2013 NCAA Tournament Predictons: 6 Teams with Biggest Boom-or-Bust Potential
Do you have the courage to put a team that hasn't been entirely consistent through to the next round of your 2013 NCAA tournament bracket?
That might seem like a silly question given the circumstances of this year's college basketball season, but every year top-seeded teams that should give dominating performances will find a way to choke in the first two or three rounds of March Madness.
Selection Sunday will give us more insight into the matchups and teams that will square off during this year's annual March event—which teams are on upset alert and what games you should have scheduled on your upcoming programming guide.
But for now, here's a little bit of a jump-start on the tournament activities.
Upsets will happen to teams that could win the title this year, so here's a look at six championship-caliber teams that are just as likely to hoist the trophy as they are to make an unceremonious exit.
Led by championship-winning coach Tom Izzo and a nice mix of experienced and young talent, Michigan State has surprised us all this season.
From the first game of the season against Connecticut to the most recent one against Northwestern, Michigan State has shown in flashes that they have the talent to compete with any team in the country and take home a national championship.
Wins over Kansas, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan have led us to that conclusion.
Two losses to Indiana and a rough close to the season, though, have us grasping for straws as to what kind of Michigan State team will show up in the tournament.
Led by guards Keith Appling and freshman phenom-in-waiting Gary Harris, the Spartans are loaded with talent. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix provide two physical inside presences who can both alter shots and clean up the glass.
However, Appling has a tendency to disappear at times, and Harris doesn't have any tournament experience. The Spartans are only 5-6 against AP's Top 25 teams this season.
The potential is there for yet another Final Four appearance, but Izzo has his work cut out for him to both manage a team which not only hasn't been very successful in close games this season, but also doesn't have the championship pedigree of some of his other squads.
Quietly churning along in the Big 12 are the Oklahoma State Cowboys, led by one of the best freshman in the nation—combo guard Marcus Smart.
Smart is averaging 15.1 points per game and impacts his team's chances more than any other player on the roster—and that's saying something, as OSU has the potential to be one of the toughest teams to guard in the entire tournament.
Take a look at the Pokes' five best players, and there's a reason why Seth Davis thinks OSU is a true tournament sleeper:
I see the Big 12 named Marcus Smart the league's POY. Was a close call but the right one. Pokes are my tourney sleeper.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 13, 2013
Surrounding the newly-crowned Smart are guards Markel Brown, Phil Forte and Le'Bryan Nash—all three capable of taking over a game on offense in spurts. Protecting the paint is Philip Jurick and Michael Cobbins, both of whom have had nice seasons to this point and will be relied on to protect the paint in March.
However, Smart, Brown and Nash can all be ball-oriented at times, and the freshman POY struggles to hit a consistent jump shot when forced outside the paint.
If Oklahoma State gets away from what makes itself tick (good ball movement, drive-and-kicks) and faces a team that can force it outside the paint, Travis Ford's team could be going home early.
Oklahoma State takes on Baylor—a team that has beaten the Pokes and taken them to overtime—on Thursday night in the Big 12 tournament.
North Carolina State
We saw on Thursday in the ACC Tournament just how dangerous the Wolfpack can be.
Behind stars Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie and shooter Scott Wood, Mark Gottfried's team has both the blessing and the curse of being a team that underachieved during the regular season heading into March.
The negative? NC State will face a better opponent in the first round. The positive? Some will overlook what is a very dangerous team.
Against Virginia Tech in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, Brown and Howell led the Wolfpack on offense and shut down the nation's leading scorer—Virginia Tech guard Erick Green—en route to a big win in preparation for the next round of the conference finals.
We all know that the Wolfpack are talented, but are they motivated enough? Which Leslie will show up in the big dance, and does Gottfried have enough depth behind a lineup that relies heavily on its starters?
Those are big questions for a team to answer before the tournament, and questions that give way to some doubt as to whether or not North Carolina State can make a deep run.
Do they have the talent? Absolutely, but talent doesn't always reap tournament titles.
Syracuse is one of those perennial boom-or-bust teams.
Led by seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland and youngsters Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair, Syracuse has a claim to being as talented on paper as any team in the Big East—a conference loaded with talent as it is.
