People have all types of systems for filling out their NCAA tournament brackets. Some choose mascots and some people believe if they study the numbers enough they might be able to tease out who will win. I had a friend in college who devised a system in which the higher seed always won unless the difference between the seeds was one or two. That year, two three-seeds made the Final Four and he did very well for himself. My system is to pick the games without too much thought: the great ones go on instinct! My dad’s neighbor likes to pick teams with players that have a chance to play in the pros. This article is for him. Although, I guess if the other people in his pool read it and use his system, then maybe I am spoiling his advantages, but what are the odds of that? Maybe similar to the odds that this information actually helps him. Let’s look at five players that could lead their teams to outperform their seeds in this year’s bracket.
Jimmy Hall, forward, Kent State Golden Flashes (vs UCLA – Fri 9:57 pm ET)
I thought the Golden Flashes would get a 15- or 16-seed, but the team that came out of the MAC tournament received a generous 14-seed and a match up against defensively porous UCLA. Hall could take full advantage. He put up 18.9 points and 10.5 rebounds with seven double-doubles in his last eight games. In that span, Kent State won seven times but never by more than 10 points. Does this mean that they were able to hit clutch shots or just played at the level of their MAC competition? If the team’s ability to win close games means anything, it could come through with a huge upset of the beloved Bruins.
Jock Landale, center, Saint Mary’s Gaels (vs VCU – Thurs 7:20 pm ET)
There were only two teams that beat Saint Mary’s this season: UT-Arlington and Gonzaga. The Zags knocked off the Gaels three times, including in the WCC tournament championship game. Gonzaga is uniquely equipped to deal with the 6-11 Landale, who had a breakout season. After serving as a part-time player for Saint Mary’s for two seasons, Landale burst out of the starting gates with 33 points in the win over Nevada. He finished with averages of 16.8 points on 60.9 percent from the field and 9.3 rebounds. The Gaels are a seven seed, so they are favored marginally in their first-round game. Landale could propel the team to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.
Scoochie Smith, guard, Dayton Flyers (vs Wichita State – Fri 7:10 pm ET)
Despite losing to Davidson in the A10 Tournament quarterfinals, the Flyers did enough to earn a seven-seed. Coach Archie Miller’s team has a history of winning NCAA tournament games and Smith was present for five of those wins in 2014 and 2015. The senior will get to the Big Dance for the fourth straight year and has had a solid season with 13.1 points and 4.5 assists. The 6-2 senior closed the season by averaging 14.9 points and 5.0 assists in his last seven games. Dayton also boasts seniors Charles Cooke and Kendall Pollard, so the team is battle tested and ready to give some higher seeds a tussle.
Mike Daum, forward, South Dakota State Jackrabbits (vs Gonzaga – Thurs 2:00 pm ET)
The Jackrabbits gave Maryland a great game last year in the first round of the NCAA tournament. South Dakota State fell behind by 12 points at halftime, but only lost by five. Daum, then a freshman, scored 16 points and grabbed six boards off the Jackrabbit bench to spur the comeback. No player has been a hotter scorer: Daum averaged 33.8 points in his last five games, including 51 points in the win over Fort Wayne on Feb. 18. He showed in the Summit League Tournament that he could put his team on his back and lead them to big wins. The 6-8 forward was the biggest difference in the tight win over Nebraska-Omaha in the final and finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds. He can score around the basket, from 3-point range (41.6%), and from the line (8.4 free throws per game, 87.1%). It will take a special defender to slow down Daum. Maybe he’ll lead the first 16-seed to a win.
Brandon Goodwin, guard, Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (vs Florida State – Thurs 9:20 pm ET)
Goodwin and I have a little history. Three years ago when Goodwin was a freshman at Central Florida, I would tweet out my cheapo plays of the day for daily fantasy sports. He noticed and asked what I was writing about. I proceeded to tell him to go out and have a great game for me and the rest of degenerate gamblers (even though I played for free). Goodwin put up a career-high 13 assists. He moved on to Dunk City FGCU and led the team back to the Big Dance with 18.2 points and 4.0 assists. The 6-2 guard converted 51.6 percent of his field goals and helped the team win its last seven games with 22.1 points. Florida State is a huge team that should be able to pound the Eagles into the ground. Maybe Goodwin will actually take flight and propel the Eagles back to the Sweet 16.