As the ides of March approach, college hoops junkies are reminded of memorable buzzer beaters, little engines that did and dagger performances by colorful unknowns named Arceneaux, Nash and Skinn.
From Bryce Drew's desperation three in '98 to Hampton head coach Steve Merfeld's high-kicking David Johnson carriage ride in '01 to George Mason's fairytale Final Four story last year, the underdog has certainly had its fair share of steak dinners in NCAA tournament history.
As the past suggests, Cinderella is an attention-seeking drama queen who revels in front-page ink and shredding bracket sheets – just ask any Kansas, Iowa, Michigan State, Syracuse or Oklahoma fan from a season ago, and they'd certainly agree.
For those obsessive compulsive hoops fans and aspiring bracketologists everywhere, being on the other side of a major upset is comparable to death by Chinese water torture.
Whether it's your local office pool or in the Yahoo! Tournament Pick 'Em, having a bracket full of red slashes reminiscent of a Martin Scorsese bloodbath evokes bitter feelings and makes the several hours spent researching and filling out brackets on company time that much more unproductive.
In order to prevent the bracket blues, here are seven teams that will hit a sour note.
#'s in parentheses – for Key Wins, Key Losses – denote margin of win/loss
RPI and SOS are taken from realtimerpi.com; Efficiency stats are from kenpom.com
Individual team stat ranks for games played through March 8
|Bracket Blue Notes|
|Starting Five: G-Taurean Green (13.2 PPG), G-Lee Humphrey (45.1 3PT%), F-Corey Brewer (12.6 PPG), F-Joakim Noah (12.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG), C-Al Horford (13.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG)|
|Key Wins: Ohio St (26), at Kentucky (3)|
|Key Losses: Kansas (2), at Florida St (4), at Vanderbilt (13), at LSU (10)|
|Why they tank: Joakim Noah has swatted at opposing cheerleaders and coaches in SEC play as he and his Gator teammates have prepared to defend their national title. Head coach Billy Donovan, who must have the same hair stylist as Steve Lavin, scheduled a relatively soft slate of non-conference opponents, which, when coupled with a down year in the SEC, makes Florida's gaudy 29 wins somewhat misleading. Outside of their impressive manhandling of the "Thad Five," Florida has skirted by with their cockiness and championship bling. An offensive juggernaut ranking first in field-goal percentage in the NCAA (52.8%), many pundits have already concluded they'll hoist the crystal again and be the first back-to-back champs since 1992. That won't happen. Their stale starts, proneness for turnovers (14.1 TOPG), difficulties at the charity stripe (67.7%) and general mental lapses on defense will force these Gators back into the swamp before the regional final. Not the three-seeded dark horse they were a year ago, the enormous target on their backs will have everyone aiming to turn the Gators into luggage – especially uber-athletic Arizona.
Prediction: Second Round loss to Arizona
|Starting Five: G-Levance Fields (4.5 APG), G-Antonio Graves (9.5 PPG), F-Mike Cook (10.7 PPG), F-Levon Kendall (5.5 RPG), C-Aaron Gray (14.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG)|
|Key Wins: Georgetown (5), Washington (4), at Villanova (6)|
|Key Losses: at Wisconsin (14), at Oklahoma St. (6), Georgetown (20)|
|Why they tank: Underneath their brute Big East exterior, these Panthers are all pink. As dominant as frontcourt Frankenstein Aaron Gray is, Pittsburgh is a team that is too much ying and yang. Guards Antonio Graves and Levance Fields are not much of a perimeter force, ranking 199th in the nation in three-pointers made per game with 6.2, but Graves can occasionally go off as his four bombs versus Louisville in the Big East semis proved. They are defensively sound in the half court, holding opponents to 40.7 percent shooting, but generate few turnovers (277th in TO%) and transition buckets. Finally, they are a strong paint team that draws a large number of hacks, but convert only 66.8 percent of their free throws. Considering the Panthers practically counteract their strengths and given their history of underperformance in the Big Dance – they failed to advance past the Round of 16 as a 2 or 3 seed in '02-'04 – they will be caged by the Elite 8.
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to UCLA
|Starting Five: G-Antonio Anderson (3.7 APG), G-Willie Kemp (6.5 PPG), G-Chris Douglas-Roberts (15.3 PPG), F-Robert Dozier (9.9 PPG), F-Joey Dorsey (9.5 RPG)|
|Key Wins: Kentucky (17), at Gonzaga (1)|
|Key Losses: Georgia Tech (7), at Tennessee (18), at Arizona (8)|
|Why they tank: The Tigers hardly earned their stripes in a thread-bare Conference USA. Sure they defeated conference foes by an average margin of 17 points per game, but when only one other team finished in the RPI top-100 (Houston at 86) it doesn't say much for your dominance. In fact, for a team that doesn't generate many second chances (83rd in the country in OR%), Memphis would likely be a minimum seven or eight-loss team in a BCS conference. Overflowing with athleticism, John Calipari's bunch plays sensational defense – especially interior enforcer Joey Dorsey – and can create easy conversions on the offensive end. However, because of their relatively feeble schedule, non-conference included, this is a team inflated by poor competition. They do posses the physical gifts of a top-10 team, but without learning from the rigors of the road and due to their woeful 61.6 team free-throw percentage, they are condemned to exit stage left promptly.
