March Madness 2016: Six Teams That Could Bust Your Bracket
Contrary to past seasons, the 2016 college basketball regular season was largely defined by a lack of consistency among the top teams. But with March Madness about to begin, three clear favorites have emerged. The NCAA Championship betting line at TopBet favors Kansas, with North Carolina and Michigan State close behind. Judging by expert predictions, public sentiment is clearly in line with these championship odds. But you tell me, do any of your friends have a bracket with only one of these teams, or perhaps none at all, in their Final Four? Didn’t think so.
As we know, March Madness is consistently crazy. That’s why it is puzzling to me how many college basketball experts and the general public have such conventional predictions. The only explanation is that people must not remember what’s occurred in the past few years, so I’ll refresh everyone’s memory. Last year, Kentucky was the biggest favorite to win the national title in decades, yet they didn’t even make the championship game. A year earlier, seventh seeded UConn met an eighth seeded Kentucky team in a national title matchup no one saw coming. Want me to go back further? Well, I don’t really need to: we’re only five years removed from when eighth seeded Butler and eleventh seeded VCU met in the highest matchup of seeds in Final Four history.
Sufficed to say, March is mad. That’s why I consider it to be a good year when my bracket isn’t completely busted after the first weekend. Speaking of busted brackets, I suspect that with the high levels of support for Kansas, North Carolina, and Michigan State, a stunning upset will ruin many brackets. So which teams are candidates to bust brackets this year?
I’ll start with two teams that could cause Kansas to stumble. The first is Maryland (+3,500 on TopBet), who is seeded fifth in the south region. The Terrapins opened the season third in both the AP and the Coaches Poll and were hailed as one of the most talented teams in the nation. Though they have failed to live up to the hype thus far, Maryland profiles very similarly to the 2014 Kentucky team I mentioned earlier that disappointed in the regular season after being ranked number one in the preseason polls, and then went on a spectacular run to the national championship game.
Another dangerous team in the south region is the Wichita State Shockers (+10,000). I’ve written previously as to why I like the Shockers in the tournament; but in short, they are stout defensively and are no strangers to tournament success. Though the Jayhawks can’t play Wichita until the Elite Eight, I envision a rematch of last year’s Round of 32 matchup between the two teams.
Of the three favorites in this year’s field, North Carolina easily has the toughest draw. In the second round, they may run into a dynamic Providence squad (+22,500) that has two of the best players in the tournament in forward Ben Bentil and guard Kris Dunn. If there is any team reminiscent to the 2014 UConn team that won the title, Providence is it.
If the Tar Heels get past the second round, they will likely face the Kentucky Wildcats (+1,000). Despite being a four seed, Kentucky has the fourth best odds in the entire field to win the title according to TopBet (talk about being underseeded). Though I suppose much of the hype around the Wildcats is based on what they have achieved in previous tournaments, they are unquestionably one of the more talented teams in the tourney. In short, if North Carolina is to stumble before the Final Four, it will likely be to Kentucky.
Lastly, there is Michigan State, who many people believe face only one difficult hurdle before the Final Four in the Virginia Cavaliers. But I think people are disregarding two teams in particular: Seton Hall (+6,000) and Gonzaga (+9,000). While both teams play each other in the first round, I think the winner will meet Michigan State in the sweet sixteen and pull a massive upset. Seton Hall is coming off a Big East tournament championship, led by Isaiah Whitehead, who is averaging 23.5 points per game in Seton Hall’s last ten games. The ‘Zags, meanwhile, are ranked twenty-third in the country according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. If teams were seeded based on their ranking in the BPI, than Gonzaga should be a six seed rather than an eleven. So while many pundits might underestimate the 11th seeded Bulldogs, Gonzaga is much better than they appear and, in my view, are the best bet to be this year’s marquee Cinderella story.
If you’re one of the many people that has Kansas, North Carolina, and Michigan State in your final four, you have been warned. Somewhere along the way, at least one of these teams will be upset before the Final Four and will probably cause you to question why you subject yourself to filling out a bracket year after year. My gut feeling is that Gonzaga will sneak past Seton Hall and move on to upset the heavily favored Spartans in the Sweet Sixteen. But what do I know? What does anyone know? The reason March Madness is unlike any other postseason tournament is that there is simply no calling it on a consistent basis.
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