(CBS Local)- It’s that time of the year again where we all sit down to fill out a bracket as we attempt to win our office or friend’s bracket pools. The 2021 NCAA Tournament is going to be different than years past in many respects. Limited capacity of fans, all games being played in one state, and a different rhythm to the schedule with First Four games starting Thursday and the first round on Friday.
But, one thing that is unlikely to change is the upsets. Each year, there are teams that we don’t expect who pull off big upsets in the first round or make a deeper run than we expected. Divining which teams have that potential can be hard so we enlisted CBS Sports Network broadcaster Chris Walker to help us out. He gave six teams, one from each region and two bonus picks that he thinks have a chance at busting some brackets.
13 seed Ohio Bobcats
1st round matchup- 4 seed Virginia
“The Ohio-Virginia matchup is very intriguing. Jason Preston, a kid who reminds me of Lamelo Ball, very talented. They’re (Ohio) a high-scoring team. They didn’t finish great in their league but they’re sixth in the nation in assists per game, 17th in scoring percentage and they’re Top 20 in a bunch of offensive categories. They’re a team that could be very scary if they get ahead of you. The thing about Virginia, which is why it’s a good matchup, is they don’t let you score. A great matchup by the committee with a great star and great team. That’s a game I would keep my eye on for sure,” said Walker in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer.
Preston, a 6’4″ junior guard from Orlando, averages 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game in leading the Bobcats. The team as a whole shoots 56.9% from inside the arc, 36.1% from outside and averages over 80 points per night. Normally, you’d look at a team like that against Virginia and think, ‘not much of a chance’. But, the Cavaliers are coming off a pause for COVID that forced them to withdraw from the ACC tournament last week. Add in that head coach Tony Bennett said they’re not traveling to Indy until Friday before playing Saturday, and the Cavs could be primed for an upset.
1st round matchup- 9-seed Georgia Tech; potential 2nd round- 1-seed Illinois
“Everybody is going to be looking at the Loyola-Chicago game. Georgia Tech has Moses Wright, Jordan Usher, Jose
Alvarado, a number of stars. They have a good team and Josh Pastner deserves all the respect in the world for bringing them back,” said Walker. “But, they are playing the best defensive team in the country by numbers. They’re also playing one of the most efficient offensive teams. They’re also playing a team that has probably one of the most underrated players in the country that you don’t know in Cameron Krutwig who is one of only four players in that league’s history to have 1,800 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists. He can drop a dime anywhere. With the bevy of shooters around him, the way they shoot the basketball and spread you out? And Porter Moser has already done it before. They will be a very dangerous team based on the numbers.”
As Walker points out, the Ramblers are tops in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rating. On offense, Krutwig acts as the linchpin of the offense both as a force inside and distributor. The Ramblers shoot 36.8% from beyond the arc and average nearly 16 assists per game. It won’t be easy for them to pull the upset against Illinois in Round 2 but it’s possible.
9-seed St. Bonaventure
1st round matchup- 8-seed LSU; potential second round matchup- 1 seed Michigan
“The reason I think this is a big game, LSU has the three-headed monster in (Cameron) Thomas, (Javonte) Smart, and (Trendon) Watford and Will Wade’s done a great job in the SEC almost beating Alabama in the title game,” said Walker. “But, they’re playing a very experienced team. A very good coach (Mark Schmidt), a very experienced team that just won their first outright Atlantic 10 championship in history. They have a tremendous point guard in Kyle Lofton an exceptional shot blocker in Osun Osunniyi and they have guards on the perimeter that can make shots. They’re junkyard dogs, very tough. Those guys are going to be very tough to beat.”
The Bonnies have five starters that average double digit points making for a balanced attack that also takes care of the ball (11.1 turnovers per game among fewest in DI). Combined with a defense that allows just 38.9% shooting from the field and 30.6% from deep? With a shot blocker in Osunniyi who can dramatically affect opponents confidence around the rim? Keep them in mind.
1st round matchup- 3-seed Arkansas
“Colgate is the number two scoring team in the country. I still don’t understand how they were number nine in NET but they did. They’re one of the best offensive teams period in the nation,”
said Walker. “They don’t turn the ball over, they’re 6th in fewest fouls, 3rd in fewest turnovers, No. 1 defensive rebounding team, 10th in defensive field goal percentage, they can do it all. They haven’t played any quad 1 games, that’s the thing. But, with Jordan Burns, player of the year in the league, Jack Ferguson coming off the bench, they have the pieces, they have an opportunity. This is going to be a really good game, up-and-down for sure.”
If you’re looking for the pick to differentiate yourself, the Raiders could certainly help. They fill it up on offense by shooting the lights out from three (40.2%), and inside the arc (55.3%). They’re led by a trio of senior guards in Burns, Ferguson and Nelly Cummings. The Razorbacks are far from a lockdown team defensively which could make this a high-scoring affair.
1st round matchup- 7-seed Oregon
“Oregon plays great, a model of consistency in that league (Pac-12). Dana Altman is a great coach, went to the Final Four a few years ago,” said Walker. “But, that is a very dangerous game. VCU turns you over at a high rate, they’re the best team in the country in points off of turnovers. They get that press going and they can really make it an up and down game. I like VCU in that game.”
If you’ve been filling out brackets any time in the last 10 years, you likely have come across VCU and been on the wrong end of one of their upsets. This year’s team is in the same mold. They’ll pressure opponents on defense, forcing them into mistakes and getting out in transition. Add in the star guard in NahShon “Bones” Hyland, who can go off on any given night and you have the makings of a potential upset.
Bonus: 11-seed Michigan State or UCLA
1st round matchup- 6-seed BYU
“Whoever wins the Michigan State-UCLA game. Whoever wins that game and plays BYU, I think they’re going to win that game,” said Walker. “That’s a tough place for someone to have to play an 11-seed. UCLA has lost four in a row and Michigan State was 9-12 in the Big Ten and their Quad 1 situation isn’t great but are you really going to bet against Tom Izzo in March? Him being an 11-seed is like the worst nightmare for everybody.”
Up until the 2019 tournament, at least one team that played in the First Four pulled off the 11-6 or 12-5 upset in the Round of 64. While neither the Spartans or Bruins jump off the page at you, both are tested power conference teams who would be facing BYU in their first game of the tournament. An upset is far from out of the realm of possibility.