If you’re in the process of filling out your March Madness brackets you know that a pool can be won or lost in the first round. It’s often not about picking the team cutting down the nets at the end, but isolating the places for potential upsets in the first round, and capitalizing when people go chalk.
Since we’re all about helping, these are the teams to really dig into and learn about before the tournament begins. They could be the difference maker between taking home your pool, and watching Steve from accounting win it for the fourth year running. We hate Steve from accounting.
No. 12 seed Winthrop Eagles
On paper this is one that might shock you. After all, Winthrop faces Villanova in the first round, and all conventional wisdom tells you that Nova should win easily — but dig a little deeper the potential is there.
Winthrop is coming off a stellar 23-1 season, with the team’s only loss coming in late January to UNC Asheville in their second game in two days. Still, they only lost by two.
Winthrop boasts an 11th fasted tempo on offense via KenPom, and excel at getting offensive rebounds to limit teams on the glass. Couple all this with mid-major star Chandler Vaudrin, and you have a recipe for success on its own.
Then you have Villanova, who definitely earned their No. 5 seed, but enter the tournament with some big questions. Starting point guard Collin Gillespie will miss the game with a knee injury, and the Wildcats are coming off a disappointing loss to Georgetown in the Big East tournament. Nova doesn’t look like the same team without Gillespie and Winthrop could take advantage of that.
No. 14 seed Colgate
Colgate is the perfect definition of a sleeper team that’s going to shock people who didn’t dig in more. They shoot 40 percent from three, which is third best in the country — and don’t turn the ball over, which allows them to take full advantage of that deep shooting prowess, failing to allow teams back into games.
They also play an up-tempo style, ranking 25th in offensive pace. These factors combine to be enough to scare any power conference team in the first round and will stretch the Arkansas defense.
That’s not to say Arkansas doesn’t have the talent to win, especially with Moses Moody, who figures to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but Colgate is full of confidence on a major win streak and have momentum on their side.
No. 12 seed UC Santa Barbara
The big thing about UCSB is their, well, big things: Miles Norris and Amadou Sow. The two players represent great size for a mid-major at 6’10 and 6’9 respectively. Santa Barbara are also excellent at limiting turnovers, and have shown efficient shooting offensively all season.
Creighton’s defensive vulnerability showed in the Big East tournament, getting utterly smoked by Georgetown. That raises some questions whether they’ll be able to step up when it counts, or whether they might wither again.
No. 14 seed Liberty
One of the most three-point happy teams in the country, Liberty taking a whopping 47.4 percent of their shots from behind the arc, and they tend to hit — shooting 38.8 percent from three. When a team shoots from deep this often and this well, the possibility always exists that they can get hot at the right time and spell major trouble for an opponent, even one as good on paper as Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State might have consensus No. 1 NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham, but that’s not enough in isolation to write off Liberty entirely. Like I said, if they get hot in the opening game of the tournament. This is a game almost nobody in your pool will pick against, and the potential is there for a shocker.