Bracket Busters: Three lower seeds that can ruin your brackets
For me, the best part of the NCAA Tournament is trying to pick upsets in the Round of 64. Each season I have a few teams I like heading selection Sunday and then once the games are announced I pour over the numbers and matchups to see where the possible upsets could occur. I think I have come up with three lower seeds that have a good chance to win one or two games in the tournament. Below are the three big upsets I’m taking in the Round of 64:
Montana Grizzlies (25-6)
Seed: 13 – East Regional
Round of 64 Opponent: Wisconsin
I’ve had a chance to see Montana play a few times this year and this is a tough team led by PG Will Cherry. Cherry epitomizes the Grizzlies’ gritty style of play. He’s Montana’s leading scorer at 16.1 ppg and Cherry was also named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year. The latter is important in the matchup with Wisconsin because if Cherry can contain Jordan Taylor, Montana’s chances for an upset increase greatly.
Wisconsin is once again a strong defensive team but Montana shoots the ball extremely well. The Grizzlies hit 37 percent from 3-point range as a team and four of their starters shoot higher than that percentage. Montana doesn’t attempt a lot of threes but they do a good job of spreading the floor and taking advantage of open opportunities from beyond the arc.
Montana isn’t a deep team. Cherry, G Kareem Jamar (13.8 ppg) and F Mathias Ward (11.1 ppg) account for close to 54 percent of the Grizzlies field goal attempts. If one of those three gets into foul trouble Montana will lose a lot of its offense and against Wisconsin that could spell doom. The Badgers like to play a rugged style so how the game is officiated will be a key factor considering Montana’s lack of depth.
Defensively, Montana uses a very effective 1-2-2 zone. They get out and defend the 3-point shot well. The Grizzlies will need to do that effectively against Wisconsin. When the Badgers are hitting their long range shots they’re tough to beat because of their deliberate style of play. However, I think Montana really matches up well in this game. With Cherry defending Taylor and the Grizzlies zone not allowing many open shots from beyond the arc, Wisconsin could have one of its games where it bogs down offensively.
Montana was a team I really liked going into selection Sunday and I believe they got a very favorable draw. An athletic team that can create shots off the dribble like Memphis, for instance, would have given Montana trouble. Wisconsin isn’t that kind of team. I think Cherry is going to put his name on the map by having a big game and helping the Grizzlies pull the upset.
VCU Rams (28-6)
Seed: 12 – South Regional
Round of 64 Opponent: Wichita State
I really hate when the committee pits mid-majors against each other like this in the tournament. I think it’s a slight to the teams and the fans. While VCU vs. Wichita State is a great game I would much rather see these teams take on someone from a power conference. I liked both VCU and Wichita State to do damage in this tournament now one of them will be going home early.
In my opinion, VCU’s style is the toughest to prepare for of any team in the field. Teams practice against their style but they really don’t get a feel for how fast and swarming the Rams are defensively until they play them. This was a big reason VCU was able to make a run last year. I think teams simply weren’t prepared for that kind of frenetic pace.
VCU isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this year but I still think they can make a Sweet 16 run. The two key players for VCU are F Bradford Burgess and PG Darius Theus. Burgess leads VCU in scoring at 13.3 ppg. VCU isn’t a great 3-point shooting team but when Burgess is on from long range, VCU is a nightmare. The Rams are going to get their points off of turnovers, that’s a given. The X-factor is Burgess and others shooting well out of the halfcourt offense.
Theus is one of the most improved players in the country and he’s a huge reason why the Rams have won 17 of their last 18 games. Theus led the CAA in assists and his maturation from early in the year has helped the Rams improve offensively. Theus is also a very good on the ball defender, which will be important in this game against Wichita State PG Joe Ragland.
Everyone knows VCU presses but Wichita State doesn’t turn the ball over often and has had success against pressing teams this season. Ragland, along with Demetric Williams and Toure’ Murry, give the Shockers three capable ball handlers against the press. Wichita State also has a big size advantage with 7-0 C Garrett Stutz manning the paint.
Because of the Shockers’ ball handling and size, look for VCU’s traps and halfcourt pressure to be more effective than the fullcourt press. One thing about the Rams is they cause just as much havoc out of their halfcourt defense by slapping the ball away and getting steals. VCU ranks No. 1 nationally in steals per game (10.7) and turnover margin (plus-6.5)
VCU is one of the youngest teams in the tournament and on paper Wichita State has some distinct advantages. Still, I think VCU is playing arguably the best defense in the country right now and I believe the Rams hectic style will help get them to the Sweet 16 where they’ll eventually fall to Kentucky.
Ohio Bobcats (27-7)
Seed: 13 – Midwest Regional
Round of 64 Opponent: Michigan
The Bobcats may not be Ohio State but another team from the Buckeye State could end up being a thorn in Michigan’s side. This is a good draw for Ohio. Michigan is a team that relies a lot on the 3-point shot and Ohio has been ranked in the Top 10 most of the season in 3-point defense.
Another reason this matchup is a good one for the Bobcats is Michigan’s lack of size in the paint. Ohio has been pushed around by bigger teams this season but the Wolverines don’t have the personnel to really exploit that weakness. Ohio ranks 151st in rebounds per game and while that’s not impressive, Michigan ranks 160 spots lower at 311th. Ohio was much better grabbing offensive boards though. Ohio ranked first in the MAC in offensive rebounding at 12.7 per game.
The most attractive matchup in this game is the battle of point guards. Michigan’s Trey Burke is one of the best freshmen in the country but Ohio has a pretty good point guard in its own right with D.J. Cooper. Cooper leads Ohio in scoring (14.6) and assists (5.7). He’s one of the most underrated players in the country and you know Cooper will be looking forward to the showdown with Burke.
Copper – along with forwards Ivo Baltic and Reggie Keeley – played in the NCAA tournament two years ago when Ohio upset Georgetown. Cooper became one of the stories of the opening round that year after scoring 23 points and dishing out eight assists against the Hoyas.
This team has experience, depth and athleticism. The Bobcats are active on defense, forcing 18 turnovers a game. They also ranked second in the country by forcing a turnover on 26.7 percent of an opponent’s possessions. There is a lot to like about Ohio, especially considering Michigan doesn’t have the size down low to hurt the Bobcats. I think Ohio gets its second straight tournament upset in the Round of 64 and finds itself in the Sweet 16.
Thomas Casale covers Syracuse basketball for CBSSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @thomascasale