The most intriguing part of March Madness is the impending promise of upsets. The first day will feature plenty as the 2012 NCAA men’s basketball tournament gets underway today.
With as wide open a field as I can remember between the mid-level seeds, not everyone favored to go through will make it. Some schools will have their dreams of cutting down the nets dashed before the second half of their opening-round game even gets underway.
I expect this tournament to be one of the most upset-heavy brackets we have seen in some time and it all starts tonight as these teams make an early and surprising exit.
The Shockers (27-5, 16-2 MVC) come into the tournament as everyone’s Cinderella favorite. In a cruel twist of irony, the committee matched them up against last year’s mid-major darling VCU.
Wichita is here riding the back of a strong, deep and experienced side. With six contributing seniors who were all a member of the team that won the NIT last season, they know what it takes to get through this kind of single-elimination format.
Beyond the intangibles, they are also an extremely well-rounded team, with a talented point guard in Joe Ragland and a competent big man in seven foot Garrett Stutz. They can beat you inside and from deep.
However, for all the promise the Shockers have on paper, it is really the little wave of support that has been generated out of their control that works against them. A Cinderella story only works if no one expects it. With everyone from Joe Lunardi to the guy sharing your cubicle having them advancing, it is just pegged to be an upset.
The Rams also pose a threat themselves. Head coach Shaka Smart may not have the level of talent he did last year, when VCU made their run to the final four, but they are still a very well-coached side. Since the new year, they have only lost three games, none by more than six points.
At the very least it will be a close match, and those usually favor the underdogs.
Score: Wichita State 60-68 VCU
The Commodores (24-10, 10-6 SEC) are on everyone’s watch list after they upset Kentucky in the SEC Championship game. Making their third straight NCAA appearance, this is the most talented group out of the trio.
Led by the play of junior guard John Jenkins and his near 20 points per game, they had a very good year despite the 10 losses.
Their first-round matchup against Harvard pits the schools that put education before athletics. But neither will have books on their minds tonight.
Harvard qualified for the tournament for the first time in 65 years by winning the Ivy league. The Crimson, who were a regular in the top-25 team at the beginning of the season, fell off after some bad losses to Fordham, Princeton and Penn. However, those losses did not keep them down as they rebounded after each to get back on the winning track.
Vandy is favorite by way of their no. 5 seed earned because of the win over Kentucky. It was undoubtedly the biggest upset of last weekend, but the seed could actually backfire as the emotion of their last win has them stumbling out of the starting blocks tonight.
Score: Vanderbilt 51-54 Harvard
The Racers (30-1, 15-1 OVC) were the last undefeated team in the country and, besides a lone upset loss to Tennessee State, they would have been one of the most dangerous teams to run into all tournament.
Shooting nearly 50 percent as a team, Murray State makes up for their lack of size by being deadly from beyond the arc. They have three players who hit for 40% from the three.
With the fortune of having playing the first game in Louisville, being one of the most favored mid-majors coming into the tournament and playing against a Colorado State team that was 6-10 on the road. Everything lines up for them to come away with the win.
But that is the exact reason why it will not happen.
Upsets are great in this tournament because they always seem to be on a massive scale. Just as everything seems ideal for the favorites, those strengths turn into weaknesses when bravado becomes arrogance.
The Rams are coming off winning a tough Mountain West Conference. Though their road record is not that impressive, they also play in the most difficult conference to travel, experiencing different conditions everywhere they go.
It just has all the makings for the kind of shocked expression plastering the Murray State players that become the iconic images of the month.
Score: Murray State 69-72 Colorado State
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