Arena: March Madness Bracket Busters

Every year, March Madness rolls around in college basketball and suddenly everyone is scrambling to get their bracket ready. There is studying to be done, calculated risks to be taken, teams you have never even heard of, juggernauts who fall and Cinderella teams who unexpectedly destroy everyone's brackets.

Well, everyone’s except yours.

Here's our profile on 2017's top five potential Bracket Busters.

 

#13 Vermont (29-5)

Vermont is the hottest team in the nation right now, riding a 21-game win streak into the tourney.

The Catamounts slow the pace and never fail to get quality shots out of a patient, balanced half-court offense with three starters averaging over 11 points per game.

Though they play at a slow tempo, Vermont is very efficient and athletic. America East Player of the Year Trae Bell-Hayes runs the point, while America East Defensive Player of the Year Dre Willis is the first guard off the bench. In short, Vermont has the athletes to keep up with major conference teams.

The Catamounts will face off against No. 4 seed Purdue and their behemoth frontcourt of 7'2" Isaac Haas and 6'9" Caleb Swanigan; but as any basketball pundit knows, guards rule the NCAA tournament.

Vermont has much more depth than a typical midmajor team and that will help a great deal in their quest to make some noise. Steady, efficient play from the backcourt and 21 straight victories? Sounds like the perfect Cinderella team.

Ceiling: Elite Eight


 

#12 UNC-Wilmington (29-5)

UNC-Wilmington nearly shocked Duke last year in the first round and is back this year with more experience, and a lesser round one opponent.

The CAA champions try to fluster teams with a VCU-esque half-court trap that can be daunting for opposing ball-handlers. They play small, flying up and down the court at a breakneck pace.

The Seahawks are able to play such a small rotation because their starting guards, C.J. Bryce and Chris Flemmings are great rebounders. Standing at an undersized 6'7", center Devontae Cacok is about to shatter the NCAA record for field goal percentage in a season. 

UNC-Wilmington will take on No. 5 seed Virginia (22-10), a team with some huge wins and puzzling losses. Virginia plays great defense, but they may actually lack the athleticism to keep up with the Seahawks’ pace.

If UNCW advances past Virginia, they will likely play No. 4 Florida, who is begging to be upset. Florida lost their best big man to injury for the season and has not played with the same tenacity since.

The Seahawks are a prime candidate to reach the Sweet Sixteen and open some eyes along the way.

Ceiling: Sweet Sixteen

 

#11 Xavier (21-13)

Xavier was ranked No. 7 overall in the preseason AP Poll, so how did they fall so far?

This team has gone through a ton of adversity this year. Their star point guard suffered a season ending injury, while another star, Myles Davis, left the program midseason. Despite the uphill battle, Xavier has found their stride late in the season, coming off a big win against Butler. Currently leading the team is Trevon Bluiett, a guard who often plays as a stretch four and averages 18 points per game.

Though Xavier plays small, rebounding is actually one of their biggest strengths as they prioritize offensive rebounds every possession, yet still have the quickness to get back on defense. The Musketeers happen to be facing a Maryland team in the first round that is terrible on the boards. In fact, I would consider Xavier to be the favorite in the matchup.

After beating Maryland, Xavier would likely face Florida State – one of the coldest highly seeded teams entering the tournament. This all bodes well for a solid shot at a return to the Sweet Sixteen.

Ceiling: Sweet Sixteen

 

#12 Middle Tennessee (30-4)

If the name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for it.

Middle Tennessee snuck into the tournament last year as a No. 15 seed and shocked the world by upsetting No. 2 Michigan State – a popular pick to win it all at the time.

This year’s squad returns more experienced and well-rounded, with three players averaging 14 points per game or more. The Blue Raiders throw a ton of strange defensive sets at teams, specializing in a 1-3-1 trap that greatly limits their opponents three-point efficiency.

Though they pride themselves in flustering teams on defense, the Blue Raiders are one of the better teams in the nation at not turning the ball over; they are 25th in turnover percentage (15.9 percent).

MTSU will square off against No. 5 seed Minnesota who overachieved greatly this year. Minnesota is a solid young team, but they are prone to mental lapses. The Blue Raiders will pull out all the stops and get creative on defense, while their experience shines through.

Ceiling: Sweet Sixteen

 

#7 Michigan (24-11)

It seems consistent: every year a major conference school with a low seed gets hot and dominates in the tournament.

Last year it was a No. 10 seed Syracuse; before that it was a No. 7 Michigan State. This year, Michigan is primed for a tournament run.

The Wolverines have been on fire lately as their defense continued to steadily improve all season. They have won seven of their last eight games, including running the table in the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation, 24th in threes made per game with 9.5. But their defense has keyed the turnaround, clamping down the perimeter.

In the first round they face a tough Oklahoma State team, but the Cowboys have been on a cold streak lately and won’t have enough time to get out of the funk to face Michigan.

March Madness is all about who is hot at what time and Michigan may be the hottest team in the country right now.

Ceiling: Elite Eight