Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/bffbrackets/
My favorite thing about the NCAA Tournament, other than watching Purdue, of course, is watching for massive upsets. When Robert Morris was leading Villanova in a 2/15 game last year I was going hard for Robert Morris because I love to see chaos and anarchy. To me, a boring tournament is one with very few upsets. Upsets make the tournament much more exciting and serve as a comeuppance for teams that think they deserve to advance based on name or seed.
This year's tournament is tough to predict. One need only look at the NIT and see that some of the better possible upset teams are not here. The NIT had a ton of automatic bids from good teams that won their regular season conference titles, but stumbled in the conference tournament and lost the automatic bid. Long Beach State, Missouri State, Coastal Carolina, Missouri State, Harvard, and St. Mary's are teams that could have made noise in the Big Dance, but they lost conference tournaments and ended up in the NIT.
So where will the upsets come from? Here are some of my Cinderella picks:
Oakland Golden Grizzlies
We're very familiar with the Golden Grizzlies. We've beaten them before, quite easily in fact. I am still glad they are way on the other side of the bracket. You can go a long way in this tournament with an NBA caliber big man. That is exactly what they have in Keith Benson. This is a team that has lost exactly once in the last two and a half months. Benson is a human double-double, and they are tested against good competition.
It is rare that a Summit League team finishes in the top 100 of the RPI, but Oakland finished in the top 50, giving us a solid profile boost in the process. They are a 25 win team, but they played Illinois, Purdue, Tennessee, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and West Virginia outside their conference. They beat the Volunteers, lost to the Spartans by a point, and played Illinois tough when the Fighting Illini were still playing good, consistent basketball.
Two words should also give you confidence in picking Oakland: Rick Barnes. Last year at midseasons this was "an elite, surefire Final Four team". They lost in the first round to Wake Forest, a team with an NBA-caliber big man in Al-Farouq Aminu. Barnes' teams have recently had a history of tailspinning late in the season. Could this year be the same with late losses to Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas State?
Any team that wins 30 basketball games at the Division I level knows what it is doing. Remember Murray State last season? They were a 30 win team that pulled a 13/4 upset and nearly ended the Butler story in round two. Belmont's four losses were toe Tennessee twice (the second by a point), Vanderbilt, and to bitter rival Lipscomb. No loss was by more than nine points. They didn't beat a Tournament team, but the only two they played were Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
Jordan Campbell was a high school teammate of Eric Gordon, likely mentored Terone Johnson, and graduated the year before playing E`Twaun Moore in the 2007 State Championship.He is the #4 scorer on a very balanced team. With Wisconsin's troubles playing away from the Kohl Center this is a very dangerous game for the Badgers.
Indiana State Sycamores
When picking upsets I like to look for teams that are overseeded. I couldn't believe Syracuse was given a three seed yesterday, but after looking at their profile I can see they did very well aside from a four game losing streak in January. Their seeding is probably justified then. They now get the mighty Trees, who will be content to shoot threes over their zone all day long.
It would be a pretty major upset, but Indiana State loves to play defense and if they can hit those threes consistently they will have a chance. Indiana State kept it close with us for a half, and would have been leading if JaJuan Johnson had been stopped at all. Jordan Printy has the ability to go all Ryne Smith on the Orange too.
Ask the Badgers how well they liked playing Wofford last season. Teams making their first NCAA Tournament appearance don't typically do well, but Wofford gave Wisconsin all it could handle last year. Now, instead of being all "just happy to be here", they come in as a group with tournament experience. They also get a BYU team that saw its seed get Hummeled. Naturally, they might get some of the treatment that Siena received last year.
This means nothing if Jimmer Fredette
goes apeshit exacts Wholesome Mormon Justice on them. Wofford took regular Sweet 16 participant Xavier to triple overtime earlier this season. They seem to have put it together of late by winning their last eight games. Noah Dahlman drops 20 points per game, which aren't Fredette numbers but they are still consistent. Both teams like to score in the 70's, so this should be a fun game to watch.
Get ready for the Jim Nantz schmaltz during the Northern Colorado-San Diego State game. UNC leading scorer Devon Beitzel has led the Bears to their first NCAA Tournament averaging 21.4 points per game, and his backstory is made for these early round games. He is one of the candidates with Smooge for the Lowe's Senior CLASS award, but he has fought hard to come from a broken home and make something of himself. He deserves this moment in the spotlight during his senior season, and he has the talent to possibly make it last a little longer.
There is usually at least one 2/15 game that is a little too close for comfort. Last year it was Robert Morris-Villanova. A few years ago Tennessee barely survived Belmont. Four times a 15 has gotten a two as a scalp. Mike Proctor and Taylor Montgomery also have size to help out Beitzel.
Morehead State Eagles
If you want to talk about a team that knows how to clean the boards, look to Morehead State. No one has more career rebounds in NCAA Division I than Kenneth Faried, who averages 17.6 points and 14.5 rebounds as a 6'8" senior forward. He'll probably get a look by some NBA scouts, especially if he can lead the Eagles to a first round upset of Louisville. Faried is second all-time in career double-doubles with 88, tied with Ralph Sampson and trailing only some guy named Tim Duncan, whom I think had a decent NBA career.
Morehead State played Florida to a six point game earlier in the season. This will be their fourth time in their last five NCAA appearances that they have played Louisville too, including a 2009 loss where the Cardinals won 74-54 in a 1/16 game. Demonte Harper also averages 16 points per game for them, so they have a couple of players that can cause trouble for the Cardinals. Morehead State would also love to grab some state headlines after playing in Louisville's shadow all the time.