For most college basketball fans, it’s never too early to look forward and to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament is notorious for upsets and Cinderella teams that make an unexpectedly deep run. Although the NCAA Tournament is nearly impossible to predict, we are going to take a shot at trying to spot some of the best under the radar and mid-major teams that have the ability to knock off teams like UNC, Duke, Kentucky or even Virginia (No UMBC is not on this list, unfortunately).
The first team that lands on our list are the Furman Paladins. To many this isn’t extremely surprising, Furman has already been ranked this season. They have beaten the defending champion Villanova Wildcats in the Pavilion as a very strong non-conference win. The Paladins have five scorers who average over nine points per game and are led by senior forward Matt Rafferty who averages just under 18 points a game and shoots nearly 67% from the field.
They have dropped two games this season to Eastern Tennessee State and LSU which were both true road games. In those games they shot 37 and 38 percent in both respectively from the field. They also shot 29 and 23 percent from the three-point line. A team that averages nearly 81 points has proven that when they are shooting well they are tough to beat, but when they aren’t shooting as well, they struggle to even come close to competing. Furman can shoot their way into any game, which typically causes problems for teams in March. Look for Furman to land around a 12 seed (if they win their conference tournament), a spot in which could allow them to win a game.
The second team also shouldn’t come to a surprise for most. The Wofford Terriers always seem to play a tough non-conference schedule. Unfortunately, both Wofford and Furman play in the Southern Conference, which means that whichever one wins the conference championship, will attempt to be the first giant on this list. Wofford seemingly never fails to impress. They have three scorers that all average more than 13 points a game. Despite Wofford’s 12-4 record, they have lost four games to (2) Kansas, Oklahoma, (17) Mississippi State and (8) North Carolina. Four losses that aren’t bad on the resume at all.
Wofford is the 42nd best defensive team in the country allowing under 65 points a game. They are also one of the top 25 offensive teams scoring over 83 points a game. Even with playing some of the best teams in the country Wofford plays very good defense and can score in bunches, which is absolutely the recipe for success in March.
Vermont is the favorite in the American East almost every season. The Catamounts are led by junior forward Anthony Lamb who averages nearly 22 points a game. The Catamounts have three scorers that average double figures. Lamb has scored in double figures in all but one game this season and has scored over 20 in seven of the 15 games he has played in. He has scored over 33 in three games this season with a 42 point game in a double-overtime win against St Bonaventure. The Catamounts play good defense and can also score with ease as well. They control the pace and continually find a way to win tough games in the American. With a strong post presence and good guards, the Catamounts could be a tough out come tournament time.
Another team that is familiar with the big dance is the Georgia State Panthers. Georgia State has notched wins against Georgia, Stony Brook, Eastern Tennessee State and Alabama this season.
Although Georgia State seems to not measure up in size, they create mismatches at every single position. They rebound by committee and can all shoot the ball. They don’t have a player above 6-foot-9 but they still manage to rebound the ball at an above average clip. Georgia State has a recent NCAA history and Ron Hunter knows what it takes to make his team click in March. Look for Georgia State to slide into around a 14 seed with a chance to knock off one of the NCAA’s elites.
Grand Canyon Antelopes:
The final team is a little bit of a deeper reach. Every good giant killer list needs an Antelope appearance. The Antelopes have one of the best home-court advantages in all of college basketball. If it’s possible, they also have some of the most impressive losses in the country. They have a seven-point loss to Seton Hall, an eight-point loss at (6) Nevada, a nine-point loss to Utah and a five-point road loss to reigning Summit Leag champion South Dakota State. The most impressive of all is the Nevada game, it was nearly a one possession game the entire time into which Nevada made all the plays needed to win the game.
Grand Canyon also has played just five and a half years of Division I basketball which also makes them a compelling pick come March. They are in search of their first ever NCAA birth and with six players averaging over eight points a game they are a score by committee bunch. Grand Canyon might at most jump up to a 15 seed if they win their conference tournament, but the Antelopes are a team that play with a lot of energy and anyone can score for them. They will cause problems come tournament time.
Featured image from Baltimore Sun.
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