Tom Izzo's Michigan State team has struggled since February and could be ripe for another first-round exit
March Madness is here and as much as the next few weeks is about crowning a new men’s basketball champion, NCAA Tournament upsets are what we live for this time of year. This year’s Tournament may be ripe for a ton of bracket turnover considering there are plenty of good teams and only a handful — if that — of great ones.
With so much parity involved, that can make filling out your bracket a tricky task. One type of team to avoid however is an easy one to single out: those entering March in a slump. Whether it’s because of injuries or just downright sub-par play, here are eight teams you should avoid picking to go too far in the tournament.
No. 3 Florida State (West Region)
The Seminoles enter the Tournament with one of their best teams ever when you consider the amount of talent on the roster but have seen a potential ACC title-winning season turn into a late slump. FSU is just 7-6 since mid-January and have not played super well on the road either. While the depth of the ACC played a role, recent losses to Pitt, Syracuse and Georgia Tech show this is a squad that could be ripe for an upset if it’s not focused.
No. 6 Maryland (West Region)
Talent? Yes, the Terrapins have enough of that to make a run in the tourney but recent history of underachieving says be cautious. As star guard Melo Trimble goes, typically so does this team. Lately however, he hasn’t been as hot as he was at the beginning of Big Ten play so Maryland enters on a bit of uneven ground, beating just three Tournament teams since the calendar turned to 2017. Losses down the stretch to Penn State and NIT-bound Iowa make it tough to trust Mark Turgeon’s squad.
No. 6 Creighton (Midwest Region)
There was a point early in the year where the Bluejays looked like a potential top-three seed and a strong challenger to Villanova for the Big East crown. That all seemed to change when point guard Maurice Watson Jr. went down with a torn ACL in mid-January and then saw him back in the news a month later as a result of an alleged sexual assault. After an 18-1 start to the season (only loss to the overall No. 1 Wildcats), Creighton is just 7-8 since. While they did impress with a nice run during the conference tourney, their only win of note down the stretch came at Butler but this is otherwise a team that beat up on the bottom of the Big East to sneak in.
No. 7 South Carolina (East Region)
The Gamecocks being seeded at the seven line (and No. 26 on the overall seed list) was one of the more interesting surprises on Selection Sunday considering just how mediocre the team has been the past two months in an average-at-best league. Frank Martin’s squad has just three wins over Tournament teams all season long and is just 4-6 in the past 10 games. Because it is playing down the road in Greenville, this is a South Carolina team that could be a trendy pick to advance in a lot of brackets. The Gamecocks’ play recently suggests otherwise though.
No. 8 Wisconsin (East Region)
The Badgers looked like they did early in the year when they went on an impressive streak to make it to the Big Ten title game. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few signs of life the team has shown since the calendar turned over. For a while, it looked like they were the class of a middling league but slowly and surely they were reeled back to the pack. Prior to their three wins in at the conference tourney in Washington D.C., Wisconsin was just 2-5 and one of those wins came in overtime. The senior-laden group could still thrive in the Tournament setting but it’s still hard to say this team is peaking at the right time.
No. 8 Miami (Midwest Region)
The Hurricanes have some big time wins on their resume coming in and sport plenty of good guard play and a top-notch head coach. Despite that, they fell to a No. 8 seed as a result of a late slump that included three losses in four games since topping Duke and Virginia back-to-back last month. If you’ve got a good defense, chances are you can clamp down on Miami and keep its slide going with an early exit.
No. 9 Michigan State (Midwest Region)
On paper, there’s a lot going for the Spartans. They have one of the best head coaches in the country when it comes to the tourney in Tom Izzo and they sport a great mix of veterans with a talented freshman class. Shockingly, things just haven’t come together in East Lansing with the team on a bit of a roller coaster coming into the opening weekend. MSU is just 6-5 since February began and doesn’t have a single road win over a team in the field since December. Could Miles Bridges take over a game and lead an improbable run? Sure, but it seems more likely that a quick trip like last season is in store based on how Sparty has trended lately.
No. 11 Xavier (West Region)
Early in the season it appeared as though Xavier could have been a sleeper to make things interesting in the Big East but that line of thinking was quickly thrown out the door when Edmond Sumner went out for the season with a knee injury. The Musketeers lost six straight games in February and haven’t really recovered since. All told, the group is just 3-7 in its last 10 games and two of those wins came over lowly DePaul. While Xavier did upset Butler last week, the Musketeers haven’t particularly been all that competitive lately.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.