We continue our March Madness coverage with the higher seeds. The strategy is similar to our Cinderella teams. Basically, we’ve selected one team from each high seed (5-1) that has the best chance to suffer an early setback in the tournament and when they are likely to lose.
Here we go…
The first #5 seed that will bow out of the tournament will be:
#5 VCU Rams (26-8, 12-4 A-10)-SOUTH REGION
Man, do I love watching VCU play. As far as I’m concerned, their style of play should be the preferred approach throughout college basketball. Consistent pressure by the Rams usually forces the opposing team to play at their tempo. Still, a couple things have me leery about picking the Rams in my bracket this go around.
First, the injury to sophomore guard Melvin Johnson (knee) in the A-10 semifinals is a huge blow. Johnson was the A-10’s sixth man of year, and the Rams third leading scorer. Perhaps even more important, head Shaka Smart loses an able body for his rotation. This is big for a team like VCU, who is consistently applying pressure and trying to wear down its opponents. As we saw in last year’s NCAA tournament, the Rams struggle against efficient offensive teams that excel in half court sets (Michigan dismantled them in 3rd round). Stephen F. Austin ranks in the Top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency (115.9-10th), and points per possession (1.16-9th). Not a good sign for the Rams.
- Could lose as early as: 1st round versus #12 Stephen F. Austin
- Will lose no later than: 2nd round versus #4 UCLA Bruins
The first #4 seed that will bow out of the tournament will be:
#4 San Diego State Aztecs (29-4, 16-2 MWC)-WEST REGION
I can’t recall a recent NCAA Tournament with so many outstanding #4 seeds. Three of the teams (UCLA, Michigan State, Louisville) won their conference tournament, and the other won their outright regular season conference title (SDSU). Truth be told, each of the #4 seeds has a chance to make deep runs in the NCAA tournament. However, for the sake of argument, we’re going to pick the Aztecs as the first team out.
To beat the Aztecs you are probably going to be forced to crack their 1-3-1 zone. Their stifling defense (thanks in large part to their length on the perimeter) creates havoc for any opponent they face. On the season, opponents were limited to an offensive efficiency under 90% (87.6-1st), including a dismal shooting percentage of 30% from beyond the arc. Those are tough numbers to crack for any offense. Arizona likely gets the better of them in the Sweet 16, but barely.
- Will lose no later than: Sweet 16 versus #1 Arizona Wildcats
The first #3 seed that will bow out of the tournament will be:
#3 Duke Blue Devils (26-8, 13-5 ACC)-MIDWEST REGION
The Blue Devils simply aren’t a good defensive team. Their opponents shot an average of 45.3% against them on the season (259th-nationally). More times than not, they can make up for those deficiencies with efficient offensive play (and it is efficient). Still, during postseason play teams look to attack your most glaring weakness; and for Duke it’s most certainly a propensity for softness on the defensive end of the floor.
As we saw with their loss in the ACC tournament final to Virginia, there are a couple ways to beat this Blue Devils team. First, get physical with them. The Cavaliers were able to disrupt Duke by limiting transition opportunities, which in return forced half court sets. Once you get them in the half court, get phsyical and don’t let them get comfortable. A team like Tennessee has similar defensive principles as Virginia, and is just as physical. Another way to beat the Blue Devils is to simply outscore them. Both Iowa and Michigan have the capability to accomplish that.
- Could lose as early as: 2nd round versus #11 Tennessee or #11 Iowa
- Will lose no later than: Sweet 16 versus # 2 Michigan
The first #2 seed that will bow out of the tournament will be:
#2 Wisconsin Badgers (26-7, 12-6 Big 10)-WEST REGION
For the first time in a long time, the key to the Badgers success relies on the offensive side of the ball. For years, head coach Bo Ryan preached defense, defense, and more defense. Although this motto always carried the team through successful Big Ten conference play, it never translated during tournament time (at least not consistently).
Case in point, last season’s embarrassing offensive effort versus 12th seeded Ole Miss. The team shot 25.4% in that loss, and seemed to set offensive basketball back at least a decade (it was that brutal). This weakness was no doubt identified during the off season, and the team implemented a transition friendly offense that paid immediate dividends. The team jumped from 116th nationally in offensive efficiency (104.4) and points per possession (1.04) in 2012-13, to 17th (115.2) and 13th (1.15) respectively this season.
The Badgers struggle versus quick guards who can dribble penetrate and create offensive opportunities consistently. A potential third round game against the Oregon Ducks could be the Badgers undoing. The Ducks are a more explosive offensive team and junior guard Joseph Young would be a matchup nightmare for Wisconsin. An early exit appears likely.
- Will lose as early as: 2nd Round versus #7 Oregon
The first #1 seed that will bow out of the tournament will be:
#1 Villanova Wildcats (28-4, 16-2 Big East)
Here’s a fun stat for you regarding previous #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Since 1985, #1 seeds have won the following percentage of games by round:
- 1st Round: 100% (104 wins out of 104 attempts)
- 2nd Round: 87.5% (91 wins out of 104 attempts
- Sweet 16: 81% (74 wins out of 91 attempts)
- Elite 8: 60% (45 wins out of 74 attempts)
- Final Four: 55% (25 wins out of 45 attempts)
- Championship Game: 64% (16 wins out of 25 attempts)
Last season, however, Louisville was the only #1 seed to survive past the Sweet 16 field. Gonzaga (2nd round loss to Wichita State), Kansas (Sweet 16 loss to Michigan), and Indiana (Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse) were all bounced early. I expect that trend to continue this season with Villanova.
Even though the Wildcats have eight wins versus opposing tournament teams (Delaware, Kansas, Iowa, St. Joseph’s , Xavier-2, Providence-2), it’s their regular season losses to Creighton that are worrisome. The Bluejays shot a combined 60% from the field in their two victories versus Villanova. You can certainly argue that few teams are offensively efficient as Creighton in the field of 68. Still, a potential 2nd round matchup with a hot St. Joseph’s team looks scary for head coach Jay Wright. Get past the Hawks, and a likely matchup with Iowa State appears on the horizon. Simply put, I can’t see the Wildcats advancing past the Sweet 16.
- Could lose as early as: 2nd Round versus #10 St. Joseph’s
- Will lose no later than: Sweet 16 versus #3 Iowa State