5 High-Seed Teams Most at Risk of Losing Early in 2021 Men's NCAA Tournament

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2021

5 High-Seed Teams Most at Risk of Losing Early in 2021 Men's NCAA Tournament

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    Iowa coach Fran McCaffery
    Iowa coach Fran McCafferyCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Basketball fans love covering teams getting hot at the right time, but several programs are moving in the wrong direction in the final days before the 2021 men's NCAA tournament.

    Wisconsin and Tennessee have trended poorly for a couple of weeks. Oklahoma has crashed back to reality after a brilliant stretch of wins. And both Virginia and Iowa have a couple of weaknesses that may haunt them in March Madness.

    Among the most respected programs in the nation, those teams are at the greatest risk of an early loss in the NCAA tournament.

    As of Sunday on BracketMatrix.com, all five held a No. 5 projected seed or better. The list is organized in inverse order of their placement.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    D'Mitrik Trice
    D'Mitrik TriceNam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: 5

    If D'Mitrik Trice decides to score 19 points in 2:30 more often, this would be a much different discussion. But jokes aside, Wisconsin has some serious inconsistencies.

    Micah Potter has averaged 7.1 rebounds in wins but only 4.4 in losses. Brad Davison has buried 43.9 percent of his three-point attempts in wins but just 23.8 percent in losses. It's fair to expect some difference based on the outcome, but those splits are dramatic.

    Because the Badgers prefer a slow pace324th nationally in tempo, per KenPom.comthey can hardly afford to have multiple key players with poor performances. Too often, though, that's happened.

    The season-long trends are impossible to ignore, especially if Wisconsin draws a strong defensive team in the first round.

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: 5

    After the Volunteers fell to Auburn for their sixth loss in 12 games, panic alarms may be sounding in Knoxville.

    Tennessee enjoyed a 10-1 start to the campaign but has disappointed in SEC play. Inefficient shot selection, turnovers and poor rebounding have all contributed to the frustration, along with ill-timed mistakes from an otherwise top-tier defense.

    "The fact is we're not fixing the things we keep talking about," head coach Rick Barnes said after the loss to Auburn. He specifically pointed to defensive lapses, rebounding and turnovers.

    Unless the Vols make a deep run in the SEC tournament, expectations for them in March Madness will be low.

Virginia Cavaliers

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    Ethan Hyman/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: 5

    Virginia's offense is efficient, but it's not great. The defense is usually good, but it's not the nightmarish unit of years past.

    And that combination is problematic.

    If the Cavaliers aren't defending well, the offense hasn't shown it can pick up the slack. When opponents shoot 39-plus percent from three-point range, UVA is 3-6. Otherwise, the Hoos are a perfect 12-0 and haven't surrendered a 30 percent clip.

    Even more than usual, defense is the key to Virginia's success. The first offense with a hot shooting night will likely eliminate the reigning champions from the NCAA tournament.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Austin Reaves
    Austin ReavesCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: 4

    Looking at numbers alone, you'd probably never guess Oklahoma held a top-10 ranking in February. Thanks to wins over Kansas, Texas and Alabama to close January, however, the Sooners soared from unranked in the AP poll to as high as No. 7 nationally.

    But the descent has begun.

    Consecutive losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State have put Oklahoma in the wrong kind of spotlight. The Sooners rank 184th in rebound rate, which isn't much of a surprise considering only two members of the rotation are taller than 6'7", 206th in three-point percentage and 275th in three-point defense.

    Oklahoma probably has the most impressive eight-day stretch of the season. The overall picture, though, is less appealing.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Luka Garza
    Luka GarzaCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: 3

    During a massive win against Ohio State, Iowa offered a reminder of its best-case scenario. Led by National Player of the Year front-runner Luka Garza, the Hawkeyes have championship upside and an offense capable of overwhelming nearly any competition.

    Throughout the season, though, the defense has been an issue.

    Slow rotations on the perimeter plagued the unit recently. Standout post players have regularly given the Hawkeyes fits. When the defense has allowed 80-plus points, Iowa is 1-5. The recent season-ending knee injury to Jack Nungea quality defender and good reboundermay be a concern, too.

    Again, the offense has incredible potential. Iowa has started to defend the perimeter a bit better, too.

    Still, overlooking a stretch that included two losses to Indiana and close wins over then-struggling Michigan State and Penn State is unwise. Iowa merits a side-eye, at least until the bracket is released.


    Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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