The Panthers, along with Cincinnati, bring meaning to the saying that “defense wins championships.” Northern Iowa has held its opponents to 62.9 points per game this season, but only average 68 points per game on offense. They are 2-0 versus the Top 25, knocking off the North Carolina Tar Heels, who were #1 in the nation at the time, and Iowa State, who was 5th. Senior guard Wes Washpun leads Northern Iowa with 14.3 points and 5.2 assists per game. The Panthers have four players who average double digits and grab over four rebounds per game, giving them the ability to spread out the attack and not have to rely so heavily on just one player. UNI has won at least one game in their past two appearances in the NCAA Tournament. They would play 6-seed Texas in the first round and 3-seed Texas A&M in the second round should they survive and advance. Many expert sports analysts consistently have Texas A&M reaching as far as the Final Four, but Northern Iowa, or even Texas, might have a different idea.
After a first round match-up against Texas Tech, the Butler Bulldogs would advance and face 1-seed Virginia. The Bulldogs aren’t the same team that made it to the National Championship in 2010 and again in 2011, but they can still make some noise. Butler vs. Virginia might be one of the higher scoring games in the tournament, even with the Cavaliers slow play style. Both teams led their conference in three-point percentage, respectively, and the Bulldogs have three players averaging more than 14 points per game. Senior guard Kellen Dunham and sophomore forward Kelan Martin average 16.2 points per game, while senior forward Roosevelt Jones manages just over 14. Butler isn’t just limited to their good shooting, either. The Bulldogs are among the best teams in the country in limiting turnovers, a statistic that will really help them as the tournament goes on. Will we see Butler in the National Championship game again? Maybe not, but the Bulldogs are another team that could knock a 1-seed out of the tournament before the Sweet Sixteen.
Coach Jim Boeheim said that this was one of the most important NCAA Tournament selections he has ever been a part of. Syracuse managed to grab a 10-seed in the field of 68 after losing five of their last six games this season. The Orange were able to grab huge wins against Duke, Notre Dame, UConn, and Texas A&M that strengthened their resume. Syracuse limited opponents to 65.7 points per game and have known exactly what to do when trying to shut down perimeter shooters. In fact, they held their ACC foes to just 28.9% from three-point range, the worst in the league. This could be the most important bracket-buster of them all. After a first round match-up with Dayton, Syracuse would face 2-seed Michigan State (barring any miracle upset from Middle Tennessee). The Spartans are one of the deadliest three-point shooting teams in the country, hitting 43.5% of their shots from the perimeter. If Syracuse can slow down Michigan State’s three-point attack, it’ll allow more focus to be put on a game plan that would stop Denzel Valentine and give the Orange a chance at the huge upset. Talk about busting brackets. Even I would be setting mine on fire after this one.
*If reading all of this made you change your mind at all, I am not responsible for any broken phones that may result from ruined brackets.
Now you’re ready to enjoy some college basketball and watch things unfold exactly the opposite of what we all think will happen. That’s one of the beauties of March Madness. Who will be this years Cinderella Story? Only time and heartbreak will tell.
Casey covers College Basketball for MFST. You can follow him on twitter @wxmozz. You can find more information and stories during the NCAA Tournament on MyFantasySportsTalk.com