Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sizing the Glass Slipper

This college basketball season has been a roller coaster. Multiple top-5 teams being knocked off every week became the norm during conference play. Holding the number one rank in the nation meant that players and coaches alike would soon be burdened with questions about why they were upset so quickly, and what went wrong. If ever there were an NCAA Tournament to pick a 15 over 2 upset, or a miracle run by a mid-major, this year is it.

After seeing Kansas lose to TCU, Miami go down to Wake Forest, and Georgetown upset by South Florida, fans with brackets on the brain need to weigh their options on which "underdog" they'll get behind come tournament time.

Here's our take:

20-13, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions, Projected seed: 14

Despite losing the 2011-12 NCAA assists leader, Scott Machado, the Gaels can still score the rock. They rank 3rd nationally in points per game, scoring over 80 per contest. Individually, Lamont “Momo” Jones, a transfer from the University of Arizona, is the third best scorer in the country at 23 points per game. Skeptics may discredit Jones' scoring because of the lack of defensive prowess within the MAAC. However, Momo played two full seasons in the Pac-12, garnering plenty of experience against Power-Six conference talent. If the senior from Harlem finds his stroke, good luck trying to stop this team on the offensive end. Also, don't forget that Iona gave BYU trouble in the first round of the tournament last year. This isn't their first rodeo.

Key victories: at Georgia, vs. Liberty, Loyola (twice)
Key losses: vs. Illinois-Chicago, vs. Marist

26-6, Ohio Valley Conference Champions, Projected seed: 12

The Bruins actually received 13 votes in the final AP Top 25 poll, which would theoretically make them the 31st ranked team in the country. Belmont thrives on ball movement and shot selection. They rank 18th overall with 15.9 assists per game as a team. They also shoot over 49% from the field, good for 4th nationally. Head coach Rick Byrd has taken his team to the big dance in each of the past two seasons, and five times since taking the job in Nashville, only to lose their first game in each appearance. However, with four players scoring over 10 points per game, and five players racking up at least 3 assists per game, this could be the year that Belmont finally sneaks out of the first round. If their opponent can't play 40 minutes of disciplined defense, the Bruins will take advantage in a big way.

Key victories: at Stanford, vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. Murray State,
Key losses: at Murray State, at Tennessee State, at Kansas

26-7, Southern Conference Champions, Projected seed: 12

The bad news: Stephen Curry is not walking through that door. The good news: The Wildcats don't need him. Davidson has ripped off 17 consecutive wins heading into the tourney. In only four of those 17 wins did the losing team come within 10 points of Bob McKillop's club. Of course, the Southern Conference has even less talent than most, but Davidson's AD, Jim Murphy, remedied that by scheduling some incredibly tough out-of-conference opponents. Playing against teams like West Virginia, Gonzaga, and Duke early in the season will eliminate any nervousness that the Wildcats may have when heading into a first round match-up against a high seed. If you're a believer in the “getting hot at the right time” theory, take the Wildcats.

Key victories: @ Richmond, Charleston (twice)
Key losses: @ New Mexico, vs. Gonzaga, vs. Duke, @ Milwaukee, @ Georgia Southern

As far as upsets go: choose right, and you'll like like a genius in the office-pool. Choose wrong and...well, you'll probably look only as silly as everyone else.

Need some more info on the lesser-known squads? Play SnapCall Sports throughout the week so you can give each team the eye test for yourself. You might just see some challenging questions and entertaining commentary along the way.

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