Top 8 NCAA Tournament Bracket Busters (2021 March Madness)
Each year, brackets are busted by mid seeds who, for whatever reason, can go on a strong run in the NCAA Tournament. We’re here to help you avoid those bracket busters.
I’ll have to roll with the Vols here as well. The first-round matchup with 12-seed Oregon State is a very winnable matchup, and Tennesee should have no problem advancing to the Round of 32. After that, a matchup with Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State will likely be in the way of a Sweet Sixteen berth. Tennessee sports a formidable defense, anchored by stud Yves Pons, and while the offense as a whole isn’t elite, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are elite talents who both have a chance of being lottery selections in this year’s draft. If Tennessee makes it to the Sweet Sixteen, they’ll have to get through 1-seed Illinois, but if the team can get hot in the scoring department, it has a puncher’s chance to advance even further.
– Zak Hanshew
I believe in the phrase defense wins championships. Tennessee is 11th in defense efficiency, 18th in opponent shooting percentage, and 20th in points per game allowed against a high level of opposition (i.e., wins over 12 seed Missouri Tigers and 11th ranked Kansas Jayhawks). They were also competitive with 6th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in both meetings this year (the second meeting they were without senior John Fulkerson who’s status for the tournament is to be determined). I think statistics are the most compelling when they are solid but have been tested against stout competition, which is what I believe Tennessee has done. Look out for the Volunteers to bust some brackets this year!
– AJ Schullo
Watch out for the MAC Tournament champions. The Bobcats have a legit NBA prospect in Jason Preston, who’s 16.6 points, 6.8 boards, and 7.2 assists this season. However, Ohio isn’t a one-man show, as four other Bobcats score in double figures. Ohio is also an excellent shooting team, ranking 13th in effective field goal percentage. Ohio also took Illinois down to the wire, losing by two points in Champaign early in the season. This team has won nine of its last 10 and didn’t let a February COVID interruption ruin its momentum. Ohio draws a really vulnerable Virginia team that isn’t as stingy as past years. Plus, Virginia won’t even travel to Indianapolis until Friday as they remain in quarantine after pulling out of the ACC Tournament. Ohio also matches up well with either Creighton or UC-Santa Barbara in the Round of 32.
– Matt Barbato
The Bobcats won the MAC decisively in an 84-69 victory against the Buffalo Bulls, led by junior guard Jason Preston who leads the Bobcats in points (16.6), assists (7.2), and steals (1.6) heading into the tournament. They draw the four-seeded Virginia Cavaliers in the first round, a team that has not scored over 73 points since January. This presents a great opportunity for the Bobcats, who have scored 80+ points across their last seven games, resulting in six wins and the MAC title. Despite Ohio going 0-1 against the only top-25 ranked team this season and playing an underwhelming schedule (108th SOS), the Bobcats are positioned to bust brackets due to the athletic guard play of Preston. Forwards Dwight Wilson III and Ben Vander Plas provide support on the glass in the front-court, with the former averaging 7.5 rebounds and the latter averaging 35.6 percent from the three-point range. With players capable of matching up against the zone defense that Virginia deploys, expect the Bobcats to upset the Cavaliers and advance to the Round of 32 against the Creighton Bluejays.
– Matt MacKay
Each year we have a 12-seed who upsets a 5-seed, and Winthrop seems to be as good a bet as any to continue that trend. Winthrop started the season 16-0 and dominated the Big South Conference Tournament, winning three games by an average of 26 points. The Eagles are deep and feature Big South Player of the Year Chandler Vaudrin, one of the country’s most complete players. Winthrop only has one NCAA win in their history (2007 against Notre Dame as 11-seed), but Pat Kelsey’s squad has the look of a team who can make a run.
