When filling out an NCAA tournament bracket, picking top-three seeds is a safe bet in choosing the Final Four. But oftentimes winning your March Madness pool rests on which picks can make it to the tourney’s second weekend.
Here’s a look at five teams who could surprise by getting to the Sweet 16.
Oregon: The Ducks (22-7) are a projected No. 4 seed in the latest USA TODAY Sports bracketology and if that seeding stands then Oregon is technically supposed to get past first- and second-round opponents to reach the Sweet 16. But remember the No. 4 seed usually has to fend off a scrappy mid-major in the first round and a potentially underrated No. 5 seed in the second. The reason Oregon is a lock to get to get there, after surprisingly reaching the Sweet 16 last March, starts with veteran point guard Payton Pritchard (20.2 ppg, 5.4 apg), who erupted for 38 points in an overtime win at Arizona.
Wisconsin: The Badgers (20-10) are surging. They’ve won seven consecutive games to vault to the top of the Big Ten standings and are lined up to secure a No. 5 seed on Selection Sunday. Coach Greg Gard is getting this group to play great defense along with a balanced offense fueled by big man Nate Ruevers and D’Mitrik Trice. The loss of Kobe King (transfer) during the season could’ve left this team flailing. But instead it was a rallying point to help establish team identity.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes (20-10) have a national player of the year big man in Luka Garza (23.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and he’ll pose a challenge to any team a potential No. 6 seeded Iowa might face. Iowa has great help around the perimeter, too, starting with wing Joe Wieskamp and freshman sharp-shooter CJ Fredrick. Iowa has been inconsistent in a deep Big Ten but has consistently been a strong offensive team, ranking fifth in assists and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Virginia: Once a bubble team, the reigning national champion Cavaliers have started to find their stride at just the right time. Coach Tony Bennett has this team playing top-notch defense (once again leading the country in points allowed to opponents at 52.3 per game) and UVA’s pace can stifle dynamic offensive teams like it did last week in a 52-50 win over Duke. The Cavaliers (22-7) have won seven in a row, with six of them decided by three points or less. That shows this group can win tight games, which is always a strong sign heading into March Madness.
BYU: The mid-major Cougars (24-7), currently projected as a No. 6 seed, have giant-killing capability, already evidenced by a 91-78 upset of projected No. 1 seed Gonzaga. This team also played San Diego State close in November and beat Houston and UCLA in non-conference action. The reason this team is Sweet 16 good, ultimately, is because it can pour it on offensively. BYU ranks fourth in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings. The guard tandem of Jake Toolson and TJ Haws combine for close to 30 points a game. One key stat for March Madness bracket-busting: BYU ranks first nationally in three-point field goal percentage (42%).
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