5 Underrated College Basketball Teams to Watch Out For

Let's take a look at five teams that our numbers think more highly of than the polls -- can you say future March Madness upsets?

I don’t know how this happened, but it’s already February. That means it’s only a little over one month until the tip of March Madness. I tell myself every year that I should take off the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament, and every year I forget or get too busy or whatever. Not this year. I’m 100% in.

I’m also going heavy into research mode so I can win all of my bracket challenges. If you’re in that same boat, you’re in luck, because our algorithms and simulations at numberFire are top notch.

Since we rely on numbers so much here, often times our power rankings are different than the AP Rankings or the Coaches Poll. Those can often skew towards major programs and can have trouble mixing strength of schedule and analytics into the equation.

As a result, we can look at our analytically-driven power rankings, see what the numbers say and compare them to the polls (which generally is indicative of what people think of teams and possibly how they could be seeded). If there’s a major difference between the two, it’s something we want to check out –- perhaps that team is overrated or underrated, and we can exploit that knowledge when filling out our brackets.

Let’s look at the five most underrated teams under this process.

Ohio State

AP Rank: 23
nERD Rank: 12

It wasn’t until just last week that Ohio State got back into the top 25. Our numbers have been high on them all year –- we think they’re the 12th-best team right now, despite our projections saying that they’ll end up with a 9 seed (Joe Lunardi at ESPN predicts a seven). Their strength of schedule isn’t crazy impressive, but they have only lost once at home, to Iowa on December 30th.

The reason we’re higher on them is because of their solid play on both sides of the ball –- they don’t boast a top-10 anything, really, but they are in the 90th percentile in both offense and defense according to our analytics. If they are indeed a 9 seed in the tournament, the 1 seed in the region should really be scared of a possible second-round matchup versus the Buckeyes.


AP Rank: Not Ranked
nERD Rank: 19

The Musketeers currently sit at an unimpressive 16-9 after battling a tough stretch back at the end of December, when they lost five road games in a row to Auburn, DePaul, Butler, Villanova, and Providence. They sit fifth in the Big East standings, and Lunardi has the projected as a 9 seed at the moment.

So why are they underrated? For one thing, they’ve been incredibly unlucky, which has hurt their public perception. They’ve played three overtime games this year and lost all three of them. Pomeroy has a "Luck Rating", and it says Xavier has been the 345th-luckiest team in the country this year, out of 345. In other words, some bounces and breaks will come their way eventually.

They also boast a top-10 strength of schedule, and our metrics say they have the 24th-best offense. What better time to have a karma reversal than when March is approaching?

Michigan State

AP Rank: Not Ranked
nERD Rank: 22

Speaking of teams who have played around with the basketball gods of luck, the Spartans have played a crazy five overtime games this season already. They currently sit at 16-8, although looking at their record without context is probably why people are underrating them. Their first three losses of the season came in November and early December when they lost to Duke, Kansas, and Notre Dame, all away from home. It’s hard to punish them for those games.

Much like Ohio State, the Spartans aren’t elite at anything, but solid on both ends of the floor. Pomeroy has them in the 86th percentile on offense and 87th on defense. We project them as a 10 seed right now, and the Spartans could bring trouble to a top team if they meet early on in the tournament.

Brigham Young

AP Rank: Not Ranked
nERD Rank: 28

What do we have here –- a team that isn’t ranked, and one that we don't even see as a tournament team? Talk about underrated.

The Cougars currently sit at 18-8 overall and will likely have to get some impressive wins over the next month if they want to make a case for why they should be in the tournament. It could start tonight when they begin a three-game home stand with Saint Mary’s.

BYU is also a bit unlucky, with two losses in overtime early in the year to San Diego State and Purdue –- both on neutral courts. The reason they could be dangerous if they make the tournament? Their high-powered offense, which we rank as 11th-best in the nation. If they get in as a low seed, they could get hot and upset a team.


AP Rank: Not Ranked
nERD Rank: 34

Stanford is currently not ranked and at 16-7 overall, 7-4 in the Pac-12 conference. Joe Lunardi has them as a 10 seed at the moment, and we project that they’ll end up as a 12 seed. But our nERD ranking of them at 34 implies that they are really at the level of an 8 seed.

They have tough games against Arizona and Utah remaining -- who rank fifth and sixth in our nERD rankings, respectively -- but have winnable contests in the other five games. We've got the Cardinals with the 26th-best offense in the nation. They aren’t nearly as good on defense –- they’re in the 49th-percentile -– but they’re good enough on the other end to create some drama if they get in the tournament, especially if they get in a juicy 5-12 matchup we all love to watch.