Behind Southerland's three-point onslaught at the Big East tournament, the Orange find themselves in the quarterfinals for a matchup against Georgetown—a team that has NBA-ready prospect Otto Porter leading the way towards March.
If there's one thing we know about Syracuse, it's that the Orange are a first-half, fast-paced team. Jim Boeheim's group thrives on starting the game hot and taking that momentum into the break, categorized by Southerland's 17 points in the first half against Pittsburgh on Thursday.
The Orange use the 2-3 zone to create opportunities in the fast break with guards Triche and Carter-Williams—both quick-footed specialists at jumping the passing lane.
However, this is a 'Cuse team that looks good on one night, then turns around and looks bad on the next. The Orange went into Kentucky and knocked off Louisville in January—a team ranked No. 1 in the AP poll at the time.
They also lost to Louisville the second time around at the Carrier Dome, and only scored 39 points against Georgetown in what should be a blueprint for teams getting a game plan together for March.
Syracuse uses its athleticism and scoring punch to make up for the fact that it doesn't have a true post threat defending the basket anymore—meaning ball movement and attacking that zone are good starts for any team's attack on the Orange.
As per usual with this team, there are high hopes for a Final Four appearance.
But don't be surprised if those hopes turn into yet another Sweet 16 or Elite Eight loss this season, especially if opponents can take advantage of poor three-point shooting in key moments and Syracuse's lack of a clear low-post threat.
Miami won a share of the ACC title with its 15-3 finish in conference play, but Duke is looming in the conference tournament, and Miami dropped three of five games heading into the ACC tournament.
The Hurricanes have the athleticism, emotion and talent to make a deep title run.
Shane Larkin, son of former MLB pro Barry Larkin, leads this team into battle every night, and his running mates (Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott) have the ability to pick up the slack when things aren't going very well.
As noted by Peter Keating of ESPN (note: "insider" access required), Jim Larranaga's team is vulnerable to the upset this March in part because of a poor rebounding rate, and because it plays more on the perimeter than inside, despite being one of the biggest teams in the nation:
They play extensively on the perimeter despite their size (effective height: +4.0, ranking ninth in Division I), and they forgo board-crashing and traditional pressure in favor of scrambling to limit opponents' shot selection, allowing just 88.7 points per 100 possessions (20th best in the country).
If you look at the rest of the season, some of the losses don't add up for Miami, either. A loss to Florida Gulf Coast in November? Another in December to Indiana State? How about recent letdowns against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech?
We've seen that Miami can be absolutely electric (the 26-point win over North Carolina being a great example). Do you trust them to complete your, bracket, though?
If you do, I'd venture to say there are just as many out there who don't.
We'll wait until the end of the ACC tournament to reevaluate the Hurricanes, but right now they are one of the easiest teams to put in this category.
Top to bottom, Kansas has all the pieces.
Bill Self has a dynamic defender and low-post threat in Jeff Withey. Guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford are both steady contributors, and the bench has contributed enough to make this team one of the deepest in the country.
Oh, and the Jayhawks might be sitting on the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft—Ben McLemore.
All that being said, the Jayhawks can also play different styles of basketball if necessary. They have Withey to bang with on the inside, the guards to run the fast break after a defensive play and the talent (not the consistency—yet) to be a good half-court team, too.
The key to the whole thing might be Johnson—specifically how he handles the ball in March.
We know Withey and McLemore are going to star—both are headed to the draft in April. Johnson, though, is notorious for taking bad shots and forcing the ball into the wrong spot at times, leading to turnovers and some of the close games the Jayhawks have played this season.
Think about this—Kansas has only lost five games this season. In those five games, Johnson has 17 turnovers to just 15 assists.
To take it a step further, Johnson has played in only five games this season in which his turnover number was one or zero. Kansas' record? 5-0. Its margin of victory? 26.4, highlighted by a 19-point victory in the opening game of the season.
If Kansas can cut down on the turnovers, they can go all the way. There's no denying that fact, and there's no other way to put it: Bill Self needs to make this team understand that the only team that can convincingly beat the Jayhawks in March is the men in the mirror.
Which Kansas team shows up? There's a championship one and one that might go home in the second or third round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Without a doubt, Kansas has the most boom-or-bust potential in this year's big dance.