After a near two year long wait, March Madness is finally here. As the Big Dance makes its return, the time has come for everyone to forecast how this year’s bracket will play out. Every time this tournament gets played, there’s always that one mid-range team for a power conference that makes a deep run. These teams, usually in the 5-11 seed range, have used their experience against top teams in March to have some extended stays in the field. In 2019, 5 seeded Auburn came out of nowhere to win the SEC conference tournament and continued their run all the way to the Final Four, eliminating perennial favorites Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in the process. In this year’s field, there are multiple candidates who fit that bill that can make some serious noise in this year’s tournament. Here, we give you in four parts all of these possible teams, one in each region, that could be some major bracket busters in 2021, assuming they face the highest seeds possible in each matchup.
West: #7 Oregon Ducks
In a West region that includes three of the country’s top ten teams, it’s hard to see any sort of lower seed potentially breaking through. However, Dana Haltman and the Pac-12 regular season champions beg to differ. While Oregon did go down unexpectedly to Oregon State in the conference tournament, this is still an impressive squad that has been here before as the Ducks have made the tournament 6 of the last 7 years (excluding 2020) including a final four trip in 2017. This year’s squad is an experienced one with do it all seniors Chris Duarte and Eugene Omoruyi leading the scoring and providing necessary leadership on both sides of the ball. Having three other double digit scorers on the team in LJ Figueroa, Will Richardson and Eric Williams also gives the Ducks elite offensive versatility, a must have for a tournament run. Oregon’s most glaring flaw in this campaign though has been their lack of size down low as nobody in the starting lineup is above 6 foot 6 which causes rebounding issues, as well as a high opponent average of points in the paint. The most important note about this Oregon team though is that they enter the tournament having won 11 of their last 12 games meaning they are playing their best basketball right now. While most of those wins came against below average conference opponents, wins over tournament teams in UCLA, Colorado and Oregon State show this team can handle the tough challenge as they hit their stride.
Their first round tilt with VCU is very winnable as while the Rams are a quality defensive team, five double digit scorers is the formula to break that and with the A10 runner ups lacking scoring depth, Oregon’s sharp perimeter defense and various offensive options should be enough to send them on to the second round.
Waiting for them there will be the tall order (literally and figuratively) of Luka Garza and the Iowa Hawkeyes. While Oregon doesn’t feature a true inside force that could stop Garza’s dominance down low, they could limit the Hawkeyes sharpshooters enough to the point where the national player of the year will have to win the game by himself, which is not a recipe for winning in March. With Iowa’s defensive struggles on the outside at times, Oregon’s variety of scorers and playmakers could give the 2 seed major problems and if Iowa has to resort to Garza as their entire offense with the shooting going cold, Oregon could very well steal a high scoring game and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
There, Oregon will have advantages no matter who they see. Three seeded Kansas is currently enveloped in COVID-19 issues which could hinder their on court performance, and that’s if there even able to play and win both games on the first weekend, not to mention the Ducks major offensive advantage over the Jayhawks in terms of total weapons available. Six seeded USC did beat Oregon back in February but with the Ducks getting another shot at them on a neutral court, the game would totally change to their momentum as the Ducks uncharacteristically struggled offensively in that game. However, even if Oregon was able to get to the Elite Eight, there isn’t much of a way for them to knock off the offensive juggernaut of Gonzaga, the nation’s top team. But this is a team that has been here before and knows what it takes to win these big games. Plus, this is March, anything can happen.
Keys To Wins: Post Defense
X-Factor: Eric Williams’ defense
Floor: 1st Round
Ceiling: Elite Eight
Image: Trojan Wire