Tonight two of this year’s better mid-majors clinched automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. Butler, a household name based on all the fun they had last season, and Oakland, the gritty Summit League winners led by dominating big-man Keith Benson, are two teams the casual fan may eagerly pencil for a trip to the second round or Sweet 16.
But please, refrain from being impulsive. Promote an atmosphere for self-clarity!
While the Bulldogs know how to spark magic, and the Grizzlies, on the surface, have the make-up to upset a higher seeded opponent, neither truly should be considered as legitimate bracketbusters.
Looking to take a leap of faith? Let me talk you off the ledge:
Last season, as a No. 14 seed, I predicted Oakland to knock off Pittsburgh in the first round. But even with Benson and the school’s most accomplished guard, Jonathan Jones, running the offense, it was the most egregious error I’ve made in recent memory. The Grizzlies might just be too reliant on Benson, and we can’t overlook the fact that big men don’t incite early-round upsets, ball-handlers do. Additionally, these guys have yielded a high volume of points this season, and despite a signature victory over Tennessee, the Summit League as a whole is ranked 21st in the nation. That won’t bode well for a team hoping for an 11 or 12 seed. The task of pulling a first round upset could be quite daunting.
For Butler, please, please, please don’t get caught up in how lovable they once were. Right now, this is just a top-level Horizon League team that needed a few months to establish an identity. Shelvin Mack is a joy to watch on offense, but only when he’s on. The junior guard posted a career high in scoring this season, but it came at the expense of a low shooting percentage (39). With Matt Howard almost always in foul trouble, the Bulldogs have only one reliable scorer on their roster. If paired against a sweet shooting team that can spread the floor, the Bulldogs thought-of vaunted defense becomes a tad exposed.
I can’t tell you unequivocally that neither team will make noise next week. It could happen, just be sure to peel back those first few layers of pretty before declaring either of these teams as your darling.