So while your office mates are jumping on board the Blue Raiders band wagon, we’re here to tell you that carriage is about to become a pumpkin. Instead, hitch a ride with these five double-digit seeds and you’ll get a little further along the road to the Final Four. These are the best bets out of all the underdogs to reach the Sweet 16.
Round 1: No. 7 Dayton
Round 2: No. 2 Kentucky/No. 15 Northern Kentucky
The Shockers were completely misseeded by the NCAA selection committee. Gregg Marshall’s squad could have been a 4- or 5-seed. Instead, the team will now face not only a Dayton squad with its own chance for a March Madness run, but also a peaking Kentucky team. What makes Wichita State such a compelling Cinderella? Per Ken Pomeroy, WSU’s raw defense is ranked second nationally; after it’s adjusted for strength of schedule, the team’s efficiency rating inflates to 19th, which is still extremely stingy. There aren’t many squads that defend as well as the Shockers, using their physicality, athleticism and waves of bodies to keep teams off balance and ultimately uncomfortable running their halfcourt sets.
And thanks to the ferocity with which Wichita State both attacks the offensive glass (grabbing 34.1 percent of their misses) and then gets back to prevent easy transition buckets (per Hoop-Math.com, teams convert just 46.3 percent of their shots in the first 10 seconds following a defensive board), the Shockers force opponents to play at whatever speed they determine is necessary for a win.
The player who’ll ultimately be key to a WSU Sweet 16 berth is Landry Shamet, a 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman whose effective field goal percentage in the halfcourt (60.6 percent) ranks second on the team. Shamet excels at not only finding scoring opportunities for his teammates (22.6 percent assist rate overall) but also for himself — just a quarter of his attempts within the arc came off an assist.
Round 1: No. 5 Iowa State
Round 2: No. 4 Purdue/No. 13 Vermont
The Wolf Pack is all about offense. The team’s defensive efficiency rate ranks outside KenPom’s top 100 ranking, but when a squad can drop 1.14 points per possession (PPP), a better mark than half the NCAA tournament field, defense isn’t a primary concern. What is most interesting about Nevada is that the team rarely subs out: knowing his team would have an extremely short rotation in 2017, coach Eric Musselman prepared his group for a short bench by having them run 5-minute miles throughout the offseason. Since neither of the Wolf Pack’s opponents exploit transition opportunities, the Mountain West squad should be able to execute without worrying about fatigue.
The team is perimeter-oriented, converting nearly 39 percent of its threes, and is constructed to take advantage of mismatches and open the interior by drawing opposing bigs from the bucket. DJ Fenner, a 6-6 guard, not only makes 43.5 percent from deep, but his two-point field goal percentage (42.1 percent) leads the team.
The defenses of Iowa State and Purdue are built to limit second chance opportunities through hard-nosed defense, but neither look to particularly force turnovers, which should favor Nevada, a team that doesn’t often miss, is aggressive in the half court (free throw rate of 42 percent), and doesn’t commit unforced giveaways (a turnover rate of about 16 percent).
Round 1: No. 6 Creighton
Round 2: No. 3 Oregon/No. 14 Iona
The Rams are a defensive juggernaut, holding opponents to just 0.95 PPP. Coach Danny Hurley’s man defense is hard nosed, forcing teams off the three-point line (or, if an opponent does try to shoot from deep, the shot is heavily contested) while diverting ball-handlers to the interior, where Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson have both posted block rates of more than five percent.
It’s a defense built to slowly and utterly hamstring any sort of offensive flow — during the squad’s Atlantic 10 tournament run, the Rams held teams to 0.95 PPP, and that includes the title game in which VCU grabbed 23 offensive boards but converted just 20 percent of those putbacks. URI is also set to face teams with significant injury concerns: Creighton has been without Mo Watson for several weeks, and Chris Boucher tore his ACL during Oregon’s semifinal win versus California. Coupled with a weak Midwest region — Kansas is a very vulnerable 1-seed — URI could potentially advance well beyond the Sweet 16.
Round 1: No. 5 Notre Dame
Round 2: No. 4 West Virginia/No. 13 Bucknell
Both of the early games could prove vexing for Princeton, especially since Bucknell could potentially upset West Virginia — the Bison don’t turn the ball over, excel at getting to the free throw line, and possess one of the nation’s most efficient offenses — so the Tigers could find themselves in a Round of 32 matchup with a another mid-major.
But we’ll focus on Notre Dame for now: Mitch Henderon’s squad shares many traits with the Irish. The Tigers are perimeter-oriented — 46 percent of their attempts are from deep, and the team converts 38 percent of those shots — and thanks to Princeton’s methodical style of play, that shooting accuracy forces an opponent to keep pace on the other side of the ball, which is challenging since this is stingiest defense Henderson has assembled in his six seasons in the Ivy League (0.96 PPP, which ranks just inside KenPom’s top 50).
Like the Irish, Princeton looks to take advantage of all possible mismatches in the halfcourt, but given the similarities between both teams, an upset could very well be possible. And should Princeton face off against West Virginia, the Tigers’s defense is predicated on limiting second-chance buckets and forcing turnovers on 20 percent of opposing team’s possessions, which are the hallmarks of how West Virginia won 26 games and earned a 4-seed.
No. 13 East Tennessee State
Round 1: No. 4 Florida
Round 2: No. 5 Virginia/No. 12 UNC Wilmington
Steve Forbes has assembled a squad that is very similar to the teams he coached as an assistant at Tennessee during the Bruce Pearl era. The team forces turnovers at a prolific rate (22 percent), grabs roughly three-quarters of opponents’ caroms, and constricts teams to just 45 percent within the arc. Of that percentage, opposing squads only make 52 percent of their shots at the rim, which ranks 21st in the Hoop-Math.com database.
The one concern for the Buccaneers is their three-point defense, which isn’t as robust as the team’s other defensive attributes because ETSU is so focused on creating halfcourt chaos that open perimeter looks are a necessary by-product. Florida (as well as Virginia and UNC Wilmington) made nearly 38 percent of its threes in 2017, but during UF’s past four games, which included three losses, the squad made only 34 percent of its threes, so for East Tennessee State to pull an upset (and keep the momentum in the round of 32), it needs to not only continue hamstringing UF’s offense within the arc but also hope the Gators don’t reverse their perimeter slide.