The quietest teams usually make the most noise in March.
Love is hard to come by in college basketball if you’re not Kansas, Kentucky, or Duke. Kentucky, even during a very mediocre year, is still drawing more attention than quite a few good teams.
It makes sense, though. It’s like 337 children fighting for their mother’s affection.
Every year, talented teams are overlooked, and when they end up busting brackets, fans act surprised.
In 2017, eight-seed Wisconsin and seven-seed Michigan made the Sweet 16. Eleven-seed Xavier made the Elite Eight, and seven-seed South Carolina rolled to the Final Four.
This year, a fresh batch of “underdogs” is ready to “surprise” us again, and here they are:
Rhode Island Rams
After a second-round exit at the hands of Oregon in the tournament last year, the Rams look poised for a resurgence.
The Rams are currently on a 14-game win streak, tied for the third-longest active streak behind No. 3 Purdue (18 straight victories) and No. 13 Saint Mary’s (16 straight). They’re a perfect 11-0 in the A10 conference and are 19-3 overall.
The A10 is having a down year, but Rhode Island’s accomplishments can’t be ignored. Their three losses are all against top-tier teams: Virginia, arguably the best team in the nation; Nevada, number 15 in ESPN’s RPI rankings and a team which has pulled top-25 votes every week this season; and Alabama, a team which has been on the fringe of the rankings all season and is 36 in RPI.
The Rams have played their schedule perfectly, winning every (yes, every) game they should have won.
The team’s starting lineup includes four seniors and a sophomore, and their experience shows in their play. They are poised under pressure and pull out the late-game heroics when needed.
MBB (@RhodyMBB) January 28, 2018
But their defense is what really sets this team apart. Simply put, the Rams are a nightmare to opposing offenses.
What to Watch… UMass turns the ball over 13.6 times per game on average. Rhode Island forces 17.05 per game, the 12th most in the country. Over the last four games, the Ram defense has forced 83 turnovers.— Rhody MBB (@RhodyMBB) January 30, 2018
Led by senior guards Jared Terrell (18.0 ppg) and E.C. Matthews (13.7 ppg), this team deserves more love as March nears.
Nevada Wolf Pack
The Mountain West Conference is often ignored, and usually rightfully so. But Nevada is a deep team with experience from 2017 when they drew a tough first-round matchup against the Iowa State Cyclones.
The Wolf Pack start four juniors and a senior, and it pays off. They’ve won 16 consecutive games at home, a streak dating back over a year.
Much of the Wolf Pack’s success rests on their unstoppable offense. They rank 24th in the nation in points per game, 28th in assists per game, 21st in scoring margin, and 12th in three-point field goal percentage at an astounding 41.1%.
Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, and Jordan Caroline all average double-digit points and five-plus rebounds per game, powering the offense.
With a veteran starting lineup as balanced and skilled as that, it’s no surprise they are 19-4 overall and 8-1 in the Mountain West. They have a big win against none other than Rhode Island early in the season, and their losses include TCU and Texas Tech, who have both spent time in the top 10 this season.
They’ve even earned the approval of ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt.
I really enjoy watching Nevada play. Confident squad.— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) February 1, 2018
I agree with Scott, and so should you for the sake of your bracket.
Cincinnati is the best in the NCAA at quietly dominating while camping out in the top 10.
Sure, they’re not the typical flashy, star-studded roster that so often occupies the top spots in college hoops. But the fact that they aren’t in the spotlight makes them all the more dangerous.
The No. 8 Bearcats are outscoring opponents by an average of 20.2 points. Yes, that’s nearly three touchdowns, folks.
Defense plays a major role in the Bearcats’ dominance. They have the second-best defense in the country behind Virginia, allowing just 56.8 points per game. Even when their offense is struggling, their stifling defense bails them out.
How is this a real score?— Wingspan Sports (@WingspanSports) January 17, 2018
And what is the over/under for people who actually watched Cincinnati vs UCF? pic.twitter.com/zNQUZv1uN5
The Cincinnati offense is not to be taken lightly, though. They are the 12th-ranked offensive rebounding team in the nation and average 16.6 assists per game.
Forward Gary Clark is having a player-of-the-year-type senior season, averaging 13.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Clark is shooting an eye-popping 51.5% from the field, including 41.7% from three-point range. Clark’s do-it-all style makes him the nucleus of this veteran Bearcat team.
Expect this squad to dominate in March after a disappointing loss to UCLA in the second round last year.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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- North Carolina