NCAA Tournament 2021: Teams with Potential to Be Bracket-Busters

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2021

NCAA Tournament 2021: Teams with Potential to Be Bracket-Busters

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Who's ready for another March of angrily tearing up your bracket before the dust settles on the first day of the NCAA tournament?

    The dreaded bracket-buster comes in many shapes and sizes.

    Sometimes a mid-major team pulls off an early upset as a double-digit seed.

    Other times, a major conference team gets hot to reach the Sweet 16 and beyond despite being seeded outside the top four lines.

    We've highlighted seven teams that could fill the role of bracket-buster in this year's tournament, based on their projected seeds at Bracket Matrix.

    These teams are capable of winning a game they shouldn't, whether a lower-seeded team comes out on top in the first round or a higher-seeded team upsets one of the top four seeds to reach the Sweet 16.

    Let's get to it.

Connecticut Huskies

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    David Butler II/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: No. 9

    The UConn Huskies look like they could beat any team in the country.

    That's important for their inclusion in this article since sticking on the No. 9 seed line would mean facing off against a No. 1 seed in the second round.

    With future lottery pick James Bouknight back to lead the charge after missing six weeks with an elbow injury, the Huskies have been firing on all cylinders with a 6-2 record in eight games since he returned.

    Their Big East tournament run was halted in a 59-56 loss to a good Creighton team on Friday. Prior to that defeat, they had a 98-point outburst against Georgetown in the regular-season finale and a 94-60 blowout of DePaul in opening-round action tournament on Thursday.

    Gonzaga has not faced a player like Bouknight this year. Baylor appears to still be shaking off the rust from a long COVID-19 layoff. Illinois and Michigan both lost recently to a Michigan State team on the bubble.

    Those are great teams on the projected No. 1 seed line, but it's not out of the question to think UConn could give them a run for their money playing for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Moses Wright
    Moses WrightLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: No. 10

    ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright will be a handful for anyone matched up against Georgia Tech in the NCAA tournament.

    The 6'9" forward has been filling up the stat sheet all season, averaging 17.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game.

    His scoring output has ticked up to 21.1 points per game during the Yellow Jackets' seven-game winning streak, and he matched a season high with 31 points against Syracuse on Feb. 27.

    While he scored just seven points on nine shots against Miami in opening-round action of the ACC tournament, his team won 70-66 behind a trio of players in double figures, speaking to the talent around him.

    The 7-10 game doesn't qualify as much of an upset, so Georgia Tech is here because of the tough test it would pose for teams on the second-seed line.

    It would be must-see TV if Wright squares off against Luka Garza (Iowa), Herb Jones (Alabama) or E.J. Liddell (Ohio State) in second-round action.

Liberty Flames

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    Darius McGhee
    Darius McGheeL.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: No. 13

    Since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams, a No. 13 seed has upset a No. 4 seed 29 times, roughly a 20 percent success rate.

    UC Irvine did it in 2019. Marshall and Buffalo both did it in 2018.

    This time, the Liberty Flames could bust brackets as a No. 13 seed, two years after pulling off an upset as a No. 12 seed.

    The Flames have won 12 in a row and ran the table in the Atlantic Sun tournament to clinch the automatic bid, and they played a good Missouri team tough in December in a 69-60 loss on the road.

    Darius McGhee (15.6 PPG) and Elijah Cuffee (9.6 PPG) were both part of the 2019 team, so they have valuable tournament experience.

    The Flames shoot the ball well from deep (39.1 percent, seventh in Division I), and their slow pace of play can take a run-and-gun team out of its rhythm.

    Don't sleep on Liberty.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Aaron Henry
    Aaron HenryDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: No. 11

    Never count out a Tom Izzo team.

    The Michigan State Spartans laid an egg in their Big Ten conference tournament opener, losing 68-57 to a Maryland team on the bubble.

    But with wins over Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois added to the resume over their final six regular-season games, the Spartans appear to be safely in the NCAA tournament field.

    Their recent success makes them dangerous.

    A 2-7 start to Big Ten play sent them tumbling from the AP poll and out of early tournament field projections, but they clawed their way to a 9-11 finish in conference play while showcasing the ability to beat anyone when things are clicking.

    Junior wing Aaron Henry is averaging 17.8 points in the team's last eight games, and he'll also be tasked with guarding the opposing team's best player as one of the top on-ball defenders in the nation.

    He'll be the X-factor if the Spartans make a run.

Missouri Tigers

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    Dru Smith
    Dru SmithMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: No. 6

    The Missouri Tigers have a head-scratching resume.

    Their 7-6 record in Quadrant 1 games, including a nonconference win against Illinois and a 2-2 record against Alabama and Arkansas in SEC play, proves they can run with any team in the country.

    However, they stumbled to a 2-5 record to end the regular season, and after peaking at No. 10 in the AP poll, they entered the SEC tournament unranked.

    Which Missouri team will show up in the NCAA tournament?

    This team is as boom-or-bust as it gets.

    The Tigers are as likely to bow out in the first round as they are to reach the Sweet 16 with a second-round upset of a No. 3 seed.

    Proceed with caution. Missouri is a potential bracket-buster in more ways than one.

Oregon Ducks

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    Chris Duarte
    Chris DuarteJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: No. 6

    The Oregon Ducks suffered back-to-back Quadrant 3 losses to Oregon State and Washington State at home to fall to 4-3 in conference play in February.

    Since then, they've gone 11-2.

    The Ducks have the Pac-12 Player of the Year in senior guard Chris Duarte (16.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG) and a second go-to option in senior forward Eugene Omoruyi (16.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG).

    Those two are part of a seven-man rotation made up of four seniors, two juniors and one sophomore, an experienced group that won't be intimidated by the bright lights of March Madness.

    They are an efficient offensive unit that shoots the ball well from deep (37.9 percent) and does a good job of protecting the basketball.

    With five players who stand 6'6" or taller in their rotation, the Ducks can create matchup problems for an undersized opponent, a factor worth keeping an eye on when considering their tournament path.

    A trip to the Sweet 16 is well within reach.

Winthrop Eagles

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    Chandler Vaudrin
    Chandler VaudrinNell Redmond/Associated Press

    Projected Seed: No. 12

    There's a lot to like about a Winthrop Eagles team that enters the NCAA tournament with a 23-1 record and won its three games in the Big South tournament by a combined 77 points.

    Senior star Chandler Vaudrin is at the top of the list.

    The Big South Player of the Year has a chance to make a Wally Szczerbiak-type impact, though it will come in the form of a more well-rounded offensive game as opposed to a gaudy scoring total.

    The 6'7" forward is averaging 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game, making him one of three players at the Division I level this year averaging 12-6-6. He is also the only player with three triple-doubles.

    Including Vaudrin, four Winthrop players average at least 10 points per game, and the rotation goes 11 deep, which could keep the Eagles from getting run out of the gym by a more athletic opponent.

    This team is more than a gaudy record from a mid-major conference.