The road to the National Championship game is down to 68 teams and the majority of the ranked teams are among the top teams favored to go the distance. But then again, every year of the March Madness surprises us with some unranked team making a Cinderella run and upsetting the NCAA basketball odds at the expense of the ranked teams. We highlight below some of these teams that are likely to slide on the slipper in the first round.
Unranked Teams that May Defy the March Madness Odds
Hawaii vs. 23rd-ranked California
The Rainbow Warriors are not among the best of teams when it comes to keeping the ball, but they are very good at forcing turnovers off their opponents, which should bode well against Cal’s less-than-stellar offense. Moreover, despite California having a physical defense, teams still manage to make a whopping 35 percent of their threes against the Bears. This opens the door for the sharpshooting Hawaii duo of Sai Tummala and Stefan Jankovic, who are nailing 40 percent and 37 percent, respectively, from downtown, to light it up. Added to the fact that Hawaii is pretty good at getting to charity stripe, an upset could be in the offing here for the ranked Bears.
Arkansas-Little Rock vs. 12th-ranked Purdue
Following their thorough dominance of the Sun Belt this year, the Trojans (ranked at No. 44 on the Pomeroy charts) are bidding for a chance to giant-kill the ranked Boilermakers. And Little Rock’s rookie head coach Chris Beard, who spent 10 years at Texas Tech working as Bobby Knight’s right-hand man, is experienced enough to lead his team to a possible upset. Needless to say, Purdue’s intimidating halfcourt defense will be very draining, and the fact that the Boilermakers are making 37 percent of their threes means that the Trojans will have no breathing space on the other side of the ball. But then again, the Trojans have a season-long reputation for making it extremely difficult for opponents to score from the three-point range. According to KenPom, teams took more than 40 percent of their threes against the Trojans, but made less than a third of those shots. In addition, Little Rock is a team that is predicated on relentless ball-hawkers, meaning Purdue’s main stars–A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas–are guaranteed a hard time in getting or even using the ball efficiently. So, although this game presents a very tall order for the Trojans, don’t count them out yet from pulling an unlikely upset win, or at least a cover of the spread.
UT-Chattanooga vs. No. 14 Indiana
The Moccasins, despite having a big underdog status in this game, are a team that shouldn’t be underestimated from putting up a strong fight. This is a 29-win team that owns key non-conference wins this season against strong teams like Georgia, Illinois, and Dayton, all of these victories coming on the road. And as we all know, the Hoosiers are often shaky when playing away from Assembly Hall, so the balanced Moccasins (who have eight players averaging 6.0 points or more this season) should be able to figure out strongly here. Not to forget, the Hoosiers just got ousted in the conference tournament quarterfinals, losing by 3 points to Michigan as a 7.5 point favorite. With such contrasting momentums, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Moccasins did well enough to upset the NCAAB odds to at least cover the spread.
Wichita State Shockers vs. 17th-ranked Arizona
If you saw how the Shockers played against Vandy on Monday, or even how they have been grinding out wins this season, you’d certainly agree that the Shockers are capable of shocking the Arizona Wildcats, who’ve been far from a formidable team this season. I mean, Arizona has a fast-paced offense, but the Shockers are pretty good at slowing down opposing defenses and pressuring opposing shooters. Even more notably, this is the Wichita State team that made the Final Four in 2013, followed by reaching the Sweet Sixteen last year, all under head coach Gregg Marshall. And just to prove that they are capable of making another deep run in the Tournament, the Shockers won the MVC regular-season title, and ranked as high as No. 7 on the Pomeroy charts ahead of your usual big-name teams like Louisville and Kentucky at the end of the season. So, in short, this very underrated Wichita State team has all the necessary elements needed to shock its way past the 17th AP-ranked Wildcats.