Written by: Str8up
With Selection Sunday already a distant memory for most, everyone is now focusing their attention to dissecting every possible matchup in the NCAA Tournament. This year is set to be one of the more interesting tournaments we’ve seen in a while. There are great teams all over, from the one seeds to the double-digit seeds. Here are a few of those teams that I believe are truly underrated and could make a run in this year’s tournament.
- UNC Wilmington (12 Seed – East Region)
If this isn’t your first time watching the NCAA Tournament then you are most likely familiar with the infamous “5-12 matchup”. Last year we saw two of these upsets with the 12 seeds, Yale and Little Rock, upsetting Baylor and Purdue respectively. I don’t usually feed too much into these types of things, but this year looks very promising for twelve seeds, especially UNC Wilmington.
Last year UNCW surprised fans everywhere as a 13 seed when they put up an impressive performance against a strong Duke squad. UNCW was unable to pull off the upset, but they were still within five points with under a minute left in the game. Even though they lost, it was still a great learning experience for a promising young team.
Only losing one important piece of last year’s tournament squad in Craig Ponder, UNCW is even deadlier now that all of their key contributors have experience in March. The key for Wilmington will be their “big three” of Chris Flemmings, Denzel Ingram and C.J. Bryce. All three are proven scorers who can go off for 20 plus points on any given night. Look for Flemmings and Ingram to play extra hard as this is the last year for both of them at the college level.
This year Wilmington returns as a 12 seed to face a Virginia team who has already peaked earlier in the season. Even though Virginia isn’t at their best, it doesn’t mean this will be an easy win for UNCW. Virginia has the #1 scoring defense in the country, holding teams to just 55.6 PPG. On the other hand, UNC Wilmington has the #10 scoring offense in the country, putting up 85.2 PPG. Pair this with the fact that they rarely turn the ball over, shoot incredibly well from the field, and knock down a lot of three-pointers, Virginia has to be very cautious heading into this one.
Look out for them in the round of 32 where there could be two more favorable matchups against either Florida or ETSU.
2. Michigan (7 Seed – Midwest Region)
It has been a crazy couple of weeks for Michigan, getting beaten by Northwestern after a full court Hail Mary pass resulted in a buzzer-beating layup, having their plane slide off the runway due to high winds, and ultimately winning the Big 10 conference tournament despite all of the chaos. Michigan has done a complete 180 after a rough start to the season, and is now one of the deadliest teams heading into the NCAA Tournament.
This Wolverines squad is led by a pair of seniors, All-Big Ten first team snub Derrick Walton, and forward Zak Irvin. They also have one of the most underrated coaches in the country, John Beilein. Michigan is able to do what few other teams can, simply play smart basketball. They are among the best in the nation at not fouling, and commit the fewest turnovers per game in the country. Add to that the fact that Michigan is arguably the hottest team in college basketball and you would be hard pressed to find an opposing coach who felt comfortable going up against the Wolverines.
The team that will be going against Michigan in the first round is Oklahoma State, who is back in the tournament this year with new head coach Brad Underwood. Underwood had a lot of success during his time at Stephen F. Austin, reaching the tournament three times in each of his three years at the university. He now hopes to take it one step further with an Oklahoma State squad that has one of the most dynamic point guards in the nation at the helm, Jawun Evans.
Both teams have a lot in common, they can shoot the three-ball with excellent accuracy, and maybe most importantly, they can beat anybody in the country on any given night. However, Michigan has the edge in this one as Oklahoma State comes into the tournament on a three game losing streak. If the Wolverines can keep Jawun Evans in check, they have a legitimate shot to get to the Elite 8, or even the Final Four.
3. Iowa State (5 Seed – Midwest Region)
If we’re talking about teams who can beat anybody in the country, then I have to mention Iowa State. Their resume boasts wins against Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, and maybe most impressive, four wins against Oklahoma State. Leading the charge for Iowa State is the best pure point guard in the country, Monte Morris, who always comes to play, especially in big games as shown by his 25 point/7 assist performance in a win over Kansas and a 17 point performance in a victory against West Virginia to win the Big 12 Tournament.
Like Michigan, Iowa State is in prime position to make a deep run out of the Midwest region. Their biggest threat is a Kansas squad that they’ve proven that they can beat. The Final Four is probably the deepest I can see them going, but even appearing in the National Championship game wouldn’t surprise me. Another similarity to Michigan is that they don’t foul or turn the ball over much, while hitting a lot of three pointers. The main difference is that Iowa State is a much better team, while Michigan is a much hotter one.
Maybe the most impressive thing about this Iowa State team is that they have had this success without Georges Niang and Abdel Nader. They did get arguably their best scorer in Nazareth Mitrou-Long back, who last season, decided to sit out for the remainder of the year due to a lingering issue following hip surgery. With a healthy Mitrou-Long this Cyclones team is still looking like a final four lock, they have the potential, but it is going to take just a little more for them to reach it.
Middle Tennessee (12 Seed – South Region)
Middle Tennessee is another 12 seed that can do some real damage going against a weak 5 seed in Minnesota. If they make it to the second round I could see them knocking off Butler as well. Unfortunately for Middle Tennessee, if they make it to the sweet sixteen they will have to face North Carolina.
Middle Tennessee is a very good defensive team who is also very efficient on the other side of the ball. They rarely turn it over and are a great rebounding squad, this is a matchup that will cause opposing coaches to lose some sleep at night.
Rhode Island (11 Seed – Midwest Region)
If I haven’t already made it clear, the Midwest region is wide open. Rhode Island is finally getting hot, as they are healthy and starting to live up to preseason expectations. Watch out for junior guard E.C. Matthews, who could be one the most talked about names once the tournament gets under way. I expect either Rhode Island or Michigan to upset Louisville this year.
SMU (6 Seed – East Region)
SMU got the bad end of the deal on Selection Sunday, being placed slightly lower than they should have as a 6 seed ended up landing them in a deadly East Region that is also occupied by Villanova and Duke, among others. However, if there is one team that can pull an early upset off against Duke, it is SMU. There is definitely some extra motivation involved if the Mustangs do end up facing the Blue Devils.
They are led by Shake Milton and former Duke forward Semi Ojeleye, who ended up transferring to SMU after the 14/15 season due to a lack of playing time. Ojeleye has been on fire as of late, and the chance to get revenge against his old team, and to show Coach K why he should have given Ojeleye more minutes might be the motivation needed in order for an upset to occur.