March, the month that brings millions of sports fans and non-sports fans together. The March Madness tournament is arguably one of the most wide open competitions in all of professional, college and amateur sports. Mainly because it is college athletes competing and anything from a win streak, a turnover, a posterizing dunk, a late three pointer or a coach’s pregame speech can turn the momentum in one team’s favor and send them on a historic run.
If you’re filling out a bracket for the first time this year, throw the teams’ seedings out the window, they mean nothing. Well, they mean very little but never underestimate a lower seeded team. Year after year, we see lower seeds knock off big “overhyped” schools and make runs deep into the tournament that always reminds us seedings mean very little.
This year, the playing field is fairly even across the board. Sure there is a handful of teams that are significantly better than a majority of teams in the tournament, but very little separates those top tier teams. Everyone usually picks the 1 seed from one of the four regions to win it all and typically that’s a safe pick. Villanova, Gonzaga, University of North Carolina and University of Kansas earned the 1 seeds this year and are poised to make deep runs in this year’s tournaments. But what about the 64 other teams in the tournament? If you are feeling like neither of the 1 or 2 seeded teams in this year’s tournament are worthy of your champion selection, I got you covered. I will go over four 3-7 seeded teams that have the best shot of going far into the tournament and make a final four appearance. And if you are looking for “Cinderellas”, I got you covered as well as I’ll give you four 8 or lower seeded teams that have the best shot of making it to the Sweet 16.
In the mix: The Overlooked 3-7 Seeds
- Butler University: The Bulldogs are dancing for the ninth time in 11 years are threats every time they make the tournament. After finishing second in a tough Big East conference, Butler earns a 4 seed in the south region. This is one of their best starting seeds in a tournament as they are 4-0 when playing as the higher seed in their postseason history. They average 76 points per game (PPG), only allow opponents 68 PPG, shoot 47% from the field and take care of the ball really well only giving up 10 turnovers per game. They are a veteran squad with six of their nine players in the rotation are upperclassmen. They play very good defense and run teams from off the three point line, limiting opponents to 33.4% from deep, but they themselves can’t shoot beyond the arc well and that could haunt them. Butler, during the regular season gave 2016 NCAA champion Villanova University two of its three losses on the year, so they won’t shy away from tough competition, which they will need in a region that contains University of North Carolina, University of Kentucky and UCLA. I think they have favorable matchups against two of those three teams so don’t count them out of advancing to the Final Four.
- . University of Oregon: The Ducks have quacked up a storm in the Pac 12 conference this year and earned a 3-seed in the Midwest region for the big dance. They finished the regular season as co-Pac 12 champions but fell short in the conference tournament. Unlike the Oregon teams of the past that are offensive teams, this year’s Oregon squad is a lot more balanced but they still have the offensive firepower. They averaged 79 PPG, held opponents to 65 PPG, shot 38% from 3-point range (50th in nation) and protected the paint averaging seven blocks per game. They are led by senior guard Dillon Brooks who leads the team in scoring with 16.9 PPG and shoots an exceptional 41.4% from beyond the arc. They are bit streaky at times so that could be a red flag if they miss their shots early. Nonetheless, this is going to be a fun team to watch and a scary team to play in this year’s tournament.
- University of West Virginia: Also know as “Press Virginia” due to their style of full court defense they play through the duration of a game, is in the tournament now for the third year in a row. But who can forget last year’s disappointing first round exit as the #3 seed was upset by Stephen F. Austin? Well this is a different Bob Huggins team because contrary to the West Virginia teams in the past that were defensively spectacular but offensively inefficient, the 2017 Mountaineers team has a really good balance of both. They averaged nearly 82 PPG on offense while still locking down on defense only allowing opponents to 66 PPG. They finished fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency and first in forcing opponents to commit turnovers 24.5% of possessions per game. Their only weakness is rebounding the ball and limiting second chance opportunities which could be a problem if they face a good offensive rebounding team. Beware of West Virginia in the West region because they will give Gonzaga a run for their money.
- UCLA: After not reaching the tournament last year, the Bruins are back in the big dance and it’s hard not to ignore them as one of the favorites to win it all this year. UCLA had a monster regular season largely in part to the two new freshmen, guard Lonzo Ball (14.6 PPG, 7.7 APG, 54% FG) and forward TJ Leaf (16.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 61% FG). No one in the country had a better scoring offense than the Bruins who averaged 90.4 PPG. They shoot 40.5% as a team from beyond the arc and move the ball exceptionally well averaging 21 assists per game. But the defense is an are of concern for the Bruins as their defensive efficiency ranks 79th in the nation. Also, we have seen in the past that no matter how great the talent, younger inexperienced teams struggle when they face adversity on the big stage. Still, teams need to beware of UCLA because if they are feeling themselves and are firing on all cylinders, their won’t be a team that can stop them.
If the slipper fits: The potential Cinderella 8-16 seeds
- Marquette University: As a 10-seed, many people are going to overlook the Golden Eagles but I’m warning you right now don’t. Marquette led the entire nation shooting 43% from 3-point range and have a platoon of guards that can come in and knock down threes. They averaged 83 PPG, shot 78% at the charity stripe and they have a key signature win this year versus 2016 national champion Villanova. They have two favorable matchups to start the tournament as well, facing the South Carolina Gamecocks, who were inconsistent all year, in the first round and could potentially play Duke University, who has a history of falling short of big expectations, in the second round. The Golden Eagles might find themselves as far as the Elite 8 this year.
- Wichita State University: Making a sixth consecutive appearance in the big dance, can we even count Wichita as a Cinderella anymore? They were given a 10-seed in this year’s tournament which is pretty disrespectful and I am sure they are not too pleased with it either. Despite the departure of two key players from last year’s team, head coach Gregg Marshall has just as deep a roster as he’s had in the past. The team plays a suffocating defense that held opponents to shoot 37.9% from the field (fifth in the nation) and limit opponents scoring to 62.5 PPG. Two of their best guards, Landry Shamet and Connor Frankamp, shoot well over 40% from 3-point range and as a team they shoot 41% from long distance. If that isn’t scary enough they are also riding a 15 game win streak heading into the tournament. Do not be surprised if Wichita makes a deep run and busts everybody’s brackets.
- Princeton University: Beware of those Ivy League schools in the tournament! Who can forget Yale University last year knocking off Baylor in the first round and giving Duke a scare in the second? Or in 2014 when Harvard upset Cincinatti? Or Harvard again in 2013 knocking out a 3-seeded New Mexico team? Or before all of that when Cornell University advanced all the way to the sweet 16 in 2010? Ivy League teams are simply scary to face in the tournament and this Princeton team is no different. Winners of 19 straight games, the Tigers haven’t lost since December 20th so it’s hard to imagine their is a team in the tournament more confident than them.
- Oklahoma State University: Last but not least, the Cowboys who landed a 10-seed in the Midwest region. This team has all the offensive fire power it needs to upset higher seeded teams as they averaged 85 PPG (sixth in nation) and shot 40.3% from 3-point range (eight in the nation). Despite losing its last three games going into the tournament, Oklahoma State had to play the third toughest schedule in the nation so they will not shy away from good competition. They struggle to win rebounds but they excel at the free throw line shooting 79% on the season. If the teams they face in the tournament happen to fall asleep on defense, expect Oklahoma State to advance past the first weekend and potentially go further in the tournament.