They are some of the favorites to ascend ladders, scissors in hand, and snip strands of nylon to celebrate a Final Four berth. But despite gaudy records and outsize reputations as college basketball’s best, all it takes is one bad game to be bounced from the bracket. After all, only once in the history of the NCAA tournament have all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four.
Among the 12 teams that occupy top three seeds in every region, there are a handful whose fatal flaws seem more likely to surface than stay hidden. The teams that follow are clearly powerful, but not invincible. If you’re aiming to spot which behemoths may bow out prematurely, these appear to be the best candidates.
Kansas | No. 1 seed
You wouldn’t think there would be many shortcomings to cite when a team loses a grand total of four games in a season and only one by more than four points. But if you scour Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, there are some startling signs that suggest bracket-pickers should stay away from the Jayhawks.
When evaluating upset potential, three-pointers allowed and extra possessions for opponents are the best ways to bring down the best teams. And Kansas, sadly for Jayhawks fans, checks both of those boxes — as well as two more that could trip them up.
KU does not defend the three-point line particularly well. Opponents are shooting 35.7 percent against the Jayhawks from long-range this year, which ranks 212th in the nation. This was a key point in their losses to Indiana and Iowa State this season. Even worse, they’re allowing opponents to snag 30.4 percent of available offensive rebounds and get the ball stolen at an alarming rate — almost once every 10 possessions, placing them 294th out of 351 teams (the fourth-worst mark of any team in the tournament). Those second-chance points can help keep even a poor-shooting club in the game against a Jayhawks team that is almost always more talented than its opponents (see: TCU’s 12 steals and 10 offensive rebounds in the Big 12 tournament).
And, oh yeah, the Jayhawks only hit 66.6 percent of their foul shots. Meaning close leads late in games may not be all that safe.
Oregon | No. 3 seed
As far as overall mis-seedings, Arizona may be more out of whack than Oregon. Per Ken Pomeroy, the Wildcats play more like a No. 6 seed than a No. 2. So why are we calling for the Ducks to trip up instead? Well, for starters, they too are overseeded based on Pomeroy’s rankings, playing closer to a low No. 4 seed. Second, Arizona’s numbers are muted because it only got half a season from its best player, Allonzo Trier. And finally, there are bigger statistical warning signs for Oregon.
As mentioned, one of the leading causes for an upset is offensive rebounding. Allowing the opposition a second crack at the basket can negate the effort of even the best defenses. Oregon’s defense is just okay and figures to be made much worse by losing Chris Boucher to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The 6-foot-11 Boucher was the Pacific-12 leader in blocked shots and ranked 10th nationally in block percentage. Absent Boucher, Oregon’s best defensive trait as a team (the Ducks lead the nation in block rate) isn’t quite the same.
Florida State | No. 3 seed
The Seminoles are a fine team. Just fine. But does a “fine” team deserve to be on the top-three seed line? FSU thrives with its interior scoring and defense, but is completely average both offensively and defensively beyond the arc. It’s also not particularly strong from the foul line, shooting under 70 percent this season (214th).
Florida State plays hard, blocks shots and steals the ball, but it also puts teams on the foul line frequently (a 37.3 percent free throw rate, 217th nationally) and gives up a bunch of offensive boards (30.4 percent, 232nd in the nation). And if you want to buy into momentum (you shouldn’t), FSU finished the season with seven losses in its last 16 games, putting it barely over .500 down the stretch.
UCLA | No. 3 seed
The Bruins push the tempo, ranking sixth in the nation when it comes to shortest time of offensive possessions, which makes them super fun to watch. But some of their statistical red flags show they’re also super vulnerable to an upset.
You would think a team that pushes the pace as much as UCLA would get to the foul stripe quite a bit, but instead only 10 teams in Division I have a worse free throw rate (26.9, 341st in the nation). What’s that mean? Few easy, efficient points from the free throw line. And while the Bruins don’t put their foes at the foul line that often, they also don’t play particularly good defense, ranking just 78th in overall defensive efficiency.
Also worrying? Their three-point defense ranks 251st, with opponents shooting 36.2 percent from behind the arc. The good news on that front is that Kent State is a terrible deep-shooting team and Cincinnati and Kansas State are exactly full of snipers either. Wake Forest is the scariest first-weekend foe in this regard, shooting 38.7 percent from three-point range.
The Bruins should certainly be one of the most entertaining teams in the tournament, but you should enjoy their run while it lasts.
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