NCAA Brackets 2013: Updated Predictions for Tourney's Most Intriguing Underdogs
Everybody loves to root for them until they shock your team.
As always, there are several intriguing underdogs in the NCAA tournament this year, ranging from balanced teams to high-scoring squads boasting legitimate stars.
As we saw with, say, Duke last year, an underdog's star can single-handedly destroy his opposition with a few flicks of his wrist.
Here's a look at some underdogs worth watching during the 2013 NCAA tournament, complete with predictions about how far they will go.
St. Mary's (No.11 Seed, Midwest)
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The St. Mary's Gaels, who made it to the Sweet 16 in 2010, are one of the most popular underdogs this year.
The Gaels play No. 6 seed Memphis in the round of 64 this year. The most intriguing thing about this matchup, for me, is the fact that Memphis ranks 155th in opponents' three-point percentage this season. Given the Gaels rank 33rd in three-point percentage, that's certainly something to watch out for.
Everybody talks about senior guard Matthew Dellavedova (and for good reason), but the Gaels have more than one deadly three-point shooter on their side. Second-leading scorer Stephen Holt and junior Jorden Page are both shooting 35 percent from downtown.
Will St. Mary's have trouble with Memphis' athleticism? Of course it will.
But the Gaels can counter that with deadly three-point shooting. Dellavedova and Holt combined for 40 points against Middle Tennessee in the first round. That included going a combined 7-of-10 from downtown. That was despite constant press from the Blue Raiders, who were a strong defensive team this season.
Call me crazy, but I think the Gaels upset the Tigers before falling to potential round of 32 opponent Michigan State.
Creighton (No. 7 Seed, Midwest)
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Creighton may have played in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, but nobody should take this team's offense lightly.
The Bluejays ranked first in field-goal percentage and third in offensive efficiency, and it all starts with a legitimate star in junior forward Doug McDermott.
The 6'8", 225-pounder averaged 23.1 points (second in the nation) and 7.5 rebounds this season. That includes shooting 56 percent from the floor and 50 percent from downtown (149 three-point attempts). He's a one-man wrecking crew at times.
There are legitimate concerns about this team's defense, but that shouldn't matter much against its round of 64 opponent, Cincinnati, which ranked 165th in offensive efficiency this season. I expect the Bluejays to soar past the Bearcats into a potential round of 32 matchup against Duke.
This is where it really gets interesting. I'm one of those "haters" who is down on Duke this year. It all starts with the Blue Devils defense for me. They ranked 114th in opponents' field-goal percentage this season.
Remember what happened to Duke last year in the NCAA tournament? They had the same kind of struggles on defense and they fell to No. 15 seed Lehigh in the round of 64.
That year, another star in C.J. McCollum torched the Blue Devils for 30 points. Who's to say the same can't happen this year, with McDermott succeeding McCollum as Duke's worst enemy?
I ultimately don't see Creighton beating Duke (Lehigh was a better defensive team last year than Creighton is this year), but I can tell you this: I expect it to get interesting.
Belmont (No. 11 Seed, West)
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Belmont is similar to Creighton in that it has a scorer in Ian Clark that it can ride.
The senior guard averaged 18.1 points this season, shooting 54 percent from the field and 46 percent from downtown, posting 26 points against Tennessee State on March 8.
Which underdog do you like the most?
Now, obviously, Tennessee State isn't a powerhouse, but watch Clark play and you know he's for real.
Another thing: round of 64 opponent Arizona rank 107th in opponents' field-goal percentage and 274th in opponents' three-point percentage this season. Belmont also compare to Lehigh's 2011-2012 squad in defensive efficiency (ranked 49th).
There are a couple of things that bother me about this matchup for Belmont, though.
One, while Arizona hasn't defended the three-ball well for much of the season, the Wildcats have been much better defending the perimeter as of late, allowing opponents to shoot just 30.8 percent from long distance. That included holding UCLA to 1-of-13 shooting from downtown on March 15.
Also, Arizona has a clear advantage on the glass that could cripple the Bruins. Arizona rank 54th in offensive rebounding rate, while Belmont rank 267th in defensive rebounding rate, despite playing in the Ohio Valley Conference.
I think those two factors will come into play in the round of 64, as Clark does everything in his power to advance the Bruins, but they ultimately fall.
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