Some teams have the ingredients to pull an upset
Most of the fun and excitement in the NCAA tournament comes about because this is the chance for the little guy to jump up and knock out the bully on the block.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some key ingredients underdogs use to pull first-round upsets (we’re talking at least a five-seed difference here, and we’re not including any “Big Six” conference teams among the “underdogs”).
With an eye toward helping you fill out your brackets this season, we’ve included teams that have some of the necessary ingredients to pull those upsets this season.
Remember, though, that there’s a reason these teams are seeded where they are. While they may be great from 3-point range, for instance, they may get crushed on the boards or not play defense.
The buzz: The great equalizer in college basketball is the 3-point shot. Not everybody has big-time talent at each position, but a lot of teams have numerous guys who can fill it up from beyond the arc. Remember that shooting 38 percent from 3-point range is the equivalent to shooting 57 percent on 2-pointers and shooting 41 percent from 3-point range is the equivalent to 61.5 percent on 2-pointers.
Fitting the profile this season: Belmont (37.8 percent, 8.8 made per game), Colorado State (40.5 percent), Davidson (7.8 made per game), Iona (39.3 percent, 7.8 made per game), Lehigh (7.4 made per game), Mississippi Valley (7.5 made per game), Montana (37.3 percent), Ohio (7.3 made per game), South Dakota State (39.3 percent, 8.1 made per game), VCU (7.4 made per game).
Apply the pressure
The buzz: Games can turn on defense, and an underdog who can stay close – through whatever means – eventually will get the crowd on its side. Whether it’s applying constant pressure, throwing a funky press at an unsuspecting opponent or playing a tough match-up zone, teams that can play defense often hang around longer than expected.
Fitting the profile this season: BYU (8.2 steals per game), Detroit (4.6 blocks per game), Lamar (8.4 steals per game), Mississippi Valley (force 16.1 turnovers per game, 8.8 steals per game), Norfolk State (4.8 blocks per game), Ohio (force 17.7 turnovers per game, 9.3 steals per game), UNC Asheville (force 16.1 turnovers per game, 8.5 steals per game), VCU (force 17.9 turnovers per game, 10.6 steals per game), Xavier (39.8 field-goal percentage defense).
The buzz: Think back at the lower seeds that have pulled big upsets in the NCAA tourney; each had a go-to guy who came up large. Navy’s David Robinson in 1985. Arkansas-Little Rock’s Pete Myers in 1986. Chattanooga’s Johnny Taylor in 1997. Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew in 1998. Weber State’s Harold “The Show” Arceneaux in 1999. Kent State’s Antonio Gates in 2002. UW Milwaukee’s Joah Tucker in 2005. VCU’s Eric Maynor in 2007. If there’s an upset this season, chances are one guy is going to have a 20-points-plus game, and these teams have to like their chances because of their star players.
Fitting the profile this season: Iona F Mike Glover (18.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg), Iona G Scott Machado (13.6 ppg, 9.9 apg), Lehigh G C.J. McCollum (21.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.6 spg), Long Beach State G Casper Ware (17.4 ppg, 3.3 apg), Long Island F Julian Boyd (17.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 55.7 FG%), New Mexico State F Wendell McKines (18.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg), Norfolk State C Kyle O’Quinn (15.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 58.6 FG%), South Dakota State G Nate Wolters (21.3 ppg, 6.0 apg, 5.2 rpg, 1.7 spg), St. Bonaventure F Andrew Nicholson (18.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 57.5 FG%).
Don’t get rattled
The buzz: Senior leadership is important throughout the season, but never more than in March. When a coach can count on veteran players, it eases some concerns, both when a team is preparing for a game and when it is on the court.
Fitting the profile this season: Belmont (three senior starters and two junior starters), BYU (three senior starters, one junior starter and one freshman starter), Iona (two senior starters, two junior starters and one sophomore starter), Lamar (four senior starters and one junior starter), Lehigh (one senior starter, three junior starters and one sophomore starter), Long Beach State (four senior starters and one junior starter), Long Island (two senior starters, two junior starters and one sophomore starter), Mississippi Valley State (four senior starters and one freshman starter), Montana (two senior starters, two junior starters and one sophomore starter), New Mexico State (three senior starters, one junior starter and one freshman starter), Norfolk State (four senior starters and one sophomore starter), UNC Asheville (four senior starters and one junior starter).
[ Pat Forde: Breakdown of the entire NCAA tournament field ]
We’ve done this before
The buzz: A lot of these schools are on the national stage for the first time this season – and maybe forever. Thus, the intimidation factor can be huge. But some lesser-known teams are more battle-tested than others. They’ve already gone out this season and beaten “bigger” teams; those teams have to be confident they can handle most anything thrown at them.
How about some strategy
The buzz: If you watch a lot of college basketball, you know that there are a lot of excellent coaches toiling in “lesser” leagues. This is the time for a lot of those guys to shine. No, they don’t have the facilities or talent of their big-school brethren. But they do have the ability to draw X’s and O’s with anybody, and this is their chance to show off.
Fitting the profile this season: Eddie Biedenbach (UNC Asheville), Rick Byrd (Belmont), Jim Ferry (Long Island), Bob McKillop (Davidson), Dave Rose (BYU), Shaka Smart (VCU).
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