2011 NCAA Tournament: Six Underdogs To Favor In Your Brackets

You love upsets, right?  And underdogs?  Of course you do.  And you need a few to pick when filling out your brackets.  Since Iowa and their sub-.500 record has been cruelly -- and shockingly! -- ignored by the fickle Selection Committee for the fifth straight year, we're forced to find some non-Iowa teams to get behind this year.  But that's OK -- BHGP is here to help.

First, a few ground rules.  One: no power conference teams.  They're already fairly well-known commodities.  And, frankly, do you really want to hitch your fifth wheel of support to Bruce Pearl's sleazy rear fender?  Two: no teams seeded higher than 8th.  Those teams are almost all favorites to a degree; any bum can make scratch picks.  Three: no teams seeded lower than 14th.  All of these teams are basically lost causes, but there's no point in investing time and energy in the really lost causes.  For every mighty Hampton, there are three dozen Nowheresville State teams that got trounced by 30 in the opening round.

1) (E14) Indiana State Sycamores
WHY TO LIKE THEM:
We already covered this a few weeks ago, but to refresh your memory: there's probably no team in the tourney with more Iowa ties than the Sycamores.  Jake Kelly, one of our favorite hard-luck Hawkeyes during the Lickliter Era and the transfer we miss the most, is on the squad -- and made two clutch free throws in the MVC title game to clinch their trip to the tourney.  One of their other players, Jordan Printy, was a star at Linn-Marr and is the brother of Jamie Printy, one of the best players on Iowa's female hoopyball team.  Their coach, Greg Lansing, was a former assistant under Iowa (albeit under Coach Redacted).  If Iowa can't make the tourney, we might as well root for some Hawkeyes-by-proxy.
WHY THEY COULD WIN: Hawkeye pride, baby!  But, no, srsly, this isn't one of the most OMG AWESOME Syracuse teams in recent memory.  They got beaten like a drum by a nothing special Seton Hall team -- at the Carrier Dome, no less.  And it wasn't that long ago (OK, six years) that they were getting stunned by Vermont in the first round.  Plus, KenPom gives the Sycamores a 10% chance of knocking off 'Cuse -- there are worse odds than that.

2) (E8) George Mason Patriots
WHY TO LIKE THEM: Unlike fellow Cinderella darlings Gonzaga and Butler, George Mason didn't go all lamestream and become a part of the establishment.  It's been five years since they dropped their last big release and they've been holding on to their Cinderalt cred pretty well since then.  Their major label follow-up in 2008 crashed and burned, so they went back to their roots in the indy scene and kicked out a few more obscure releases on boutique labels over the past couple years.  Other reasons to dig them: they have a Ricky Stanzi-approved nickname (Patriots FTW) and they share their name with one of 24's best secondary characters, Jack Bauer's snarky supervisor turned irradiated noble sacrifice.
WHY THEY COULD WIN: Technically speaking, they're the seeded favorite in their first round matchup and there's even more reason to favor them when you consider their opponent is a Villanova team in absolute freefall (they're entering the tourney on a five-game losing streak and they've lost seven of their last nine games).  Granted, George Mason's likely second round opponent is Ohio State and their odds of winning there go down precipitously (down to 8.5%, per KenPom), but hey: (a) they've done it before, (b) the number-one overall seed fell in the second round just a year ago (when Kansas got Farokhmanesh'd), and (c) Ohio State has been prone to letting teams hang around with them.

3) (SE12) Utah State Aggies
WHY TO LIKE THEM: Outside of their recent -- and inexplicable -- penchant for dressing up as Teletubbies, players for the Flint Tropics, Gumby, and fat, shirtless, body-painted Captain America, the Iowa student section hasn't exactly brought much to the table for a while.  The most notable thing about it when I attended games were the two guys who donned giant foam hats and raced around the edge of the court during media timeouts.  So it's refreshing to see a student section that's a bit more, um, lively.  And original.  The Aggie students have taken the art of coordinated chants to a level beyond the dreary stuff you hear from most students.  Plus, if Utah State wins, there's at least an 80% chance that Frank Martin's head will literally pop off like that guy from Scanners.
WHY THEY COULD WIN: Because they're actually pretty damn good?  Seriously, 30-3 records don't just fall off trees, even in the WAC.  Utah State is a mighty solid team -- so good, in fact, that KenPom gives them 60% odds of taking this game.  They have a deep, experienced team (five of their top scorers are seniors) and they've been making regular trips to the NCAA Tourney for a few years now. 

