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Top 4 NCAA Tournament Cinderellas and Bracket Busters (2022 March Madness)

by March 13, 2022
David Jean Baptiste

Every year, teams expected to exit early make deep runs and ruin brackets nationwide. Who will those teams be this year? Here are a few that could surprise during the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

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Vermont Catamounts

Among the lower-seeded mid-major auto-bids, Vermont might be the best bet to make some noise. This team has been playing its best basketball of the season, running the table in the America East tournament.

Vermont is one of the most experienced teams in the nation, starting all seniors. Their shot selection is among the best in the nation based on the Shot Quality metric. The Catamounts are consistently able to find open looks from deep or near the rim. Evan Miya ranks efficiency in lineups compared to team efficiency, and the starting five of Vermont ranks fourth best in the nation in adjusted efficiency.

Facing a slower-paced team really benefits this Catamounts squad, as opponents have to play almost perfectly to take them down. Vermont not only has a top-75 defense but is the best team in the nation at limiting offensive boards, and they won’t give foes many freebies from the charity stripe either.

The recipe for taking down Vermont includes shooting well from beyond the arc and picking up the pace. I don’t want to make this team sound invincible, but they might be one of the toughest outs out of any mid-major.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits

If there is a mid-major that the NCAA is happy to see in the tournament, it’s the Jackrabbits. Eric Henderson’s team is one of the most entertaining teams to watch in all of college basketball, with their fast pace and elite shooting.

SDSU shoots 44.2% from deep, by far the best percentage in the nation. The second-best team, Colgate, shot three-pointers at a 40.1% clip, and the percentage gap between SDSU and Colgate is equal to the gap between Colgate and the 56th-ranked team, Eastern Washington which sank threes at a 36.0% clip.

This team is riding a 21-game winning streak and has four players who shoot above 40% from beyond the arc. The Jackrabbits are not one-dimensional, ranking 10th in 2pt%. SDSU finds whatever open look teams give them and capitalizes on it.

The thing is, the Jackrabbits don’t exactly play tough defense. They are basically the Chiefs of college basketball, challenging teams to keep up with their scoring. The Jackrabbits allow a lot of open looks from beyond the arc but are good at staying out of foul trouble. This will be a popular pick to pull off a first-round upset, but make sure SDSU isn’t facing a team that defends the perimeter well before auto-clicking the Summit League champions into the next round.

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Chattanooga Mocs 

After taking down the Southern Conference, Chattanooga seems poised for a Cinderella run. The Mocs have some serious talent, led by Malachi Smith and David Jean Baptiste – one of the better backcourts in the tournament. Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa has played against his fair share of top-end talent, which should help this squad prepare for whoever they may face.

Chattanooga is one of the most well-rounded mid-major teams out there, ranking top-100 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their playmakers allow this squad to score anywhere on the floor, and they rebound at a high clip, capitalizing on second-chance looks.

The way to beat this team is down low. Their interior defense is in the bottom half of the nation, as they play outside-in, limiting exterior shots. Attacking this team down low while speeding up their slower pace has been shown to work, as the Mocs have had some duds against teams such as Western Carolina and Charleston.

Colgate

Colgate is back in the tournament for a third straight year. Head coach Matt Langel has done a solid job, as Colgate ranks as one of the best teams in the nation in terms of shot quality. The Patriots might not be the most athletic team in the nation, but they do one thing very well: shoot the three-ball.

Colgate ranks second in the nation in three-point percentage 40.1%. Nearly 39% of their points come from beyond the arc, 21st highest in the nation. They are a consistent team with tournament experience, and they are capable of surprising a high-seeded team. Since Jan. 10, Colgate has only lost one game, and they beat Syracuse earlier this year. A lot of their losses came during a long stretch of away games when they were missing their star, Nelly Cummings.

Colgate basically takes no shots from midrange. They either are taking a deep look or finding a way to get to the rim. While the Raiders are good at what they do, their approach won’t surprise many teams. From a betting angle, I like Colgate first-half spread bets, as they led Arkansas after the first half. If they open against a team that focuses on interior defense, Colgate might be able to get open look after open look, forcing their opponent to adjust after the first half.

Beating Colgate involves beating them in transition, forcing them inside, and capitalizing on the glass. Colgate isn’t exactly a scary team, but they’re capable of a bracket-busting upset, given their prolific shooting.

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