May. 30, 2016
Ten Teams Nobody is Talking About
A lot of people are still in the football mindset before moving to college basketball, and that's perfectly reasonable. Football is the main sport in America, and all you have probably heard about is how crazy the season has been, and how teams like Duke are struggling and teams like Baylor are overachieving. But, there are a lot of Sweet Sixteen and even Final Four dark horses out there, and if you intend on making money from your March bracket, this stuff is what's important. For instance, expecting Syracuse to get tot he Final Four would have helped you virtually win your bracket. Yes, Syracuse is a big name, but they went 23-14 on the year, finished 10th in the ACC, and didn't win an ACC tournament game. And yet, they beat Virginia (the team I picked to win it all, by the way) en route to a Final Four. I'm here to help you find these teams, and I have ten potential teams, both small conference and power conference. This is randomly constructed, and in no particular order.
1) ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS, (16-5; 5-3 in the SEC)
Most people believe that South Carolina and Florida are the only real threats to Kentucky for an SEC regular season and tournament championship, but those who count out Arkansas on making the NCAA tournament are crazy. They have a top 60 schedule in both conference and non-conference play, their RPI is 28, and four of their five losses are to the top four teams they have faced, and only one of them was in Arkansas. They've only played four teams with an RPI higher than 200, and two are in the SEC, and the other two played in the NCAA tournament last season. This team is also experienced, with most of their top players being juniors and seniors, and their offense is in the top 35 in the country. Best of all, the scoring is balanced. This team is not spectacular, but they are a team to watch for sure.
2) VALPARAISO CRUSADERS, (18-4; 8-1 in the Horizon)
Let's start off with the second highest scorer in the nation, Alec Peters (23.9 PPG), is on this team. Two of their four losses are also to Kentucky and Oregon, on the road. They have unnatural home losses to Santa Clara and Oakland, but they are also a really good team. They beat Alabama and BYU on a neutral court, and I know, they aren't great teams, but they would both be top level teams in their conference at the least. They also have beaten a Rhode Island team that was expected to be a ranked team throughout the season. This team isn't just Peters either, Shane Hammink and Tevonn Walker have both had outstanding seasons. This team is experienced, so keep an eye on the Crusaders.
3) WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS, (19-4; 9-1 in the Missouri Valley)
This team is really weird, they are 0-4 against the top 100 RPI and 19-0 against the rest. Believe it or not, but they are not in first place in the Missouri Valley for the first time since Creighton was in the conference. That loss at Illinois State was painful, but the Shockers still have the ability to make a run in the postseason. They have beaten Tulsa, at Colorado State, Oklahoma and LSU, and while those teams aren't great, they are still quality. And, as their RPI records show, they are going to beat teams they should. This Shockers team isn't full of veterans, but they are both balanced and deep as a roster. Don't let them shock you in March.
4) MARQUETTE GOLDEN EAGLES, (14-7; 5-4 in the Big East)
Don't sleep on Marquette, especially since Creighton, Butler and Xavier are all having problems in various ways. Oh, they scored 102 at Creighton, and they are one of two teams to beat Villanova. They have no awful losses, but losing to Pittsburgh and Michigan in non-conference play aren't really the best thing to do. Their best non-conference win was at Georgia, so they will need to keep winning conference games to get a good seed. Seven players on this roster are averaging between 13 and nine points per game, so balance and depth is not an issue. Marquette is actually the 17th best offense right now in the country, and they have both the youth and experience to play with anybody. Marquette isn't being talked about, and part of why is the seven losses, but don't let that fool you about their ability to win.
5) MIDDLE TENNESSEE BLUE RAIDERS, (19-3; 9-0 in the C-USA)
I bet none of you knew that Middle Tennessee's mascot is the Blue Raiders. Ignoring that point, their non-conference strength of schedule is 23rd in the country, and they have an RPI of 37 overall. The losses aren't spectacular, but they have wins against UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, at Ole Miss and at Belmont, all of whom are in the top 100, which they are 4-1 against. This team probably won't go anywhere, but I just want to give a shout out to this team for somehow winning 19 games.
6) VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES, (16-5, 5-4 in the ACC)
This team is a half game behind arch-rival Virginia in overall record, which may not seem like much to you and me but in Blacksburg it is HUGE. Buzz Williams has brought this team back from NCAA tournament purgatory, and with the way they have played this season you have to respect the Hokies. Their only non-conference loss was in a neutral court against Texas A&M, and their only home loss was Notre Dame. Winning at Michigan is their best non-conference win, so that part of the schedule doesn't add up, but Virginia Tech still has the benefit of the doubt right now. How about having the 31st best offense in the NCAA, or a 6 man senior class led by F Zach LeDay and G Seth Allen? Keep an eye on the Hokies as that under-the-radar ACC team.
7) NEVADA WOLF PACK, (18-4; 7-2 in the Mountain West)
I remember when the Wolf Pack were the only bad team in the Mountain West when they were the best conference according to Ken Pom a few years ago. Now, they are the clear favorite in the Mountain West, and they have already won road games against some of the tougher programs in the conference, Boise State, New Mexico and Wyoming. The only team in the top 85 they have played is a road game against St. Mary's, and the only power conference win is at Washington, but this team has earned this lead in the Mountain West. This team is already a Cinderella, and should be observed come tournament time.
8) SMU MUSTANGS, (18-4; 8-1 in the American)
Maybe it is because of the recent controversy, but everybody seems to have forgotten about Larry Brown and SMU. Against potential tournament teams in non-conference play, they have gone 3-2, and their only conference loss is in Cincinnati. SMU has been playing at a high level throughout the season, and former Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye is leading this team to a possible American Athletic Championship. Plus, having a legend like Larry Brown as a coach in March has to count for something, and the experience of this team is something to be careful of in March.
9) NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES, (21-2; 7-0 in the WAC)
Any team hiding in a corner of the United States with a record equal to that of the Kansas Jayhawks has to be considered under the radar. Well, that is the Aggies, and although they are in one of the lesser conferences and their best win is at Arizona State, winning this much has to count for something. With recent grad Pascal Siakam going to the NBA from this team and now this, you can bet this program is on the rise. This team has no household names, they have no extraordinary players, they just play good basketball. They kind of remind me of what Stephen F Austin used to be, and what Murray State was before that.
10) UTAH UTES, (15-6; 6-3 in the PAC-12)
I must admit, with how many seniors were on Utah last season and with Jakob Poeltl going pro, I wondered if Utah would have any chance of being successful. Now, they are one of the better teams in the Pac-12, and you have to give all of the credit to head coach Larry K (I don't want to spell his last name). They haven't really beaten anybody outside of the Pac-12, but the only bad loss this team has is in a neutral court vs. the University of San Francisco. This team has the depth and experience to make a run in the tournament, so don't forget to watch the Utes come tournament time.