One way to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket is to take the selection committee’s seeding at face value and make upset picks based on favorable matchups. But it’s also important to consider teams that are at their most vulnerable as March Madness begins.
While every men’s college basketball team aims to peak in March, some teams are not so fortunate — whether due to injuries or shaken team chemistry that once was flourishing. And this season amid the pandemic, some teams such as Kansas and Virginia will be regrouping after COVID-19 positive tests forced them to withdraw from their conference tournaments.
Remember, the committee hands out seeds based on games from December and January, too. Teams that were great then might have hit some bumps later in their season.
CAPSULES FOR EVERY TEAM: East | Midwest | South | West
THE UPSETS:The full list of our experts’ first-round upset picks
THE BRACKET:See the full field, create your pool and start making your picks!
Five teams you don’t want to pick on your NCAA Tournament bracket based on their downward trajectory:
The loss of senior point guard Collin Gillespie, co-Big East player of the year alongside teammate Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili, makes the preseason No. 3 Wildcats (16-6) hard to gauge at their seeding line because their season-long identity has changed right in the thick of March Madness. That was clear in an upset loss to Georgetown in the quarterfinal of the Big East tournament. Coach Jay Wright still has enough ammunition to keep this team at a contending level but ‘Nova could be ripe for an upset based on the timing of Gillespie’s season-ending MCL injury.
The Tigers (16-9) were among the top 16 teams named on the NCAA selection committee’s top-four seeds reveal in February. Then they lost five of their last seven games to close out the regular season and take a tumble in their seeding. The culprit in that skid was defense, which coughed up an average of 78 points a game in those losses. Coach Cuonzo Martin has a talented backcourt behind Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson but Missouri doesn’t shoot well from beyond the arc as a whole — ranking 254th nationally in three-point field goal percentage.
SIX MISTAKES:These seeds the selection committee got wrong on Selection Sunday
The Sooners (15-10) vaulted into the top 25 midway through the season thanks to a strong showing in the Big 12 that included wins over Kansas, Texas and West Virginia. But they finished the regular season on a low point, losing four consecutive games, including a road loss to Big 12 bottom-feeder Kansas State. Then they barely edged last-place Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament. Austin Reeves (17.7 ppg, 4.7 apg) is the go-to scorer for this team, but when he’s shooting poorly OU struggles to find offensive rhythm, especially from three-point range. Allowing second-chance points is also a weakness for coach Lon Kruger’s group, so a matchup against a great rebounding team could be bad news.
Coach Mick Cronin has done a heck of a job with this team, despite losing second-leading scorer Chris Smith to injury for the season after eight games. Cronin got the Bruins (17-9) out to an 8-0 start in the Pac-12. But UCLA has struggled with consistency and lost its last four games. One key statistic that makes this team susceptible against an up-tempo opponent: The Bruins rank 335th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo, which tracks possessions per 40 minutes. In their upset loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament, they coughed up a 16-point second-half lead after falling into a scoring lull.
The Badgers, ranked No. 7 in the preseason Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll, have lost six of their past eight games heading into March Madness, struggling to generate offense and shoot the ball at a high rate. It’s no surprise, as coach Greg Gard’s team ranks 218th nationally in points per game and 267th in field goal percentage. Wisconsin has been close against really good Big Ten teams but hasn’t been able to close out wins. Senior forward Micah Potter (12.8 ppg) has been coming off the bench to add an offensive boost, but the starters struggle to produce outside of veteran guard D’Mitrik Trice.
Follow colleges reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson