The Most Likely Giant Killer on Each Seed Line #12-16

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 15th, 2018

Let’s review the most likely upset scenarios on each of the seed lines of #12 through #16 this year.

#12 Seed: New Mexico State over Clemson. All four #12 seeds are dangerous this year and it wouldn’t be surprising if any one (or several) pulls off an upset. But if you’re only taking one — and there almost certainly will be at least one — roll with New Mexico State. For starters, the Aggies feature uncommon length and athleticism for a mid-major program, meaning they shouldn’t be at a physical disadvantage against Clemson. Next, the combination of rebounding machine Jemerrio Jones (13.2 RPG), a deep frontcourt and an aggressive scorer in Zach Lofton (19.8 PPG) makes it difficult to envision New Mexico State being completely shut down by the Tigers’ stout defense. At the very least, the Aggies should see their fair share of second-chances. What’s more, the Tigers are just 7-6 since losing second-leading scorer and rebounder Donte Grantham (14.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG) on January 20, failing to score over one point per possession five different times during that span. New Mexico State’s defense is elite in its own right, ranking 15th nationally in efficiency while limiting opponents to the sixth-lowest effective field goal percentage. And don’t forget: the Aggies have already beaten a quality ACC opponent (Miami) by nine points back in December.

New Mexico State is absolutely good enough to beat Clemson. (Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press)

Avoid this one: South Dakota State over Ohio State. Make no mistake: Mike Daum and the Jackrabbits are most certainly capable of winning the game. But Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann seems to be playing the “us against the world” card, which should give you pause.

#13 Seed: Marshall over Wichita State. “Hillbilly Ball” rolls into San Diego for what could be a memorable NCAA Tournament. According to KenPom, Buffalo and UNC Greensboro would actually be better picks, but considering Marshall’s style of play — uptempo, three-point heavy, run-and-gun — this could be a recipe for an upset. Wichita State is not an especially great defensive team this season, and opponents have proven capable of beating the Shockers from behind the arc and at the free throw line — the two areas where Marshall generates most of its points. Oklahoma, which is stylistically similar to the Thundering Herd, attempted 40 three-pointers en route to a road win at Wichita State in December. You might say Jon Elmore (22.8 PPG, 6.9 APG) is Marshall’s version of Trae Young, and you might see some March magic happen if he and his supporting cast get hot.

Avoid this one: Buffalo over Arizona. The Bulls are a good, veteran team with surprising athleticism. According to KenPom, they even have a 29 percent chance of pulling off the upset. But really: Who’s going to slow down DeAndre Ayton? USC, which has substantially more size than Buffalo, certainly didn’t have an answer.

#14 Seed: Stephen F. Austin over Texas Tech. Texas Tech turned the ball over at the second-highest rate in the Big 12 this season. Stephen F. Austin forces turnovers at a higher rate than any team in the country. You do the math. The Red Raiders are also a poor free throw shooting team (70.1% FT), which is where the Lumberjacks generally enable opponents to do their damage. It will probably take some hot shooting on the part of SFA — like when it knocked down 12 triples in a win over LSU in December — but this is certainly a winnable game for a program already familiar with NCAA Tournament success. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Lumberjack fans only have to travel about half the distance as the Texas Tech faithful.

Avoid this one: Montana over Michigan. FiveThirtyEight gives Montana the best odds to advance among the #14 seeds (11%), right alongside the Lumberjacks. But the Grizzlies rely too heavily on turnovers to beat a Michigan team that takes care of the ball as well as any team in college basketball.

Is Cincinnati Poised to be Upset? (USA Today Images)

#15 Seed: Georgia State over Cincinnati. Georgia State is a good three-point shooting team (39.1% 3FG) whose best offensive player, Sun Belt Player of the Year D’Marcus Simonds (21.1 PPG), does not do most of his damage from behind the arc. Which is to say, the Panthers are not one-dimensional. They’re also the only #15 seed ranked inside the KenPom top 100. Cincinnati is an exceptional defensive team, to be sure — and that might be an understatement — but Georgia State played some rock-solid defense in its own right during the Sun Belt Tournament. Ron Hunter’s sagging zone defense essentially begs opponents to hoist from behind the arc, a distance from which the Bearcats are good but not great (35.7% 3PT). A bad night from deep for Cincinnati, and who knows.

Avoid this one: Cal State Fullerton over Purdue. The Titans do most of their damage in the lane, scoring nearly 80 percent of all points from inside the arc and a whopping 24.6 percent at the free throw line. That doesn’t bode well against Purdue’s massive front line, which holds opponents to just 44.9 percent two-point shooting despite a very low foul rate.

#16 Seed: Pennsylvania over Kansas. Could this be the year? According to some models, Penn is the best #16 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament, which isn’t overly surprising considering that nearly every bracket projection had it pegged as a #15. The Quakers are a very good defensive team that does an exceptional job of taking away the three-point line, holding opponents to the second-lowest mark (29.6% 3FG) in college basketball. They also have a fine two-way big man in AJ Brodeur (13.1 PPG, 7,1 RPG, 1.3 BPG). Kansas, which attempts 41.6 percent of its shots from behind the arc, relies on three-pointers more heavily than it ever has under Bill Self. A #16 seed has never beaten a #1, and an upset here remains unlikely… but seriously, this could be the year.

Avoid this one: UMBC over Virginia. The DeAndre Hunter injury may hurt Virginia’s chances to make a deep run in this NCAA Tournament, but it probably does not hurt the Cavaliers’ chances of chewing up and spitting out the Retrievers. UMBC’s Jairus Lyles is an awesome player who will surely have his moments, but don’t expect the America East champions to do much of anything against Virginia’s impregnable defense.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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