Four longshots to watch before Selection Sunday

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March Madness means two things: Upsets and moaning about your bracket because of those upsets.

At least that’s what March usually turns into. Perhaps we can alleviate those issues this year by highlighting four teams most likely to pull off a major upset.

I’m not talking about teams like George Mason, Utah State or Xavier. Those three are headed for solid seeds and will likely be favored in their first-round matchups. They’re more likely to be this year’s Butler, which is a different blog post. (Look for it in two weeks.)

No, these are the teams headed for double-digit seeds, making them the schools you’ll think about picking, but don’t know enough about. Here’s your chance.

Belmont
The Bruins sport a gaudy record (27-4) and impressive computer rankings (36 or better in kenpom, Sagarin and Teamrankings), making them a no-brainer for this list. Their defense is nasty (only Duquesne forces more turnovers) and the offense is filled with solid shooters. So why are they a double-digit seed in our bracket projections?

Simply. They don’t have any wins against a big-name school. But they’ve come close. Belmont lost twice this season to Tennessee by 10 points total. It lost at Vandy by nine. That’s a team ready to give a power seed fits. You can watch them starting Wednesday in the Atlantic Sun conference tournament.

Oakland
You remember the Grizzlies, right? The team that seemingly played every Big Ten school, took its lumps but grabbed one big-time win at Tennessee? Right. Those Grizzlies. (They also played with a women’s ball for much of their loss to Illinois, but I digress.)

Anyway, Oakland was 7-8 on Dec. 23. Since then, it’s gone 15-1, crushing Summit League foes in the process. In fact, I’m convinced the only reason Oakland didn’t run the league table was because it got bored. Don’t ignore that solid offense led by NBA-ready forward Keith Benson. Any would-be Cinderella either has an experienced roster or a future pro playing with it. The Grizz have both. Watch them starting Saturday in the Summit League tournament.

Old Dominion
The Monarchs (24-6, 14-4) entered the season as a popular pick to be a March bracket wrecker. They’ve lived up to that. Whether it’s taking Georgetown down to the wire or beating the likes of Clemson, Xavier, Richmond and George Mason, ODU rarely strays from its strength (rebounding), which makes it a predictable team to play. It also makes it a tough team to beat.           

ODU leads the nation in offensive rebounding and is ninth in defensive rebounding. Those are numbers usually associated with teams like Pitt or K-State. Heck, if not for George Mason’s stellar season, we’d probably be talking about the Monarchs as a possible 6 or 7 seed. As is, they’re gonna make life hell for a 1 or 2 in the second round. They open their CAA tournament Friday.

Gonzaga
Not St. Mary’s? No way. Not with how the Gaels closed their season. The Zags, on the other hand, were busy doing something they hadn’t done in years – play defense. That’s the major reason why they ended the season with the WCC’s best efficiency margin. The offense is pedestrian, but the D gets it done with a tall, mobile frontline and by only allowing foes one shot.

At 22-9 overall, Mark Few’s team doesn’t sport the impressive résumé of his previous teams, but perhaps that’s not so bad. The Bulldogs can enter the tournament as an overlooked team once again, rather than everyone’s favorite underdog. If they disappointed you earlier this season, now’s the time to give the Zags another look. They begin their WCC tournament Sunday.

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