NCAA Tournament 2017: Six teams you may want to re-think sending far in your bracket

NCAA Tournament 2017: Six teams you may want to re-think sending far in your bracket

BY TYLER BYRUM, @theTylerByrum

Opening night of the NCAA Tournament could have been a wake-up call for many.

And while there is still time, one should really reconsider looking at how far they have certain teams advancing in the big dance. 

For some, Wake Forest losing in the First Four to Kansas State came across as a shock.

As early returns on brackets are coming in, surprisingly No. 11 Wake Forest were many people's favorite not only to win their First Four matchup, but jump into the Round of 32 by beating No. 6 Cincinnati. 

Now whether that was mere hope of Demon Deacon fans, the allure of the ACC's strength this year, or simply that Wake Forest is a 'bigger' college basketball name than Kansas State or Cincinnati, Wake Forest was not going to make that run. 

There are other teams that fall into this situation as well, that are big names, or have injuries, that one should look at before brackets become final. Not insinuating that these teams will lose in the opening rounds, but simply that do not expect them to go far past round of 32. 


— No. 3 Oregon (Midwest, vs. No. 14 Iona)

This should come as no surprise to anyone to those that have followed college basketball throughout the conference championships. Losing one of their key starters, Chris Boucher leaves a giant hole in their lineup. The 6'10" forward, was vital at the stretch four position and the Ducks offense, he was third on the team in points (11.8 per game), second in rebounds (6.1 per game), and blocks (2.5 per game).

Although they nearly pulled out a Pac-12 Championship against Arizona in the following game, it is never easy to pull out a run following an injury. Oregon should not be a First Round exit, but with either No. 6 Creighton or No. 11 Rhode Island waiting for them in the Second Round followed by potentially No. 2 Louisville, it would be tough to pull off even at full-strength.

— No. 6 Maryland (West, vs. No. 11 Xavier)

Sorry Terps fans, but losing four out of the last six games heading into the tournament does not bode well. Although height and size is a minor issue, Maryland just simply is not built for a long tournament run. Every year though they seem to be fan favorites to make the Elite Eight or Final Four no matter where they are seeded. 

Face it, the Big Ten had a rough year this season as a conference and was not as strong overall. The Terps might not be prepared for heavyweight teams night after night. It will not stop one of the best backcourts in the NCAA with Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan Jr.  from trying though.

— No. 3 UCLA (South, vs. No. 14 Kent State)

UCLA is hyped up right now. Returning to the tournament after missing it last season and one of the most eccentric players in college basketball, Lonzo Ball, the Bruins are favorites to make a run. Partly this is because of their high powered offense that scored more than 90 points in 14 contests this year.

As everyone has learned in the past handful of seasons though, you have to have a good defense to win the tournament. Frankly, if the Bruins cannot score, then their defense will be unable to bail them out. Their potential Second Round opponent, No. 6 Cincinnati, does play defense and limits teams to only 60 points a night.


— No. 7 Michigan (Midwest, vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State)

Conference champions are easy teams to throw in for a deep NCAA tournament run because they are getting hot at the right time. For the Wolverines though their Big Ten Championship did them no favors in seeding, pulling in at a No. 7 seed. 

First up they play one of the hottest teams in the country, No. 10 Oklahoma State then potentially one of the best teams in basketball for the past several years, No. 2 Louisville. From there it gets only worse and as mentioned earlier, Big Ten teams are not as primed for long tournament runs like ACC or Big East teams.

— No. 10 Wichita State (South, vs. No. 7 Dayton)

The Shockers are another team that suffers from their placement in the bracket, which is one of the most heinous seeding faults of this tournament. First up they play No. 7 Dayton, no slouch in terms of mid-majors, followed by potentially No. 2 Kentucky, which yes everyone wants to see. After that it is then the Sweet 16 and more tough teams are on the horizon.

If by some miracle the Shockers can survive a back-to-back with Dayton and Kentucky, two of the most relentless teams in the country. Wichita State will be gassed out. This is not the same 2014 Wichita State Shockers, who I remind you, lost to Kentucky when the Wildcats were a No. 8 seed in the Second Round.

