This weekeveryone is overloadedNCAA Tournament bracket tips from pundits all over the internet. Well, in March Madness's most overloaded region, here are some that could change the way you see things.
NCAA Tournament stats to know
Most eye-popping stat
No. 1 North Carolina’s rebounding. The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebound margin, at an average of 12.7 per game. The next closest team, SMU, is 3.3 behind that. UNC is also first in offensive rebound percentage (42.2) and total rebound percentage (58.3). Equally impressive is its opponents’ low OREB rate(24.8). Kennedy Meeks (24.6 defense, 16.4 offense) and Tony Bradley (18.4 defense, 19.2 offense) are downright dominanton either glass.
North Carolina’s earliest threat
No. 2 Kentucky.Texas Southern, Arkansas, Seton Hall, Butler and Minnesota can all forget about the Elite Eight right now with the Heels’ having no real Achilles’ against them. CBS wants the two bluebloods (not be confused with CBS’ actual Blue Bloods) to meet in the geographically convenient regional final in Memphis, and it shall receive.
The Wildcats can compete with UNC on the glass as they are No. 9 in rebounding. They also boast the No. 5 scoring offense (86.1 points per game that trumps the Heels’ 12th-ranked output (84.9). The Heels’ scoring defense ranks No. 129 (70.6 points allowed per game), but the Wildcats are even worse at No. 167 (71.8 points allowed per game). The difference then in an exciting high-scoring affair may come down to the pace, or average possessions over 40 minutes. Kentucky 14th-fastest at 74.9; North Carolina is No. 59 at 72.2.
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Final Four sleeper
No. 6 Cincinnati. The Bearcats make the cut because they open with a shaky play-in game winner (Kansas State and Wake Forest) and presumably get a defensively suspect UCLA team in the second round (more on that later). They also built a terrific No. 12 RPI out of the AAC, third in the region behind Kentucky at No. 4 and North Carolina at No. 5. Cincinnati has the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense (60.5 points per game allowed) and No. 7 field-goal percentage defense (38.1). It also tied for No. 17 in blocked shots (5.2 per game) and No. 31 in steals (7.5 per game).
The Bearcats are No. 21 in offensive efficiency, but that’s only fourth in the region behind UCLA, North Carolina and Kentucky. Mick Cronin’s defense will keep his team in games, and a little more effectiveness from the 3-point and free-throw lines, can take Cincinnati muchdeeper than expected.
First-round upset alert
No. 12 Middle Tennessee State over No. 5 Minnesota. Minnesota was seeded right in line with its RPI of 20, but MTSU wasn’t far behind with its work in Conference USA, sandwiched right between two other Big Ten teams, Maryland and Wisconsin, at 35. The Blue Raiders (No. 33) have a big edge in offensive efficiency over the Gophers (No. 168), 112.5 to 104.5. Middle Tennessee also was No. 38 in rebound margin, while Minnesota was No. 145. The teamsare evenly matched in the standard offensive and defensive percentages. Look for Middle Tennessee, with one of the most deliberate paces in Division I, (tied for No. 333. at 66.4 possessions per 40 minutes), to shorten the game and further put the matchup in its favor. Last year's darlings are primed to upset a Big 10 team once again.
Most overrated seed
No. 3 UCLA.Led by freshman sensation Lonzo Ball, the Bruins dominated across the board offensively. They were No. 1 in the nation in efficiency, with an elite 120.7 rating, and were also first with a 61.7true shooting percentage(taking into account threes and free throws). Their pace wastied with Kentucky(74.8) for thefastest among teams in the tournament field. All that said, it’s well documented how much the Bruins'defense hasstruggled, as they were No. 223 in efficiency (100.6) and No. 256 in average points per game allowed (75.3).
UCLA is right there with North Carolina and Kentucky as college basketball royalty, but Steve Alford's team isin trouble against two teams who can score with them and defend much better. Given what you now know about Cincinnati’s defense, its potential to contain Ball and create a grinding test makes for a great second-round storyline.