Overrated Teams You Should Be Wary of Picking in Your March Madness Pool
It is entirely possible that nothing else in the sports world makes a person look as smart—or as dumb—as taking a big flier in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Is there a lot of guesswork involved in that endeavor? Yes, there certainly is. Is there a foolproof system for picking an upset? Certainly there is not. That stereotype about the office cat lady who doesn't know a basketball from Cary Grant winning the workplace pool every year? It is a stereotype for a reason.
And yet, there is a gleam of hope out there. People can still be thoughtful about their picks. There are good decisions to made, bad decisions to be avoided. Bets to be hedged. Smart plays to be played.
Often, finding the wheat means first finding the chaff. That's what we are here to do.
These are five teams that have the look of iron pyrite on further inspection.
Statistics and seed projections courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise noted.
Overall record: 28-4
Conference record: 16-2
I don't want to get all literary on you, but somebody wrote something once about a sword. I hope you'll pardon my paraphrasing, but in essence, what they wrote was, if you live by the sword, what can also happen is, you can also die by the sword. Not the same sword, necessarily, but the same concept of that sword.
Hope you're still with me. Because this concept applies to streak-shooting basketball teams, of which there are several on this list. Can they get hot and live? Sure. But it's also very, very possible they can get cold and die; you know, metaphorically.
And that's what makes Villanova so worrisome. It's been a path of low resistance for the 'Cats down the stretch, but they've still shown some big lapses. They lost on a buzzer-beater to Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals, but also were far too close for comfort in February games against Providence, St. John's and Xavier, each of which they won by an average of four points.
Make up your own mind about how much stock to put in that segment of the schedule, but teams may have figured out how to guard them, which is to say, lock down the arc. The team only hit on 21 percent of its threes against Seton Hall, compared with 36 percent on the season. Guard James Bell—the leading point of that particular spear—hasn't scored more than 12 points since Feb. 18. And when in doubt, you can always put them on the foul line, where they drift along the bottom at a 71 percent team clip.
And talk about dying by the sword. The three ball is their top weapon, but also their top weakness. Wildcat opponents are shooting 35 percent from deep, a putrid 239th in the nation for three-point shooting defense.
You have to think opponents have watched the tape and know all this.
Finally, Villanova appears more motivated at times by a fear of losing or performing badly than a desire to win. This is not the time for shakiness, but it looks like that's where 'Nova's living. And there is some disturbing precedent here: In their last two dance appearances (2011 and 2013), they've lost in the first game, and in 2010 were upset in their second game as a No. 2 seed.
Overall record: 27-5
Conference record: 14-4
After N.C. State bounced them out of the ACC quarters, Syracuse donned the mantel as kings of the nation's overrated contingent.
All five of their losses came within the past month, a span in which they dropped five of seven dating back to Feb. 18. They were a blocked Maryland layup away from that number being six.
Syracuse is rightly vaunted for its brick-wall zone D, but they've had difficulty scoring the ball throughout this campaign. Now that chicken is coming back to roost, as the close games they salvaged early are no longer bouncing their way. They've only broken 90 three times this year and are 253rd nationally in points per game. During their current slump, they've managed only 62 points in each contest, on average.
Leading scorer C.J. Fair is talented, but if he has an off night (as he did against N.C. State with 9 points on 3-of-16 shooting), they don't have much else. Freshman Tyler Ennis is gutsy but not a dominant scorer. Jerami Grant chips in 12 a game, but mainly lives on dunks and putbacks.
The offensive limits put major pressure on the defense, and lately the defense hasn't been able to carry the water on its own.
You also have to wonder if the ACC was not actually as good as advertised. More on that later.
Overall record: 23-9
Conference record: 13-5
North Carolina has faded down the stretch like no other non-Syracuse power-conference team in the country. That's two ACC teams that haven't looked equal to their billing of late.
Come with me in the time machine, all the way back to Feb. 26. Starting on that date, the Heels needed overtime to beat NC State, then edged 9-22 Virginia Tech by four, survived 15-17 Notre Dame by two, lost to Duke by 12, then lost to Pitt by five in the ACC tournament.
It's not good. The mo is not on their side. And you have to wonder if they've gassed a bit down the stretch. Inconsistent throughout the season, the team goes seven deep, for all intents and purposes, and their top four average more than 26.7 minutes or more per contest. That's a pretty high number, and the issue is especially pronounced in the all-important backcourt.
In an indirect indicator of that fatigue, UNC averages an ACC-high 20 personal fouls per game and has lost 18 players to foul-outs this season.
Overall record: 25-7
Conference record: 13-5
Make that three ACC teams that haven't looked equal to their billing of late. In fact, is that...is that Jabari Parker waving bye-bye? Prescient guy.
Ah, that's very funny. But now it's time to get serious. Hey, I get that the ACC was supposed to be all dangerous this year, and that Duke came out in third position. But a true juggernaut this conference was not.
Yeah, there was Syracuse and Virginia and Pittsburgh. But for each one of these squads, there was a Virginia Tech (9-22), a Maryland (17-15), a Wake Forest (17-16) and some others that just weren't very good. Even so, the Blue Devils split with Wake Forest and barely edged the Terps.
Duke has flaws that don't appear solvable absent another recruiting class, the addition of which at this point would almost surely be illegal. The front court is quite anemic (10th in the ACC in rebounds and 12th in blocks, as the team sits at 87th nationally in KenPom's adjusted defense rankings). In the back court, Quinn Cook is fine as a point guard, but he's not amazing.
Parker, the super frosh, has been an unmitigated beast, especially after he started taking the ball to the basket. Rodney Hood, a sophomore, has really come on lately. But will the two young guns be enough? My instinct says no. A Sweet 16 appearance seems eminently doable, but beyond that it's hard to feel confident.
Overall record: 24-9
Conference record: 14-4
It is going to be some uphill sledding with Joel Embiid on the bench. The Jayhawks' big man and two-way anchor sits on the shelf with a spinal stress fracture and could miss the first weekend of the Big Dance.
And sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not like he has an injury you can just tape up and let heal; backs are notoriously hard to deal with.
As the Jayhawks faithful continue shaking their chiropractic voodoo dolls, Kansas continues to struggle. They lost to West Virginia on March 8 while Embiid was out. Super-phenom Andrew Wiggins almost bailed them out of that one with 41 points, and did indeed carry the team to a stirring Big 12 tourney victory with 30 against Oklahoma State.
But Wiggins won't be able to do that every time. Case in point: the Big 12 conference semifinal loss to Iowa State. Wiggins combined with forward Perry Ellis to score 63 percent of Kansas' 82 points, but the team still lost by 11 when their defense—packing down inside to compensate for Embiid's absence—surrendered 54 percent shooting, including 11-of-19 from deep.
And none of this is to say anything of the fact that Kansas as a team has a 1.15 assist-to-turnover ratio per game this season, ranking 96th in the nation. That's not going to help you much come tourney time.
If Embiid can come back and play at full power, we have a different conversation. But the odds don't seem to favor that happening in time. Maybe Kansas will make a little bit of noise, but I'm not inking them in for North Texas myself.