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The time has come! In twelve short hours, the Clemson and West Virginia 12:15ET tip-off will commence a 64-team war that will culminate on April 4th in Houston, TX, leaving one team standing atop of the college basketball world. Last season, the Duke Blue Devils defeated the Butler Bulldogs in one of the best NCAA final games in recent memory. In 2011, Duke will have to battle its way to the top once again, as many programs are hungry and will strive to knock off Coach K and his Dukies.
As many of you are scrambling to fill out your brackets this year, the bulk of the conversations between friends and family will entail debates over selections of final four teams and national champions. However, the most nail-biting and intriguing part of this tourney occurs during the first opening weekend, where cinderillas emerge from the non-BCS conferences, stunning higher seeded favorites with last-second miracle shots, while outplaying the Goliaths all the way down to the wire.
This year, the Sports of Boston team has decided to bring to you a preview of this year’s tournament, focusing on potential upsets that can happen in the first round. Our educated opinions will help you decipher between which upsets to pick and which to stray away from, and also provide insight to some of the smaller schools in the NCAA tournament that do not get national television broadcasts.
Will anyone forget George Mason’s Final Four run in 2006, or Kent State to the Elite 8 in 2002? How many of you correctly called Ohio’s demolishing of Georgetown in 2010 or Northwestern State over Iowa in 2006? Our tips and suggestions will help YOU select the correct lower seeds to move on, thus bringing you all that closer to winning your NCAA pool, giving you those sought-after office bragging rights and spending cash!
This is just a personal list for team characteristics, and please refer to CBS Sportsline or ESPN for official statistics on past upsets.
Here is a list of this year’s upset potentials that I foresee. I am not saying that all of these are guaranteed to happen, but in 2010, we had eleven lower seeded victories in the first round (record is 13 done 4 times). The record low for upsets in 2007, which provided the chalkiest tournament to date with only three lower seeded teams to see light in Round 2. I am going to ignore the 8/9 seed match-ups, because these games are pretty even, with 9 seeds holding the edge in victories 56-48 overall.
In the 26-year history of the Men’s NCAA tournament since the expansion to the 64, 65 (and this year’s 68 teams), a 16 seed has NEVER beaten a 1 seed (104-0) overall. One day, all die-heard college basketball fans will dream to see this happen (Pittsburgh was scared in 2008 by E. Tenn State & Albany in 2006 relinquished a 12-point 2nd half lead to UConn). The women’s tourney has seen the unbelievable feat, when the Harvard Crimson toppled the Stanford Cardinals, brain over brawn in 1998. For now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the 2011 NCAA “Cliffs’ notes” upset special!
The Mountaineers have been on a downward spiral during the 2nd half of the season. They have shown sparks of brilliance over the first part of the season, beating ranked teams Georgetown on the road and Purdue at home, but they have only faired 8-7 over their past fifteen games. Clemson, fresh off their win in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Tuesday against UAB, will apply pressure all game long against WVU. Demontez Stintt and Andre Young will hound guards Joe Mazzulla and Casey Mitchell. Mitchell has shown inconsistent play of late, and has not been in the spotlight before. If Jerai Grant has a game comparable to his 22point 7reb performance against UAB, the Tigers could be into round 2.
The Golden Eagles have battled Big East foes all year long and have serious potential to spring this upset. They boast two 16-PPG scorers with their gun barrel duo in Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom. Despite the two-headed scoring duo, fans will ponder about which Marquette team will show up? The team that handily beat WVU (twice), UConn (in Storrs) and Georgetown, or the team that was wiped away by Louisville by 25 and Seton Hall by 13. For Xavier, Tu Hollway is the motor that keeps the Musketeers running. Holloway, the 6″0 guard who averages 20.2 PPG, will need to score at this pace to keep Xavier in this battle. The Musketeers went 15-1 in A-10 play, only to lose to #6 seed Dayton in the conference tournament.
This game will test the health and experience of Tom Izzo and his Spartan squad against the young, inexperienced Bruins. Both teams had a see-saw year, posting convincing victories, while simultaneously suffering some heartbreaking losses. The Spartans will be led by Kalin Lucas, due to the transfer of his counterpart Korie Lucious to Iowa State. UCLA has only two players that have ever seen action in an NCAA tournament game, while MSU has 6. Tom Izzo’s team has prepared itself for the Bruins by playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the NCAA. The Bruins will rely on a balanced scoring attack with four players averaging double figures. Reeves Nelson leads the team at 13.9 PPG.
