NCAA Tournament 2013: Flawed Favorites That Will Exit Early

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NCAA Tournament 2013: Flawed Favorites That Will Exit Early
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The NCAA tournament and the madness that comes along with it is quickly approaching—and it might be as zany as ever this time around.

In a year that has been riddled with upsets at the top of the college basketball rankings, it is worth distinguishing which perceptive favorites have fatal flaws, and will be bounced early from the big dance as a result. Any team ranked in the top 20 could be considered a favorite, based on how topsy-turvy the season has been.

Here is a trio of squads that raise enough concerns to bet against early on in the brackets.

 

Gonzaga Bulldogs

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Currently the No. 1 ranked team in the NCAA, the Zags are suddenly on their way back to prominence. But that has been largely due to an easy schedule in the West Coast Conference.

Gonzaga doesn't quite have the level of competition to adequately prepare for the NCAA tournament. As ESPN's RPI points out, the Bulldogs have the 141st-ranked conference strength of schedule.

There is something to be said for how consistent the Bulldogs have remained with all the turmoil atop the rankings. However, this could easily be a classic case of a team that is peaking too early.

They are currently riding a 12-game winning streak entering the conference tournament. A loss there would likely cost them positioning in the tournament, while a win would heighten the expectations even more. There is additional scrutiny and pressure that would come with being a prospective No. 1 seed.

For a school that is a mid-major and typically has no expectations, being a top seed would put a target on their back, as difficult power conference opponents in Round 2 would be vying to prove that they are overrated.

Despite how incredibly well Kelly Olynyk is playing in 2012-13, the Zags don't have quite enough offensive firepower to hang with the elite teams.

 

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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Led by a powerful trio in Markel Brown, freshman Marcus Smart and guard-forward hybrid Le'Bryan Nash—who just had a career-high 28 points against TCU—the Cowboys have some serious firepower.

Due to the very volatile nature of their top three contributors, though, they can't be trusted to make a deep run in the tournament.

Smart is a stat-sheet stuffer averaging 14.6 points per game, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He is likely to have a very bright NBA future.

But he is still unpolished, and should defer to his more efficient teammates on a consistent basis rather than score the basketball—despite his rare power and athleticism as a point guard.

Having some sort of post presence is also key, and the Cowboys simply don't have that option. Sophomore forward Michael Cobbins is efficient when he gets his touches, but it doesn't happen often enough.

Oklahoma State shoots just 44.2 percent from the field as a team, including a measly 32.4 percent from three-point range. That ranks 233rd in the nation, per NCAA.com. If the Cowboys fall behind, they will have a hard time battling back against a perimeter-based upstart in the tournament.

 

Syracuse Orange

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An uninspiring performance against Big East arch-rival Georgetown resulted in the Orange's 38-game home winning streak being snapped. They weren't able to recover on the road days later at Marquette, losing 74-71.

This past weekend, Jim Boeheim's bunch couldn't find a way to pull out a home win in another conference slug fest with Louisville. Execution in the half-court has been inconsistent, and quality of shot selection has really hurt Syracuse.

One big problem is that two of the Orange's three biggest shot takers, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, are shooting 37.8 and 41.7 percent respectively from the floor.

When Carter-Williams is more of a distributor, the offense flows much better. In the Orange's seven losses, the point guard is shooting 30.3 percent on 12.7 shots per game.

In the heat of the NCAA tournament, it would be wise for the Orange to start working the ball down low even more often to C.J. Fair. Giving James Southerland more touches will also help the cause, as long as his poor performance from beyond the arc against DePaul is an aberration.

But with Carter-Williams at the controls, it is a risky proposition to bank on Syracuse's offense to run smoothly.

As stellar as Boeheim's defenses always are, any team can get hot from beyond the arc during March Madness to equal the playing field. If that happens, the Orange may find themselves in serious trouble early on.

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