— No. 3 Baylor (East, No. 14 New Mexico State)

Heading into conference play as a contender for the national championship, the Bears have trailed off toward the end of the year. Losers of six in their past 11 games, Baylor is doing the exact opposite of what you want come tournament time. Wins against Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville, and Xavier are from a team far from what we see now.

Expect the Johnathan Motley show, who comes into the tournament averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds. If not and the ball can be distributed around then that completely changes the dynamic of this team. In the past several games Motley has taken nearly a third of the teams shots and it is a case of whether or not he is feeling it to determine if Baylor were to win.



UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable


UMBC's NCAA Tournament hopes end vs. Kansas State, but its Cinderella run was unforgettable

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — UMBC's improbable run through the NCAA Tournament was brief. The statement the Retrievers made and their place in history is forever.

For one weekend in March, the tiny commuter school from Baltimore known for its academics and championship-winning chess team captured the hearts of the college basketball world and beyond. UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 in March Madness, a victory over Virginia that made the Retrievers the ultimate Cinderella.

The fairytale came to an end Sunday night in a 50-43 loss to No. 9 Kansas State -- heartbreaking because it was a game UMBC could have won, but still satisfying because the Retrievers touched so many people by accomplishing what many thought was impossible.

"We put our name on the map. We gave hope to teams that come to the tournament with lower seeds," said senior guard K.J. Maura. "I think we gave hope to guys that are not even that tall like me. People that feel like they are underdogs in their life, I think we gave hope to everything they want to do in life."


Stephen Curry noticed the team and sent UMBC the sneakers the team wore against Kansas State. The Golden State Warriors had his Curry 5s, which are in limited release, and other swag sent to the team. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared the Retrievers "Surgeon General approved" and posted a photo of himself on Facebook wearing a sweatshirt from his alma mater.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted to UMBC guard Joe Sherburne, who claims to be Rodgers' biggest fan. And for a team addicted to the video game "Fortnite," their dreams were made when Ninja, a popular gamer who recently played against rapper Drake and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, FaceTimed with the team early Sunday.

"They play with passion, they play with heart, they play together," coach Ryan Odom said. "We do things together for one another, and obviously when you have a big win like that (over Virginia) and it's so shocking, you know, people love to see that. They love to see the upset.

"And our guys handled it with grace and understood the circumstances. They weren't pounding their chests or anything. They expected to be here and expected to compete."

When UMBC returned to the locker room following its ouster, Odom had written just one word on the whiteboard. The Retrievers needed a buzzer-beating 3 against Vermont to win their conference title and make the NCAA Tournament, but they showed up believing they could beat Virginia, and the same about Kansas State.


So Odom simply penned "Proud" on the board for his players.

"Just very proud of these kids and what they've been able to do as the representatives that they are for our university," Odom said. "Just captured our country and beyond, to be honest, from a sporting perspective and it's really, really neat to see."

Sherburne said Odom relayed stories from friends who had texted or called from outside the country to rave about UMBC. Near tears after an 0-for-9 shooting night, Sherburne found consolation in the joy UMBC brought to so many.

"From when we beat Vermont until the last two hours were the greatest time of my life," Sherburne said. "What we did, everyone in here, it's the greatest time of our lives."

Odom arrived at UMBC two years ago and inherited a team accustomed to losing. He told them he was going to get them to .500 that first year; they thought he was joking. But slowly the culture changed and the Retrievers did everything Odom told them they could accomplish.

And then some.

"When I got here, first we were a four-win team that year, and then the next year we went on to win seven games," said graduate student Jairus Lyles. "Then Coach Odom and his staff came in, we won 21 games and this year we had a tremendous season."

Odom doesn't know how far the UMBC program can grow. Those four letters are now synonymous with the biggest upset in college basketball history, but it's a long way from becoming a basketball school.

