Seven mid-major teams in the “Big Dance” may be good enough to make the final weekend. If not, they have the potential to wreck your bracket. Glass may crack easily but if the slipper fits, Prince Charming may be hanging in a San Antonio locker room.
Usually, when a team has to play for the third day in a row in a conference tournament, fatigue hits and things start to go wrong. This was not the case for Bob McKillop’s Wildcats as they beat the top-ranked Rhode Island Rams in the Atlantic 10 Championship Game to steal a bid in the NCAA Tournament. According to KenPom, Davidson has the 18th best offense in the country. That’s better than four out of the top five seeds in their region (Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Kentucky). While Virginia, Cincinnati and Tennessee all boast top five defenses, Davidson’s first-round opponent, Kentucky, does not. Look for Davidson to try to out-score John Calipari’s young Kentucky squad and advance to the second round.
Buffalo isn’t a team that many of the so-called “experts” are picking as a potential Cinderella candidate. That is in large part thanks to a very large man named DeAndre Ayton who is a beast on both ends of the floor for Arizona and is arguably the best player in the nation. However, Buffalo does have the 42 best offense in the country and plays at the 15th fastest pace. If Buffalo Head Coach Nate Oats can game plan for Ayton, and Buffalo can play at their tempo, the Bulls could pull off one of the most shocking upsets in this year’s tournament.
Historically, 11 seeds win 37.1% of the games versus 6 seeds and Loyola-Chicago is the trendiest pick to do it this year. Loyola-Chicago had a big win early in the year against Florida even though the Ramblers weren’t playing at full health. Loyola’s defense ranks 24th in the country and should be able to slow down Miami’s 54th ranked offense. Maybe the most glaring stat is that according to KenPom, Loyola is the 42 best team in the country and Miami is only a couple spots ahead at 36. If you take into account the KenPom rankings of the rest of the teams in the Tournament, this suggests that Loyola was under-ranked as a #11 seed and should have actually been a #9 seed and Miami is over-ranked as a #6 seed and should actually be closer to an #8 seeds. Everyone knows how hard it is to predict the winners of #8 vs #9 games and with their stingy defense, current hot streak from winning their conference tournament, and underdog mentality, Loyola could very easily run Miami out of the gym.
South Dakota St.
South Dakota St. has one of the best scorers in the country in Mike Daum. On the other side of the court, Ohio St. has one of the best players in the country in Keita Bates-Diop. Thanks to Daum, South Dakota St. sports the 41st best offense in the country according to KenPom and they play at an above average tempo which always bodes well for tournament success. South Dakota St. was also in the tournament last year so don’t expect them to be blinded by the big lights of the tournament, the Jackrabbits will be zeroed in on upsetting one of this year’s most surprisingly good teams in Ohio St.
UNC Greensboro got a really tough draw in Gonzaga who I personally believe is the best four seed in the tournament and the tournament’s sixth-best team overall. However, there’s a reason it’s called March Madness so you can’t count the Spartans out. UNC Greensboro has the 30th best defense in the country according to KenPom which could potentially stifle the Bulldogs if the Spartans are on their A-game and get a couple of lucky bounces.
San Diego St.
Like Davidson, San Diego St. is another team that stole a bid from one of the first four teams out by winning the Mountain West Tournament. The Aztecs boast a 36th ranked defense according to KenPom and play at a high tempo. These factors paired with the fact that they are on a hot streak after winning the MWC Tournament could lead to an upset of 6th seeded Houston. The biggest thing San Diego St. will have to do is figure out how to slow down Houston star Rob Gray who is one of the best-unheralded players in the country.
New Mexico St.
Finally, we get to New Mexico St. The Aggies are the most popular pick to make a Cinderella run in the 2018 tournament. New Mexico St. got a good draw in a Clemson team is only 7-6 after losing star player Devonte Grantham to a season-ending injury earlier in the season. New Mexico St. also returns to the tournament after getting a bid last season and has the 14th best defense in the country according to KenPom. New Mexico St. is also hot of course due to the fact that they won their conference tournament. There’s always at least one 12 seed that upsets a 5 seed and there’s a good chance that New Mexico St. will be one who does it this year. If New Mexico St. gets by Clemson in the first round, they will most likely face Auburn in the second round. The Tiger’s are another team that has been hit hard by a late-season injury. Since losing Anfernee McLemore to a season-ending injury Auburn is 2-4. I’m penciling in the Aggies to make a run to the Sweet 16 and be the darling of this year’s tournament.
HMG Guest Writer: Sterling Myhre