St. John’s is another team that will be plagued by injury, as their star leader and leading rebounder, D.J. Kennedy tore his ACL during the Big East tourney and will be forced to miss this game. Coach Lavin will have to somehow counteract the Bulldog’s size, as Gonzaga has nine players that stand 6’5″ or taller. Fresh off of nine consecutive victories and the winners of the WCC conference tourney, Mark Few’s team is no newbie to the Cinderella title. The Zags reached two consecutive sweet 16s in 2000 and 2001, winning over many fans and those rooting for the underdog. Powered by the inside/outside duo of Robert Sacre and Steven Gray, Mark Few will look to pull off another shocker. Senior leader scorer at 18 PPG, Dwight Hardy will have to take charge to keep his team in route for that NCAA title bid.
Belmont? Who? Ask Duke and Coack K in 2008, as they staved off a furious Belmont Bruin 2nd half comeback to prevent only the 5th #15 seed to upset a #2 seed in NCAA history. Current Charlotte Bobcat Gerald Henderson raced down court with a one-handed runner in the final seconds to keep Duke alive. This Belmont team is very similar to that one in 2008. They have lots of bench contributors (10-11 play at least 1o minutes per game) and consistent 3pt shooting, as the Bruins ranked 2nd in NCAA in total three pointers made. This small Nashville school also has a formidable post presence in Mitch Hedgepeth at 10.6ppg and 6rpg. If Belmont can rebound, make timely threes, and keep an eye on Jon Leuer & Jordan Taylor (both 18+ppg scorers), I would say Belmont has a fighting chance. Remember, this Bo Ryan led squad put up a measly 33 points in the ugliest Big Ten championship game against Penn State, and in no way that Nittany Lion team is a defensive juggernaut (they allowed 74 points to Maine)!
The Hoyas are reeling, and without guard Chris Wright (broken hand in late Feb), Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson’s alma mater could be in big trouble. You may ask yourself, VC who? Yes, VCU. You might remember this team from the 2007 NCAA tournament, where little guard Eric Maynor hit the shot heard around the world, an eighteen foot jumper that sank Coach K and 6 seed Duke in the first round of the NCAA’s. Now, Eric Maynor is playing bench to ex-UCLA Bruin Russell Westbrook in the NBA, but with all great programs, when one great player steps out, several others step in. Wake Forest transfer Jaime Skeen provides the force in the paint that this team needs and Joey Rodriguez will provide the outside shooting. Georgetown has dropped four straight contests, and they have not topped more than 62 PPG in those games.
Kenneth Faried, the NCAA leading rebounder, will have his way with Rick Pitino’s undersized frontcourt
A long shot, but do you remember the Gerry McNamara-led Orange? In the 2006 Big East tournament, the ninth seeded orange won four games en route to becoming the lowest seed ever to take home the title. However, when they proceeded into the 2006 NCAA’s, they dropped their first contest to TX A&M. Could Kemba “Cardiac” Walker be dealt the same deal? Is five games in five days enough to tire out this Jim Calhoun led team and result in one of the biggest potential upsets of this tourney? Only time will tell…
Seniors Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson combine for over 34ppg and could provide enough oomph’ to send the Commodore’s packing. Last year, 13-seed Murray State’s buzzer beater sent this team home early, could this be two years in row with early first round exits?
Texas has hit a wall lately, dropping four contests since late February. For Rick Barnes, his players better show up, because the Grizzlies aren’t scared of any opponent. Oakland has already defeated Tennessee, and lost nail biters to Michigan State and Illinois. Watch out for Keith Benson, he is a beast inside the paint. If Longhorn sophomore Jordan Hamilton has an off game, this could go down to the wire.
HAHA! Do you think I am really serious? If I could witness one thing in my life, it would be for a 1 seed to drop out to a 16. I think it would be hilarious, don’t you? It may make for a horrible 2nd round game against the 8/9 winner, but if your Alma-mater was the team that came out victorious, I would think that your opinion would be different. BU wins if the Morris twins come down with food poisoning, Tyshawn Taylor sprains his ankle during pre-game warmups, and Tyrel Reed is diagnosed with measles before tip-off. Brady Morningstar would be the only starter remaining, and BU would prevail 65-62. Hey, just remember, anything can happen!