Might We See Another No. 16 Seed Upset a No. 1 in This Year's NCAA Tournament?
When UMBC stunned the world and beat Virginia in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament as a No. 16 seed, they changed the tournament fundamentally. Suddenly what had always seemed impossible had actually happened. And instead of viewing the lowest seeds as no-hopers who were just happy to be there, we suddenly had to take them seriously. Or at least a little more seriously than we had before. Of course, as fans and as bettors we are greedy, so now that we have had one of these stunning upsets, we immediately want another. It's not immediately apparent that any teams are up to it this year, but then we would have said the same about UMBC at this time last year. Let's take a look at the six teams that have a chance to be the next to stun the world.
Gardner-Webb: The Bulldogs have a date with Virginia - a team that will be far from thrilled to face a No. 16 again. And the Bulldogs, besides having nothing to lose like all of the other teams on this list, they won't be intimidated by ACC foes - they have already beaten Wake Forest and Georgia Tech this year. This is a massive step up in class, but at least the team has an idea of what they are up against. This is their first tournament appearance, but they come in hot, having rolled through the Big South Tournament by shooting the lights out. This is a team that should be easy for Virginia to handle, but then the same could have been said last year, and this team measures ahead of UMBC in several metrics.
Iona: The reward for winning both the regular season and the tournament in the MAAC for the Gaels is a date with North Carolina. Ugh. Iona has faced only two tournament teams this year, losing badly to both VCU and Yale - two teams that aren't exactly poised for massive runs here. They have made 12 prior tournament appearances - a surprising number - and even have a prior win in 1980. But it's tough to imagine a 17-15 team that refuses to play defense giving North Carolina much of a test.
Fairleigh Dickinson: The pride of Hackensack, New Jersey - aside from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Heisman-winner Mark Ingram - is making their sixth tournament appearance and second play-in game appearance in the last four years. They are looking for their first win. They have yet to play a tournament team this year, and they really don't play defense. But they are a Top 10 team nationally in three-point percentage, and they have five double-digit scorers, so they will be comfortable in a shootout. They play Prairie View A&M looking for a shot to play Gonzaga. The Bulldogs aren't going to be scared of this opponent.
Prairie View A&M: This historically black college is, not surprisingly, in Prairie View, Texas. They have made one prior tournament experience, where as a No. 16 again they lost to Kansas by 58 points. That's tough to do. They lost lopsided games to Baylor, Georgia Tech and Murray State this season, so they don't match up great against better teams. But they have lost only once since Dec. 29, so they are in good form. They were 1-11 at that point, though, so they are as streaky as a team can be. It's hard to see them scaring Gonzaga at all.
North Dakota State: The Bison are the megapower in FCS football, having claimed seven of the last eight national titles. In basketball they have been in Division I only since 2009, but they are off to a solid start. They made the tournament in their first season of eligibility and also played in 2014 and 2015. They have a win, too, having beaten Oklahoma as a No. 12 in 2014 before losing to San Diego State. Impressively, they have played four tournament teams this year - Gonzaga, Iowa State, New Mexico State and Montana. They weren't particularly competitive against any of them, though, and weren't even above .500 until they got hot in their conference tournament. Great sporting school, but not a great tournament team this year. Duke would eat them alive.
North Carolina Central: If they get to play Duke, it would be fascinating for one key reason - the team's home gym is just four miles away from Cameron Indoor. The squads could share a plane ride to the game. They won't, but they could. This is the team's fourth bid since 2014 and their third straight year playing in Dayton. They have yet to win. They have played two tournament teams this year, having lost badly to Cincinnati and a little less badly to St. Louis. They also got rolled over by NIT-bound Clemson. They play pretty solid defense, but not nearly solid enough to deal with a force like Zion Williamson.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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