So here’s the thing about this year’s bracket: I just don’t love any of the teams that are sitting outside of the top three or four seeds.
And I know that sounds … well, way too much like I’ve watched a thousand games over the course of the last five months, but it’s the truth.
As much as we want to talk about how unreliable some of the teams at the top of the bracket are, I struggle even more with figuring out who is actually going to beat them.
Anyway, here is a look at a few teams that aren’t considered a favorite in their region that have the horses to be able to make a run.
FOUR TEAMS OUTSIDE THE TOP FOUR SEEDS THAT CAN MAKE A FINAL FOUR …
FLORIDA: Easily and unquestionably my favorite darkhorse to make a run in the NCAA tournament simply because Florida is totally immune to what their opponent does. What I mean by that is that they can, at times, look like they would give the Golden State Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference. At other times, they look like a team that has no business being in the NCAA tournament, let alone as a No. 6 seed.
And good luck trying to figure out when Good Florida will actually make an appearance. You might as well give out expert picks on the lottery. But here’s the thing: When Good Florida does show up, they are so, so, SO good. I honestly think it’s something that is as simple as confidence. They see a couple shots go down, they start playing with a little more energy defensively, suddenly they are getting some cleaner looks in transition and before you know it, Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen cannot miss even when they try. Throw in the presence of a feisty senior point guard in Chris Chiozza, and there is a lot to love about this Florida team.
Just as long as you realize that they are as likely to lose by 25 points in the first round as they are to get to a Final Four, and that there is no in-between.
HOUSTON: The Cougars have been one of the hottest teams in the country over the course of the last month, and if it wasn’t for an errant Rob Gray pass on their final possession of the AAC title game, we may be talking about them as the champions of the AAC tournament. Throw in the coaching chops of Kelvin Sampson and a region that is wide open at the top, and the Cougars could end up being this year’s South Carolina.
TEXAS A&M: Generally speaking, if I’m looking for an underdog that can make a run, I’m looking for teams with great point guard play first and foremost. Texas A&M ain’t that. They lost their starting point guard, Duane Wilson, to an ACL injury after the other two point guards they had hoped would start couldn’t stay out of trouble. What this group does have is a front line that can overpower anybody. Whether or not their guards can actually get those big men the ball is a different story, but if they can, Tyler Davis and Robert Williams can be absolutely dominant in a part of the bracket where there aren’t a lot of big bodies.
NEVADA: The Wolf Pack have struggled a bit since they lost Lindsay Drew to a ruptured achilles a month ago, but this is still a team with ‘dudes’. Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin are all capable of putting up 30 points on a given night, and they aren’t afraid of taking — and making — tough shots. Their depth is stretched right now, but there is no question that this group has the talent to be a threat in a region that is fairly open.
… AND TWO THAT ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT
WEST VIRGINIA: Simply put: There is no matchup in college basketball that is worse for West Virginia that Villanova. Press Virginia relies on getting teams rattled and forcing turnovers. Villanova is not going to get rattled. They aren’t going to make mistakes. Jalen Brunson hasn’t been sped up by anyone ever. And when the Wildcats do break that press, they are going to get wide-open threes all game. It’s an awful, awful matchup.
KENTUCKY: Let’s start with this: To beat Virginia, which Kentucky would probably have to do in the Sweet 16, you need to be a team that is patient and disciplined defensively that will be able to make shots from the perimeter on the offensive end of the floor. That ain’t Kentucky.
But I also have my doubts about whether or not the Wildcats can get that far. Let’s ignore the fact that they likely have Arizona and Deandre Ayton in the second round of the tournament and focus, instead, on Davidson. Those Wildcats run an offense that is a nightmare for the veteran teams in the Atlantic 10 to prepare for and play against when they have been in the league together for years. Now imagine you are Kentucky and have two or three days to prepare yourself for that offense?
Now should I mention how good Payton Aldridge and Kellan Grady are?
OH, AND HERE’S A No. 3 SEED THAT CAN WIN IT ALL
TEXAS TECH: I am all in on the Texas Tech bandwagon, and I have been for a while. This is UConn 2014 all over again. That UConn team is the only team in the last 16 years to rank outside of the top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom and win the national title. They won it because it was a weird year with college basketball’s best teams, they were elite defensively and they had this guy named Shabazz Napier who took games over and made big shot after big shot.
Texas Tech is ranked third nationally in defensive efficiency, recently cracked the top 50 in offensive efficiency and has Keenan Evans on the roster, who is way too similar to Napier.
Oh, and it’s a weird year for the best teams in the country.
This is destined to happen.