March is finally upon us, and this year’s NCAA tournament promises to be as exciting as ever. As usual, there are powerhouses from top to bottom, teams expected to make deep runs in the tournament and others likely to flail out fast. Just like every season, however, Dime is prepared for the surprising upsets that often happen, making for memorable basketball.
Below are five Goliaths–teams–you can expect will be bounced early from the tournament.
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5. (7) Connecticut over (2) Villanova
Is Villanova on the verge of getting their hearts broken, again?
Sterling Gibbs‘ buzzer-beater lifted Seton Hall over the Wildcats in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, leaving the nation’s No. 3 team–at the time–stunned. Now, ‘Nova is a two-seed in the tournament and after what should be an easy game against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the squad may be facing off against an old rival.
UConn will be tested in the first round, playing St. Joseph’s fresh off its conference tournament title. If the Huskies can get by them (and my bracket says they will), Connecticut and Villanova will clash in the third-round, making for a Big East reunion.
The Wildcats set a school-record with 28 wins, but have looked like a different team in their losses. Creighton pounded them twice and Syracuse has also blown them out–which squad will we see in the upcoming games?
At 26-8, UConn has had their ups-and-downs, but can brag as one of just two teams to beat Florida this season, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The Huskies are led by Shabazz Napier, one of the nation’s premier guards. The senior is averaging 17.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists, all team-highs. He possesses the rare talent to take over games and put the team on his back, making him a scary matchup for any opponent… ‘Nova included.
4. (12) North Dakota St. over (5) Oklahoma
North Dakota St. is looking for its tenth consecutive victory, and the senior-laden team has a great chance of pulling it off against No. 17 Oklahoma. At 23-10, the Sooners are young and talented, but rely heavily on their shooting to produce points and eventually, victories.
The Bison won the Summit Conference tournament and boast a 25-6 record. Senior forward Taylor Braun (18.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.9 APG), will finally begin to get the national attention he deserves but struggles to receive, while Marshall Bjorklund serves as a nice complement, able to pound the ball in the paint.
As Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com wrote about Braun, “He committed back when NDSU made its first run to the NCAAs, and now he and his fellow seniors finally get to live out that dream. That’s pretty sweet.”
Sweet it will be.
3. (7) New Mexico over (2) Kansas
On December 14, Kansas visited New Mexico and embarrassed them at home, defeating the Lobos by 17 points. But that was months ago, with Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks’ hurt star. Their big man in the middle will be sidelined with a back injury, which will allow New Mexico’s Alex Kirk to be much more productive than the last time out against Kansas and help lead his team to the third-round upset. This will mark Andrew Wiggins‘ final game in a college uniform.
Fortunately for the Lobos, they won’t have to worry about any Embiid dream shakes, either:
2. (11) Tennessee over (2) Duke
The Blue Devils are talented. They knock down 8.9 three-pointers per game–ninth in the nation–and averaged an impressive 79.1 points per game–25th in the country. Yet if there is one area where Duke is lacking, it’s their interior game. They have trouble stopping big men around the basket. The Volunteers’ two 6-8 forwards, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, will cause problems for the Dukies in the paint, forcing them to play out of sync and thus, defeating the powerhouse.
In the tournament’s third round, the 11-seed Tennessee Vols, following both a play-in game and then an upset over UMass, will shock the college basketball world and return to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2010.
1. (14) Western Michigan over (3) Syracuse
Syracuse has endured a roller-coaster season and it may be coming to an end on Thursday night. The Orange opened 25-0, playing some of the nation’s best basketball and appearing as a lock for a No. 1 seed. Since then, however, the team is just 2-5 and suffered losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech, under .500 squads that failed to reach the tournament.
To the naked eye, Western Michigan may not seem like the biggest threat to the ACC powerhouse. They’re a mid-major school, competing in the MAC conference. Yet, WMU finished the regular season at 23-9 and won its conference title.
The Broncos have the ability to become the latest team to take down ‘Cuse. At 19.4 points per game, guard David Brown is the conference’s leading scorer and is excellent from the perimeter. His talent, combined with the presences of Connar Tava–the team’s leader in assists–and 6-11 center Shayne Whittington, who is among the nation’s best in field goal percentage, defensive rebounds per game and double-doubles, make them capable of derailing Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Western Michigan is certainly an interesting pick over Syracuse, and may even be the right one.
Which high seeds do you think have the best chance of losing early?
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