Posted by Matt Norlander
Have we ever seen a set of 13s look so good? While I've argued that, come the Elite Eight, we're going see seeding hold largely to form, there exists a lot of opportunity for upsets in the first round. And no crop is riper for excitement for than the 4-vs.13 games.
The reason this exists is due to some serious mis-seeding. The biggest issue for these 13s: they have to play arguably the best crop of fours in tournament history. If you look at the fours, Kentucky and Texas hardly seem like they belong; a three for each is more appropriate. And though Louisville and Wisconsin fit the description, they get opponents who rank among the best 13s of all-time, or are facing a player who's the best on the floor. This confluence of bracket blundering sets up games with a lot of intrigue and unpredictability.
Let's look at the 13s, and just how good they are. I think the odds set up fairly well that at least one of these teams break through to the weekend.
Oakland. I mentioned the Oakland-Texas game as one of my five favorites Sunday night. The Grizzlies have Keith Benson, a future pro who isn't just a plant-him-in-the-paint big man. He can step out and shoot it. Frankly, he poses miserable matchup problems for most teams. (Texas may not figure to be one of them, however.) Benson ranks in the upper echelon in 12 tempo-free categories. There aren't 20 other players who can claim the same. Reggie Hamilton, at 5-11, is a nice outside-outside option to Benson whenever the big man roams free. Hamilton is a more-reliable shooter than Benson and also ranks in the top 35 in assist rate.
Embrace the Big Bears because they shoot it terrifically. Their effective field goal percentage is third-best in the land at 56.1 percent. They hit their twos at a 55.8-percent rate -- second best, nationally. The only teams in the field who avoid getting their shots swatted is North Carolina and Wisconsin; the Grizzlies get soup sent back on 8.6 percent of their possessions.
There argument against the Grizzlies: They don't turn teams over and they foul way, way too much. Against Texas, this is problematic, to put it kindly.
Belmont. The sexy upset pick. No matter what team the drew, the Bruins would have their cult following eager and ready to pen them into the second round. Rick Byrd's team draw Wisconsin, which is unfortunate. Belmont turns people over more efficiently than every team except one (Duquesne). You know how turns the ball over the least? Yes, Wisconsin.
But back to the Bruins. The Atlantic Sun has never had such a dominant team represent the conference in the NCAAs. The Bruins were smacking conference foes by 30-plus on a nightly basis, acting, basically, as though it was a power-conference team in low-major purgatory. The Bruins are top-10 in effective field goal percentage and top 15 in offensive rebounding. The Bruins' efficiency split between offense and defense, per 100 possessions, is 22 points! That's rather ridiculous for a low-major team. Byrd's team is so efficient because he's incredibly strict in how much playing time he distributes. No one sees more than 25 minutes per game; 11 players total average between 12 and 24.6 minutes. To do that and go 30-4 is some serious coaching ability.
The argument against the Bruins: It's more about Wisconsin than anything else. This is a tough matchup. But, that said, Wisconsin doesn't play to blow people out, meaning this one's pretty much destined to stay close/up in the air for the first 35 minutes.
Morehead State. Kenneth Faried alone makes you hesitate in taking Louisville. If Benson makes Oakland a possible upset pick, then what does Faried do? After all, Morehead State probably has the best future pro of any 13. His rebounding skills are transcedent. Louisville is in the bottom fourth of Division I in defensive rebounding. That spectacle alone -- Faried tossing Cardinals aside en route to 15-plus rebounds -- will be a great side show. Eagles guard Demonte Harper is a high-volume shooter. Notice I didn't say high-volume shot-maker. But it's one hand feeding the other, and Harper can match up with the Cards' guards.
There is an element to this game that numbers can't pick up on, as well. Many of the MSU players are all too familiar with Louisville's. These are both Kentucky-based schools, and the guys see each other often in the summers. Faried, according to people who are familiar with the pick-up games and scrimmages, dominates, as you'd expect. There's something to be said for that, and I wonder if it carries over/translates in this type of high-press game.
The argument against the Eagles: None of the 13s struggled as much in conference play as Morehead State, who went 13-5 in the Atlantic Sun. Compounding the concern, the OVC is ranked below the Ivy (Princeton), Atlantic Sun (Belmont) and Summit (Oakland). And imagine how good Morehead State would be if it didn't turn the ball over once every four possessions.
Princeton. The 25-6 Tigers are, rightfully, seen as the 13 with the slimmest chance of moving on. Part of that is the athletic mismatch against Kentucky. Still, not bad to have the always-cute Ivy team tossed into the mix here. Dan Mavraides and Doug Davis form a good backcourt, one that will be a joy to watch face up against Kentucky. There's definite throw-them-off-their-game-early capability with the Tigers' guards. You know how that can happen, and you've seen it happen with Ivy teams, Princeton teams, before.
At 64.3 possessions per game, the Tigers are on the slow side, but not that slow; Kentucky doesn't force the ball that much more.
The argument against the Tigers: They don't have the size or ability to force Kentucky into anything. The Princeton Offense will certainly be fun to watch, but Kentucky's length and speed could negate that tactic by the end of the first half. Texas may be the best of the four seeds, but his would be the biggest of upsets. The Tigers haven't played anyone near Kentucky's ilk, in terms of athletes, this season. That's a face-to-face DNA problem you can't emulate until the game tips.
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