To avoid a busted March Madness bracket, deciphering the bracket's enigmas will ultimately determine how everyone's NCAA tournament predictions unfold.
Upsets happen every single year, so the first step is easy, as we can fully anticipate higher-seeded schools getting knocked out. The next step is much more difficult, because finding those sneaky underdogs will keep your picks rolling.
After all, who wants their brackets busted?
No one. So, let's take a glance at some schools capable of a deep run in this year's tournament.
Belmont Bruins, West Region
Belmont is a given sleeper in the West, because the collective experience and success make the Bruins a very capable team.
Obviously, the downside is not winning a tournament game in either of the past two chances. This season, however, the Bruins have more confidence after finishing 26-6. That led to a regular-season and conference tournament championship.
Led by senior guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, Belmont can attack opponents and score effectively. Forward Trevor Noack has also had a successful year.
With the ability to score and match pace with anyone, Belmont opens against a vulnerable Arizona team that doesn't score as effectively. Defensively, Belmont isn't dominant, but it's not terrible either. The Bruins will also need to do a better job rebounding.
Facing a winnable match in Round 1 will only enhance their level of play and give them a chance to make a legitimate run.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, Midwest Region
It's quite easy to overlook Middle Tennessee, because the Blue Raiders didn't face an extensively tough schedule. On the bright side, they logged a key win over VCU at a neutral location and over Ole Miss, so the ability to match tougher teams is there.
Featuring a solid defense that only gives up an opponent shooting percentage of 39.4, the Blue Raiders also have an efficient offense to set the pace. Despite not being an explosive team, Middle Tennessee's knack for generating turnovers and capitalizing is a competitive advantage.
Taking on St. Mary's in the first four, the Blue Raiders get a Gaels' team that is sound offensively, led by Matthew Dellavedova. At the same time, though, the Gaels aren't nearly as suffocating on defense.
Winning here then pits the Blue Raiders against Memphis, who don't have any overly impressive victories on their resume.
Minnesota Golden Gophers, South Region
With so much attention regarding sleepers going to South Dakota State, also in the South Region, we can't discount the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who crushed the Jackrabbits earlier this season.
By the same token, not thinking of Minnesota as a threat is reasonable because it finished tied for No. 7 in the Big Ten standings. But it's the Big Ten, the best conference we've seen this season.
The potential of the Gophers is quite emphatic as well, as they sport major victories over Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Gophers certainly need to prove better on the road, but the defense and physical play gives them a fighting edge.
Squaring off versus UCLA in Round 1, the Bruins are better offensively but lack by comparison on defense. If there's one team that will display the depth of the Big Ten, Minnesota is it.
North Carolina State, East Region
The draw isn't appealing regarding North Carolina State. In Round 1, the Wolfpack face Temple and then likely No. 1 seed Indiana.
However, the Owls and Hoosiers have a rough road against N.C. State. For one, the Wolfpack know how to score efficiently, and when on fire, they are nearly impossible to match. Temple won't be able to keep pace and N.C. State will give Indiana problems on this end.
The incredible weakness definitely involves defense, because the Wolfpack allow a 41.8 shooting percentage and 70.1 points per game. That said, the offense-pushing teams will help hide this vulnerability.
Factor in the Hoosiers as favorites for this region, and there won't be any pressure on the Wolfpack either.
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