Every year there are teams that not many people know of who end up busting NCAA Tournament Brackets. Last year, a 15th seeded Middle Tennessee beat a 2nd seeded Michigan State team. The other unheralded teams who won in last season’s NCAA tournament were: Yale, Stephen F. Austin and Hawaii.
There was in no doubt more upsets than that, but those teams were the ones from smaller conferences, who were able to really surprise people. This season there will, in no doubt, be more upsets from teams that people haven’t heard much about. If you wan’t a head-start on preparing for your bracket pool, start following these teams:
UNC Wilmington Seahawks
The Seahawks made an impressive showing in last season’s NCAA Tournament when, as a 13th seed, they stuck with 4th seeded Duke for the majority of their first round match-up. The good news for UNC Wilmington is that they returned a lot of the key players from that game.
This season, the Seahawks are a quiet 19-2 so far. While they haven’t played the toughest schedule they are 19th in RPI. Their two losses both came to respectable teams, Clemson and Middle Tennessee. UNC Wilmington’s main strength is their ability to score. They are 11th in the country in points per game, averaging 86.3 points per game.
Chris Flemmings is the star for the Seahawks and averages 15.9 points per game. His size, at 6’5″ tall, and ball handling skills, make it easy for him to create his own shot. C.J. Bryce does a little bit of everything for UNCW at guard with 17.1 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game and 3.1 assists per game. Bryce struggles shooting from deep, but he and Flemmings team up well together. In last season’s game against Duke, the two combined for 34 points.
The two downfalls of the Seahawks will be their lack of size and defense. Their tallest starter is 6’7″ tall. If they get matched-up with a team that has good inside play, they will have a lot to overcome. With their lack of size, they will likely have trouble defending bigger players. For the Seahawks, they need to hope to outscore their opponent as they have all season long.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
The Blue Raiders were able to pull of one of the most memorable upsets in recent NCAA Tournament history when they defeated Michigan State. Like UNCW, Middle Tennessee also returns a lot of players from last season’s team.
Middle Tennessee has a record of 17-3 and ranks 31st in RPI. They have a lot of solid wins on the season, including: Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, UNCW and Belmont. Their defense is the reason that they are so good. They allow just 64.4 points per game, which is 32nd best in the country. The defense holds up against good competition, as they held Vanderbilt (48), Ole Miss (62), UNCW (63) and Belmont (66), to a limited amount of points.
Three players do the vast majority of the scoring for the Blue Raiders. JaCorey Williams, the transfer from Arkansas, averages 17.8 points per game that mostly come on the interior. Also scoring on the inside is Reggie Upshaw, who averages 14.9 points per game. Giddy Potts, the only guard of the trio, averages 15.2 points per game. With these three players producing, they only need minimal help from their teammates.
The defense is so good because they have the necessary size to defend, something not all mid-major teams have. With Williams and Upshaw both standing at 6’8″ tall, they can match-up with most teams in the country. In order for teams to beat the Blue Raiders they will need to shut down one or two of the big three players in their scoring trio.
The Crusaders weren’t in the tournament last season and have a new head coach, making their good play this season unique. Matt Lottich has Valparaiso as a team to beat in the Horizon League this season.
Valparaiso is 16-4 on the season and ranked 48th in RPI. This might not be the greatest of the teams on this list, but they do have impressive wins. They have beaten Alabama, BYU and Rhode Island. Two of their four losses came to great teams in Oregon and Kentucky. The Crusaders are decent at scoring and defense, but what really sets them over the edge is their rebounding. They average 40 rebound a game, which is 23rd best in the country.
There are two major players to watch out for on the Crusaders. Alec Peters is a 6’9″ post player that averages 24.2 points per game and 10.9 rebounds. He can also stretch the floor a little bit, shooting 33% from behind the arc. Shane Hammick is a big guard, at 6’7″ tall, from the Netherlands. He averages 15.3 points per game on 50% shooting. With these two players rolling Valpo is hard for any team to stop.
To beat Valparaiso come tournament time, teams will need to have good athleticism and speed to push the ball up the court and score, as the Crusaders won’t be able to keep up.