The 10 Most Underrated Teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Tournament's selection committee doesn't always get it right, and sometimes, teams just don't get the love they truly deserve based on their seed.

Here at numberFire, we can find out exactly which teams are underrated by simply comparing each NCAA Tournament team's nERD score compared to the historical average of that given seed. What's nERD? Good question. It's simply a metric we use at numberFire to represent by how many points a given team would win or lose by against an average team on a neutral court.

As you may expect, teams with higher nERD scores generally draw better seeds. When those don't match up, we can easily see teams that just got some disrespect in the bracket.

These are the 10 teams with the largest gaps between their nERD and the historical seed average.

10. Connecticut Huskies (7 Seed, East)

nERD: 12.56
nERD vs. Seed Average: +0.92

The Connecticut Huskies are looking like a popular underdog team, and they're once again a 7 seed -- just like they were during their 2014 championship run.

That version of the Huskies was underrated, too, and were 2.42 points better than the average 7 seed. They're not quite as good this year (12.56 nERD compared to 14.06 in 2014), but they are a dangerous 7 seed nonetheless.

They rank 24th in adjusted offensive rating and 25th in adjusted defensive rating, via KenPom, making them a well-balanced team. They're our 15th-ranked team overall via nERD.

9. Maryland Terrapins (10 Seed, East)

nERD: 11.44
nERD vs. Seed Average: +0.97

Unfortunately, the Maryland Terrapins and Huskies go at it in the first round for a 7-versus-10 matchup in the East region. Both teams are underrated by about a point from their seed typically suggests.

The Terps want to grind out games and play at the 317th-fastest adjusted tempo, per KenPom, and boast a top-33 adjusted defense by KenPom and Sports-Reference.

Don't let the 16-13 record fool you: they played a dreadfully tough schedule and should be ready for the Huskies.

8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10 Seed, Midwest)

nERD: 11.52
nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.05

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights certainly started off the season the right way, winning seven of their first eight games with some solid wins over Syracuse, Maryland, Illinois, and Purdue along with a two-point loss to Iowa.

But they end the season ranked 26th in nERD via an elite defense and a tough schedule. A small reason to worry: they ranked 259th in three-point field goal percentage against (32.1%) despite ranking just 112th in three-point attempt rate allowed. Variance suggests that more threes will go in against them.

Their first-round opponent, Clemson, ranks 34th in three-point attempt rate, too.

7. Loyola Chicago Ramblers (8 Seed, Midwest)

nERD: 12.32
nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.09

Remember the Loyola Ramblers from the 2018 Final Four? They're looking pretty good for 2021, as well. Their nERD of 12.32 is better than when they reached the Final Four in 2018 as an 11 seed (10.19) and is more on par with an average 6 seed rather than an average 8 seed.

They boast a top-11 defense by both Sports-Reference and KenPom (actually ranking first for KenPom) and can muck up a game by slowing it down. They're the sixth-slowest team in the nation.

6. USC Trojans (6 Seed, West)

nERD: 13.75
nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.55

The Southern California Trojans will get some extra footage on their first-round opponent, as the Wichita State Shockers and Drake Bulldogs are in a play-in game for the 11 seed in the West, so that's a plus for the underseeded Trojans.

USC themselves rank 10th by nERD in the entire nation and have a balanced offense and defense.

They're led by freshman Evan Mobley, who ranks second on ESPN's Big Board for the 2021 NBA Draft. Mobley and the Trojans secure 55.0% of available rebounds, 23rd-best in the nation, and pose problems in the paint on both ends.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs (1 Seed, West)

nERD: 20.79
nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.84

It's weird to consider a team as good as Gonzaga as underrated, but they dominate when compared to the historical 1 seed, besting the average nERD for a 1 seed (18.95) by 1.84 points.

Gonzaga leads the nation in adjusted net rating (36.01) and sports a spotless 26-0 record. They rank 2nd in adjusted offensive rating and 20th in adjusted defensive rating, via Sports-Reference, making for a lethal squad on both sides of the half court line.

You can't really knock them at all, so it's no wonder why they are +200 to win the title, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

4. Drexel Dragons (16 Seed, Midwest)

nERD: 0.47
nERD vs. Seed Average: +2.81

I won't spend much time here on a 16 seed, but why not give some love for the Drexel Dragons? They are the 21st 16 seed to have a positive nERD (of 112 since 2000). They convert 37.2% of their three-point attempts and play at one of the slowest paces in the nation. They shouldn't pose a threat to Illinois, but they could linger if they keep it slow and make some threes.

3. Wisconsin Badgers (9 Seed, South)

nERD: 13.47
nERD vs. Seed Average: +3.11

The Wisconsin Badgers rank 11th in our nERD ratings but are just a 9 seed in the South, which is pretty wild. And it's not just us who like them: KenPom has them 10th, and they rank 13th in Sports-Reference's adjusted net rating metric.

They had a super tough schedule, which got the best of them down the stretch for a 3-7 finish with some losses to Illinois (twice), Michigan, Iowa (thrice), and Purdue.

They finished with a 1-4 stretch against Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Penn State, and Iowa -- despite a point differential of just -17 over those five games (-3.4 per game with no loss greater than 5 points).

2. Grand Canyon Antelopes (15 Seed, West)

nERD: 4.88
nERD vs. Seed Average: +3.51

The Grand Canyon Antelopes will get the unfortunate task of facing the Iowa Hawkeyes in the opening round. Iowa ranks fourth in our power rankings despite drawing a 2 seed. The Antelopes, though, are the fourth-best 15 seed by nERD since 2000.

Led by coach Bryce Drew (formerly of Valparaiso and Vanderbilt), they secured a 17-6 record in the WAC but don't really stand out offensively or defensively. Their best bet to give Iowa fits is by keeping their slow pace and injecting variance into their first-round game.

1. Colgate Raiders (14 Seed, West)

nERD: 11.73
nERD vs. Seed Average: +7.02

The Colgate Raiders are all sorts of fun. They finished the season with a 14-1 record in the Patriot League and did it with a top-25 tempo and a top-50 offense.

They rank 12th in the country in three-point field goal percentage (38.8%) but were fortunate to have the lowest three-point percentage against them (26.4%) -- which is not indicative of perimeter defense.

Still, their nERD of 11.73 makes them the second-best 14 seed since 2000 (trailing just Utah State Aggies at 11.83 in 2005) and the second-most underseeded team overall since 2000. The short season is leading to some wonky things, but by nERD, the Raiders are ready to make a splash that most 14 seeds cannot.