NCAA Tournament Contenders to Fade

The NCAA Men's Tournament always separates the contenders from the pretenders and we believe the four schools listed below deserve some skepticism for a Final Four run this March.

Midwest: Indiana
East: Tennessee
Midwest: Houston
South: Maryland

All of these teams have had strong years and are certainly capable of winning several games this March, but there are some flaws for these teams and the paths ahead appear to have steep challenges.

We're certainly not playing these teams on futures or in their opening games, and it would good to avoid them advancing to the Sweet 16 for you bracket bettors.

2023 NCAA Tourney Contenders to Fade

(4) Indiana Hoosiers

The Indiana Hoosiers have gone 1-5 ATS in their last six games. (Getty)

(Big Ten, At-Large Bid)

SU: 22-11
ATS: 15-17-1
O/U: 19-13
PPG: 75
OPPG: 68.5

Opening Matchup
Friday Mar. 16 vs. Kent State (9:55 p.m.)

Body language is often a tell-tale indicator and all season long we have been a bit astounded by the Hoosiers’ surprising detachment on the floor, as aside from a handful of instances this season, IU does not display much emotion on the court.  A byproduct of the  personality of alum and head coach Mike Woodson, perhaps, hardly like mentor Bob Knight in that regard, but the Hoosiers’ parts (especially 6-9 forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who looks unstoppable at times) have always looked greater than their sum.

A recent home blowout loss to Iowa was inexplicable,  and Indiana enters its first-round matchup vs. Kent State having dropped five of its last six spread decisions as chalk.  Woodson’s team has also dropped 10 of its last 13 spread decisions away from Bloomington, and at one time dropped seven straight vs. the line between mid-December and mid-January. Indiana has offered little spread value all season and hard to see that changing much in the Dance. 

(4) Tennessee Volunteers

(SEC, At-Large)

SU: 23-10
ATS: 17-16
O/U: 14-18
PPG: 71.8
OPPG: 58

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. Louisiana (9:40 p.m.)

Rick Barnes has never gotten past the Sweet 16 as coach of the Vols, and we’re not sure Tennessee even gets that far this March.  All season we have wondered about who might emerge as a go-to scorer for the Vols, as lack of one thereof has often been a trademark of past Barnes teams that have disappointed in the Dance.  Granted, some factors beyond Barnes’ control have conspired against the Vols this season; at times it looked like it could be guard Josiah-Jordan James, though he missed two extended chunks of games in December and January.  His presence, especially in combination with point guard Zakai Zeigler, allows UT to better spread the court.

But then Zeigler went down with a torn ACL two weeks ago and Barnes’ offense began to stutter, losing two of three since the Zeigler injury including a quick exit (courtesy Mizzou) in the SEC Tournament.  No matter, the Vols were not offering great spread value even when at full strength, but they enter Thursday’s first-round date in Orlando vs. UL-Lafayette only 4-8 their last 12 vs. the spread. 

(1) Houston Cougars

An injury to Houston's Marcus Sasser has created doubt for many pundits. (Getty)

(AAC, At-Large Bid)

SU: 31-3
ATS: 18-16
O/U: 15-18-1
PPG: 75.3
OPPG: 55.9

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. No. Kentucky (9:20 p.m.)

This might be the most talked-about injury since Patrick Mahomes’ sprained ankle in the recent NFL playoffs, as the Cougars’ chances for a second trip to the Final Four in three seasons might rest on how quickly, and if at all, star G Marcus Sasser can recover from the groin strain that he suffered in the American Tourney this past  weekend in Fort Worth against Cincinnati in the semifinal round.  Minus Sasser, the Cougs were easy pickin’ for Memphis in the Sunday title game, and now the wait begins into Thursday’s first-round game vs. Northern Kentucky.

By their nature, groin strains are not always quick healing, and Houston could have probably derived a small bit of benefit had they been slotted into a Friday-Sunday rotation for the sub-regionals instead of the Thursday-Saturday they get in Birmingham.  The rub with the Cougs is that even with Sasser available down the stretch, UH was often looking bored (perhaps a natural reaction against outclassed foes, and looking ahead to the serious business of the Dance), and has not been providing a lick of spread value for over a month, only 4-9 their last 13 vs. the number since late January (all, of course,  as chalk).  As the Cougs figure to be laying points if they last at least the first few rounds in the Dance, that recent spread performance needs to be noted. 

Maryland Terrapins

(Big Ten, At-Large Bid)

SU: 21-12
ATS: 21-12
O/U: 11-21
PPG: 70.4
OPPG: 63.2

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. West Virginia (12:15 p.m. ET)

It’s too bad for the Maryland Terps that none of their games in the Dance will be played at their Xfinity Center in College Park, where they were hard to beat this season.  (Unfortunate that  it  can’t be 1970 again, when Maryland hosted the Final Four at old Cold Fieldhouse). 

Away from home, not so much, as the Terps were just 1-10 SU in their last 11 games played away from home, as new HC Kevin Willard discovered first-heard the treacheries of the Big Ten road (only lowly Minnesota was victimized as a conference host by Maryland).  Indeed, there wasn’t this sort of dichotomy in home vs road spread performance from anyone else this season, as the Terps were 9-1 vs. the line their last ten as host, and the overall spread mark impresses only because of the proliferation of games at College Park from early in the campaign. (The only home loss suffered this season came in non-conference action vs. UCLA). 

Maryland also allowed Big Ten foes to shoot 51% from inside the arc, which usually doesn't portend a long stay at the Dance.  And first-round venue Birmingham (where West Virginia awaits) is a long way from just inside the DC Beltway, where Maryland lives and plays.