– Jason Kamlowsky
Loyola Chicago Ramblers
The only reason that Loyola Chicago is not one of the top-seeded teams in the tournament is that they play in the Missouri Valley Conference instead of one of the power conferences. Kenpom.com has Loyola Chicago ranked as the ninth-best team in the country. Even though their strength of schedule is not the same as some of the elite teams, they made the Final 4 in 2018, and Cameron Krutwig was on that team and is now the Missouri Valley Player of the Year. Rarely do you have a mid-major with both elite talent and Final Four experience, and this team has the experience and talent to shock the world again with another run to the Final Four. No power conference team is going to want to See Loyola Chicago in the NCAA Tournament.
– Derek Lofland
San Diego State Aztecs
San Diego State comes into the tournament having won eight in a row and finds themselves in a favorable matchup in the first round against a disappointing Syracuse team. F Matt Mitchell is the Aztecs’ leading scorer this season, averaging 15.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while F Nathan Mensah provides a monstrous presence on the boards, averaging 6.1 per game. Winners of the Mountain West in a 68-57 victory over the Utah State Aggies, the Aztecs are poised to make a run in the tournament, as guards Jordan Schakel and Terell Gomez are both shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range, adding immense value on the perimeter for a team that tends to generate most of their offensive production in the paint. Syracuse collectively struggles to hit three-pointers, which will add pressure to G Buddy Boeheim to carry the load via efficient shooting from the perimeter. The Aztecs would, in all likelihood, move on to play West Virginia in the Round of 32. The Mountaineers have lost three of their last four games played and could become victims of the momentum wave that San Diego State has coming into the tournament. Many might be quick to dismiss the Aztecs as a legitimate Bracket Buster due to being in the Mountain West Conference. However, they outrank Syracuse in strength of schedule (28th vs. 43rd) and are undefeated (2-0) against Top 25 teams this season. I like San Diego State to make a run into the Sweet 16 with victories over Syracuse and West Virginia, where they will ultimately face an enormous challenge against the 2-seeded Houston Cougars.
– Matt MacKay
Dating back to the beginning of February, BYU’s only two losses have both come to Gonzaga. The Cougars played well down the stretch and had Gonzaga on the ropes in the WCC Championship before ultimately falling 88-78. Led by the senior trio of Alex Barcello, Brandon Averette, and Matt Haarms, the Cougs are poised to make a run. Barcello, an Arizona transfer, has played well all year, averaging almost 16 points per game, and he can fill it up with 10 games this year of more than 20 points. Haarms is a 7’3 force in the middle who can protect the rim and clean up on the boards. If Barcello gets hot and Averette handles the offense, they could propel the Cougars to the Sweet 16 and, possibly, further. A win in their first-round matchup with the winner of the Michigan State/UCLA play-in game would create a potential second-round game with Texas, which is a winnable matchup. UCONN and Alabama loom on the other side of that bracket, but neither of those teams are sure things this year, and BYU’s experience should give them a boost. Give me the Cougars to get to the Elite Eight.
– Jason Kamlowsky
One of the things that we see play out in this tournament every year is that coaching and scheme matter in single-elimination games. There is a reason that Jim Boeheim has made the NCAA Tournament 34 times in 45 years at Syracuse. He has gone 60-33 in the NCAA Tournament with five Final Four appearances and one championship back in 2003. He has even made the Final Four from a similar seed, advancing to the Final Four Semifinal back in 2016 as the 10th seed. What makes them so hard to face is their 2-3 zone defense. While it is not as good as past years, it is still tough for a team that is not familiar with that type of defense to face it in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse shot 78.4 percent from the foul line, which was the best total in school history. In a close game, defense and free throws can make the difference. Syracuse is a team that nobody wants to face as an 11 seed, given their head coach’s familiarity with winning in March.
– Derek Lofland
The Georgetown Hoyas are entering the tournament on a four-game win streak, and two of the teams they beat in that span are #17 ranked Creighton Bluejays and #14 rated Villanova Wildcats. The Hoyas started the season with a record of 3-8 in their first 11 games, and they’ve managed to go 10-4 in their last 14 games. I think it’s essential to have momentum going into the tournament, plus not many are predicting to win the championship this year, so there’s not as much pressure to win. Still, Georgetown has a long history of success in March Madness, so it has not stopped them before.
– AJ Schullo