As March arrives in only three days, the madness talk has already begun. At this point in the season it is time to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Everyone waits for Selection Sunday to fill out their office brackets in which they hope will finally result in a pay day at the tournament’s conclusion. Without knowing any potential matchups, I listed five ranked teams that will cause bracket masters to scratch their heads this March. The five teams below are all schools having very good seasons but each has flaws that should come into consideration when filling out your bracket.
Take a look at why I think these five teams are destined to be upset early in the madness. Stay away from picking them to go deep.
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Wichita State Shockers
Why you might like them: The Shockers remain the only unbeaten team in the country and have already crowned themselves as the regular season champions of the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State advanced to 30-0 last night with its win at Bradley and are still ranked ninth in the RPI.
Wichita State is only one game away from sweeping the regular season and being the first undefeated team to win 30 games in a regular season. The Shockers are so efficient on defense, forcing opponents to shot 40 percent of their shots from behind the three-point line. They allow only 60.8 points per game, ranked 16th in country, and rebound the ball fantastically. They have two potential NBA players in Cleanthony Early, who leads the team in points per game with 15.7, and Fred VanVleet, an exceptional college point guard who distributes the ball to the playmakers around him. Early and VanVleet have helped Wichita State score over 75 points a game.
Why I don’t like them: Yes, the Shockers proved they can win in the tournament with their Final Four run last season, but I still think they can be bounced out of the tournament by the end of the first weekend. Wichita State is probably the most discussed team in the country because they remain undefeated and will be carrying a lot of pressure with them come March. They’re used to playing the underdog part but now they will have those roles reversed and will have a huge target on their back heading into the tournament.
The Shockers really haven’t been tested much this year. Their only quality win was St. Louis in December when the Billikens were still unranked. Other than that, I guess Tennessee is their second best win? Not too impressive. They have only played six games against teams inside the RPI 100, resulting in their 112th-ranked strength of schedule. Now some may think those stats don’t matter and sometimes they don’t. The Shockers pass every eye-test there could be, but I don’t think this is the year they make a deep run. Fact is Wichita State hasn’t seen a team with similar, or more talent than they have probably all season and they will be shocked when they play an 8/9 seed who isn’t a part of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Why you might like them: The Wildcats are an easy team to fall in love with. They lead what remains of the Big East Conference and have beaten both Kansas and Iowa this year. They rank fourth in the RPI and their only three losses are against teams within the RPI Top 25. Villanova ranks 25th in points per game, scoring 79.9 a night, and they share the ball very well, ranking 16th in assists. The Wildcats have an opportunity to finish the season strong and will look to avenge their two losses against Creighton in the Big East Tournament.
Why I don’t like them: Villanova has some impressive wins but they were mostly early in the season. What worries me about the Wildcats is their defense. Yes, they score almost 80 a night but they aren’t very efficient on the defensive end. They rank 110th in points allowed per game and don’t do the little things on defense like blocking shots and creating steals. In their three losses this year, they let up 78 points to a sometimes offensively challenged Syracuse team and 101 and 96 to Creighton. Along with their inconsistent defense, Villanova’s lack of depth down low is a big concern. They have only one player who’s taller than 6-8, making them a mismatch for teams that are big upfront. Villanova will be a high ranked team that can be subject to an upset bid early in the tournament. I would be careful about how far you advance the Wildcats.
Why you might like them: The Louisville Cardinals are the defending champions and still have go-to-guy Russ Smith on the roster. Their offense can light it up as they average 82.1 points a night and shoot over 47 percent from the field (26th in the country). The Cardinals are coming off their most impressive win after defeating seventh-ranked Cincinnati on the road Saturday.
Russ Smith is scoring 17.9 points per contest but his 4.9 assists per game are a big reason why Louisville has been winning games. His field goal and three-point percentages this year are both career-highs. The return of Chane Behanan gives the Cardinals a big boost on both ends of the floor heading into the home stretch of the regular season. Louisville has the depth, experience and efficiency on both ends to make another deep run this season.
