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Bracket Breakouts

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports

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It happens every year.

No, it's not you blowing your bankroll at the roulette table during your yearly trip toLas Vegas. Nor you looking like a complete idiot in front of your co-workers at the annual office cookout.

Every year in the month of madness, an unforeseen seven or ten seed punishes your precious No. 2 favorite, squashing your office pool optimism. If only you had sought advice from a certified bracketologist.

In 2006, Rip Van Winkles Georgetown and Wichita St. bit into the sweet round of 16 after eliminating heralded two-seeds Ohio St. and Tennessee in Round 2. The Hoyas and Shockers run of last season is no fluke – it's as commonplace in tournament play as Bob Knight expletives at a post-game press conference.

Amazingly, since 2000, a combined 14 seven-tens have reached the Sweet 16 (two per year), with five going as far as the Elite 8. However, no seven or ten seed has ever reached college hoops' Mecca, the Final Four.

Along with this year's top seven-ten spoiler, here are a few lower seeds that have a good chance to do some major damage:

Notes:
#'s in parentheses – for Key Wins and Key Losses – denote margin of win/loss
RPI and SOS are taken from realtimerpi.com; Efficiency statistics are from kenpom.com
Individual team stat ranks for games played through March 8

The Next George Mason
Team W/L Seed-Region RPI SOS
Maryland Terrapins 24-8 4-Midwest 17 14
Starting Five: G-Greivis Vasquez (4.7 APG), G-D.J. Strawberry (15.2 PPG), G-Mike Jones (2.3 3PTM/G), F-James Gist (12.7 PPG), F-Ekene Ibekwe (7.6 RPG)
Key Wins: at Illinois (6), North Carolina (2), at Duke (8)
Key Losses: Notre Dame (7), Miami (5), Virginia (4), Miami (3)
Why they're a jack-in-a-box: Winners of seven of their past eight games, Gary Williams has whipped, and sweated, his young Terrapins team into deep tourney shape. A racehorse team, Maryland has a number of athletic players that run the floor with thoroughbred ease. Vazquez has developed into a top-flight floor leader, averaging 11.7 points and 6.3 assists per game in his past nine. Down low, 6-foot-9 junior Ekene Ibekwe and 6-foot-8 sophomore James Gist have combined for nearly 23 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per game. With defensive stalwarts on the perimeter led by junior guard D.J. Strawberry, Maryland ranks fifth in the nation in three-point field-goal defense, limiting teams to a stingy 29.7 percent. Although turnovers can plague them at times (15.8 TO/G), the Terrapins can shell-shock anyone given their ability to defend the three and establish a fast-paced tempo. Fear the turtle, but be very wary of Davidson. The Wildcats, like Maryland, can light up the scoreboard, especially from downtown.
Prediction: Elite 8 Loss to Wisconsin
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 24-7 6-Midwest 46 105
Starting Five: G-Tory Jackson (4.4 APG), G-Collin Falls (3.3 3PTM/G), G-Russell Carter (17.2 PPG), F-Rob Kurz (7.9 RPG), F-Luke Harangody (11.5 PPG)
Key Wins: at Maryland (7), Alabama (14), Marquette (12)
Key Losses: at South Florida (6), at St. John's (3), at DePaul (1)
Why they're a jack-in-a-box: With a pint in my hand and St. Patrick's Day around the corner, how could the Irish not make the list? As the Guiness white-robed scientists would say, the Irish have been "Brilliant!" down the stretch. Rattled a bit after starting point guard Kyle McAlarney was booted off the team for a team rules violation back in late December, the Irish went through an adjustment phase. Now that freshman Tory Jackson has risen to the cause – he's averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 assists per game over his past 10 – the frenetic Irish are peaking. Senior guards Russell Carter and Colin Falls can score in droves, splashing a combined 32.6 points and 5.9 threes made per contest. Although Mike Brey's 2-3 zone disguises the Irish's cosmetic flaws on defense, they do create enough turnovers (8.4 SPG) to stay effective. A well-balanced, quality free-throw shooting team (74.9%) with four starters scoring in double-figures, the Irish may just plaster your bracket sheet with four-leaf clovers – if they can get by Gregg Marshall's scrappy Winthrop club.
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to Wisconsin
Creighton Blue Jays 22-10 10-South 20 20
Starting Five: G-Nate Funk (17.6 PPG), G-Nick Porter (10.6 PPG), G-Isaac Miles (6.0 PPG), F-Dane Watts (10.1 PPG), C-Anthony Tolliver (13.4 PPG)
Key Wins: Xavier (6), Southern Illinois (6)
