March Madness is officially upon us. On Sunday night, NCAA Selection Committee released the 67 teams that will play in the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, with Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State claiming the four No. 1 seeds. There were a few surprises and some snubs (sorry Drexler), but all of the teams that made it into the final brackets deserve to be there. Even the biggest underdogs of this year's tourney, like 14th seeds Iona and St. Bonaventure, will have a shot to win it all.
We all love to see longshots beat the odds. Here, we explore how two of the biggest dark horses of the 2012 NCAA Tournament stack up, and whether the lowest-ranked schools can succeed.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies (20-11, 10-6 Atlantic 10): Believe it or not, St. Bonaventure actually knocked a team out of March Madness with their win over Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. If the Bonnies didn't win the game, Drexel, Miami, Seton Hall, Nevada, Mississippi State or Oral Roberts would have taken the last spot; instead, both Xavier and St. Bonaventure will play. The Bonnies may have gotten to the tournament, but they're not expected to go far. The team lost its major out-of-conference games to Illinois, NC State and Temple, and in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the Bonnies will first face the ACC Champion Florida State Seminoles on Friday afternoon. With St. Bonaventure one of the poorer rebounding teams, the Bonnies' run may have ended before it truly began.
Iona Gaels (25-7, 15-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference): The Iona Gaels, believe it or not, have a pretty good chance to go far in the tournament. At 83.3 points per game, Iona is the top scoring team in the nation, and is also ranked first in assists and second overall in field goal percentage. However, Iona did not play many tough teams, and lost its biggest game against Purdue by 1. But with everyone expecting the Gaels to flake off in the tournament with a 14th seed, Iona could shock the world with an easy first-round match-up (BYU) and a somewhat-easy road in the West Division. If Iona can get past Marquette and Murray State, which is not impossible, the Gaels could have a shot against Missouri in the Sweet 16.
BYU Cougars (25-7, 15-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference): If the Cougars can get past the Gaels in the first round, BYU has a similarly easy road in the West. However, looking at BYU's record, the team is pretty inconsistent, despite scoring more than 78 points and averaging 17 assists per game. BYU had a few big losses to Wisconsin and St. Mary's, but enjoyed some good wins over Virginia Tech, Oregon, Utah, and a close loss to the Baylor Bears. Still, Iona in the first round will be BYU's biggest obstacle.
Belmont Bruins (27-7, 16-2 Atlantic Sun Conference): The Bruins are a high-scoring team, averaging the fourth most points in the NCAA this year, but more importantly, Belmont is hot. The team has won a string of 14 consecutive wins, and while the competition has not been great, Belmont has been blowing them out nonetheless. These guys have a chance to go far in March Madness: With a one-point loss against Duke at the beginning of the season, Belmont will have something to prove in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Bruins have a tough first-round match-up against the Georgetown Hoyas, and the road will get even tougher against NC State or San Diego State after that. Yet, with a potent offense, Belmont still has a chance to give many teams a hard fight.
Detroit Titans (22-13, 11-7 Horizon League): Detroit can't get a break. The Titans are matched up against the second-seed Kansas Jayhawks in the first round, so it looks like Dick Vitale's alma mater doesn't have much of a prayer. The team is among the very worst in rebounding and assists, but with a five-game winning streak and notable wins over Butler, the Titans are holding on to some semblance of hope.
Lamar Cardinals (23-11, 11-5 Southland Conference): If Lamar can get past Vermont, the Cardinals win a chance to play against... North Carolina. The top-ranked Tar Heels could easily wipe out either Lamar and UVM, with both teams ranking towards the back of the NCAA in rebounds and assists. Lamar was blown out by Louisville, Ohio State and Kentucky, so expect the same with North Carolina.
Vermont Catamounts (23-11, 13-3 America East Conference): Again, if Vermont beats Lamar, UNC's favorite long and athletic team will be waiting. The Catamounts, unlike the Cardinals, have not even experienced top-ranked competition like North Carolina before, so even if they get past Lamar, they're in for a world of hurt.
LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds (25-8, 16-2 Northeast Conference): If there is a 16th seed that can knock off a No. 1 seed, it's LIU. The Blackbirds score almost 82 points a game and rank highly among assists and field goal percentage, but the team has not experienced much competition this season. LIU lost to Iona by 16, and lost to Penn State by nine. Hopefully the Blackbirds can get some offense going to keep up with Michigan State, a No. 1 seed known for its incredible defense.