Every year the NCAA Tournament has its share of Cinderella teams. Just last year, eight double-digit seeds advanced to the third round and three all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. They are generally teams from smaller conferences who have something to prove to the big boys of college basketball. They may also be high-profile programs who had a down year, but managed to get an at-large berth anyway. Here are ten schools that fall into one of those categories that have the talent to make some noise in the “Big Dance.”
Note: obviously this schools aren’t locks to win games since they are considered underdogs, but they all have more than enough talent to make a run if the ball bounces their way.
BYU would surely make this list if not for the loss of Kyle Collinsworth who is out for the season. As is, the Cougars are still capable of winning, but have less of a chance without one of their best players.
Stephen F. Austin, 12-seed. After losing three of their first five games of the season, the Lumberjacks have won 28 straight games leaving them with a record of 31-2 on the year. They are very balanced offensively with five players scoring at least 9.6 points a game. The Lumberjacks really now how to distribute the ball as well. They are eighth in the nation in assists a game. If Desmond Heymon and Jacob Parker can get it going VCU will have their hands full with the regular season and tournament champs from the Southland Conference.
Harvard, 12-seed: The Crimson lost a total of four games all year and two of them came in the nonconference to tournament teams. They won the Ivy league by four games after going 13-1. Harvard has five players who score in double figures led by junior Wesley Saunders and sophomore Siyani Chambers. Both can score the ball, facilitate the offense and play aggressive defense. The thing that should make the Bearcats of Cincinnati most nervous is the fact that Harvard is tournament tested. As a 14-seed in 2013, the Crimson beat Mountain West Conference powerhouse New Mexico to advance to the third round.
Providence, 11-seed: The Friars got hot at the right time and won three straight games to win the Big East tournament title. In the Championship game they knocked off a highly ranked Creighton team. Providence is led by one of the best guards in the country in senior Bryce Cotton. Cotton has played nearly every minute this season and can do it all. He averages 21.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game. If North Carolina can’t contain him then the Friars will be tough to beat.
Saint Joseph’s, 10-seed: the Hawks are as battle tested as they come after fighting through a very difficult Atlantic 10 this season. They have won nine of their last 11 games including a pair of wins against both Dayton and VCU who are both in the tournament. Saint Joesph’s is led in scoring by senior guard Langston Galloway who averages 17.5 points a night on 43.9 percent shooting from behind the arc. If the Connecticut Huskies give him an inch Galloway will surely take advantage. Another piece of the Hawks puzzle that the Huskies need to worry about is senior big man Halil Kanacevic. Kanacevic is a solid scorer and a monster on the glass. To top it off, he led the Hawks in assists at 4.4 a game. Kanacevic isn’t alone done low either. Ronald Roberts Jr. can is a talented score and a really good rebounder. He averages 14.4 points a game on 59.8 percent shooting from the field to go along with 7.4 rebounds.
Arizona State, 10-seed: the Sun Devils have the ultimate inside out combination with Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski. Carson is an ultra quick point guard who loves to get to the paint and draw fouls or create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Carson is averaging 18.6 points, four rebounds and 4.5 assists a game. When he’s dishing the ball chances are that its to going to Jordan Bachynski for an easy lay-up or to guard Jermaine Marshall. Marshall is an effective outside shooter and scorer who averages 15 points a night on 40 percent shooting from 3-point range. When Marshall is cold, the Sun Devils struggle, but when he is hitting, they are hard to beat. Bachynski is a solid post presence on offense but does most of his damage on the defensive end where he blocks 4.1 shots a game. The Texas Longhorns will definitely have the work cut out for them against the Sun Devils.
North Carolina State, 12-seed: the Wolfpack have already cleared their first hurdle of the tournament after knocking of Xavier 74-59 on Tuesday night in a first round game. Even though they finished with a .500 record in the ACC, North Carolina State is peaking at the right time having won five of their last six games. Included in the stretch was a huge win against Syracuse in the ACC tournament quarter finals. The Wolfpack is led by one of the best scorers in the country in Sophomore forward T.J. Warren who averages 24.8 points a game. If Warren has his offense working then he and the Wolfpack are hard to stop.
New Mexico State, 13-seed: the Aggies are about as balanced as they come on the offensive end with four players scoring in double figures and seven who score at leat 7.5 points a game. Even though New Mexico State struggled at times on the road in the watered down WAC, they faced enough talented teams in the nonconference schedule to know they can compete with anyone when they play well. They are led by junior guard Daniel Mullings who scores 16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game. They also have a huge inside presence in 7’5″ sophomore center Sim Bhullar. Bhullar averages 10.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. He is just one part of the Aggies’ talented front court. Bhullar is joined by 6’10” junior Tshilidzi Nephawe who puts up 11.1 points and 7.8 rebounds a contest. Their size alone could be a nightmare for the San Diego State Aztecs.
North Dakota State, 12-seed: the Bison have won 14 of their last 15 games after starting out the season with an 11-5 record. North Dakota State is led by senior guard Taylor Braun who is averaging 18.2 point on 44.1 percent 3-point shooting to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists a night. The one thing that the Bison really do well is shoot the ball. They led the country in field goal percentage at 50.9 percent shooting from the floor. If the Bison get clean looks at the basket, they will be a tough second round opponent for the Oklahoma Sooners.
Delaware, 13-seed: after starting out the season at 6-7, the Fighting Blue Hens won 19 of their last 21 games to make it to the tournament. They love to push the basketball and have three fantastic scorers in Devon Sadler, Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt. Sadler leads the way with averages of 19.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Usher isn’t too far behind in the scoring column putting up 19.4 points a night to go along with 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Threatt is the engine that makes the Blue Hens go. He loves to attack the basket and draws plenty of fouls. Threatt is averaging 18.1 points on 10 free-throw attempts a night as well as 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.5 steals. It will take great outings from all three players for Delaware to knock off Michigan State, but if they can get by the Spartans the Blue Hens could go a long way.
Mercer, 14-seed: the Bears do everything well. They are in the top 40 nationally in scoring (25th), rebounding (38th), assists (10th) and field goal percentage (29th). Mercer is also battled-tested after having faced the likes of Texas, Seton Hall, Oklahoma and Mississippi in the nonconference. The Bears are led by senior guard Langston Hall who averages 14.7 points and 5.6 assists a game. while no other Mercer player scores in double figures, they do have five guys who score between 7.8 and 9.9 points a night. The Bears have a tough test in the Blue Devils, but if Duke isn’t ready to go Mercer can push them to the limit.