Why I don’t like them: The Cardinals play in a conference (the American Athletic Conference if you didn’t know after all this new realignment) that lacks a superior team. Louisville is supposed to be the class of this conference and really hasn’t been that impressive. They’re 4-4 against the RPI Top 50 and blew both of their big non-conference games, losing to North Carolina and Kentucky. I know the big win versus Cincinnati has people thinking Louisville is getting it going at the perfect time but I think the Bearcats are also overrated. Louisville’s 104th-ranked strength of schedule worries me a little bit.
But the main reason I don’t like Louisville in the tournament this year is because they are working against history. Since Florida repeated in 2006 and 2007, defending champions have never reached the Elite Eight the following season. The year after Florida defeated Ohio State for their second title, they failed to make the tournament. Actually three of the past six defending champions didn’t make the tournament the following season. Connecticut lost in the first round after their magical run with Kemba Walker in 2010-2011, and Duke and Kansas both lost in the Sweet Sixteen when they tried to repeat. I think the Cardinals are good enough to maybe advance to the second weekend but I would think twice before advancing Louisville too far.
Why you might like them: Kentucky failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season but have locked up a spot already this year. The Wildcats are 10th in the RPI and fourth in the BPI. They have the fourth-ranked strength of schedule and have a dominant star in Julius Randle. Randle reminds me of Zach Randolph and is just an immovable force down low. Randle averages a double-double, scoring 15.7 points and securing 10.3 rebounds per game. He is a big reason why Kentucky grabs over 41 rebounds a game, sixth-best in the nation, and most of their points come off second chance opportunities.
Kentucky is loaded with young talent and you have to think most of their early loses (UNC, Baylor and Michigan State) were due to their young age and inexperience.
Why I don’t like them: Listen, people fall in love with the big name recruits on Kentucky every year but that doesn’t win championship games. Executing in big moments and overcoming tough obstacles in games help build championship caliber teams. To execute in those moments and overcome those challenges, you need some experience, and Kentucky has none of that. The Wildcats didn’t make the tournament last year and only play two sophomores in their rotation; everyone else is a freshman.
Besides Anthony Davis and that championship team, it is rare you see a team full of freshmen with no tournament experience make a deep run. Their youth was evidently exposed in the Florida game when Kentucky led at half, but then got outplayed at home by the Gators in the second half, resulting in a tough 10-point loss.
At this point in the season, I don’t see the maturity out of Kentucky’s young players that is needed to advance deep in the tournament. Yes, they have a star player in Randle but you need some stability around you to win a championship. Programs like North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse and Michigan State win championships by recruiting players other than one-and-dones. They get players that can progress, become leaders and gain experience, which results in them teaching the young players coming in what it takes to win and how to win in difficult situations. Love Julius Randle, but this isn’t the year to take a shot on the Wildcats.
Why you might like them: After starting conference play 0-2, Texas won six straight games in the toughest conference in the NCAA. Texas has a rather weak regular season schedule the rest of the way and should win out, only increasing their chances for a higher seed. Texas is led by Jonathan Holmes, who averages 13.2 points and 7.4 rebounds a night. Texas is great on the glass, ranking fifth in the country with 41.9 boards per game. If Texas can win some games in the Big 12 Tournament, they can be in the discussion for a possible four seed.
Why I don’t like them: The Longhorns are just too inconsistent for me to bet on in March. Texas scores 76 points a game but also shoots 43 percent from the field, 239th in the country. Texas also is ranked 217th in the nation in assists. A team that inconsistent on offense is just too risky to pick in the tournament. As much as those 76 points a night might impress you, they also allow, on average, 71 points to opponents, 206th in the country. The Longhorns just have too many question marks on both sides of the ball.
Those six straight conference wins look great but none of the big wins in that stretch were on the road. They beat Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State at home, but lost to all four of those teams on the road. Home wins for Texas against quality teams should be expected for that program. Other than Big 12 opponents, Texas’ non-conference strength of schedule is 178th in the country.
Texas isn’t a ranked team that people should pick to advance, but rather a team that screams first-round upset for those of you who love picking 11, 12 or 13 seeds.
Which teams will you be avoiding in March?
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