Who Has the Ingredients to Pull an Upset?

7 Feb

We are a little over five weeks away from Selection Sunday and it is never too early to look at who might be busting up your brackets in the first weekend.  It is inevitable that there will be a Norfolk State or a Lehigh on Thursday or Friday that will have people crumbling up their brackets and tossing them into the trash.  Here is a look at a handful of teams that could help prevent the annual trash can toss.

Belmont (19-4, 10-0)-The Bruins left the Atlantic Sun and into the Ohio Valley where they have challenged incumbent Murray State and has proven to be more than worthy.  Belmont has many of the upset factors that people look for; veteran leadership, they start four seniors and a junior, good guards, seniors Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson combine for over 32 points per game and Clark is the nation’s leader in three-point field goal percentage at 51.4%.  The Bruins also have something else going for them, a coach that has been at the school since 1986.  Rick Byrd is one of the most respected men in the profession and he can coach, his team has won 76 games over the last three seasons with seven regular season games remaining this season.  The Bruins should be a trendy pick should they make the field and have all the ingredients to pull off an upset.

A couple of other upset candidates hang their hat on one thing, defense.  Middle Tennessee State (20-4, 12-1) and Stephen F. Austin (18-2, 9-1) are two of the better defensive teams in the country.

The Sun Belt leading Blue Raiders were 25-5 last including a 14-2 conference record before they were stunned by Arkansas State in the first round of the Conference Tournament.  They rebounded by reaching the NIT Quarterfinals.  This season MTSU has allowed over 70 points just once, an OT loss to Akron and 58.5  on average (28th in the country) and in conference play the Blue Raiders are surrendering just over 57 points per game.  Any team that draws the Blue Raiders better be ready to work for their offense, and a low-scoring game usually means a tight game and the longer a lower seed remains within reach, the more confidence they gain.

The Southland leading Lumberjacks are a defending machine with wins over Tulsa and Oklahoma.  Stephen F. Austin is 6th in the country in field goal percentage defense holding opponents to a mere 36.7% add that to the fact that they rank 3rd in 3-point field goal defense at 26.7% and lead the country in scoring defense at 49.5 points per game.  Offensively the Lumberjacks are led by senior forward Taylor Smith whose 15.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks lead the team, his block rate ranks him 8th in the country.  Like the Middle Tennessee State, the team that draws Stephen F. Austin will likely find themselves in an offensive struggle.

Akron (18-4, 9-0)-After reaching the NCAA Tournament two years ago, the Zips missed out on a repeat by the slimmest of margins last season falling to Ohio by a point in the Mid-American final.  This year they have a 1.5 game lead over Ohio and hold the tie breaker over the Bobcats by virtue of a 14-point win over the Bobcats.  The Zips are dangerous because they score (75 points per game), rebound (38.1), distribute (15.5) and shoot well (46.6%) and are led by a couple of big men senior Zeke Marshall and junior Demetrius Treadwell.  The duo combine for 23.4 points and 14.4 rebounds per game while Marshall’s 3.57 blocks per game is 5th in the country.  Akron may not have a bona fide superstar or do things in a dominating fashion but a team as well rounded as Akron could give opponents fits.

I’m not saying these teams are guaranteed to pull off upsets over the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, just that they have some of the right elements to whip up an upset potion.

Honorable Mention:

Louisiana Tech (19-3, 10-0 in WAC)

Montana (16-4, 12-0 in Big Sky)

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