There’s a handful of teams that aren’t seeded the highest, but I can see getting to the tournament. Some important things I look for are experienced players, and a talented backcourt. Let’s look at four of the most underrated squads:
Marquette 15-6 (5-4)
The Golden Eagles currently sit at a 5 seed for me, and will likely finish in the 4-6 range; but this team has the capability to last far into March. We all know star Markus Howard, who leads the NCAA in scoring by a full two points per game. The backcourt doesn’t stop there, as Koby McEwen and Sacar Anim have both stepped up their game on MU’s current three game winning streak. Experienced backcourts are important to succeed in March, and those three are all either seniors (Howard & Anim) or a junior (McEwen). I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Marquette in the Sweet 16, and they could knock off one of the top teams with the experienced guard play mixed with the way the season has gone so far.
LSU 16-4 (7-0)
LSU is another team with talented guards in Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart, but one other thing I wanted to highlight with the Tigers is their ability to win close games. They started out the season 0-3 in one possession games, but are 5-0 in conference play between games that finished within 4 points. Home wins over Arkansas, Miss State, and Florida, mixed with road wins over Ole Miss and Texas A&M have LSU sitting at first in the conference. It takes a lot of talent and mental endurance to get through close games, especially considering those five games were all within two weeks of each other. The way LSU has played in these close games the past two weeks makes me a believer if this squad come March.
Florida 12-8 (4-3)
The Gators came in to the season with high expectations from me, and lots of others. Florida then went on to start 2-2 with losses to Florida State and UConn. People in Gainesville started to panic as Florida State wasn’t supposed to keep up with the Gators. Looking back on the loss now, and seeing Florida State in the top ten, this loss doesn’t seem as bad. They’ve rebounded from the rivalry loss and have found themselves 4th in the SEC as of right now. The sophomore class is very strong and has tournament experience from last season. KBJ’s veteran leadership brings another core value to the Gators. They definitely have the star power, and from what I saw at the Charleston Classic, this team will be just fine in tournament play.
Utah State 17-6 (6-4)
The Aggies, just like Florida, had high preseason expectations. USU has fallen in a slump as of late, suffering losses @ Air Force and @ Boise State. With Neemius Queta getting healthier by the day, this team will only improve. Sam Merrill’s veteran leadership as a senior guard is important to this team, and they should be geared for a longer run than last season’s round of 64 loss. The Aggies already have wins over Florida and LSU away from home, and have shown they are a tourney team through some stretches. Utah State has a rematch with SDSU on February 1st, and don’t be surprised if the Aggies can stick around or pull off a very tough upset win.
This season has been crazy so far, and it likely won’t stop there. These are four squads that should make a splash in March, even with a seed ranging in the 5-10 range more than likely.