By Aaron Jackson,
It’s here!!!! March Madness has officially arrived, and with it comes your bracket. Oh how I love filling out a bracket. The feeling of pure joy as you crown your national champion and pick crazy upsets along the way. The feeling of pure hate as you watch it burn by mid-afternoon Friday. We’ll talk plenty of madness on The Drive the next few days, but for now, I’ll give you this. Here are five unexpected teams that I think will make it to the Sweet 16.
1. Belmont: It’s pretty rare when a mid-major garners an at large bid, which is what happened with the Bruins. They were upset in their conference tournament, but at 26-5 deserved to make the cut. They’ll win the play in game, then face a Maryland team that is the youngest in the tournament. Have I mentioned that Belmont ranks second in the nation with 87.4 points per game? I like the Bruins to beat Maryland and then Yale, yes Yale, on their way to the Sweet 16.
2. Murray State: First, this is a 5 vs. 12, which always spells upset. 12’s are 25-18-1 against-the-spread since 2008, and are 18-26 head to head during that same time span. So it’s going to happen at least once, and Murray State is the team to do it. Ja Morant, a likely top-5 pick in the NBA Draft, is the obvious reason why. But their opponent, Marquette, can brag of a superstar of their own in Markus Howard, so something else has to give. I think it’s the cast surrounding each star that makes the difference, and for that reason I take the Racers.
3. Nevada: I loved this team last year, picking them to go all the way to the Elite 8. Unfortunately, they ran into Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16 after beating Texas and Cincinatti. They return the core of that team with Caleb and Cody Martin and an offense just outside the top 25 at 26. What they added this year however is a defense, now ranking 33rd overall. I picked them one game too far last year, but this year I think the Elite 8 is where they belong.
4. St. Mary’s: This isn’t just a team that beat Gonzaga to win their conference. They actually boast plenty of talent led by Jordan Ford who averages over 20 a game. It’s probably a bit of a leap to pick them to beat defending champion Villanova, but the Wildcats lost 5 of 8 down the stretch. The Gaels will have to stick to their snail pace of play, but if they can do that I think they beat Villanova and a Purdue team that frankly shouldn’t have been a 3-seed.
5. Wofford: Talk about a team that should have been a 3-seed. That would be Wofford. 29-4 on the year, those four losses come against four tournament teams in Mississippi State, Oklahoma and North Carolina (all by 11), and Kansas when Kansas was still the top overall team in the country. Battle tested and ranked 20th in the country, I expect they’ll take care of business against Seton Hall before unending a talented but not so cohesive Kentucky squad that’s already thinking about the NBA draft.
Aaron Jackson is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.