They spent the season building some of the more fearsome profiles in the 2016 NCAA tournament bracket. But with Cinderella lurking behind every bend in the bracket, all it takes is one slip for title dreams to be stamped out by glass slippers.
If you’re not of a mind to roll with the favorites all the way to the Final Four, here are three teams from the No. 1-3 seeds that may be most vulnerable to an early exit.
Oregon | No. 1 – West
Last seen absolutely eradicating Utah to win the Pac-12 title, the Ducks boast an awesome and efficient offense that ranks fifth in the nation according to the analytics of metrics maven Ken Pomeroy. Oregon can score on anyone and hasn’t posted fewer than 76 points in a game since two mid-February losses – the Ducks’ only two losses since mid-January as they charged to the Pac-12’s regular-season crown.
What they don’t do well could cost them dearly however. Offensive rebounds are a terrific way for lesser teams to pull even with more talented opponents, and the Ducks rank 256th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. In its six losses – including surprising upsets by Boise State and UNLV — Oregon allowed an average of 10.5 offensive rebounds to its foe. If Cincinnati can get by Saint Joseph’s in the round of 64, the Bearcats could be a bad matchup for the Ducks. Cincy is one of the nation’s best teams at collecting its own misses, ranking 20th in offensive rebounding percentage.
Xavier | No. 2 – East
The Musketeers’ profile is hardly draped in red flags, but their overall efficiency doesn’t measure up with their seeding. Pomeroy rates the Musketeers more as a No. 4 seed than the No. 2 the committee bestowed upon them. That suggests some vulnerability just at a general level.
A more specific concern? Free throws. Xavier is great at getting to the line and foul shots account for almost a quarter of their points this season (23.4), which ranks 37th in the nation. Getting to the foul line is a great strategy for efficient scoring, but it also requires the folks wearing the striped shirts to use those whistles around their necks.
If they’re not getting the calls, Xavier sometimes can struggle to shoot. The Musketeers don’t crack the top 100 in either two-point or three-point field-goal percentage. One particular focal point is freshman Edmond Sumner, who left Xavier’s blowout loss to Villanova on New Year’s Eve due to injury and shot a combined 21.8 percent from the field (13-of-56) in the Musketeers’ other four losses.
The particularly problematic round-of-32 adversary would be Pittsburgh. Pitt’s opponents scored just 17.7 percent of their points from the foul line this season, which ranks 297th in the nation, and means the Musketeers would be well advised to not rely on the charity stripe if they hope to see the Sweet 16.
Utah | No. 3 – Midwest
If there is an antithesis to the famed pressure-heavy Havoc defense that led Shaka Smart’s VCU teams to so many upsets, it might be Utah’s defensive profile in 2016.
The Utes stay disciplined defensively and don’t foul needlessly and don’t take chances going for a steal. That said, they don’t really get in the faces of three-point shooters either – another key factor common to a lot of upset-prone top teams. Opponents are connecting on 36.8 percent of their threes against Utah, which ranks the Utes a scary 284th in three-point defense. In the Utes’ eight losses this season, their opponents shot 38.9 percent (68-of-154) from beyond the arc.
What should make Utah extra nervous is that both of its potential second round opponents — Gonzaga and Seton Hall — rank higher than the Utes in Pomeroy’s rankings, despite being seeded 11th and 6th, respectively. The Zags might be truly terrifying, as the Bulldogs shot 37.6 percent from deep this season.
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