Unarguably the most exhilarating part of March Madness is a bracket-busting upset, whether it be the to-be-expected No. 12 seed ousting a No. 5 seed or No. 16-seeded Maryland Baltimore County historically knocking out Virginia in 2018.
We usually don’t see them coming, even though such mid-major teams with a chip on their shoulder always seem like smart picks in hindsight.
Well, we’ve scoured the 68 teams in this year’s men’s NCAA Tournament field to determine which are best equipped to play spoiler, upset a top-seeded team and maybe, just maybe, make a run to the Final Four.
Six Cinderellas poised to bust your NCAA Tournament bracket:
Coach Porter Moser doesn’t have as gifted of an offensive team as he did with his 2018 Final Four squad, but this team is exceptionally disciplined on the defensive end, leading the nation with 55.7 points allowed. The Ramblers (24-4) also lead KenPom in defensive efficiency ratings. Big man Cameron Krutwig (15.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is the main holdover from that Final Four team. He was a freshman then, and now he’s the centerpiece of a balanced roster.
The Eagles (23-1) lone loss was a two-point decision to UNC Asheville in late January. Most of the wins came against Big South competition, but it’d be wise not to sleep on this squad. Do-everything guard Chandler Vaudrin (12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.3 spg) leads this team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. The 6-7 senior has triple-double potential and has what it takes to become a March star. Coach Pat Kelsey has a well-rounded roster that does a lot of little things well, including on the glass — where Winthrop ranks eighth nationally in rebounding margin.
The Flames (23-5) have several key ingredients to become a March darling, starting with their prowess from beyond the arc — where they rank in the top 10 in three-point field goals made per game and percentage. The secret weapon might be coach Ritchie McKay’s defense that has Liberty ranking third in the nation in points allowed. That’s spearheaded three consecutive Atlantic Sun regular-season and tournament titles. Darius McGhee (15.6 ppg) is the go-to guy for Liberty, and there’s plenty of reason to believe this team can do what it did in 2019 — when it upset Mississippi State in the first round.
BRACKET BREAKDOWN: What you need to know about all 68 tournament teams
OUSTED: NCAA sends six men’s officials home because of COVID-19 protocols
CREATE YOUR POOL! Sign up, invite your friends and dominate your way to a title
The Raiders (14-1) had a top-10 NET score due to a bizarre regular-season schedule that saw them play three teams four times. Then they proved how good they actually are in the Patriot League tournament; they crushed Bucknell 105-75 in a semifinal game and claimed the conference’s automatic bid by handling Loyola Maryland, 85-72. Coach Matt Langel has a team that ranks second nationally with 86.4 points per game (trailing only Gonzaga). Colgate also shoots 50% from the floor and is second in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s all fueled by crafty point guard Jordan Burns (17.1 ppg, 5.4 apg).
Coach Wes Miller’s program was one of the biggest snubs of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, but now this Spartans group will get its chance to shine in the Big Dance. Senior guard Isaiah Miller is the player that makes UNCG (21-8) tick, averaging 19.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists. The Spartans don’t exactly light it up from beyond the arc but they get to the paint easily to generate offense. This veteran-laden squad forces other teams into turnovers but doesn’t commit many, ranking in the top 15 nationally in turnover margin.
Johni Broome, a 6-10 acrobatic freshman, scored 27 points in the Ohio Valley Tournament title game, and when he’s on the Eagles (23-7) can be special. The athletic forward could be a matchup nightmare against power conference opponents. Broome helps corral the glass and control the paint, as Morehead State ranks in the top 15 nationally in blocked shots per game and top 30 in rebounding margin.
BRACKET TIPS? AT YOUR SERVICE:
Follow colleges reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson