These five can come on strong from the outside
Today's lecture will attempt to show why not to pick the chalk in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Chalk is good if you are playing pool. It also comes in handy when you are teaching a lecture; funny that today's lecture will attempt to show why not to pick the chalk in this year's NCAA Tournament.
UConn has the best overall talent, but now that my esteemed colleague, Andy Katz, has ended the Huskies' chances of a national title by picking them to win it, we've cleared the biggest hurdle to a non-top seed winning it all. The other top seeds? Very good, but beatable -- exactly what we like to see.
(Texas fans, rest easy. You're not mentioned below because you were, in essence, considered the fifth top seed all season -- too chalky for me.)
Without further ado, here are five non-top seeds that could be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis on April 3:
For the 99 percent of you who don't have a premium sports package on dish or digital cable, there's a pretty good chance you have missed seeing the Bruins play all season. If so, you've missed out on one of the bigger success stories of the season. In his third year in Westwood, Ben Howland successfully has integrated his hard-nosed defensive approach into a team with a good amount of individual offensive talent. The result was Pac-10 regular-season and tournament titles, despite a slew of injuries that would have felled lesser teams.
With any quasi-dark horse, the pick is reliant upon a combination of skill, location and draw. The Bruins are in the top 13 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored/allowed per possession) and also are in the top 20 in effective field goal percentage (accounting for 3-pointers). UCLA also will have about as home-friendly a path as there is in this year's Dance, playing in San Diego and then, if it makes the regional, in the Bay Area. Additionally, there aren't a lot of huge threats in the Bruins' half of the Oakland region and Memphis is probably the shakiest of the top seeds on paper.
With all the buzz over Tennessee and Florida in the SEC East this season, it was pretty easy to overlook the fact that the overall league champ (by two games) came from the West division. LSU slipped way under the national radar because of five nonconference losses, but those were by a total of 11 points to Ohio State, UConn, Northern Iowa, Cincinnati (with Armein Kirkland) and Houston.
The two big concerns are the health of redshirt freshman stud Tyrus Thomas, who should be OK to go after sitting out the SEC Tournament with a foot problem, and the possible residual impact of last year's awful performance against UAB (the 11th-seeded Blazers upset the sixth-seeded Tigers in the first round of the NCAA tourney). Assuming Thomas is healthy, the Tigers have two go-to guys -- inside with Glen Davis and outside with Darrel Mitchell -- and two very legitimate contributors (Tasmin Mitchell also averages 12 ppg). LSU is incredibly good on the offensive glass (ninth in the nation at 40.0 percent) and doesn't put you on the free throw line (fourth-best in the nation) -- a good combination for NCAA success.
The Tigers have a manageable first two games and definitely have the size and talent to beat Duke in a Sweet 16 game if they run into the Blue Devils.
The faces have changed, but the style of play is similar to last season's NCAA champs. The Tar Heels play at the 20th-fastest pace in the nation and run the seventh-most efficient offense, meaning you are going to have to be able to score to beat them. With freshman phenom Tyler Hansbrough leading the way, UNC also pounds opponents on the offensive glass, and has had unexpectedly good shooting from the arc (38.0 percent as a team).
The Heels got shipped out of Greensboro for the first two rounds, but would have a very favorable crowd at the MCI Center if they make it to the Sweet 16. None of their potential opponents for the first two rounds are pushovers, but you could do worse than a disappointing Michigan State as the highest of those seeds. UNC also is in the same half of the D.C. bracket as Tennessee, which started fading badly down the stretch. An Elite Eight appearance looks very reasonable; if that game is against UConn, it could be a classic.
Despite the 20-0 start last year and this season's rush in the ACC after an 0-3 conference start, I have been slow to warm up to the Eagles. I still have some questions about their team defense and they got an unlucky locational draw that forces them to go to Salt Lake City on short rest to joust with three West Coast teams. But their recent play, their efficient offense and a reasonable draw are reasons to believe.
Craig Smith is a monster inside and Jared Dudley is a terrific sidekick. The key might be how much of a contribution Tyrese Rice and Louis Hinnant can make from the perimeter.
The top seed in its region, Villanova, still has Allen Ray questions and BC is very familiar with the Cats' personnel from its Big East days. The Eagles' path to the Elite Eight, while not easy, is doable. BC might be better than any team coming out of the bottom half of the region, based on current form.
It was going to be youthful Kansas or the almost-as-youthful Gators in this spot, so I'll go with the team that won the conference tournament title in a deeper league and gets to play its first two games essentially at home.
The Gators have an incredibly efficient offense, inside and out (third-best effective field goal rate) and also get to the free throw line a ton. They have balanced scoring (five double-digit scorers), a potential X factor in Joakim Noah (huge plays down the stretch against South Carolina) and a nine-man rotation that will wear down opponents.
Given the bracket, there's also a chance Florida will be the higher seed in every game it plays in the Minneapolis region. A combination of parity and tough matchups for opponents could help the Gators.
Andy Glockner is the men's college basketball editor for ESPN.com
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