The NCAA Tournament is the most magical time of the year and it is finally upon us! While the brackets in the later rounds are looking a bit chalky, there is definitely potential for some upsets during the first weekend of the tournament. There are four teams you should be on the lookout for to pull off some upsets and really cause chaos in the brackets.
The Racers are one of the trendier 5-12 upset picks this year to beat Marquette. The biggest reason they are getting so much love is because of point guard and possible top-five NBA Draft pick Ja Morant. He is averaging 24.6 points per game and leads the country with 10 assists per contest while also hauling in 5.5 rebounds a game. His team finished first in the Ohio Valley Conference at 16-2 and are on an 11-game winning streak. They’re also one of the highest-scoring teams in the tournament, which is always key when looking for a giant-killer team.
While great guard play is usually a requirement to beat any higher seeded and power conference team, there are a couple more factors that play into it. Three-point shooting is one of them, as well as upperclassmen play and offensive efficiency. Murray State checks off those boxes as they shoot about 35 percent from beyond the arc and are a top-50 team in adjusted offensive efficiency.
The Racers also have a good mix of older and younger players who have seen important minutes this season. Junior big man Darnell Cowart has played well this season and could end up being a major key in the Racers winning a potential matchup with Florida State in the second round.
In the end, Morant makes everyone on his team better and that will most likely decide their first game against Marquette (and possibly their second one against Vermont or FSU). The Racers also play solid defense, only allowing 68 points per games while scoring 83 themselves.
New Mexico State
The Aggies are a scary team, and outside of a bizarre loss to Cal Baptist in January, they have a pretty good resume. They only lost one game in their conference during the regular season and are a very good rebounding team. They face an Auburn team that has really only lost to other tournament teams throughout the year, but was still expected to be a little better than they were at 11-7 in the SEC.
New Mexico State is absolutely hot right now, as they ended the season on a 19-game winning streak, including winning their own conference tournament. They got those wins thanks to their excellent rebounding. As a team they are 18th in the country in total rebounds and ninth in offensive rebounds. A huge stat to keep in mind for teams that don’t see them regularly throughout the season and don’t get to properly scout them as the tournament goes. More offensive rebounds obviously means more scoring opportunities; forever a recipe for giant-killing.
The Aggies are also great on the defensive end, as they allow only about 64 points per game and they attract a ton of fouls on offense. They’ve been fouled 691 times, which is the 14th-most in the country. Getting to the free throw line is huge in March — as it is free throw awareness month — and can help slow down the game at times. All things that could scare off those giants in the tournament.
The Terriers have everything you look for in a giant-killer. They shoot the three-point ball often and well; have experience playing bigger schools from earlier in the year; and so on. The Terriers will not be afraid of seeing someone like Seton Hall or potentially a Kentucky in the round of 32. The guard play for Wofford will be huge as they should expect 20 or more from Fletcher Magee — the best shooter in college hoops — and will likely get double figure scoring from their other guard in Nathan Hoover.
If Magee gets hot, which is a definite possibility, then teams are going to be in trouble. He has hit shots in pretty much every way imaginable, so there is no shot he doesn’t feel confident in taking and his coach has given him the greenest of lights for any game he plays in. If you get a guy like that hoisting up shots and seeing them go in, your team is definitely in danger. Once he starts lighting up the scoreboard it also opens up his teammates for easy shots as he has to be double teamed or the defense will have to switch up.
And because of Magee’s scoring, along with Hoover and Cameron Jackson, the Terriers are averaging 83 points a game and are actually shooting 41.6 percent from beyond the arc (second-best in the country). They not only shoot the three-ball well, but also are top-10 in overall field goal percentage at almost 50 percent. They are also a solid enough defensive team, as they allow only 65.6 points per game.
Wofford is on a 20-game winning streak. If the Terriers weren’t confident before that, then they certainly have some recent experience to lean on now.
The Anteaters might have the tamest mascot in the NCAA Tournament and their team will play offense similarly. They will slow the game down to a snail’s pace and frustrate teams with their methodical play and excellent defense. They are a top-20 team in points allowed per game at 63.3. They attack the boards well and are a top-five defensive field goal percentage team.
While there isn’t any one particular player who is an excellent rebounder on the team, the Anteaters still have the third-most total rebounds and fifth-most defensive rebounds in the country. They are led by senior forwards Jonathan Galloway and Elston Jones on the boards as they combine for about 15 boards a game together. The guards get in there and scrap as well with most of their guards averaging about two boards a piece as well.
You can imagine how tough it is to get second opportunities when a team gets nearly no second chances on offense. That’s a one-and-done offenses hate to see and defense love to force.
Even with just an average defense, this team should be a tough out, as they won’t give the other team a ton of possessions since they will refuse to get into a track meet with anyone. That could make for some tough games to watch, but good games to see an upset.
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