"UMBC is a unique place -- lot of high achieving kids on campus," Odom said. "We want guys that want to be great from a basketball perspective and want to play after college. But, at the same time, we want folks that are highly motivated academically that want to do great things past basketball. Because the air goes out of the ball at some point for everybody."


South Carolina cruises past Virginia in second round of women's NCAA Tournament


South Carolina cruises past Virginia in second round of women's NCAA Tournament

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley watched once more as All-American A'ja Wilson took control of a victory and whispered to an assistant, "How are we going to replace '22?'"

Fortunately for Staley, she doesn't have to find out the answer yet after Wilson, No. 22, had 25 points and 11 rebounds in her last-ever college home game to lead the Gamecocks to a fifth straight trip to the Sweet 16 with a 66-56 over No. 10 seeded Virginia in the women's NCAA Tournament's Albany Regional on Sunday night.

Wilson, the three-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, posted her 23rd double-double of the season and 53rd of her career for the Gamecocks (28-6).

"At the end of the game when I got subbed out that's when it sank in, this is my last time here," Wilson said. "My last time here in this uniform."


And the second-seeded Gamecocks needed every one of Wilson's points to push past Virginia (19-14).

Up 30-25 at the half, South Carolina opened up a 12-point lead in the third period before the Cavaliers cut it to 46-40 with 10 minutes left. Virginia still trailed just 52-47 after Dominique Toussaint's driving bucket with 6:39 to play.

That's when Doniyah Cliney hit a high-arching 3-pointer from the right corner and Wilson added two short jumpers to put the Gamecocks in front by double digits. Virginia could not respond.

Wilson came out of the game for good with 34.5 seconds left to a standing ovation from the late-night crowd. She hugged head coach Dawn Staley before standing on the sidelines and gabbing with the training staff as time ticked away.

After a quick TV interview, Wilson danced her way around the Colonial Life Arena, waving to adoring fans -- there were 10,037 for Staley's late-night pajama party -- and stopping in front of the pep band to dance some more before running to embrace her parents.

"This has been a great four years," said Wilson, whose family is about 30 minutes from campus in Hopkins. "This is my home and, hopefully, when I return, we'll have the same energy."

Wilson added three of her team's five blocks and three assists in her final game on her home court. The Gamecocks have gone 62-4 at home with Wilson on the roster.

South Carolina has reached the round of 16 for the past five seasons -- including four with Wilson -- and six of the past seven years.

Virginia was seeking its first regional semifinal since 2010. The Cavaliers hung tough most of the game despite going up against Staley, the greatest women's athlete in Virginia athletics who led the program to three Final Fours when she played from 1989-92.

"I'm so incredibly proud of this team, just their fight," Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said. "They just fought and believed in each other."

Toussaint and J'Kyra Brown had 16 points each to lead Virginia.



Virginia: The Cavaliers showed tenacity and grit in their first two NCAA games since their last appearance in 2010. With three of their top five scorers from this season sophomores, including leading scorer Dominique Toussaint, Virginia will look to continue making strides in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks out-talented the competition -- perhaps even out-Wilsoned them -- in two home NCAA games. That won't fly in Albany in the Sweet 16 if the defending national champions hope to make a second straight title run in a region that includes No. 1 overall seed UConn. South Carolina will need more production from point guard Tyasha Harris and Alexis Jennings, who combined to go 8-of-20 shooting in the win over Virginia.


When it was time for the national anthem, only Virginia was lined up and ready. South Carolina was in the locker room, thinking it would not be played until the pre-game clock ran down (as was the case during the regular season) instead of with 12 minutes to go per the NCAA's run down. Dawn Staley apologized for her team's absence. "Charge it to our heads and not our hearts," she said.


If anyone thought fans wouldn't turn out for a late Sunday game, they don't know fans of the Gamecock women's basketball team. There were 10,037 people in attendance, several in pajamas to honor the late start. Both Boyle and Wilson said the continued cheering and shouting made it hard to call signals. "Dawn said to me, `They're crazy,'" Boyle said. "She meant that in a good way."