1) Oakland (#13, West Region): Oakland rolls into the tournament on an absolute tear. They have won 19 of their last 20 and made easy work of the Summit League competition. Now, I know what your thinking: Summit League? But the Golden Grizzlies are an explosive team. They scored 100+ points seven times this season, and they have tallied 80+ points in more than 23 games. Additionally, their schedule wasn’t a complete cake-walk. In mid-December, they lost to Michigan State by one point and beat Tennessee in Knoxville a few days later. Texas, their first round opponent, should be mindful of 6’11 center Keith Benson, who is an NBA prospect. Benson, a double-double player, has the tools to keep the Longhorn duo of Thomson and Johnson at bay. With that being said, I don’t have the guts to pick them over Texas, but someone in a bracket that rewards upsets should strongly consider the Golden Grizzlies.
2) Belmont (#13, Southeast Region): The Bruins have 5 members of their rotation who can shoot at least 39.3% from distance, and in the tourney, three-point shooting is the ultimate equalizer (see 2010 Iowa State team). Moreover, 6’9 junior Mick Hedgepeth has an inside-out game that could get Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer in early foul trouble. Another fact to take note of is that Wisconsin is not coming into the tourney with a whole lot of confidence. They have lost their last two in an ugly, ugly fashion. Ohio State took them to school with a 28-point beat-down to close the season, and Penn State held them to 33 points in the Big-10 tourney. If Belmont gets hot early from distance, Wisconsin might not have the metal to get back in the game.
3) Bucknell (#14, West Region): Bucknell has a history of being a bracket buster. In 2005 and 2006, they beat No. 3 Kansas in the first round and wiped out Arkansas as a nine-seed, respectively. They finished 13-1 in the Patriot League and steamrolled through the conference tourney. They have the favorable luck of facing Connecticut in the first round. Connecticut’s performance in the Big East tourney is what pushed them to that seed- their regular season performance did not merit them receiving that high of a seed. Furthermore, they come into the tournament tired, after going through 5 grueling games against competition from the best conference in college basketball. The tournament also highlighted how much the Huskies rely on Kemba Walker, and if Bucknell is able to contain him (easier said than done) with good help defense, then Bucknell may be able to keep up with the Huskies throughout the game and steal it at the end. Don’t forget, they’ve done it in the past!