The NCAA Men's Tournament bracket has been released. Tickets have been punched and bubble dreams popped. It is now time for everybody and their grandmother to join a pool and fill out their sheets with a variety of strategies. The information I am going to offer will have no effect on if you are planning to pick your teams based on colors or which mascot would win in a fight. But, if you are on the fence in that 5/12 game or flipping a coin in that 6/11 tie then maybe I can help tip the scales for you. Bracket busting is more than just thinking that a team will go far. You need to have the correct matchups fall into place from the selection committee in the first round (or second round if you want to be technical about it) as well as going forward with potential upsets. Here are who I think will be able to snare you some points in your pool by going against the grain and busting brackets.
ONE AND DONE UPSETS
12 Wofford OVER 5 Arkansas
The Southern Conference champions won their conference tournament on the back of do-it-all guard Karl Cochran. He leads the team in every statistical category and is a savvy defender despite his lack of height. Arkansas may be punching a bit above their weight as a five seed and showed in the SEC final, granted it was against all-world Kentucky, once the wheels fall off there is no fixing the ride. I expect this to be a low scoring game that the team with the best player on the floor will win. No offense to the Razorbacks' Bobby Portis, but that player will be Cochran.
12 Stephen F. Austin OVER 5 Utah
I could tell you that Utah is reeling, losing four of their last eight games including twice to Oregon. I could also inform you that Utah hasn't been in the tournament since 2009, the worst run of any team seeded five or better. I may also be inclined to let you know that Stephen F. Austin upset VCU last year, as a 12 seed in a game played on the West Coast. Or I could just break some glass and leave this picture of Stone Cold Steve Austin here. Hell, I'll just do both.
14 Albany OVER 3 Oklahoma
The Big 12 was one of the strongest conferences in the country this season. That doesn't make me waver from my stance that I don't think Oklahoma is that good of a team. To be a top three seed, one would have to at least seen one stretch of dominance over the course of a season. I never saw that from the Sooners. On the other hand, Albany is not your typical upset pick. They started off the season 2-6 and don't particularly set the world on fire offensively. If their American East conference tournament display showed anything though, it is that they can get a stop when they need to as well as make big shots. You can thank me later once the one guy in your office picking Oklahoma comes in a cussing mess the next day.
HAVE A RUN IN THEM
Providence College Friars (6 seed)
This is a homer pick by no means. The URI fan in me would love to see the Friars embarrassed by the likes of Boise State or Dayton after they played a First Four game. There is just no way in my mind that is happening. The Friars are too good, and too seasoned, of a team to not take advantage of a team on short rest. As for their opponent in the round of 32, if you read the previous blurb you can see that I think it'll be 14th seeded Albany, a team that the Friars beat in their first game of the campaign. I think the Friars match up well with any of the three potential opponents (sorry Belmont) in the Sweet 16 meaning an Elite 8 berth for the locals is not implausible by any means. Doubt the team from the smallest state's capital at your own risk.
Wichita State Shockers (7 seed)
A year ago at this juncture the Shockers were undefeated and a number one seed. A year later they have just four losses but a great deal less shine on them. Don't be fooled though, this is a dangerous seventh seed. The Missouri Valley Conference regular season champions are a top-10 defense and have a major conference swagger about them.They should handle Indiana in their first game, a team that barely scraped into the field. That leaves Kansas up next, an inter-state battle in which the Shockers match up quite well. If they are able to get by the Jayhawks, I think that Notre Dame will shutter at the thought of facing them. In the end, there could be a rematch in the regional final between Wichita State and the team that ended their perfect season a year ago, Kentucky. Wouldn't be poetic justice if the Shockers shocked the world in returning the favor?
Iowa State Cyclones (3 seed)
I know, saying a three seed is going to make a run isn't the steepest of limbs to go on. I am not predicting Iowa State to just have a fun go of it however. I truly think the Cyclones have what it takes to get to the Final Four. Both of the higher seeds in the regional, #1 Duke and #2 Gonzaga, both have warts that the Big 12 tournament champions can exploit. Their entire starting lineup averages double figures in scoring and have proven they can win a shootout. Barring injury, expect Iowa State to lose Blue Devil and Bulldog backers a considerable chunk of coin.
HOW'D THEY GET THAT SEED?
Maryland Terrapins (4 seed)
I am still trying to figure out what the Terrapins did to piss of the selection committee so much? They were ranked 8th in the nation pre-Big 10 tournament, having wins over the aforementioned Iowa State and #1 seed Wisconsin on their resume. They lost in said tournament to finalists Michigan State who took the highly favored Badgers to overtime. They had one bad loss all year (at Illinois) and handled their business in a conference that tied the Big 12 for most bids with seven. Their reward? The same region as Kentucky and a four seed behind two teams behind them in the polls. Maryland deserved a better fate. The Terps may still make the Sweet 16, but they deserved a chance to advance further.
UCLA Bruins (11 seed)
This one should actually be titled: "How Did They Even Get In?" The Bruins must have summoned the spirit of John Wooden to woo the committee into selecting them and somehow avoiding a First Four affair. For a team whose signature win was Utah at home and not much else, it is a bit of a head scratcher to see them in the field over Temple or Colorado State. Hell, I remember the Bruins' seven point first half against Kentucky more than I do their win over the Utes. I hope Larry Brown, making his first tourney appearance since winning it all in 1988, and his SMU Mustangs embarrass the Westwoodians to shed an even brighter light on what a joke it was that UCLA is not NIT-bound.
Georgetown Hoyas (4 seed)
I am going to keep picking on the South Regional with my last entry. While Maryland should feel aggrieved with their 4 seed, Georgetown should be looking to the heavens for theirs. The Hoyas did schedule tough but were only to claim the scalp of eventual one seed Villanova, at home. They were swept by both Providence (2 games) and Xavier (3 games) who managed to only receive 6 seeds. Their only other wins over ranked opponents were Butler (yet another six seed) and an early season squeaker over Florida who will not be playing postseason basketball. Take heed that the Hoyas are just 2-4 in their last six contests against double digit seeds and you'll be just as confused as me about their placement in this field.
I hope that this will help you navigate the minefield that is the NCAA Tournament bracket. BYC will be hosting its own Bracket Challenge on ESPN, just search Bleeding Your Colors on the groups tab. As always, like us on Facebook and follow myself @TREVORutley and the blog @B3WHYC3 on Twitter. Happy picking and may you be the one that picks that perfect bracket in 2015!
Image Credits: Final Four logo (wikipedia.org), Karl Cochran (espn.com), Stone Cold (themiddlefinger.com), The Great Dane (sportslogos.net), Kris Dunn (collegebasketballtalk.nbcsports.com), Shockers foam finger (thevegasparlay.com), Iowa State logo (barkingcarnival.com), Melo Trimble (wusa9.com), UCLA logo (fathead.com), Georgetown logo (wikipedia.org)