Key Losses: Southern Illinois (1), at Southern Illinois (2), Drexel (6)
Why they're a jack-in-a-box: The Blue Jays theme song might as well be "Play That Funk-y Music." The conference tournament winners of the Missouri Valley – which really needs to have its mid-major label stripped – Creighton has overcome injuries and a series of early-season, underwhelming performances. Seemingly twelve-year starter Nate Funk has adjusted well to life at the point penetrating, dishing and scoring, shooting 47.8 percent from the field, while averaging 17.6 points per game. In the box, 6-foot-9 senior Anthony Tolliver has become the ideal inside complement to Funk, averaging 13.2 points while netting 51 percent of his shots. Nate Watts and Nick Porter have also contributed greatly, averaging double-digits in points and a combined 11.8 boards. A sound defensive team (60.4 PPG), Dana Altman's crew has the senior leadership, tournament experience and offensive weapons to upend the higher seeds in their region. Facing a Nevada team that could be without their best defender Kyle Shiloh in Round 1 and potentially seeing an overrated Memphis team in Round 2, they should taste sweetness.
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to Texas A&M
Gonzaga Bulldogs 23-10 10-West 60 92
Starting Five: G-Derek Raivio (18.2 PPG), G-Jeremy Pargo (4.6 APG), G-Matt Bouldin (8.9 PPG, 3.1 APG), F-Sean Mallon (48.7 FG%), F-Abdullahi Kuso (1.2 BPG)
Key Wins: North Carolina (8), Texas (10), Washington (20)
Key Losses: Memphis (1), Duke (7), Nevada (10), at Washington St. (10)
Why they're a jack-in-a-box: In a tumultuous year in Spokane, the Kennel faithful saw their beloved Bulldogs log thousands of frequent flier miles, fall out of the national spotlight and deal with the unwanted influences of psychedelic mushrooms on their best interior player, Josh Heytvelt. Many would have thought the loss of Heytvelt would have crippled Mark Few's squad, but they've played resiliently. Ranked 17th nationally in team field-goal percentage (48.8%), the Zags continue to scorch the nets with their loose, frenetic tempo. Senior Derek Raivio has performed admirably, averaging nearly 18 points per game, while charting a ridiculous 95.8 percent from the free-throw line. With the stark improvement of sophomore guard Jeremy Pargo and Kansas transfer Micah Downs, the Zags are definitely a team cresting at the right time, but they must guard feverishly – they rank 80th in defensive efficiency. If the inside rotation of Downs, Mallon, Kuso and David Pendergraft continue to patrol the glass fervently and contribute on the offensive end, this is a team destined to win two games. Remember, this is a battle-tested team that defeated North Carolina and Texas on a neutral floor (both with Heytvelt) and lost by the slimmest of margins at home in February to Memphis. Although a night-and-day contrast to Indiana's back-alley scrum defense, the Zags should advance to the next round and give UCLA a major scare.
Prediction: Second Round loss to UCLA
Illinois Fighting Illini 23-11 12-West 31 24
Starting Five: G-Chester Frazier (4.4 APG), G-Rich McBride (2.6 3PTM/G), F-Warren Carter (13.7 PPG), F-Brian Randle (7.1 PPG), C-Shaun Pruitt (11.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG)
Key Wins: Michigan St. (7), Indiana (8), Indiana (4)
Key Losses: at Arizona (12), at Xavier (6), Ohio St (18), Wisconsin (7)
Why they're a jack-in-a-box: To say that Illinois has had a turbulent season is a gross understatement. Battling through an uncountable number of injuries and dealing with off-the-court DUI (Rich McBride and Jamar Smith) incidents, the job Bruce Weber has done to get this cursed team to 23 wins is nothing short of miraculous. The Illini are an in-your-face team that hangs its hat on contesting shots vigorously. On average, they've stymied foes to 57.6 PPG (9th in the nation) and 40.4 percent from the field. Although known for having Sahara Desert-long droughts offensively, Illinois has a dynamite post presence in 6-foot-10 center Shaun Pruitt, who's notched nine double-doubles on the season. Versatile swing forward Warren Carter is the essence of Weber's motion offense and will need to continue to shoot efficiently from three. If one of the several Illinois X-factors (Brian Randle, Rich McBride or Chester Frazier) can contribute 10-15 points, given their ability to force difficult shots, this is a dangerous club that could be a surprise Sweet 16 contender. Expect the Illinois bigs to be glass masters against an undersized Virginia Tech team that ranks 198th in rebound margin, setting up a possible Southern Illinois reunion for Bruce Weber.
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to Kansas