Prediction: Second Round loss to Creighton
|Starting Five: G-Russell Robinson (4.5 APG), G-Brandon Rush (13.8 PPG), G-Mario Chalmers (12.0 PPG), F-Julian Wright (8.0 RPG), C-Sasha Kaun (56.2 FG%)|
|Key Wins: Florida (2), Boston College (18), Texas (4)|
|Key Losses: Oral Roberts (7), at DePaul (7), at Texas Tech (5), at Texas A&M (3)|
|Why they tank: That monkey on Bill Self's back is now a 500 pound gorilla. After two underwhelming NCAA performances in which the Jayhawks were upset in Round 1 by giant killers Bucknell and Bradley in '05 and '06 respectively, Self's high flyin' bunch has a reverse reputation. The beneficiaries of a soft Big 12 schedule – they played Texas and Texas A&M only once and both at home – Kansas built up a flashy 14-2 conference record annihilating the lowlights of the Big 12. Loaded with a number of ultra-athletic players led by creative scorer Brandon Rush, the Jayhawks will have to turn up the defensive fire if they have any dreams of Atlanta – in three of their four loses, they've allowed opponents to shoot over 47 percent. Likely a Sweet 16 team, KU's lack of take-charge leadership and abhorrent 65.8 percent free-throw shooting makes them very vulnerable in tight games and will send them back to Lawrence once the competition gets tougher. Villanova, in particular, has enough firepower in super freshman Scottie Reynolds and senior forward Curtis Sumpter to scare the buckles off the Jayhawks' shoes.
Prediction: Elite 8 loss to UCLA
|North Carolina Tar Heels||28-6||1-East||3||4|
|Starting Five: G-Ty Lawson (5.5 APG), G-Wayne Ellington (12.0 PPG), F-Reyshawn Terry (9.3 PPG), F-Brandan Wright (14.8 PPG), F-Tyler Hansbrough (18.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG)|
|Key Wins: at Tennessee (14), Ohio St. (9), at Arizona (28), at Duke (6)|
|Key Losses: Gonzaga (8), at Virginia Tech (6), at Maryland (2), at Georgia Tech (7)|
|Why they march to Hotlanta: Masked crusader Tyler Hansbrough and his merry band of Heels snapped out of a late-season funk by winning the ACC tournament. After dropping four games in February, Roy Williams felt his club had lost their defensive focus largely due to his younger players "hitting a bit of a wall." Turning things around in a physical bloodbath versus archrival Duke, one Gerald Henderson nose chop helped the kids from Chapel Hill regain their intensity. Although dependent on underclassman – Terry is NC's only senior that averages more than 12 minutes per game – they are an incredibly talented squad who has played well away from the Dean Dome (6-4 road record). However, the nuisance of Hansbrough's mask appears to have drained his confidence, limiting him to 39 percent from the field in his past three games. Still an incredibly young team that isn't known for its perimeter play (234th nationally in threes made), they'll hit a Kevin Durant speed bump in East Rutherford unless the real Psycho-T reemerges.
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to Texas
|Duke Blue Devils||22-10||6-West||19||3|
|Starting Five: G-Greg Paulus (3.8:3.0 AST:TO), G-Jon Sheyer (12.3 PPG), G-DeMarcus Nelson (14.3 PPG), F-Gerald Henderson (6.8 PPG), C-Josh McRoberts (7.8 RPG)|
|Key Wins: Georgetown (9), at Gonzaga (7), at Boston College (8)|
|Key Losses: Marquette (11), Florida St (1), Maryland (8), N.C. State (5)|
|Why they tank: The devil is shivering in Durham – Duke may not see the sun rise come Monday. Without a Hill, Laettner or Reddick to count on, Coach K has had to rely on defense to compete this season. At times, they've played brilliantly, but a whopping 15.3 turnovers per game have crushed the Dukies in clutch situations. Enigmatic point guard Greg Paulus and his horrific 2:1 AST:TO ratio will have to morph into Bobby Hurley for the Blue Devils to have any chance of tasting Sweet 16. Without adequate interior depth, a consistently effective offense and experience, Dick Vitale better have a handkerchief handy when his beloved Dukies are bedeviled by Round 2.
Prediction: First Round loss to VCU
|Nevada Wolf Pack||27-4||7-South||25||124|
|Starting Five: G-Ramon Sessions (4.7 APG), G-Marcelus Kemp (18.2 PPG), G-Lyndale Burleson (1.8 PPG), F-Denis Ikovlev (50.3 FG%), F-Nick Fazekas (20.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG)|
|Key Wins: at California (6), at Gonzaga (8)|
|Key Losses: UNLV (9), at New Mexico St. (7), at Utah St (2), Utah St (2)|
|Why they tank: The loss of star guard Kyle Shiloh, the team's top perimeter defender and third leading scorer, to a torn hamstring in the WAC tournament has the Wolf Pack ready to dial Reno 911. As dangerous as Nevada is at full-strength, the open void left by the senior this late in the season is devastating for a team to adjust to – especially when you have to turn to rough-edged sophomore Lyndale Burleson. All-American center Nick Fazekas is a refined, polished big man who controls the glass and has the ability to knock down long jumpers, but he is a marginal defender. His offensive mobility stretches defenses and has allowed guards Marcelus Kemp and Ramon Sessions to drain open shots. However, a shallow bench coupled with defensive inadequacies – they rank 124th in defensive efficiency and 333rd in turnover percentage – will lead Nevada down the path of failure.
Prediction: First Round loss to Creighton
As you prepare to fill in the rest of the blanks, here are a few facts to keep in mind.
- Your best chance to knock off top seeds comes in the Final Four, where they are 19-17. They are 214-26 in the first three rounds.
- You have a 1 in 5.7 billion chance of correctly predicting every game in the NCAA Tournament.
- 69 percent of No. 1 seeds make the Elite 8, but only once has the Final Four had three No. 1 teams
- 11 times two No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four
- Never have all four No. 1 seeds advanced to college hoops' Mecca.
- No. 2 seeds are 80-4 in Round 1, but 55-29 in Round 2
- Of the 20 No. 2 seeds in the tournament since 2002, nine have been upset by a No. 7 or 10 seed in Round 2.