Sunday, March 14, 2010
Bracket babble: Five sleepers to watch
By Eamonn Brennan
We've been saying it for weeks now: This year's NCAA tournament is one of the more wide open fields in recent history. Sure, the top seeds are all easy to pick -- Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse are your three title favorites in any given order, and the smart money will be on all three to advance to the Final Four. But once you start getting to the lower lines, things are much murkier.
Omar Samhan has averaged 20.9 points and 11 rebounds per game for St. Mary's.
So how about we continue the non-stop flood of bracket analysis by dipping a toe into those murky waters. Here are five teams seeded outside the elite part of the bracket, teams with possible routes to the Sweet Sixteen in a wide-open field. (Making any such predictions in this field is probably folly, sure, but what are we going to do for the next three days? NOT wildly speculate on the NCAA tournament? Pshh.)
1.No. 10 St. Mary's/No. 7 Richmond: This might seem like something of a copout, but whichever team manages to make it out of the South's 7-10 match up has a legitimate chance at making it to the tournament's second weekend. The winner of that game will play Villanova in the second round, a team that's faded down the stretch, and a team that doesn't have the traditional tall, athletic talent that separates power-six conference teams from most mid-majors. Either team can steal that win in the second round, and either team could conceivably beat No. 3 seed Baylor (or No. 6 seed Notre Dame) to reach the Elite Eight.
2. No. 7 BYU: Is it just me, or is BYU seeded way too low? This is a team just a hair worse than New Mexico, which nabbed a No. 3 seed (not that BYU deserves to be that high, but still). In any case, BYU got easily the most forgiving No. 10 match up in Florida, a team that most figured to be NIT-bound until the bracket was announced earlier tonight. And a No. 10 seed? Too high. Beat Florida and BYU will likely face No. 2-seed Kansas State, a team that actually matches up with BYU pretty well style-wise -- both teams play fast-paced, guard-reliant basketball, and if BYU can keep pace with the Wildcats, well, who knows?
3. No. 6 Xavier: Xavier is about as big a name as a "mid-major" can be, so this isn't exactly digging all that deep, but when you look at the Musketeers' draw, it's easy to see them in the Sweet Sixteen. Xavier drew No. 11 seed Minnesota, a team that barely snuck into the tournament (though the Gophers are somewhat scary, given their recently elevated level of play) in the first round. Then it's a match up with No. 3 Pittsburgh, a good but beatable three seed. Would you be all that surprised if Jordan Crawford and company were still alive when K-State (or maybe BYU) is on the other side of the bracket?
4. No. 9 Louisville: OK, so Louisville isn't the most enticing team in the world. The Cardinals have plenty of flaws. But hear me out: Louisville got a fantastic match up with overseeded No. 8 California in the first round of the tournament. Then it's No. 1 Duke, and yeah, sure, that's a tough one, but if you're a No. 9 seed, of all the No. 1 seeds, you want your second round game to be against Duke. If Louisville can beat Syracuse twice, they can (at least theoretically) top the Dukies.
5. No. 11 Old Dominion: How's this for a friendly draw: The Monarchs get No. 6 seed Notre Dame, who has played well recently but might be a tad bit overseeded. It's also a team just learning how to play with its star player successfully; it's not a team with a codified winning strategy. After that, it's relatively forgiving No. 3 seed Baylor -- a good team, but not an unbeatable one.