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Three Final Four Long Shots Worth Watching

Three Final Four Long Shots Worth Watching

Picking “upsets” is a bit of a fool’s errand when relying solely on analytics.  Analytics provide strong indications of what a team is ‘supposed’ to do.  That is a big part of how Vegas gets the lines established in the first place.  Going against those metrics requires using something many sharps are uncomfortable with; the “eye test.”  It means watching a team and getting a feel for how they match up against a different style of team.  It requires a little bit of a leap of faith.

But as nearly every March reminds us quickly, that faith (Sister Mary Jean, anyone?) is often rewarded.

Who will be this year’s Loyola of Chicago?  Or Florida Gulf Coast, George Mason, Wichita State, Butler or VCU?  And do we even deign to mention the mother of all upsets, UMBC?? (sorry UVA fans!).  There’s a new entry to the list almost every season.  Here’s three of my favorite candidates to emerge in 2019:

 

#1.  Buffalo Bulls – Sure, they are a six seed, but the highest seeded MAC team in modern tourney history would still qualify as a legit Cinderella.  They have a legit star and future pro in CJ Massinburg and own wins this season over West Virginia and Syracuse and went 16-2 in a solid MAC.  They haven’t lost since Feb 1st, 92-88 on the road against a quality Bowling Green squad.

They also have some decent tournament pedigree after last year’s first round upset of Arizona and their cast of future pros.  The draw is favorable, as neither St. John’s or Arizona State really belong in this tournament, and a potential second round game against Texas Tech is very tough, but not impossible.  Michigan and Gonzaga as the top two teams in the bracket is fairly generous as well, when compared to a Duke/Michigan State or a North Carolina/Kentucky pod.

Buffalo ranks 16th in the nation in offensive efficiency, one of the highest non-major rankings in all the country, and again, has a legit star who can get buckets when they need them.

Don’t be surprised to see the Bulls make another exciting impact in March.

 

#2.  Oregon Ducks – The #12 seeded Ducks weren’t anywhere close to the bubble before a thrilling run to win the Pac 12 Tournament.  But they were a preseason Top 15 team before they lost Bol Bol to a season-ending injury and appear to finally be putting that injury behind them and getting back to their previously highly-touted level of play.

Oregon didn’t just win the Pac 12 Tourney – the ripped through favorite Washington with a furious vengeance.  The Ducks enter the tourney on an eight-game winning streak that includes another win over Washington on the road.  They’ve won six of their eight games by double digits, including four by 20 or more points.

Dana Altman’s squad is peaking at the right time and has a pretty favorable draw.  They can beat Wisconsin in their opener, in fact they should be the Vegas betting favorite (writing this before lines come out).  In the second round, they’d face either upstart UC Irvine or Kansas State who is missing their best player.  The Sweet Sixteen is more in the Ducks grasp than any other double-digit seeded team in the field.

#3. Cincinnati Bearcats – This is my favorite team outside the top six seed lines in the entire tournament.  Not just because of the team, but also the draw.  The committee may have under-seeded the Bearcats, who looked awesome in their destruction of Houston in The American final (perhaps brackets were set before the late Sunday result?) but I am sure Cincinnati would happily take a #7 in Columbus – a near home game – versus being a #5 or #6 somewhere out West.

Cincinnati has good veteran leadership in Jarron Cumberland (18.8 ppg) and Justin Jennifer, and defends with the customary toughness that has defined the program since the Bob Huggins days.  They also have a nice opening draw with cratering Iowa.  A second-round match up with (likely) Tennessee is a tough game but is exactly the type of team Cincinnati matches up with well.  That game will be a lunch-pail special and expect a physical, bruising game.

Cincinnati has some good wins; Ole Miss, Xavier, Northern Kentucky, UCF, @Temple, @Memphis and Houston on a neutral.  Their losses are all respectable; Ohio State, @Mississippi State, @UCF, Houston twice and just one bad loss (the ECU debacle).  This is a veteran team that can defend, and unlike in year’s past, has a legitimate big-time All-American level scorer in Cumberland.

Looking too far ahead, the bracket is obviously fraught with danger; Tennessee in Round Two, but if they can survive that, the rest of the road would be a likely Villanova/Purdue winner and the top half contains mighty Virginia, but we all know their spotty tourney history over the last decade.  Of all the teams toting non-top four seeds, Cincinnati has the most value as a Final Four wager.

Good luck everyone – and get ready for the Madness!!

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