The best part of March Madness has for me has always been the first round of the NCAA tournament. It seems every year there are multiple teams nobody thinks has a chance that surprise and knock off a supposed “Big Dog”. Today we are going to look at the teams who I believe will have the best chance to go on a magical run through March Madness.
1) Middle Tennessee State (30-4)
The Blue Raiders have been my sleeper since the start of the season. They own quality wins over Vanderbilt and UNC Wilmington. They upset Michigan State in last year’s tournament, so the chance that somebody may overlook them will be gone.
Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams has been a big addition for the Bule Raiders, the biggest weakness for the Raiders will be their lack of depth. Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw combined for 40 points in last year’s upset of the Spartans and they are both back for another possible Cinderella run.
MTSU will open with a game that looks very winnable against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. A second round matchup would then loom probably with Butler. MTSU is capable of winning two games in this tournament. I really expect this team to win the first round matchup with Minnesota and I think they have a great chance to get to the Sweet 16.
2) UNC Wilmington (29-5)
This team is excellent on offense where they rank in the top 20 out of all the teams in the nation. Their first round matchup against Virginia is not a good matchup for them, though, They like to press and run their offense off forcing the other team to turn the ball over. If Virginia can break the press, UNCW will be in a lot of trouble.
If they are successful in forcing Virginia to turn the ball over and can get a win the Sweet Sixteen is a definite possibility as I think a possible Florida matchup is much more favorable for them.
I think this team will be done in the first round. Virginia is simply a bad matchup for them, of course, it is March and you never truly can be sure.
3) Winthrop Eagles (26-6)
The Eagles will live or die by the three-point shot, and they have two young men who thrive on the long range shot. Keon Jackson and Xavier Jones average almost 40 points a game between the two of them. Jackson is a 5’7″ point guard who causes opposing defenses fits, while Jones is an all-around contributor underneath the basket.
Winthrop will play Butler in the first round, and Butler is no stranger to losing to unranked opponents having almost all their losses this year to unranked teams.
Winthrop is the three-point shooting is on will be a threat to win one or two games in this tournament. Butler better be ready to defend the perimeter, if they are not the Eagles could soar on to the second round.
4) South Dakota State Jackrabbits (18-16)
Could this be the year a 16 seed finally breaks through? Probably not, but the Jackrabbits have what looks to be a better shot because of one man and that man is Mike Daum, the best player you have never heard of.
Daum dominated the Summit League tournament averaging almost 30 points per game and close to 10 rebounds. Anytime you have a player that can take the game over like Daum; you have a chance.
5) Northern Kentuck Norse (24-10)
I think the Norse are the best story in this entire field. In the 1990’s Legendary Coach, Ken Shields led the Norse to two NCAA Division II National Championship games. The Norse recently joined the ranks of Division I college basketball and this was their first year that they were eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Besides being a great story, this is also an excellent basketball team.
The Norse are led by Drew McDonald and Cole Murray, and the Norse love to shot the three. If the three’s are falling, it could be a memorable night for all of Northern Kentucky as the Norse will battle in-state Goliath Kentucky Wildcats. If they can limit their turnovers and shoot well, this team could give the Wildcats a fight. Either way Coach Brannen has the Norse headed in the right direction.
There are a handful of teams in this tournament such as East Tennessee State, Florida Gulf Coast, Bucknell, New Mexico State, and Nevada that I think have very real chances to pull upsets, but the five I listed above to me are the most interesting of this group.