March is here and it has definitely brought the madness with it. The 2012-13 NCAA Basketball season has been one where no one team has been able to keep hold of the No. 1 ranking. With the parity level so high, the NCAA Tournament is set up perfectly to be one of monumental upsets. High major and mid major teams alike aren’t having their best years, and it has shown on the court.
While Cinderella stories might get the most attention come tourney time, those teams need to be able to knock off a big name program or two on their run. Going into each tournament, there is always debate over whether a certain team was ranked too high or too low by the committee. This year is no different.
There are a good number of teams with a top-three seed that could be out of the tournament faster than they can say “Elite Eight.” One of the biggest draw-ins for the tournament is that with the survive and advance format, any team is capable of winning or losing on any given night.
Last year, the Missouri Tigers were the quintessential Goliath as they suffered a loss to Kyle O’Quinn and No. 15 seed Norfolk State. Given the lack of dominance displayed by the top teams this season, history could very well repeat itself.
Listed below are the five teams that are most likely to be upset in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
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1. MARQUETTE (No. 3 Seed, East)
The Marquette Golden Eagles were battling for the top spot in the Big East all season long with the likes of powerhouse schools: Georgetown, Syracuse and Louisville, though they ended up finishing in a three-way tie for first place. It’s still a great accomplishment for them.
Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson are the four players that are the keys to Marquette’s success. Also, credit deserves to be given to head coach Buzz Williams. Since the departure of Tom Crean, Williams has kept the Golden Eagles flying high.
The major concern for Marquette is their lack of consistent three-point shooting. For the year they shot under 30 percent. With two offensive linemen playing in the post for them, having reliable outside shooting would make them one of the more dangerous teams. Yet, since they have not proven to be able to knock down from beyond the arc, teams can play zone or even pack the middle in their man sets against Marquette.
Marquette got an unlucky draw in the East division. Their opening matchup is against the Southern Conference champions Davidson Wildcats. Stephen Curry isn’t going to be walking out onto the court for Davidson, but this is the best team they’ve had since Curry carried them to the Elite Eight in 2008. Even if they are able to squeeze by the Wildcats, their next game would be against the winner of the Butler versus Bucknell game — both teams are capable of giving the Golden Eagles a run for their money.
2. DUKE (No. 2 Seed, Midwest)
The Duke Blue Devils were easily the hottest team in the country to start off the season, thanks to wins over Minnesota, VCU, Ohio State and Louisville. Coach K‘s team looked like world-beaters. An untimely injury to senior forward Ryan Kelly brought Duke back down to Earth though. With Kelly out, the Blue Devils record was 9-4.
Kelly came back with a vengeance, pouring in 35 points effortlessly against Miami. Following a second impressive performance against Virginia Tech had many assuming Duke would reclaim its place atop the rankings and keep a hold on it for the remainder of the season. But in the ACC Tournament, Duke was upset by Maryland for the second time this season, which most likely dropped them out of contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s team lives by the three and dies by the three and for most of the year they were living good, tallying 41 percent three-point shooting for the season. Their reliance on the three is what makes Ryan Kelly’s presence such a critical component to their team. At the power forward position, Kelly’s shooting ability spaces the floor for Mason Plumlee and gives Duke one of the biggest potential mismatches in all of the NCAA.
While Albany shouldn’t put any fear into Coach K’s team — though overlooking them would be frowned upon, overlooking Lehigh and C. J. McCollum brought them an early exit last year — it’s a match up in the third round against the Creighton Bluejays that could prove worrisome. Doug McDermott is a player like none Duke has faced all season. With the ability to score the ball in a multitude of ways, McDermott could be too much for Kelly or even Plumlee to handle. McDermott isn’t the only big body the Bluejays have either. Greg Echenique is a bullish player that has the size and skill to set the tone in the paint.
