Under the Radar Teams to Watch in the NCAA Tournament
Every year something magical happens in the NCAA tournament. The school you’ve never heard of just beat a national power with three national championships in school history. Here's a few that could be this year's version of Florida Gulf Coast.
Delaware Blue Hens (25-9, 14-2, CAA Champions)
If you like fast pace basketball with lots of scoring involved, this is the team for you. The Blue Hens, who were the Colonial Athletic Association regular season and tournament champions, are home to three players that average more than 18 points per game. In fact, all five starters for Delaware average at least double figures. They’re 25th in the nation in points per game at 79.5, led by senior guard Devon Saddler. Saddler averages 19.7 points per game and dishes out almost four assists a game. Scoring doesn't drop-off after Sadler though as fellow senior Devon Usher posts 19.4 per contest.
The Blue Hens are currently 0-6 against teams in the RPI top 50. Don’t let that number fool you. On November 22nd, the Blue Hens lost a close contest to potential number one seed Villanova by only four, on Nova’s home court. The scary part? Devon Saddler wasn’t able to play due to a suspension. Don’t be surprised to see this senior oriented team to make a run to the sweet 16. Don’t sleep on the Blue Hens.
Harvard Crimson (24-6, 13-1, Ivy League Champions)
You will probably recall this Harvard team knocking off a then number three seeded New Mexico in last year's tournament. Harvard has returned just about every single piece from last year’s Cinderella squad. Efficiency is the name of the game for this team. While Harvard may not be the most exciting team to watch, they certainly know how to win in any way possible. This will be the schools third straight trip to the NCAA tournament. As a team, the Crimson shoot 47 percent from the field and pride themselves on their overall team defense.
They give up about 60 points per game, and statistically that makes them a top 20 defense. Free throws are another strength of Harvard, shooting around 70 percent from the charity strip as a team. No starter, however, shoots under 71 percent. Harvard is a very strong mid-major: they take good shots every possession, they take care of the basketball and they make their free throws. Three recipes for a major upset.
The player to keep an eye on while watching the Crimson is junior Wesley Saunders. The 6-foot-5 small forward from Los Angeles was named the Ivy League player of the year this season. He can guard just about any position on the floor and is a match up nightmare. Saunders is capable of playing point guard as well and brings the ball up the majority of the time. He isn't lethal from the outside, but when he can effectively penetrate defenses, this Harvard team is really hard to beat.
Mercer Bears (26-8, 14-4 Atlantic Sun Conference Champions)
Who is Mercer? Well remember that Florida Gulf Coast team who no one knew about? Mercer comes from the same conference as that Florida Gulf Coast School. Six of the Bears top seven scorers are seniors. This is a hungry team, and while the Bears will likely be a 14 or 15 seed, that they are capable to make a run.
Mercer, who actually had a better conference record than Florida Gulf Coast last season, has been urging for their opportunity to finally play in the dance. Bob Hoffman has built this program from basically nothing into a NCAA tournament caliber team. Mercer making a run might be a bit of a long shot, but in 2012, two 15 seeds came out victorious; Norfolk State and Lehigh.
Massachusetts Minutemen (23-7, 10-6 A-10 Conference)
If you haven’t heard about UMass point guard Chaz Williams, now is a good time to watch him play. He’s one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. He has the capability to guide UMass into the second week of the NCAA tournament. The 5-foot-9 senior averages 15 points per game as well as seven assists. Not to mention his size makes him one of the most likeable players in the country.
Although the Minutemen haven’t done as well in conference as some believed they would, don’t let the conference record affect your decision to pick them. The Atlantic 10 is one of college basketball’s most forgotten gems. This is conference poised to put five teams in the tournament. The schedule that UMass has faced this season is a major reason why I believe they can make a solid run. Providence, VCU, New Mexico, Nebraska, BYU and George Washington are all teams that will likely hear their names called this Sunday. They are also teams that UMass has beaten. Pretty good resume for a mid-major. Keep an eye on UMass.
Here is a short list of a few other mid-majors to keep an eye on.
Steven F. Austin Lumberjacks (29-2, 18-0 Southland regular season champs)
Manhattan Gaels (25-7, 15-5 MAAC Champions)
Chad Carey is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism, to contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.