Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Upsets…of the Non #3 Seed Variety

News flash! Picking #3 seed Xavier to go to the Elite Eight is NOT an upset or Cinderella story. Neither is picking a 10 over a 7. I’m not even sure the majority of the 6s are that much better than 11s (St. Joe’s is favored on the Vegas line over Oklahoma, for example).

Fear not though…sanctity for your last-second bracket analysis can be found here. We aren’t linking trivial national brackets, aren’t servicing the teams we love (trust me, I’m not!), or promoting picks we’ve had all season. We’re even willing to tackle some of the hardest teams to analyze: Michigan State, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Oregon and Arizona.

Pay and I are offering up a sleeper in each region. We may or may not be picking them outright. However, we’ve locked in on their potential to make deep runs (ala, the second weekend) into March Madness. In the very least, they may pull a 2007 VCU-esque run (shameless plug, I know).

Clement’s Sleepers

East Region
#7 seed Butler
-Wait, didn’t we have them rated as a #5 seed, thus no sleeper? While the committee obviously couldn’t find the wins to place the Bulldogs where we might have speculated, they’re a lethal #7 seed. Sweet Sixteen visitors last season, they return with the same five starters, and now, a chip on their shoulder. Unfortunately, USA (i.e. South Alabama) is a brutal #10 seed (in Birmingham, no less); however, if they can survive the lethal 7-10 matchup, Butler has enough athleticism and outside shooting to keep up with #2 seed Tennessee. Past that, the Bulldogs will be playing with company money and the passion to be the next Gonzaga/Kent State into the Elite Eight.

Midwest Region
#10 seed Davidson
-I could rant and rave about how they almost beat North Carolina early in the season, but then I’d be the national media. Instead, I’ll plug what really matters: Davidson finished 23-0 in the Southern Conference, played UNC/UCLA/Duke to closer-than-expected outcomes, and are home to the son of Virginia Tech’s most renowned basketball alum, Dell Curry: Stephen Curry. Gonzaga, meanwhile, will be traveling all the way from Spokane, Washington to a gym that is a stone’s throw from Davidson’s campus (well, maybe two throws). Look out in the Midwest, Davidson is also loving the NC locations.

South Region
#8 seed Mississippi State
-The majority of America has either the #1 seeds all in the Elite Eight or all in the Final Four (note: the latter has NEVER happened). If you’re looking for a legit #8/#9 upset of a #1, Memphis is your best bet. They’re nightmarish from the free-throw line, fall in love way too quickly with the three and have been shown in tournament’s past that they can run with anyone. But, can they bang and grind it out with anyone? Enter the Bulldogs, classic underachievers in the SEC Tournament (who wasn’t outside of Georgia though?), who possess everything needed to knock off the Tigers: a star player with a chip on his shoulder (Jamont Gordon), solid interior rebounding, and a coach in Rick Stansbury that is on the rise. While Memphis could run them out of the gym before the under-8 timeout in the first half, the Bulldogs might bust open a few brackets…except yours.

West Region
#12 seed Western Kentucky
-Could I honestly have a column about upsets WITHOUT mentioning a #12 seed? The answer is: no. While I personally see big things potentially for “The Drake”, the Hilltoppers (the automatic qualifier out of the Sun Belt) and NBA-ready star Courtney Lee have a tournament pedigree in their past and the ability to win the big game. Their #5 seed opponent, Drake, has a TON to prove and their #4 seed and likely opponent in Round 2 (should they progress), UConn, is extremely unpredictable in my opinion. Need something else to sway you? They’ve won 17 of 18, including that aforementioned Sun Belt Tournament. Sign me up…maybe.

Pay’s taking over later in the day…

Pay's Sleepers

East Region
- Because Indiana cannot truly hold "sleeper" status since they were ranked all season and were regularly in the public eye, I am going with no sleepers. No Mason? No Winthrop? Nope. Both are established mid-majors and absolutely no one is sleeping on them. South Alabama? Considering they play in Birmingham for their first games (where's Jim Calhoun to raise a stink?) and three SEC teams in close games, no one is sleeping on the Jaguars either. St. Joe's? Nope.

Midwest Region
# 8 seed UNLV
- Though I am picking Kent State to defeat UNLV, the Runnin' Rebels have drawn ire for receiving an undeserved #8 seed (best win: BYU twice at home) and that's just enough for UNLV, who were expected to have a rebuilding year, but have a Final Four coach in Lon Kruger and outstanding ball handlers in Curtis Terry and Wink Adams. Run-on sentences aside, teams that can handle the ball effectively have a puncher's chance against the Jayhawks.

South Region
#7 seed Miami-FL
- Considered Clement's team most likely not to make it out of the first round, the 'Canes ended the season on a sour note. Picked to go 12th in the ACC, Miami is paced by guards Jack McClinton and James Dews, yet have the bench to go 10-deep. With the sheer number of bodies who can contribute, Miami, depending on which team comes to the game, has the juice to defeat elite teams (defeated Duke in February). Once again, the factor of being largely overlooked by the national media and other coaches weighs heavily in Miami's favor. That said, St. Mary's is one tough customer with a balanced attack.

West Region
#6 seed Purdue
- Last season, Purdue surprised many by not only being competitive, but earning an at-large bid and making the Round of 32 prior to bowing out against eventual champions, Florida. This season, Purdue have exceeded expectations with a talented, young core of players that have alternated between brilliance and mediocrity. With athleticism, leadership and depth, the Boilermakers have the tools to overcome Baylor, Xavier and even Duke. If they do this, then people other than Brent Musburger will never forget who Robbie Hummel is.

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