The moment of truth is finally here. Another year of seniors giving four years, one-and-dones showing their worth and all in between providing entertainment, showing pride for their schools. Like Dick Vitale says, AWESOME BABY.
Here are five first-round bracket busters to keep your eye on.
#13 Winthrop Eagles over #4 Butler Bulldogs
Winthrop finally got over the hump in the Big South, after bowing out in the tournament finals the three prior seasons. The Eagles are a team that relies on hitting shots from beyond the arc, where they average over 29 points a contest on 43.6%. Lacking size, as Xavier Cook is the tallest player on the roster, standing at 6’8, he averages just over 9 rebounds a game, doing well to box-out opponents and clean up messes.
March Madness isn’t new to the Eagles, as they are making their 10th appearance, with one lone win coming back in 2007, where they beat Notre Dame by 10 before bowing out to Oregon as a #11 seed. To get the second victory in program history, they need 5’7 Keon Johnson to show why he finished 10th in scoring, and keep his 40.4% shooting going, alongside Anders Broman and his 42.8% next to Ken.
Butler has recorded its highest seeding in program history, and like Winthrop, they don’t have reliable scoring in the post, though they hold opponents to just 33.4% from behind the arc, 10% lower than the Eagles average.
Only 6% of Yahoo! brackets believe Winthrop can pull the upset here, and a hot Johnson can cause 94% of people to cry.
#12 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders over #5 Minnesota Gophers
Coming off a historic season, the Blue Raiders look to build on their March success after having beat Michigan State as a #15 seed the year prior, which was just their third win in eight appearances. Being ranked for the first time in program history, the Raiders also shattered the most wins in a year when they notched number 30 against Marshall in the Conference-USA title game. A mere three points was also the lone conference blemish on the slate, preventing a perfect C-USA season.
Reggie Upshaw, JaCorey Williams and Brandon Walters provide the rebounding and defense that propelled the school to the 14th ranked defense and defensive rebounding percentage, allowing Giddy Potts to focus on his near-16 points a contest at the guard slot.
Minnesota was a surprise themselves, as many had them pinned down in the basement of the Big-10, but Reggie Kelly had different plans, as the big man averages just under 3.5 blocks a night and helped lead the Gophers to the 15th best ranked defense in the nation, as they hope to stage off the upset.
Thanks to their 2016 run, MTSU won’t be overlooked as shown by 42% of Yahoo! brackets picking them to win, what should be, a defensive battle.
#13 Vermont Catamounts over #4 Purdue Boilermakers
For the first time in five years, the Catamounts have punched their ticket to the Big Dance looking for their second appearance in the Round of 32 (previously doing it in 2005 with an overtime win over Syracuse). Sweeping the America East Conferece with a 16-0 regular season record, before winning all three tournament games, the Catamounts haven’t lost since December 21st when they lost to, then-ranked, 13th Butler by a dozen points, running off 21 straight. In fact, only four wins in that time period were within single digits.
Coach Becker has the Catamounts playing a thought-out game, with the 337th ranked pace in the nation, patience is the key to the game. Depth is also utilized by the hopeful bracket-busters, as they go 10-deep with five players chipping in for eight or more points an outing, let by Freshman Anthony Lamb’s 12.6. Ball movement and patience aided the Catamounts to hitting 55.6% of shots inside the arc, good for 13th in the nation!
However, the biggest weakness for Vermont is the lack-of-size, as the tallest man in the 10-man rotation stands at 6-foot-8. A tough task to try to slow down Caleb Swannigan, a Wooden Award Candidate, who stands at 6’9 and averages 18.5 points/12.6 rebounds, grabbing a double-double in nearly ever game. To go with Swannigan, the Boilermakers also have Isaac Hays, a 7’2 center.
Vermont needs to control the tempo and not get flustered by the size of the Boilermakers if they wish to get their third ever tournament win. Yahoo Brackets have only 11% selecting Vermont.
#11 Rhode Island Rams over #6 Creighton Bluejays
Needing a win over Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic-10 Finals to secure a bid, the Rams took care of business and ensured they wouldn’t be biting their nails on Selection Sunday, making the Big Dance for the first time since 1999, after making the Elite 8 the year prior.
Gritty half-court defense is key for Dan Hurley’s Rams, as they rank 28th in points given up and have the 31st most efficient defense in the entire nation! Hassan Martin gives Hurley over two and a half blocks per night, while gobbling up seven rebounds, while E.C. Matthews leads the offense with 14.9 points a contest.
Creighton hit a rough spot when they lost Maurice Watson to a season ending injury 19 games in, where they racked up 18 victories to a lone blemish, finishing with a 7-8 record over the last 15. Rebounds provide trouble for the Jays, as they rank 319th in the nation, despite Justin Patton grabbing over six as a 7-foot freshman.
Rhode Island will need to muster up as much offense as they can to pull the upset here, but the Jays seemingly haven’t gotten over Watson’s injury. 40% on Yahoo! will keep their brackets alive if the Rams take the victory.
#14 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles over #3 Florida State Seminoles
Just four years ago, the Eagles captivated the nations attention, reaching the Sweet 16 as a #15 seed with upsets over Georgetown and San Diego State, before Florida put an end to the Cinderella story. On the contrary of the Sweet 16 team, the Eagles aren’t “Florida Dunk Coast”, playing at a much slower pace, they tested themselves well in the non-conference, losing to Baylor by eight and at Michigan State by a mere bucket.
Led by Brandon Goodwin’s 51.6% field goal percentage and 18.1 points, the Eagles will look to cleaning up the glass with the 27th ranked offensive rebounding nation of all Division-1 schools. The Seminoles are just as well when it comes to cleaning up on misses, ranking 26th on offensive rebounding effectiveness.
The Eagles need to emulate their 2013 side if they wish to pull an upset by controlling the tempo, however, a slower pace will be needed. FGCU fairs a little better on Yahoo with 14% selecting them to move on.