March Madness 2021: Safe Picks, Predictions for Riskiest Teams in NCAA Bracket

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 15, 2021

March Madness 2021: Safe Picks, Predictions for Riskiest Teams in NCAA Bracket

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Alabama Crimson Tide withstood a majority of the challenges thrown in their direction during SEC play to earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

    In a competition known for its unpredictability, the play of the Crimson Tide could be one of the safest things to bank on.

    Four of Alabama's six defeats came against teams in the field of 68, and it did not lose consecutive games all season.

    The consistency displayed by Nate Oats' program should help it make a deep run in Indianapolis along with a handful of other sides that have been in the AP Top 25 for most of the campaign.

    The Florida State Seminoles were not as consistent as Alabama in the last two weeks, but they have the experience, young talent and coaching to achieve a ton of success.

    Not all of the power-five teams in the Big Dance are as trustworthy. All you have to do is look at Florida State's conference rivals from the ACC for one of the riskiest bets.

    The Virginia Cavaliers may be the reigning national champion from two years ago, but their style of play leaves it susceptible to unexpected results, like we saw in the lone upset of a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 in 2018.

    Style of play is not the only factor that will hold back high seeds in March Madness. The Ohio State Buckeyes' inability to close out games could be one of the biggest weaknesses of any title contender.

    If that issue is not fixed, Ohio State could be one of the popular teams to fade as the tournament goes on.

Safe Pick: Alabama

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Alabama used a combination of a high-powered offense and an effective defense to claim the SEC regular-season and tournament crowns.

    The Crimson Tide rank in a tie for 27th in points per game with 79.6. They shoot 43.1 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three-point range.

    Alabama's offensive approach requires its players to either take three-points shots, or attack the rim. Its system discourages mid-range jump shots.

    That has led to four players averaging more than 11 points per game and three with four or more rebounds per contest.

    Since the Crimson Tide can hit defenses from plenty of angles, they are hard to slow down for 40 minutes. For example, they were down by nine to the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday and ended up winning by five points.

    Alabama allowed 28 second-half points in that contest, which was a perfect example of how effective that unit can be.

    In four of the last six games, Alabama held its opponent under 70 points. Alabama's offense has produced 70 or more points in its previous five contests.

    Alabama's defense could be the key to moving deep in the East region, as it can limit the production of the best players in its bracket, including James Bouknight of the UConn Huskies.

    Herbert Jones, who could be the Defensive Player of the Year, has the potential to lock down Bouknight and Texas' talented stable of guards to reach the Elite Eight.

    If Bama ends up in an Elite Eight showdown with the Michigan Wolverines, it could have the edge if its top defenders are healthy. Isaiah Livers is out indefinitely for the No. 1 seed.

    If Alabama perfects its style of play, it could take over Michigan in the East region and land a spot in the Final Four.

Safe Pick: Florida State

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Michigan may not have a chance to face Alabama in the Elite Eight because it could run into Florida State in the Sweet 16.

    The Seminoles could be the safest pick to reach the Elite Eight from the top half of the East region due to the all-around success they typically have on the floor.

    Florida State has a lot of depth. It has five players who average over 20 minutes per game and nine who play more than 14 minutes per contest.

    Freshman Scottie Barnes is potentially the most talented player on the roster, but its most important stars are M.J. Walker and RaiQuan Gray.

    Walker and Gray are two of the most experienced players on the roster, and they know what it takes to make a deep run in March Madness. Leonard Hamilton's squad made the Elite Eight in 2018 and the Sweet 16 in 2019.

    Even though they suffered a few losses to end ACC play, the Seminoles could be poised to rebound and at least land a spot in the second weekend of the tournament.

    Florida State can regain its form on the court through its defense, which held three tournament participants from the ACC to under 65 points.

    If the Seminoles lock down UNC-Greensboro Spartans guard Isaiah Miller, who averages 19.3 points per game, they should cruise into the second round, where they can utilize the same strategy versus McKinley Wright of the Colorado Buffaloes.

    If Florida State shuts down the star guards of its first two opponents, it could have one of the easiest opening weekends and land a marquee matchup with Michigan in the Sweet 16.

Risky Team: Virginia

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Virginia could be one of the ultimate boom-or-bust teams in men's college basketball because of its style of play.

    In some games, Virginia can explode for 70-80 points, but in others it will struggle to reach the 60-point mark.

    Typically, Tony Bennett's team uses its defense to avoid any offensive embarrassments, but it may not get away with that in the first round against the Ohio Bobcats.

    Ohio reeled off three straight 80-point performances to win the MAC tournament. Since January 23, the Bobcats crossed that threshold in eight of their nine victories.

    Virginia has not scored 80 points in a victory since a January 25 triumph over the Syracuse Orange. In fact, the Cavaliers failed to reach 70 points in five wins since then.

    The defense of the fourth-seeded team powered it through February, as it has held five teams below 60 points since February 1.

    While Virginia's defense could shut down Jason Preston and Ohio, it may not have enough to deal with the Bobcats' consistent production.

    If Ohio breaks down Virginia's defense and the Cavaliers fail to keep pace, they could be headed for a second first-round exit in their last three tournaments.

    Prediction: First-round loss to Ohio.

Risky Team: Ohio State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Ohio State likely will not lose to the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles in the first round, but the path to victory could be nervy.

    The Buckeyes' poor closing abilities were on display throughout the Big Ten tournament, where they lost to the Illinois Fighting Illini in Sunday's final.

    In the second round, Ohio State held a 12-point lead over the Minnesota Golden Gophers with 1:38 remaining. The Buckeyes let the Gophers get within one point with 15 seconds to go before closing out the win.

    On Friday, the Buckeyes were taken to overtime by the Purdue Boilermakers after holding a nine-point lead with five minutes left.

    Chris Holtmann's team even let the Michigan Wolverines sneak back into Saturday's semifinal despite holding an 11-point advantage at the 3:19 mark of the second half.

    If the Buckeyes continue to struggle in late-game situations, they could be caught out early in the tournament.

    Even if they survive the first weekend, they may not last longer than the Sweet 16 since the Arkansas Razorbacks have been a more consistent side in the SEC.

    Arkansas carries one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, and it could flip a deficit into a lead quickly to take advantage of Ohio State's weakness.

    The Razorbacks have nine wins in their last 10 games and only two of those games were won by five points or less. Ohio State suffered six of its nine defeats by the same margin.

    Prediction: Ohio State drops out in the Sweet 16.


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