There is no way the Dayton Flyers and Kentucky Wildcats felt good when the South bracket was revealed. Every year, you can set your watch to Wichita State being under-seeded and going on to upset the unlucky team they draw in the first round. As a no. 11 last year, the Shockers romped in the First Four, upset no. 6 Arizona in the first round, and then narrowly fell to no. 3 Miami. In 2015, they entered as a no. 7 and upset no. 2 Kansas in the second-round. Going back to 2013, Gregg Marshall’s squad went all the way to the Final Four as a no. 9. So … good luck, Dayton.
Due to recent history, calling Wichita State a bracket-buster, sleeper, Cinderella story, upset-special, or any other synonymous phrase you can come up with is cheating. We all know how dangerous the Missouri Valley champions are. Instead, I want to focus on some lesser-known schools who could go on a run this March.
Here are five teams you need to be weary of when filling out your bracket, complete with their upset odds. Let the Madness begin.
No. 11 Rhode Island Rams, Midwest Region
If not for EC Matthews tearing his ACL in Rhode Island’s first game of the 2015-16 season, the Rams would have snapped their NCAA Tournament drought last year. Matthews is back to full-health and led his team to an Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Championship, putting the Rams back in the big dance for the first time since 1999.
Matthews didn’t do it alone. Fellow senior Hassan Martin played a lot bigger than his listed 6’7″ height, averaging seven rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
Dan Hurley’s squad defends the perimeter very well, holding opponents to 29-percent from behind the arc (second in the nation). The Rams only allow 64.9 points per game (29th), and in spite of their size, or lack thereof, URI still comes away with 74.1-percent of rebounds on the defensive end. This is a team that is very difficult to score against.
In the first-round, the Rams draw no. 6 Creighton, who have not been the same team since Maurice Watson Jr. tore his ACL in mid-January. If Rhode Island can pull off the upset, they would likely get Oregon in the second round, who have also been hurt by injury, losing Chris Boucher to a torn ACL. Matthews and co. are hot right now, having won eight straight, and I like them to advance to the Sweet 16.
Odds to advance to the Round of 32: 11/12
Odds to advance to the Sweet 16: 7/2
Odds to advance to the Final Four: 24/1
No. 12 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, South Region
Remember that team you had never heard of who upset your champion pick, Michigan State, in the first-round of last year’s tournament? Yeah, that was these guys. And they’re better than they were last year. Senior forward JaCorey Williams has been a beast in his first season with the Blue Raiders, averaging a team-high 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Though Middle Tennessee relies on its tough defense, surrendering just 63.3 points per game (19th), Kermit Davis has his team running an efficient offense, as well. The Conference USA champions rank 32nd in offensive efficiency and 18th in turnovers per possession. The Blue Raiders are not going to beat themselves.
Their first-round foe, no. 5 Minnesota, isn’t overly efficient offensively (174th), and will fall to a much more fundamentally sound team. Middle Tennessee would then likely meet Butler in the second-round, which has dropped two straight entering the tournament. JaCorey Williams will be too much.
Odds to advance to the Round of 32: 1/1
Odds to advance to the Sweet 16: 4/1
Odds to advance to the Final Four: 33/1
No. 12 Nevada Wolf Pack, Midwest Region
Head coach Eric Musselman has his Wolf Pack running one of the country’s best offenses. Marcus Marshall and co. rank 29th in efficiency, 34th in points per game, 24th in assists per game, and rarely turn the ball over (16th in turnover rate). On top of that, Nevada generally controls the glass, securing 52.6-percent of total rebounds.
Unfortunately, Musselman’s squad draws a tough no. 5 Iowa State team. The Cyclones are Big 12 Tournament Champions, and have won nine of their last ten games. But I believe Marcus Marshall will win the battle of the guards, and his supporting cast will feast on the Cyclones’ so-so perimeter defense.
Odds to advance to the Round of 32: 4/3
Odds to advance to the Sweet 16: 9/2
Odds to advance to the Final Four: 40/1
No. 13 Bucknell Bison, West Region
Ok, now we’re getting into the long-shots. The first-round matchup between no. 4 West Virginia and no. 13 Bucknell can go one of two ways: one, “Press Virginia” turns the Bison over early and often, putting the game away in the first half; or two, the Patriot League Champions remain calm under pressure and take this game to the wire.
This is more about having little confidence in West Virginia being able to score, especially away from Morgantown, than it is confidence in Bucknell. The Bison do have the shooters to get hot, though, possessing the 22nd-best effective field goal-percentage in the country.
Odds to advance to the Round of 32: 13/7
Odds to advance to the Sweet 16: 6/1
Odds to advance to the Final Four: 66/1
No. 14 New Mexico State Aggies, East Region
Just like above, this is a case where I’m not very confident in the favorite: no. 3 Baylor. On paper, the Bears possess far too much length and are way too athletic to allow the Aggies to make this a game. But we said those exact same things the last two tournaments, when Baylor was bounced in the first-round as a no. 5 and no. 3.
If Paul Weir can find a way to frustrate Johnathan Motley, and Braxton Huggins heats up from downtown, the Aggies could send the Bears home early again. Don’t expect New Mexico State to make a run, but they may spoil Baylor’s tourney.
Odds to advance to the Round of 32: 7/3
Odds to advance to the Sweet 16: 11/1
Odds to advance to the Final Four: 125/1
Photo Credit: flickr user gleηη (http://www.flickr.com/photos/simmogl/3121865160/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.