In building a bracket, and trying to preview how the teams in the Men’s NCAA Tournament will fare, a constant eye is always kept to see if the tournament committee has left any room for a Cinderella to make a grand entrance into the Big Dance with an early upset. While there are likely to be some upsets in the first couple of rounds, the big surprises will probably come in the opening rounds.
The Midwest region, oddly enough, is unlikely to be the site of the biggest shockers. While many pundits are calling for Kentucky to put an end to Wichita State’s perfect season in the round of 32, largely remembering the trouble they recently gave to Florida, there may not be as much left in their tanks as some have predicted. It is more likely that Wichita State will ride that momentum all the way to the final. No Cinderella is likely to emerge out of this region.
In the West, eight-seed Gonzaga could surprise doubters and take out Arizona in the round of 32. Maybe it is wishful thinking, just because it is cool to say the name, but many think that Sam Dower Jr. is a double-threat player who is not getting the kind of attention that his performances warrant. Underestimating him could well be the downfall of one-seed favorite Arizona. Of course, once Oklahoma has watched him take Arizona apart, they are unlikely to allow him to do the same to them. Oklahoma has a relentless scoring attack which will probably be too much for the Gonzaga defense. Dower will likely provide enough quality highlights, however, to satisfy the tournament announcers’ need to say the school name for the rest of the tournament.
In the South, once again early, New Mexico could pull an upset of two-seed Kansas in this scenario. It is not a stretch to believe this possible. These winners of the Mountain West tournament were seeded lower than most feel was appropriate, and Kansas is still worrying about the playing status of their center, Joel Embiid. With a record of 15-2 over the last couple of months, New Mexico has the type of momentum that could carry them deeper than most seven-seeds have a right to expect. This would-be Cinderella may make a strong showing early, getting into the Sweet Sixteen, but will probably leave the NCAA dance before getting any further in the tournament.
The traditional 5/12 upset this year may well go to Harvard in the East. Their win last year has set an expectation for them this time that coach, Tommy Amaker, has worked relentlessly to get them ready for. His preparation and direction has taken them to four Ivy League titles in the last seven years. Some may call it a hunch, but to many, it appears likely to find a way to get them at least as far this year. This Cinderella, however, is still likely to leave the NCAA Tournament dance early, just not in their first game.
A safe bet is that a Michigan State team which should, being honest, probably get by Delaware with little problem, will end Harvard’s run in the round of 32. While it is not particularly daring to predict four-seed Michigan State as the tournament champion, predicting them to upset big, bad Florida still qualifies the scenario as having rebel tendencies, just nothing fairy-tale worthy. The exciting upsets, as with many years, are likely to happen in the beginning of the tournament rather than at the end this year. The NCAA Tournament in preview may look like a dance for Cinderella to show up to early, but she is likely to leave the ball early as this season’s stalwarts prove their mettle in the end.
Commentary by Jim Malone