With a mutton-chopped Wolverine look-alike and a small player with a long last name, Northern Iowa stunned the Kansas Jayhawks and simultaneously busted millions of brackets nationwide.
According to ESPN, over 40 percent of participants in its tournament bracket challenge picked the Jayhawks to win the wildest tournament in sports. It’s not to be, though, and now each of the 16 teams remaining has a revitalized sense of confidence. It’s March and anything can happen.
So, as the Sweet 16 will take place in a few short days and more possible upsets are on the horizon, here’s a look at some teams (in order of chances of winning) which can break through the field and cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
5. Kansas State
With a guard tandem like Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente dishing and driving and combining for almost half their team’s points, Kansas State can not be counted out in the big scheme of things. Pullen has arguably had as good a tournament for a guard as any other remaining, putting up well over 20 points per contest in his team’s first two games, and it will have to continue down the stretch.
The issue for the fiery Frank Martin and his squad is if either Pullen or Clemente struggle from the field and put too much pressure on their teammates. Luckily for K-State, that has yet to happen all season long.
4. West Virginia
Bob Huggins has his Mountaineers playing with tenacity on both ends of the court. Da’Sean Butler is playing like the player everybody expected him to be; only now he is doing it with better consistency and hasn’t stepped on the brake pedal since the Big East tournament began.
One possible cause of an early West Virginia exit may come from a lack of starting games the way they finish them. Slow starts have plagued the team at various points throughout the season, and it happened during the opening weekend as well. Huggins’ bunch has potential to go to the Final Four and even to the championship game, but more slow starts could lead to a quick exit.
How can we forget about the Cameron Crazies’ own Duke Blue Devils? The ACC champions just keep chugging along behind strong leadership and good shooting—not to mention this one coach named Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K has his team rolling and is set to face a Purdue team playing inspired basketball without Robbie Hummel.
Duke’s biggest issue at this point is depth. If Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer all struggle or go cold from the field, I don’t think the Plumlee brothers down low will be enough to escape with a victory. But hey, it hasn’t happened yet, and it is promising for the boys from Durham.
Instead of putting Syracuse in the No. 2 slot, I put the team in this position because I am torn between them and another talented squad.
Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen are executing in every facet of the game, and they are doing it without forward Arinze Onuaku. Andy Rautin, Scoop Jardine and company are coming out strong and not letting up—an issue which plagues the other only Big East team remaining, West Virginia. And with Kansas knocked out, Syracuse’s odds of reaching the national championship game have suddenly skyrocketed. Wes Johnson isn’t too shabby, either.
John Calipari, regarded by many as the shadiest coach in America (but that’s another article), has his young team playing as well as anyone. As hot-shooting Cornell is next on the agenda, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are the best inside-outside duo remaining in the tourney. I put Kentucky above Syracuse based on sheer talent and what has transpired over the course of the entire season. Calipari’s players were recruited so high for a reason and it’s paying off in his first season as coach.
The one big thing on every college basketball fan’s mind regarding Kentucky revolves around the players’ ages. Wall and Cousins and Eric Bledsoe are freshman, and it is a younger team overall. As Calipari dually noted recently, it is a group of players that for the most part have not been in such a spotlight before. The NCAA tournament doesn’t compare to anything in the high school ranks, although the Wildcats have handled it pretty maturely so far. A few more wins and the team could mark its place in college lore.
So there you have it. Five programs that have ascended into the top tier of the collegiate game. Unfortunately, only one will ultimately call itself champion.