There is always a team that no one saw coming.
UCLA was certainly that team in last year’s NCAA men’s tournament, pulling off upset after upset to reach the Final Four as the No. 11 seed.
In 2013, No. 9-seeded Wichita State did the same, reaching the Final Four. UConn won it all as the No. 7 seed in 2014. Syracuse, the No. 10 seed, made it all the way to the Final Four as a former bubble team in 2016. And South Carolina then made it to a Final Four as the No. 7 seed.
Bottom line: expect the unexpected. Here’s a breakdown of six dark horse teams you shouldn’t overlook when rounding out your party.
The Tar Heels (24-9) were on the NCAA tournament bubble until they reached their season high by defeating Duke in the regular-season finale, blowing coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game in the Cameron Indoor Stadium. UNC showed how good it can be in that game, and this dangerous team could pull off big upsets alongside Duke. Armando Bacot (16.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg) was arguably the best player in the ACC, and coach Hubert Davis has a struggling team that does little things that change momentum (rebounding, rushing plays, blocked shots) to get past to his seed.
The Hawkeyes (25-9) have one of the best scorers in the country, second-year forward Keegan Murray (23.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg). While last year’s Hawkeyes relied heavily on All-American Luka Garza’s inside game, we’re seeing a more fluid team utilizing a great perimeter game to lead the nation in assists-to-turnovers, ranking fourth in KenPom’s offense. efficiency and ranked fifth nationally in scoring offense. Veteran Jordan Bohannon is coach Fran McCaffrey’s X-Factor in his sixth year as a senior (thanks to the NCAA’s extra year of COVID) who has started games in the Big Ten since 2016. His game-winning goal in the tournament semifinals Big Ten is evidence of its value.
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University of California at Los Angeles
The Bruins (25-7) certainly claim the glory for being the player who slept the most in last year’s NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four as the No. 11 seed in the play-in. And in some ways, they’re positioned to be overlooked in a different way in this tournament: Overlooked in the Pac-12 because Arizona and other blue bloods have returned to form. There’s still a dynamic quartet of guards for UCLA — Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell and Jules Bernard — ready for another deep run. Coach Mick Cronin knows how to get the most out of this veteran team when he counts, and he starts on defense.
The Hokies (23-12) played outside the bubble and it all started with a win over the buzzer in the ACC quarterfinals against Clemson. Virginia Tech then capitalized on that momentum to defeat blue bloods from North Carolina and Duke en route to the ACC tournament title. Coach Mike Young has this team going, having won 14 of their last 16 games. Shooting guard Hunter Cattoor exploded with 31 points on seven 3-pointers in the win over Duke.
University of Connecticut
The Huskies (23-9) haven’t been in the national conversation for a while, but coach Dan Hurley has turned this program into a high-caliber game again. UConn is stifling on defense and excellent at paint control, ranking second nationally in blocked shots and 10th in rebounding. Guard RJ Cole (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg) is the catalyst for this group, which has wins this season over Villanova and Auburn.
The Razorbacks (25-8) were overshadowed in the SEC by Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee, but coach Eric Musselman has firepower to put together a deep run in March, evidenced by this group’s wins over top-ranked squads. the SEC. JD Notae (18.9 ppg, 3.6 apg) returned from last year’s Arkansas Elite Eight team. Defensively, the Razorbacks can change the pace of the game, ranking in the top 15 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA Tournament: Don’t Sleep On These Obscure Teams