Searching For Cinderella: Three Upset Picks For The 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket

Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out here.

It's that maddening time of year where we sit and state at that magical piece of paper - the bracket - agonizing over picks for the office pool. How confident are you in sending that 4-seed all the way to the Elite Eight? You've heard that their first round opponent 13-seed X could send them packing early. Then you're faced with the worst case scenario of losing a potential Final Four pick on day one. 

Then there's the other worst case scenario. You were crazy enough to take the 12-seed from Conference Y and send them to the Sweet 16 on the heels of a pair of major upsets. Your friends can't understand how you got it in your head that the red hot 2-seed would fall in the second round after entering the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak.

Thus is the stress of filling out that all important bracket. 

Well rest assured - for now. While filling out your bracket is nowhere near an exact science, we've got a trio of teams that are more than capable of busting up a bevy of brackets, but throwing them into your Sweet 16 could ensure that yours isn't amongst the crumpled piles of paper after round one.

Belmont Bruins: 13 Seed, Southeast Region

Is a team a upset pick if everyone is looking for them to do it? It definitely loses some of it's flair to be sure, but the Bruins have been circled as a bracket buster since the moment they clinched their automatic berth to the Dance. 

The Bruins are among the most efficient offenses in the country, ranking 14th nationally with an average of .971 points per possession according to data from Synergy Sports Technology. They love to push the tempo, ranking 57th in adjusted pace at more than 69 possessions per game, relying on a massive 10-man rotation and one of the most balanced offenses in the country. Opposing defenses need to be well aware of Belmont's propensity for filling up the basket from the perimeter, boasting a team three-point shooting mark of over 38%, but they do a tremendous amount of their damage in transition. The Bruins are well coached, their guards know how to run the lanes and look for open holes near the arc while the defense is scrambling to recover. The proof is in the massive jump they see from field goal percentage on the break (56%) to adjusted field goal percentage which adds weight to made three-pointers (63.4%). This run and gun style is important if for no other reason than it is the polar opposite of their first round opponent, four-seed Wisconsin which is among the slowest teams in the country.

This is readily apparent when examining the contrast between the Badgers offense and the Bruins defense. Wisconsin plays a slow, controlled style that has resulted in the second best offensive efficiency in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, but more importantly the lowest turnover rate in Division 1. They also force among the fewest turnovers in the country. So why is this important? Because Belmont's defense has the second highest turnover rate in the country as the Bruins press and run all over the floor. You couldn't have scripted a more extreme disparity of style in a first-round meeting, but given that Belmont's affords more of a chance to disrupt the opposition, the Bruins look like a strong upset pick here.

Richmond Spiders: 12-seed, Southwest Region

One of the more underrated snubs by the Selection Committee was placing Richmond as a 12-seed after the Spiders won 27 games and an Atlantic-10 Championship. As it stands now, fifth-seeded Vanderbilt is the team really getting shortchanged as they are presented with a very unfavorable match-up in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

For starters, Richmond is an excellent three-point shooting team, connecting on nearly 40% of their shot attempts which ranks 11th in the country. While living solely by perimeter shooting is equally as capable of knocking a team out of the tournament as it is of propelling them to great heights, the Spiders are an overall efficient offensive team, showing the ability to score effectively in almost any play-type scenario.

The real potential for Richmond to be disruptive in this opening round game is the duo of Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper, a pair of outstanding players that happen to play the spots where Vanderbilt is the weakest defensively. The Commodores simply don't have anyone that can handle Harper's size and versatility as a 6-10 face up forward who is among the best shooters in the country. Trying to play him with big men Festus Ezeli or Lance Goulbourne will leave the middle susceptible to Anderson attacking off the dribble and afford Harper the chance to do the same. Furthermore, Vandy has proven to struggle the most at defending off the ball movement and pick and roll sets, these happen to be Richmond's two most efficient play-types. Vanderbilt ranked in the bottom third nationally in points allowed per possession in the pick and roll set when forced to cover the ball handler, meanwhile thanks to the dynamic nature of Anderson, the Spiders are the 10th best screen and roll team in the country.

The combination of positional strength plus a being underrated by the Selection Committee leaves Richmond as a dangerous 12-seed capable of making a run this week,

Old Dominion Monarchs: 9-seed, Southeast Region

Don't be fooled by this CAA team, the Monarchs have the potential to make a run at the Elite Eight if things fall the right way. 

Old Dominion is a tough, physical and smart team that excels at the defensive end. While they struggle defending the perimeter, few teams are better at keeping the opposition in check once the ball is inside the arc as ODU's defense allows just 42% shooting on all two-point field goals. They're at their best in the immediate area around the rim, holding opposing teams to just 37% shooting which puts the Monarchs in the top 5% nationally using the points per possession metric. This is due to the size and toughness in their frontcourt, which also minimized second chance opportunities, limiting opponents to an offensive rebound percentage of just 27.5, a top 15 ratio.

The Monarch's offense is slow but deliberate, excelling in post-up scenarios and proving to be almost as efficient in spot-up and transition settings. They aren't going to run teams out of the building, but rather grind them down in the half court offense thanks to the hard nosed play of individuals like Frank Hassell and Kent Bazemore. What's going to keep ODU in a lot of games though even on off shooting nights is the fact that they are the single best offensive rebounding team in the nation, posting an offensive rebound rate of an incredible 45.1%. This means that the Monarchs essentially grab as many offensive rebounds as their opponents grab defensive rebounds, so every other missed shot results in a second chance. You simply can't put a price on that kind of effort.

Once past Butler in the opening round  - an excellent match-up by the way - Old Dominion really has a legitimate chance to upend top seed Pittsburgh in the second round. These two teams are mirror images of one another, which you can say about a lot of teams, but the Monarchs actually have the size in the frontcourt to hang with the Panthers. If the perimeter defense can play well enough to keep Ashton Gibbs from going off then ODU's bigs are more than capable of controlling things in the paint.

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