March Madness 2013 Bracket Predictions: Overhyped Cinderellas You Must Avoid

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2013

Feb 26, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA;  Led by Minnesota Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe (32) the bench cheers during the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Williams Arena.  The Gophers defeated number one ranked Hoosiers 77-73.  Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NCAA tournament brackets have technically been out since Sunday. Other than the “First Four” matchups, everything is set in stone and 96 hours should be more than enough time to fill out something that ultimately takes 10 minutes.

However, as anyone who has ever filled out a bracket in the history of everdom will tell you, nothing ever gets resolved until the very last minute. 

Sure, you’ve filled out somewhere between one and 512 brackets between the various websites offering games—but your “real” bracket never gets submitted until seconds before the deadline. And by then you’re just happy it’s all over. You wipe the sweat off your brow, take a deep breath and wish to the bracket overlords that yours could be that million-dollar bracket. 

What’s strange is that those last-minute decisions almost never involve the most important decision of your bracket—who will win the national championship. What continually vexes bracket-filler-outers are the upsets, particularly in the Round of 64. Taking a double-digit seed always comes with an inherent risk, one that could submarine your entire bracket if it fails to come forth.

That’s why it’s just as important to know who not to pick as it is who to pick. With that in mind, here are a few underdogs you should avoid at all costs. 

South: No. 12 Akron Zips (vs. No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth Rams)

For a team that plays in the always-overlooked Mid-American Conference (except, of course, by those who love themselves some good MACtion), Akron comes into the NCAA tournament with a high profile. The Zips were ranked inside the AP Top 25 midway through the season, have a 26-6 record and played both Oklahoma State and Creighton pretty tough early in the year.

With the classic No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup looming against another mid-major program in Virginia Commonwealth, some could be tempted to take a risk on the Zips. They fit the profile of an upset-ready team almost perfectly, and the Rams could be overvalued thanks to their own relatively weak in-conference opponents.

Do yourself a favor and just stop thinking. Akron is arguably the least-likely No. 12 seed to pull an upset in the entire tournament. 

What essentially robs the Zips of any upset chance is the alleged mistake of one star player. Point guard Alex Abreu was arrested for marijuana trafficking in early March and was suspended indefinitely by the team pending the results of his case. At the time of his dismissal, Abreu was averaging 10.3 points and six assists per game while ceding most of the credit to his surrounding stars. 

Substituted in Abreu’s place has been backup Carmelo Betancourt. 

A freshman, Betancourt did a fine job of operating the position during the Mid-American Conference tournament—but that’s all he did. He brought the ball up and added little else of substantive value. Betancourt had as many assists as turnovers in Akron’s two games (five), and added just six total points.  

Team stars Zeke Marshall and Demetrius Treadwell were able to carry the Zips to victory regardless, but they won’t be able survive without excellent ball-handling on Thursday.

Employing coach Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defenses, VCU is one of the nation’s most difficult teams to prepare for. The Rams press the ball on nearly every possession, trapping and poking at ball-handlers with relentless aggression.

Spoiler alert: VCU’s press has worked swimmingly. The team ranks first in the nation in both turnover and steal percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy. With Abreu out, look for the Rams to ramp up the pressure even higher, force turnovers and come away with an easy victory.

East: No. 13 Montana Grizzlies (vs. No. 4 Syracuse Orange)

Whenever Syracuse finds itself against a real threat this March, Jim Boeheim’s squad could be in real trouble. The Orange have one of the nation’s most inconsistent offenses against elite teams, with their 39-point performance against Georgetown in their regular-season finale still evoking feelings.

This is a team that needed James Southerland to play out of his mind to advance in the Big East tournament. Syracuse has been dead in the water as a national championship contender since midseason. Getting upended by UNLV or California in the Round of 32 remains one of the more intriguing “underdog” picks available in the East.

What isn’t remotely appealing is Montana sending the Orange packing on Thursday.

Pegged as a dominant mid-major that rampaged through their Big Sky schedule, the Grizzlies are vulnerable to a massive regression to the mean. 

Though it’s of course not perfect, one of the easiest ways to spot whether a team has underperformed or outperformed its expectation is looking at point differential. A team that wins an inordinate amount of games by close scores is not likely to keep that up over the long term. And the opposite is true, of course, as well. 

The best metric we have for incorporating expected win percentage versus actual win percentage is Ken Pomeroy’s “luck” factor. Taking a look at that, we can see that Montana is a good team in an awful conference—not an impending Cinderella waiting to strike.

The Grizzlies were the second-luckiest team in all of college basketball, giving them the highest luck rating in the Big Dance by a solid margin. Syracuse, meanwhile, produced only negligibly below expectations.

What’s more, Montana’s weaknesses play right into Syracuse’s strengths. The Grizzlies are not an incredibly active defensive team, ranking 176th in the nation in defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. They don’t force turnovers at a high rate—a major problem area for Syracuse all season—and are a minus rebounding team.

And say what you will about the Orange, but talent is there. Michael Carter-Williams could be a lottery pick, Southerland is a great shooter and C.J. Fair deserves more respect than he gets.

There are many teams that can threaten Syracuse this March—Montana just isn’t one of them. 

South: No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers (vs. No. 6 UCLA Bruins)

Much of UCLA’s tournament prognosis comes down to how much Jordan Adams’ absence will hurt the Bruins. Adams, the team’s second-leading scorer, broke a bone in his right foot during the Pac-12 tournament and will miss the remainder of the season.

The impact of Adams’ injury was immediate—both from an emotional and results sense. Teammates broke down in the locker room upon hearing the prognosis, and the Bruins went on to lose in the Pac 12 championship game to Oregon. Considering the committee weighs injuries when doing their seeding, it’s possible that Adams’ foot is the root cause of UCLA’s No. 6 seed.

Despite their worse-than-expected seeding, the committee gift-wrapped just about the best opponent possible.

In a season where the Big Ten was easily college basketball’s best conference, teams like Minnesota benefited greatly. The Gophers had only five wins against the RPI Top 50, but used victories over top-ranked teams (Indiana and Michigan State) and the third-best schedule in the nation to bolster their resume.

In the end, the committee’s decision to include Minnesota was understandable. But what it does for UCLA is give the Bruins a matchup against a team that is 5-11 in its last 16 games, one with losses to Northwestern, Nebraska and Purdue all within the calendar year.

Minnesota got in on the strength of its schedule and conference—not by how it’s played recently. The team’s only overarching calling card is offensive rebounding thanks to Trevor Mbakwe, which is something UCLA can mitigate with its top-notch size.

Nothing—not even Adams’ injury—makes Minnesota worth considering. It’s a team in a tailspin playing against one that won the Pac-12 regular-season crown and still boasts the second-best freshman in the country (Shabazz Muhammad).

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