Best Under-The-Radar Teams of NCAA’s March Madness Tourney
National Championship odds come via TopBet and are accurate as of Monday, March 12. Recheck these lines before deciding on or placing a wager, since these numbers will ebb and flow leading into the start of the tournament, as well as after each game plays out.
Texas Tech, No. 3 Seed in East (+4000)
Indeed, No. 3 seeds aren’t usually pegged as flying under the radar. But the Texas Tech Red Raiders are different. They’re not getting the love incumbent of a team in their position.
Texas Tech is coming out of the nation’s toughest conference, in the Big 12, with a strong record, top 90 offense and top 10 defense. Sports-Reference’s Simple Rating System, which uses strength of schedule and point differential to rank every team in the country, rates them as the 11th-best squad around.
Repeat: Eleventh. Best.
With a bona fide go-to star in Keenan Evans and a defense that just won’t quit, Texas Tech is poised for a deep run. Consider them as you place your early-bird championship bets. At the very least, definitely consider them entering Round 1. FiveThirtyEight gives them an 89 percent chance of taking down SF Austin, and that actually feels a little low.
Butler, No. 10 Seed in East (+25000)
The Butler Bulldogs’ inclusion probably doesn’t surprise you. They’re well-coached with LaVall Jordan on the sidelines, and they have the privilege of starting off the tournament against Arkansas, one of the most overrated teams on this March’s slate.
But the Bulldogs are also more than their fortuitous Round 1 pull. Their Big East conference record isn’t great, at 9-9, yet they’ve also played out one of the nation’s 15 hardest schedules. To stand comfortably above .500 after all that, while sporting a top-60 offense that’s hitting on 54.1 percent of its two-pointers is a Big Deal.
Butler’s defense is admittedly an issue. They’re 157th in points allowed per 100 possessions and allow opponents to shoot better than 37 percent from beyond the arc. But, once more, some of these hiccups are exacerbated by the level of competition they’ve encountered.
And while the tournament won’t be a cupcake walk, their capacity to force turnovers—they’re 57th in steals and 67th in opponent turnovers—should keep them afloat against even the toughest opponent. Plus, FiveThirtyEight isn’t just giving them a 60 percent chance to beat the No. 7 seeded Arkansas, their supposed superior, for no reason.
Florida State, No. 9 Seed in West (+20000)
The Florida State Seminoles probably would have grabbed a better seed had they ended the regular season with a better conference record. Their 9-9 showing in the ACC was, in a word, uninspiring.
But Florida State still needs to be considered a threat. They place 53rd in points scored per 100 possessions, and what they lack in lights-out long-range shooting, they make up for by being monsters on the offensive glass.
No one on this team averages even 14 points per game, which is a big part of why they’re not gaining much national traction. That’s fine. They have seven guys averaging at least 17 minutes per game and run a more egalitarian offense that preaches ball movement and self-confidence.
This depth doesn’t betray. It could lead to issues late in games, with their season on the line, when they’re in desperate need of a crunch-time closer. But both Terance Mann and Phil Cofer have the juice to get after the hoop more than they do.
FiveThirtyEight gives Florida State a 71 percent chance of making it out of the first round. This isn’t a shock. They’re matched up with Missouri, which is also one of the most overrated team in the bracket following the debut of Michael Porter Jr.
Even so, you’ll want to keep Florida State in your sights for the later rounds. They have the depth and like-sized switchability to make life difficult on anyone and everyone they face.
Seton Hall, No. 8 Seed in Midwest (+10000)
These Seton Hall Pirates may perhaps be the most underrated team in the country. And to some extent, this is their own fault.
The Pirates spent most of the year underachieving. They entered the season ranked as a top-15 team, only to wilt amid a few injuries, a bunch of close losses and a worse-than-anticipated defense. It would be all too easy to write them off now, as nothing more than a fringe Round 2 participant.
Don’t do that. The Pirates have the potential to be more. Senior Angel Delgado is a double-double machine, and the Khadeen Carrington-Myles Powell-Desi Rodriguez troika is combining for more than 48 points per game while knocking down more than 37 percent of their three-pointers.
Seton Hall has, in fact, cobbled together a sneaky-good offense. They’re 64th in points scored per 100 possessions and have the potential to hang up even more. If not for close-call losses to Villanova, Butler, Georgetown and a handful of other teams, the Pirates might actually beholding a top-four seed.
Consider this: Sports-Reference’s SRS still ranks them as one of the 25 best teams in the country. That counts for something. As the tournament unfurls, we may find out it counts for a whole lot.
Oklahoma, No. 10 Seed in East (+12500)
Trae Young’s recent slump has sent the Oklahoma Sooners’ tournament stock into a downward spiral. They went from being viewed as national darlings, to essentially being completely overlooked.
Bits and pieces of this newfound disdain are warranted. Young is shooting 35 percent from the floor and under 26 percent from three-point range since the start of February, during which time the Sooners have gone 2-8 and seen their offensive rating take a massive nosedive.
Still, Oklahoma remains one of the 70 most potent scorers in the country. They’re 68 in points scored per 100 possessions and hitting just enough of their three-pointers overall (35.1 percent) to mess with defenses even while Young is laying bricks.
The Sooners’ defense is a tad underrated as well. They’re a terrible 248th in points allowed per 100 possessions, but they’re one of the better teams when it comes to hoarding defensive rebounds and racking up blocks. They take too many chances in the half-court and don’t always get back in a timely manner following turnovers and live rebounds, but heightened engagement on a bigger stage could serve them well.
Besides, star power plays in these settings. And Young, for all his latest warts, remains one of the most ridiculous scorers in recent memory. If he recaptures even a fraction of his early season form, Oklahoma will be off and running.
Make what you will of their 42 percent chance of beating Rhode Island in the first round. It’s most definitely a red flag. But they have the offensive firepower and unplumbed defensive appela to beat those odds.
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