The best part of the NCAA tournament is the upsets.
We want to see those No. 14 seeds hit buzzer-beaters and those No. 15 seeds somehow play their way into the second weekend of the Big Dance. We want to see those little guys we’ve never heard of and may never hear of again get their 15 minutes of fame. We want the story of Goliath falling to David.
These are the Goliaths that could be toppled during the first weekend of the tournament:
No. 1 (East) North Carolina: Carolina drew a horrid potential matchup with Providence in the second round. UNC’s been much better defensively the last two weeks, I’ll give them that, but their weakness this season has been guarding call-screen actions. And Providence basically runs nothing but ball-screen actions for Kris Dunn. If Dunn is healthy, and the Friar supporting cast is knocking down jump shots (which is never, ever a given), they could give the Tar Heels a run for their money.
No. 1 (West) Oregon: I think the Ducks will have a much tougher test in the second round than they will in the Sweet 16. Saint Joseph’s is built to match up with their small ball lineups. Isaiah Miles is one of the most improved players in the country, and Deandre Bembry vs. Dillon Brooks will be one of the best individual matchups in the event. I’ve had a couple people — including Brian Snow on last night’s podcast (see below) — tell me that Cincinnati can take out Oregon as well, so keep than in mind.
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No. 3 (East) West Virginia: I think the Mountaineers will have a tough test if they face Notre Dame in the second round. Pressing Demetrius Jackson makes a defense feel like a cat trying to catch the red dot of a laser pointer, and when the Irish do break that press, if they attack to score, they’ll get a myriad of rhythm threes in transition. While they may get a fight, I don’t think WVU will lose Stephen F. Austin.
No. 3 (Midwest) Utah: I think Utah can handle Gonzaga if they face the Zags in the second round, but Seton Hall is a bit of a quagmire for them. The Utes tend to struggle against big, athletic guards that can pressure defensively, and I think roughly 95% of the players in the Seton Hall program are big, athletic guards that can pressure defensively.
No. 4 (West) Duke: UNC Wilmington presses full court, trying to force turnovers and wear down their opponent. Duke’s issues this season? Depth and point guard play. In the end, Duke’s talent may win out — BREAKING: Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard are really good. — but on paper, this is the perfect matchup for UNCW.
No. 4 (Midwest) Iowa State: In a vacuum, I like ISU over Iona because when two teams want to do the same thing, I pick the team with more talent. Styles may win fights, but when teams have the same style, role with the dudes that are better. Iowa State’s dudes are better, but Monte’ Morris has a banged up shoulder and we never quite know which Jameel McKay and Deonte Burton will show up. Iona also has a dude named A.J. English that can go for 35 on any given night.
No. 5 (Midwest) Purdue: Purdue’s strength is their front court. Arkansas-Little Rock, who went 29-4 with wins at Tulsa and at SDSU, plays a Pack-Line defense, which is one of the best ways to keep big men from getting easy touches in the paint.
No. 6 (West) Texas: I actually like this Texas team, but Northern Iowa is really, really good and potentially under-seeded because of an ugly stretch at the start of league play. Remember, UNI has beaten Iowa State, North Carolina and Wichita State twice, including at WSU.
No. 6 (South) Arizona: I actually think the Wildcats matchup pretty well with both Vanderbilt and Wichita State. Vandy doesn’t have the kind of athletic power-wing that Arizona struggles with and Wichita State’s guard aren’t quite quick enough to take advantage of where Arizona struggles defensively. (We discussed this on the podcast as well.) That said, both Vanderbilt and Wichita State are good enough to make it out of the first weekend. This is a tough draw for the Wildcats.
DON’T PICK THESE GUYS TO LOSE, THOUGH
- No. 2 (South) Villanova: It’s not happening this season. They’ll get past the first round, they’ve beaten Temple by 15 at Temple and Iowa — who hasn’t played well in about a month — is basically the same team as Villanova, just not as good.
- No. 2 (East) Xavier: The Musketeers are vulnerable in the Sweet 16, but as long as they get past Weber State, neither Wisconsin or Pitt are the kind of team that should trouble them.
- No. 5 (West) Baylor: I could see the Bears losing in the second round, but I just can’t see Yale winning. These are two teams that win games because of big front lines and their work on the glass, and when two teams have the same strength, bet on the team with more talent.
- No. 4 and No. 5 (East) Kentucky and Indiana: All due respect to Stony Brook and Chattanooga, the world needs Indiana and Kentucky to square off in the NCAA tournament. Don’t even put that thought into the universe.