The 5 Most Underrated Teams in the NCAA Tournament
The teams on this list could be considered unlucky. Because despite being super talented, their resumes didn't stack up well against other squads according to the college basketball's selection committee.
These teams are really strong, but the general consensus is that they're not as good as they actually are. As a result, they represent an opportunity for differentiation among those of you who are filling out brackets. And I can only assume that's all of you.
The truth is, the highest seeds in the big dance aren't always the best teams. And by comparing tournament seedings to numberFire nERD rankings -- our in-house metric that tells us the number of points a team would win by against an average opponent on a neutral court -- we can find which squads are severely underrated entering this year's NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State Spartans
Tournament Seed: 7
nERD Ranking: 17
It's always tough to go against Tom Izzo in March, and that could be no different this year. Michigan State's a 7 seed in the big dance, while their nERD sits at 13.68, the 17th-best score in the nation.
The Spartans were a 21st-ranked RPI team this year while facing the seventh-toughest schedule. Most probably saw their overtime loss in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin, and prior to that game, they faced and beat Ohio State and Maryland, two top-35 teams according to our metrics.
Michigan State lost 11 games this year, but five came in overtime, including contests against Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Maryland. That, in the end, is a big reason they're undervalued. They've proven they can run with anyone -- this isn't a year to sleep on Sparty.
Tournament Seed: 11
nERD Ranking: 19
The Longhorns have a tough first-round matchup against Butler, who actually rank one spot below them in our power rankings. But they're both top-20 teams according to nERD, meaning whoever wins could actually make some noise in the big dance.
Texas finished sixth in the Big 12, arguably the best conference in college basketball this season. And with 13 losses and just 20 wins overall, they don't appear to be the most attractive option to move forward in your bracket.
But they're on this list for a reason. Texas nearly beat Big 12 Tournament winner Iowa State a few days ago, and have incredibly close losses to the conference's best teams: Over the last month, they lost by eight or fewer points to Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas. They also weren't fully healthy for parts of the season.
Per our metrics, the Longhorns will beat you mostly with defense, but their offense ranks 70th in the nation as well. A positive, too, is that, per our numbers, Texas is one of the most consistent teams in the country -- they're more predictable than about 95 percent of the field.
Tournament Seed: 5
nERD Ranking: 8
As our own Bryan Mears pointed out a couple of weeks ago, over 85 percent of Final Four teams since 2001-2002 have finished with a top-10 Pythagorean Rating. The Utah Utes, despite being a 5 seed, have a top-10 Pythagorean Rating.
How good are the Utes? Well, per our metrics, they have the 13th-best offense and the 7th-best defense in the country. It's not as though they weren't battle tested, either -- their strength of schedule was 35th-hardest in the country this year.
Unfortunately, a loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament didn't help Utah's seeding.
Don't be surprised if Utah, as we brought up earlier in the season, surprises us all.
Brigham Young Cougars
Tournament Seed: 11
nERD Ranking: 25
BYU will have to do a little extra work given they're one of the 11 seeds with a play-in game, but we've seen "first-round" 11 seeds perform well in the tournament before.
We talked about the Cougars here on numberFire earlier in the week, noting that they have one of the best offenses in the country, ranking seventh per our metrics. Their defense is suspect though, which is a little scary come tournament time.
A first-round win would match them up against Xavier, who are also underseeded according to our numbers. The one way BYU will make a run in the tourney is to impose their fast-paced style on other teams, which is much easier said than done. However, they certainly are better than the 11 seed they understandably received.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Tournament Seed: 10
nERD Ranking: 15
Just a few days ago, our own Sal Cacciatore wrote about Ohio State being a team to watch in this year's tournament. Somewhat of a bubble team, the Buckeyes made the dance, which means we should be prepared for them to make some noise.
A huge knock on the Buckeyes is the fact that they have just one win against the RPI top-50. But as Sal noted, 19 of their 23 wins have come by double-digits, while their regular-season finale against Wisconsin -- a 1 seed in this year's tourney -- was the only game where they lost by more than nine points.
When you factor in everything, Ohio State has the 14th-best offense in the country and the 25th-best defense. Well-rounded, they have a tough test against nERD's 31st-ranked Virginia Commonwealth, and could face numberFire's second-best team, Arizona, in Round 2. It'll be tough, but Ohio State is much better than the seed they were given.