In last year's NCAA tournament, Lehigh defeated Duke and turned brackets upside down. Who are this year's early bracket busters?
March Madness is quickly approaching and that means it is time to start looking at the potential bracket busters of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Last year, two No. 15 seeded teams (Lehigh and Norfolk State) pulled off first-round upsets.
While the odds of that happening again is slim, there are mid-major teams that are set up for success in the tournament.
Here are five early predictions for teams that are potential bracket busters poised for a run during March Madness.
VCU made the Final Four back in 2011 and is now forever ingrained in memory as one of the most feared bracket busters.
So long as head coach Shaka Smart is at the helm of the Rams, they are a potential giant killer.
The Rams could enter into the tournament with a seed of eight or higher right now, so that could lower the view of them as a bracket buster. Nonetheless, this team is not of a major conference and is always viewed as a team built for upsets.
VCU has the highest "GK Rating" or "Giant Killer Rating" out of any team in the country with a staggering 83.6 rating. For reference, the next highest rated team is Southern Miss with 59.0. This means that the Rams should be expected to upset teams in March.
The Rams are also built on Smart's system of forcing turnovers via steals and shooting a high amount of three-pointers per game.
According to Jordan Brenner of ESPN Insider:
They come up with 7.6 more steals per 100 possessions (weighted for strength of schedule, as all further references will be) than the average Division I team. The Rams, as usual, hoist up a ton of 3-pointers (36.9 percent of their attempts), another GK indicator. And this season they have added offensive rebounding to the mix, a new wrinkle for Shaka Smart that has them grabbing 9.3 more offensive boards than the average team per 100 possessions, 12th in the country.
The combination of steals, three-point shooting and offensive rebounding poses a huge threat to opposing teams.
VCU has the foundation set to make a run in the tournament and continue the school's spree as a perennial bracket buster.
Denver is one of the nation's teams that is most reliant on three-point field goals, which also makes them extremely dangerous.
The Pioneers are a slow team that does not put up a lot of points. They are also from the weak Western Athletic Conference. Yet, Denver should not be taken lightly in the tournament.
Denver ranks 257th in points per game with just 64.1 points per game, yet they rank 15th in field-goal percentage at 48 percent.
The Pioneers earn the shots that they want to take through running the slow, but effective Princeton offense.
According to Jordan Brenner of ESPN Insider, "There's slow and then there's Denver, which produces the second-fewest possessions per game in the country. That's not really a surprise, since the Pioneers are coached by Joe Scott, a Princeton disciple.
"And given the Pioneers' use of the Princeton offense, they're also extremely trey-reliant, shooting 3-pointers on 45.1 percent of their attempts, fourth in the country."
Many deadly bracket buster teams from the non-power conferences live and die by the three in the tournament and Denver is no exception. Though, Denver has one other major perk that is important during March Madness.
The Pioneers play excellent defense with high pressure.
Brenner says about the Pioneers' defensive pressure, "They come up with steals on 15.1 percent of possessions, which is fourth in the country and a reason why the Pioneers have more than a shooter's chance if they make the field of 68."
Denver is one of those teams that is a long shot to make waves in the tournament, but if they can shoot lights out from three-point land and pressure their opponents, the Pioneers will bust brackets.
Saint Mary's will go as far as their best player and guard Matthew Dellavedova.
Dellavedova is averaging 16.1 points per game and 6.3 assists per game and has the potential to score big points in any game.
The Gaels still need some help with solidifying a spot in the big dance as they are projected as a 12-seed in Lunardi's latest bracket. But, with wins against BYU and Creighton, Saint Mary's should not be overlooked.
In the game against Creighton, Dellavedova showed what he can do in big games to lead the Gaels to victory.
According to Jay Bilas of ESPN, "Matthew Dellavedova showed against Creighton exactly why he is so highly regarded as a playmaking guard, especially using ball screens. Dellavedova has such good patience and instincts, and usually makes the right read of the situation."
Smart play from Dellavedova will lead the Gaels to success in the tournament as well as the team's three-point shooting.
According to Jordan Brenner of ESPN Insider:
Our model loves the Gaels' 3-point shooting, which not only occurs at a high volume (38.5 percent of their shots), but at an accurate rate (38.8 percent). They buffer that long-distance ability with surprising success on the offensive boards, grabbing their own rebounds on 36 percent of missed shots. Add in their slow-ish pace (two fewer possessions per 100 below average) and Saint Mary's could be poised for another strong tourney showing.
Saint Mary's slow pace and their three-point shooting threat will cause difficulties for opposing teams and makes them a potential bracket buster.
Belmont has been in this position before.
It seems like every year the Bruins are built to upset a team in the first round of the tournament, but fail to make it any farther.
This year is no different for Belmont seeing as how they are built similarly to the Belmont teams of years past.
Belmont is yet another team that lives and dies by the three and may also be the most deadly.
According to Brenner, "They play faster than average and do a poor job on the offensive glass, but they more than offset that with a 3-heavy offense (40 percent of their field-goal attempts) and by forcing tons of steals (14.1 percent of possessions, 10th in the country)."
Three-point shooting is key for the mid-major teams that hope to bust brackets and the Bruins fit the mold.
Belmont does add in the ability to force steals which will be key in the tournament.
The Bruins are also led by senior guard Ian Clark who is shooting an incredible 47.3 percent from three-point land. Clark is one of the nation's better three-point shooter who contributes to one of the most high-octane offense in the country, too.
Belmont needs to make an astonishing amount of three-pointers to stand a chance of pulling off upsets in the tournament, but they are a team that can accomplish the feat.
Saint Louis is one of the nation's hottest teams right now and currently ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll. Yet, they are still on the outside and should be viewed as a potential bracket buster due to gaining a lower seed in March.
According to John Gassaway of ESPN Insider, "This is a very good team that will almost certainly be under-seeded next month."
The Billikens will be under-seeded since they hail from the Atlantic-10, but that makes them even more dangerous as a giant killer.
This team is consistent, patient and knows how to dictate the course of the game.
According to Jay Bilas,
The Billikens have won nine games in a row, including attention-grabbers against VCU and Butler. In fact, Saint Louis beaten Butler twice, and done so in convincing fashion. Jim Crews has not changed the system much from Rick Majerus, and his team takes care of the ball with tremendous strength and resolve, stays in front of you and does not allow second shots. The Billikens also get the shot they want, not the shot you want them to take.
With nine straight wins that include wins over two good teams in Butler and VCU, Saint Louis is a major tournament threat to knockout top-seeded teams.
Saint Louis may not have a standout star player, though they do work well together as a team and get the job done through balance and all-around contributions from every player.
Gassaway also says, "SLU has been outstanding on offense while playing at the A-10's "normal" pace. Saint Louis will continue to be underestimated on offense simply because Crews' balanced rotation offers no "star" to latch onto and promote. But Cody Ellis, Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans and Mike McCall all do their bit, and as a team, the Billikens hit their 2s and get to the line."
The Billikens have been tested this season in tough games against VCU and Butler. Both of those teams were ranked which shows that Saint Louis is able to compete with every team they play against and win.
Saint Louis is on fire as of late and is without a doubt a solid top-25 team, yet they will be under-seeded in the tournament.
The Billikens are the top early team with the most potential to bust brackets in March.