We’ve seen it before. The rare case of that lower seeded team that takes a long run in the NCAA Tournament. The eighth-seeded Villanova Wildcats won the title in 1985, the lowest seeded team to ever win the title. Three 11 seeds have made it to the Final Four, LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. Even last year, the 10th seeded Syracuse Orange rode the hot streak of Malachi Richardson to a final four appearance. Anything is possible come tourney time.
But this season, the vibe is heavily leaning on the big names and big schools are stealing all the headlines. North Carolina with Justin Jackson, Duke with Jayson Tatum, UCLA with Lonzo Ball and even the Kentucky Wildcats with Malik Monk and De’Aron Fox are all favorites to go far in the tournament. But what happens when they possibly go up against a team who rode a hot streak to enter the tourney? What happens when that one player explodes and makes it rain like Stephen Curry in 2008? No team is safe when the basketball gods give those special teams, not even the most dominant.
So here are four teams that might be non-conventional picks to go pretty far in the tournament. Some unheralded teams without a recognizable star but play a brand of basketball fit for March. Squads who are riding some hot streaks or might have a favorable road to Phoenix.
This Notre Dame team could be one of the more surprising teams we see in the tournament this year. Bonzie Colson has had a tremendous year and is a tough matchup for just about anyone. The Fighting Irish have the team structure built for a deep tourney run. They have five players who can reliably knock down threes including the emerging Matt Farrell. Farrell has been the main ball handler this season and has filled the role nearly perfectly. His efficient scoring and playmaking ability makes it a lot easier for the shooters to get good looks. Don’t be surprised to see Notre Dame survive the West Region. Yes, Notre Dame is a five seed. But for a team with back-to-back elite eight appearances in the last two tourneys, the Fighting Irish are not a team you should take lightly in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
The veteran Wolverines already surprised the college basketball world by winning the Big 10 Tournament last week to end a pretty hectic week. Led by Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin, Michigan could make their way through the Midwest Region. If they were to make it to the Final Four, hypothetically they would have to take down Oklahoma State, Louisville, Oregon, and Kansas. The defense will be key to these upsets, which has been their strong suit for the majority of the season. It’s a long shot, but we’ve seen experienced teams like the Wolverines make some noise before.
Rhode Island enters the tournament as an 11 seed to really keep your eye out for. The Rams of Rhode Island entered the year ranked 23rd in the country so you know the team is not your run of the mill 11 seed. They started the year 4-0 and played Duke tough, losing by 10 in the Naismith Hall of Fame Tipoff in late November. They struggled to rack up quality wins once conference play started, though. Although they finished 3rd in the A-10 many felt they needed to make the championship game of their conference tournament to get in. Well, Dan Hurley’s squad took that to heart and got on a roll winning the entire tournament, entering the tournament on an 8 game winning streak. Led by the dangerous lefty E.C Matthews who has returned well from an ACL tear that cost him his entire junior season. The Rams led the A-10 in scoring defense, field goal percentage, and three-point defensive percentage. With Hassan Martin inside averaging just over two blocks per game, the Rams are built on stingy defense that could wreak havoc in March.
East Tennessee State
The Buccaneers are coached by an up and coming Steve Forbes who was an assistant under Greg Marshall back from 2013-2015 before being hired at ETSU in 2015. We know what Marshall has done turning Wichita State into a mid-major powerhouse and in just two short years Forbes already has ETSU dancing. The Buccaneers are an experienced team, in fact, they’re the seventh oldest in Division 1. That kind of experience will be positive in that they shouldn’t be easily rattled in the tournament or versus a big name team like Florida. Florida has struggled since the injury of their best interior defender, John Egbunu and could be ripe for an upset. With a scorer like senior guard T.J Cromer who averages 19 points a game, the Bucs have a place to go to get that needed bucket. I like the Bucs to pull off the upset over a vulnerable Florida team that can struggle to score at times.