By Oliver Mauntel
Every March, brackets are busted at the hands of overlooked teams, and many of the favorites are knocked out early. Here’s a look at who could be upset, and who is dangerous.
Auburn- The Tigers began the season immersed in the FBI scandal that shook college basketball. As a result of the scandal, assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested, and a pair of projected starters were indefinitely suspended. Through the early setbacks, Bruce Pearl has managed to do more with less this season. The Tigers have experienced one of their best seasons in program history and will be headed to the tournament for the first time since 2003. My concern is that Auburn lacks size. Their tallest starter is 6’7 Anfernee McLemore, and their leading rebounder is Dasean Murray… who is 6’3. Auburn has impressively managed to still be one of the country’s leading rebounding teams, but they would have difficulty matching up with a dominant rebounding team such as Duke or North Carolina. Auburn also tends to be find themselves in big holes early in games, which could prove to be deadly in the postseason. In SEC play, Auburn has dealt with double digit halftime deficits an astonishing 6 times.
Recap: Auburn is more than capable of making noise in the tournament, but don’t be surprised if they find themselves in a big hole early on.
Projected seed: 2
Clemson- With his job in jeopardy entering the season, Brad Brownwell has rejuvenated the Clemson basketball program. Many expected the Tigers to be playing postseason ball in the NIT, if at all. However, Clemson has chugged along, picking up a neutral-site win over Florida, a road win against Ohio State, and a home victory versus the defending champion, North Carolina. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Clemson has continued to win the games they’ve needed to win, and recently reached #11 in the AP poll. Unfortunately, their top senior Donte Grantham suffered a season ending knee injury in late January, depriving their frontcourt of reliable scoring. Since Grantham’s injury, Clemson is 4-4, averaging a measly 66 ppg. Prior to Grantham’s injury, Clemson was 16-3 and averaged 77 ppg.
Recap: I had an opportunity to go and watch Clemson (with Grantham) at Ohio State and Clemson (without Grantham) vs Duke. Clemson is a totally different team without him, and can go silent on offense at any moment. The Tigers have exceeded expectations this year, but I anticipate an early exit in March.
Projected seed: 5
Texas Tech- Chris Beard has done a remarkable job in just his second year as the Texas Tech head coach, with the Red Raiders being consistently ranked in the top 10 since the new year. Star senior Keenan Evans has carried the Red Raiders to program-altering victories at Kansas and at home against West Virginia this season. Evans is the reason why the Red Raiders are currently toe to toe with Kansas, the perennial Big 12 powerhouse. Yet Evans has no-showed in many of their conference road games (3-5 on the road), which has resulted in losses. If Evans doesn’t bring his A-game, Texas Tech is susceptible to any opponent.
Recap: Keenan Evans is the engine of this Texas Tech team, and if he doesn’t play well, their weaknesses are exposed.
Projected seed: 3
Arizona State- Although the Sun Devils have cooled off since their sizzling start, Arizona State will still be one of the most dangerous teams in the field. The ASU backcourt is arguably the quickest in the country. Although their guards are small, they can hang with any opponent. Lightning quick senior guards Shannon Evans II and Tra Holder were matchup nightmares against the likes of Xavier and Kansas. In a 102 point showing against Xavier, the two combined for 62 points. The duo also accumulated 51 of the team’s 95 in their victory at Allen Field-house.
Recap: As exhibited by their dominant victories over two of the likely no.1 seeds, Arizona State is capable of taking down any powerhouse. Hopefully for my counterpart Griffin, and maybe his future alma matter, the Sun Devils are able to do so.
Projected seed: 6
Houston- The Cougars are textbook giant killers. Houston has logged multiple big time wins, including top 10 victories over Wichita State and Cincinnati. Houston is shooting over 38% from downtown and is led by a confident scoring guard in Rob Gray. True, Houston has had letdowns when playing inferior opponents such as Drexel and Tulane, but they almost always show up for the big time games.
Recap: Rob Gray has the potential to lead Houston to an upset or two, busting brackets in the process.
Projected seed: 7
North Carolina State- The Wolfpack moved on from longtime head coach Mark Gottried and lost Dennis Smith Jr. to the NBA, but they are a much better team this year. NC State has taken down many college basketball giants so far, including Arizona, Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina. The Wolfpack lack a star player, but they don’t lack talent. Featuring a starting lineup in which 4 players average double figures in scoring, anyone can step up at any time.
Recap: Although they will probably be a high seed, NC State is a threat to any opponent in the field.
Projected seed: 11
Whether you are considered a contender or pretender, March is the time to prove you worth. Last year the Gamecocks of South Carolina showed any team can make a run to the Final Four, and we will soon if another Cinderella can do the same.