Bracket Busters: Five Under-Seeded Teams in the NCAA Tournament
Whenever the NCAA Tournament field is selected, there are always a share of teams who wind up both under-seeded and over-seeded. This year seems to be no exception to that every-year rule, as there are several squads in the field who were slotted significantly higher and lower than how good of a team the numbers indicate they actually are.
Yesterday, our own JJ Zachariason looked at four teams who are over-seeded in this year's NCAA Tournament. You can check out that article here. Today, we look at five teams who are under-seeded - teams that have a chance to outperform their tournament placement, perhaps busting brackets with upsets.
Iowa Hawkeyes/Tennessee Volunteers
Both Iowa and Tennessee enter their first round matchup as extremely underrated, and now have to play one another in order to get into the field of 64. The squads rank as 18th and 23rd in nERD respectively, and the winner should have a huge advantage over 46th-rated, sixth-seeded UMass in the following round.
These teams seem to be on different trajectories entering the tournament. The Volunteers won five straight before falling to Florida in the SEC semifinal, while Iowa, on the other hand, has dropped six of seven entering this contest, though only one of their 12 total losses on the season was by double-digits. The Hawkeyes also finished with the eighth-rated offense in the country, showing that they know how to score the basketball efficiently.
The winner of this game has a chance to do some work in the tournament. And numberFire contributor Sam Hauss thinks that could be Iowa.
This was the year Kentucky was expected to bounce back, led by the top recruiting class in the country and a preseason ranking of number one to boast. Instead, the Wildcats finished the year second in the SEC, and outside of the top 25. This is why, in the end, the Wildcats are just an eight seed in the tournament.
But don’t let their low seeding fool you. The Wildcats finished 17th in nERD and 17th in RPI, and may have a chance to knock of the undefeated Wichita State Shockers in the second round. Despite their struggles, the Wildcats are led by stellar freshman Julius Randle to go along with other talented first-year guys. It's not as though we've never seen an inexperienced Kentucky team go deep into the NCAA Tournament, right?
There was talk leading up to Selection Sunday that, if the defending champs won the AAC Tournament, they could end up as a potential one seed. Clearly the committee didn't care for the way Louisville finished their season, winning five straight games by double-digit points. And that includes some pretty good competition, too.
Cardinals fans may feel like this is similar to 2005, when the Cardinals received very little respect from the selection committee, seeing a four seed after finishing fourth in the AP poll. This seems to have been the case again this time around, and we agree that they have been criminally under-seeded.
Our nERD metric has them rated as the second best team in the country, and they should be able to outplay their seed in a weak region. They finished third in offensive rating and second in defense this year, the only team to finish in the top 10 in both areas of the game.
For one last time, Russ Smith hopes to lead his team to a third-straight Final Four birth and a repeat as National Champs, a feat we believe is very feasible and perhaps even expected for this talented squad.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys entered the season with high expectations, following a disappointing upset-loss to Oregon in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Star point guard Marcus Smart forgoing the NBA draft for his sophomore season made this season even more hopeful, as they were expected by many to win the Big 12 and end Kansas’ reign on top.
After promising results in non-conference play, the Cowboys dropped four straight before Smart was suspended for three games, which extended the skid to seven losses. Since that time though, the Cowboys have been playing near their expected potential. Though that didn’t exactly show on Selection Sunday - the Cowboys dropped 12 games in the regular season, which cost them a chance at a high seed. But make no mistake, this team is extremely talented.
The Cowboys spent most of the year inside the nERD top 15, finishing at 13, between four-seeded UCLA and three-seeded Iowa State. They rank eighth in SRS (simple rating system), and their only two losses following Smart’s return came to teams in the nERD top 15.
A tough, tough matchup in the second round against numberFire's nERDiest team, Arizona, will make or break Oklahoma State's chances this year.