4) (SW8) UNLV Runnin' Rebels
WHY TO LIKE THEM: The downside is that they're coached by a former Illini coach, Lon Kruger.  But the upside... Vegas, baby!  The other great college hoops documentary of the weekend (after ESPN's excellent Fab Five) was HBO's Runnin' Rebels of UNLV, which condensed twenty years of glorious anarchy under Tark the Shark into sixty minutes of bliss.  After watching that doc -- and reliving the glory days of UNLV, particularly their late 80s/early 90s teams that were unstoppable forces of nature (their 30-point beatdown of Duke in the 1990 NCAA Tournament final remains one of the gold standards for title game bitchmakings), it's hard not to have a little residual love for the Rebels, even if Tark is no longer gumming towels on the sideline and they aren't such (relatively) charming rogues.  Plus, they're playing Illinois and, well, Illinois can go to hell.  There are few better sources of schadenfreude this time of year for a B1G fan than Bruce Weber's raspy wails of anguish and bitter tears of defeat.
WHY THEY COULD WIN: Again, picking an 8-seed isn't exactly dipping deep into the underdog well.  KenPom gives them a 48% chance of knocking off the Illini in R1.  Their odds of making the Sweet 16 aren't great with a likely game with Kansas looming (just 13% odds of winning, per KenPom), but few blueblood programs have suffered more shocking losses in the NCAA Tourney in recent history than Kansas, who's lost to such brand name powerhouses as UNI, Bradley, and Bucknell.

5) (SE13) Wofford Terriers
WHY TO LIKE THEM: Because their nickname inspires fond memories of FX's late, lamented Terriers, a criminally underwatched show about two private investigators-cum-screw ups that was so damn good and why didn't you callous, unfeeling bastards watch it -- Ahem.  Wofford also gets points for adopting a canine mascot that bucks the trend of bulldogs and huskies that otherwise dominates the nickname landscape.  Their opening round match-up with BYU is a bit of mixed bag, though; on one hand, it's easy enough to gin up some animosity for those kooky Mormons, but on the other hand, they have one of the most purely fun players to watch in the entire country (JIMMER!).  So even an upset win would feel a little bittersweet here.
WHY THEY COULD WIN: BYU hasn't been the same since Brandon Davies ran afoul of the nefarious Honor Code, with a pair of blowout losses (to New Mexico and San Diego State) in their last five games. Wofford was in the tourney a year ago and they have a ton of senior leadership.  If Jimmer has an off night, it's not inconceivable that the Terriers could slip by, even if KenPom gives them just a 15% chance of winning.

6) (SW13) Morehead State Eagles
WHY TO LIKE THEM:
Why to root for them?  Because your inner 12-year old can't stop giggling at their name.  Because they're playing Louisville, coached by Rick Pitino, a coach so slick he would ruin your couch with oily brown spots if he stopped by for an in-home visit.  Because if they were called Fellatio State it would just be crass.  Because they have the nation's leading rebounder (Kenneth Faried, 14.5 rpg) and rebounds are our stat of choice for scrappy underdogs.  But mostly because of the name.
WHY THEY COULD WIN: Faried is a legit NBA talent and Louisville has been a little inconsistent (they lost to Drexel and Providence).  KenPom only gives the Eagles a 12% chance of prevailing, but dare to dream: if you can't throw caution to the wind and pick a team called Morehead State to grab an upset, is life really worth living?  (Well, yeah, probably.)

Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/bffbrackets/

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