3. KANSAS (No. 1 Seed, South)
The Kansas Jayhawks won the Big 12 title for the ninth straight season thanks to the stellar play of redshirt freshman Ben McLemore (16.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 2.0 APG). With steady interior play from Jeff Withey and Kevin Young, 8.4 and 6.6 RPG respectively, and improved play from Elijah Johnson, the Jayhawks were able to string together a nice run to end the regular season. They carried that on to the Big 12 Conference Tournament, which they also won.
Following a loss in the first ever Champions Classic against Michigan State in their second game, Kansas went on to win their next 18 (including impressive wins over Ohio State on the road, Iowa State in overtime, and Kansas State on the road).
The key for Kansas in the tournament is which Elijah Johnson shows up. If it’s the one that showed up during their three-game losing streak, including a loss at TCU that lead Bill Self to say that, “[This year’s team is] the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor, since Dr. Naismith was there,” than the Jayhawks will not be part of March Madness for long. They need the Elijah Johnson that went for a career-high 39 points, as well as five rebounds and seven assists in an overtime win at Iowa State at the end of February.
The Villanova Wildcats proved they can beat some of the top-ranked teams in the nation after resume-building back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse in late January. ‘Nova could meet up with the Jayhawks in the second round and would make more than a formidable opponent for Kansas. But the Wildcats face North Carolina in their opening game, and ever since UNC switched to the small-ball lineup they have been playing much better. If P.J. Hairston can continue to rain in threes, the Tar Heels are an intriguing matchup, and not just because it would be Roy Williams facing his former team.
4. GONZAGA (No. 1 Seed, West)
The Gonzaga Bulldogs, the latest team to hold the No. 1 ranking thanks to a 31-2 record and winning both the regular season and postseason West Coast Conference title, are the top seed in the West division.
However, it is no guarantee that the ‘Zags will be in ATL when all is said and done. The Bulldogs’ strength is their frontcourt, led by redshirt junior Kelly Olynyk and senior Elias Harris. Gonzaga has one of the best frontcourts in the nation. They also have a stud guard in Kevin Pangos, who averaged 11.5 PPG and 3.2 APG for the year.
But one major flaw that hangs over the team is the lack of talented teams they have faced so far. While you can only play who is on your schedule, Gonzaga didn’t necessarily face any team that will be in contention for the national championship (they had a strength of schedule of 75, the lowest of any No. 1 seed).
The Bulldogs used to be the epitome of a sleeper team and were always the first choice by analysts and fans alike to pull off some type of upset in previous tournaments. Now though, they are in trouble of getting beat at their own game. A potential second round matchup against Pittsburgh could prove troublesome for the ‘Zags. Pitt has the size and scrappiness in order to give Gonzaga all it can handle.
5. MICHIGAN (No. 4 Seed, South)
The Michigan Wolverines have one of the most talented rosters in all of the land. They have the nation’s top backcourt with National Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, and Tim Hardaway Jr., who combine to score 34 PPG and dish nine APG. The rest of their roster includes three stud freshmen in Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, and steady big men Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan.
Earlier in the season, the Wolverines had everything going for them and were playing like the best team in the nation. Since then, they have gone 5-3, including a shocking lost to Penn State, and a loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
While the talent is undeniable, Michigan has not always been able to translate that talent into success on the court. They finished fifth in the Big Ten regular season standings and didn’t have that many tough games scheduled out of conference. The Big Blue will need to be able to find the chemistry that they had at the beginning of the season when they strung together 16 straight wins. Burke has shown he is able to carry the load for this squad and if can continue his strong play in the tournament, the Wolverines could be cutting down the nets in Atlanta.
However, the Wolverines will face No. 13 seed South Dakota State in the first round. At 25-9, the Jackrabbits proved they know how to win. Their best asset going into the tournament is senior guard Nate Wolters, who averages 22.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 5.8 APG. As Davidson with Curry and BYU with Jimmer Fredette have shown in previous years, having one stud player is more than enough to advance far in this setting. If the Wolverines come out flat on Thursday night against South Dakota State, they could be leaving The Palace of Auburn Hills as unhappy campers.
Who is destined to get upset early?
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