It’s crunch time. The tournament is less than 24 hours away. By now you have gone through a dozen brackets, second guessing each pick. You want to choose the upset that no one is talking about, but your sleeper is becoming everyone’s sleeper. We see it every year; an upset pick that becomes so popular that it is no longer an upset, i.e. Richmond over Vanderbilt this year. At last, I’m here to give you six picks that no one is talking about, but should be, heading into the 2011 NCAA tournament.
By: Justin Mertes-Mistretta
No. 12 Utah State over No. 13 Belmont: Utah State has been to the tournament year after year but has failed in the first round every time. Could this be the year they do it? They have a very experienced bunch that defends and takes care of the ball. This bodes well against an inconsistent Kansas State team.
In the other game, Belmont is the prototypical team that has beaten Wisconsin in the past; good 3 point shooting team that can defend well. Beware of both of these underdogs.
No. 11 USC over No. 3 Purdue: Before you discredit USC, look at their schedule. They have impressive wins against Texas, against Arizona, at Tennessee, and at Washington. They also went into Kansas and only lost by two points. Add on the fact that they have one of the most underrated big men in college basketball, Nikola Vucevic, and you have yourself a major Cinderella candidate.
If they beat VCU tonight, awaiting them is a Georgetown team on a four game losing streak. After that, they would play a Purdue team that is also reeling after two straight losses, to Iowa and Michigan State nonetheless. Both Georgetown and Purdue struggle with size, and that is one thing this USC team has. Don’t sleep on the Trojans.
No. 4 Kentucky over No. 1 Ohio State: I already broke down just how difficult Ohio State’s region is. Many people are picking Syracuse over Ohio State in the Elite 8, but I think the upset will happen before that. If Kentucky advances to the Sweet 16, the Buckeyes will have to face a vastly under-seeded Wildcat team that just won their conference tournament. The one achilles heel of this team has been star players, i.e. Jordan Taylor and E’twaun Moore, going off on them. The majority of the time, the aforementioned players were being guarded by freshman Aaron Craft. It will be interesting to see who coach Thad Matta puts on Kentucky guard Brandon Knight.
Kentucky is a hesitant pick by many due to their inexperience and historical undisciplined play. However, this year coach John Calipari has a different team than in years past. For one, six of Kentucky’s eight losses this year were decided by four points or less. Also, for a young team, the Wildcats take care of the basketball and are efficient from long range. This is a great recipe for success come March. Don’t be surprised if the athleticism of Kentucky gets Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger in foul trouble and forces an early exit.
No. 6 St. John’s over No. 3 BYU: If the Johnnies can get past No. 11 Gonzaga, they could have a favorable matchup against a one-man BYU team. St. John’s is the wildcard of this tournament. They could lose in the first round or make a Final Four run. The loss of D.J. Kennedy hurts, but don’t doubt Steve Lavin’s 11-6 record in March. He has proven many wrong in the regular season and may once again in the tournament.
No. 2 San Diego State over No. 3 UConn: The Aztecs may not have the quality wins to stack up against a team like UConn on paper. But, their only two losses have come against BYU. UConn is a team that is being overrated in this tournament. Sure, they made an impressive run in the Big East tournament, but at some point fatigue will catch up. Also, don’t forget that this is one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball.
Many people want to doubt the Aztecs, because they have never won an NCAA tournament game, but this is an experienced bunch that is making their second straight appearance. Don’t be surprised to see coach Steve Fisher put together another deep run into the tournament.
Florida makes the Final Four: This is another prediction that may not seem like an upset, given the seeding, but many people are undervaluing the Gators. Are they the best No. 2 seed in the tournament? No, not by a long shot. But, seeding doesn’t matter at this point, especially when you play in a region like the Southeast. This region is completely up for grabs.
What is more important come March is location rather than seeding. The Gators get to play their first two games in Tampa, Fl. and would only have to travel to New Orleans for the rest of regional play. Despite the bad losses throughout the season and a recent loss to Kentucky in the SEC finals, this is by far the most talented Florida team since the back-to-back champions of 2006-2007. Don’t be surprised to see Billy Donavon’s squad back in the Final Four this year.
It’s March and anything can happen, just ask Butler. Be bold, pick the upsets that no one is talking about. After all, that is what makes them upsets.
What are your upsets? Let me know by commenting below.
Justin Mertes-Mistretta is a senior writer for TheSportsBank.net. Follow him on Twitter at MertesMist_tsb or read his blog here.