The 2016 NCAA tournament field is final, and folks are starting to fill out their brackets. Here are five dark horse Final Four contenders.
To be clear, UConn’s road is doing it no favors. As the No. 9 seed in the South Region, the Huskies have a potential date with Kansas in the second round.But it’s really, really hard to pick against UConn in March – seeing as how it hit a 3/4 –court buzzer-beater to force a fourth overtime against Cincinnati, luck seems to be on the Huskies’ side this season. And in 2014, Kevin Ollie’s squad took home the crown as a No. 7 seed, toppling the likes of Villanova, Michigan St., Florida and Kentucky along the way.
Luck, however, isn’t the only thing Connecticut has going for it. The Huskies are on a roll, winning four straight, and they seem to have found a rotation that works. Jalen Adams has taken over the point guard reigns, which has shifted Sterling Gibbs to his natural position of shooting guard.
That move has paid major dividends for UConn. It also helps to have Amida Brimah back from injury. Brimah is one of the top shot-blockers in the country, and in Connecticut’s last three wins (excluding the Cincinnati game, since it went to four overtimes), it’s surrendering a stingy 55.3 points per game. That will get it done in crunch time.
No, the Shockers haven’t played well lately. But in Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, Wichita State has the winningest career backcourt in the NCAA tournament, and it’s still ranked 12th in KenPom thanks to an outstanding point differential.
As a No. 11 seed that has to square off against Vanderbilt in the first round, the Shockers’ path isn’t easy. But it could be much worse. The top seeds in their half of the bracket: Villanova (has struggled in March in recent years); Iowa (has lost five of six games); and Miami (has lost two of its last three).
The Shockers have a higher ceiling than the vast majority of the field. If they start to realize it, look out, South Region.
Seton Hall just beat two No. 2 seeds in Xavier and Villanova in consecutive days, and it has one of the best players in the field that not many people are talking about in Isaiah Whitehead.
If you haven’t watched Whitehead yet, you’re in for a treat. The 6-foot-4 point guard does it all for the Pirates – he shoots, he drives, he defends, he gets his teammates involved and to top it all off, he’s one of the toughest players in college basketball.
Here are Whitehead’s numbers in his last seven games: 25.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 5.8 apg. Whitehead has a sound supporting cast led by Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez, and the Hall’s potential road sets up favorably. Gonzaga and Utah, who would likely be Seton Hall’s first two opponents, are good teams. They’re also very beatable teams. Watch out for the Pirates.
They’re called ‘dark horses’ for a reason – folks who read this will recall last year’s NCAA tournament, where Baylor was a No. 3 seed and lost to Georgia State.
But take a took at Baylor’s resume this season, and you’ll notice something: the Bears don’t have a bad loss. All 11 of its setbacks came against NCAA tournament teams, and the lowest seed of that group is Texas Tech, which is in the No. 8 slot in the East Region.
The No. 1 seed in Baylor’s region is Oregon. The Bears played the Ducks tough earlier this season in Eugene, taking a seven-point loss on the road. It’s tough to count on Baylor, but its overall talent and lack of blemishes makes it intriguing.
Purdue may have fallen in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, but it gave Michigan State a good battle and looked solid in doing so. As a No. 5 seed, the Boilermakers have the best big man in the Big Dance not named Jakob Poeltl in A.J. Hammons. The No. 1 seed in Purdue’s region, Virginia, plays a similar style to the Boilers.
The metrics love Purdue – it’s ranked No. 10 in KenPom and has the lowest NCAA tournament seeding of any top-10 KenPom team. Outside of juggernauts like Kansas, North Carolina and Villanova, it’s tough to find a team that has a top-25 offense and defense.
Purdue fits that mold. It needs these two things to happen: better shooting and much better point guard play. While both of those things happening is unlikely, it’s far from impossible.