As the NCAA tournament tends to point out, seeds are just a number.
Year in and year out, several low-seeded teams make a deep run into March. Some of these teams are underrated, while some were poorly seeded.
Either way, it all helps March Madness live up to its name.
But before we get into three potential dark horses ready to make a Sweet 16 run, let’s take a look at the bracket.
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West: No. 11 Nebraska (19-12)
The Cornhuskers certainly waited till the last second.
Following a 9-9 start, Nebraska really turned the engines on. The team finished 10-3, knocking off a pair of Top-10 opponents in Michigan State and Wisconsin along the way.
In doing so, the Cornhuskers captured the school’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.
“It’s huge,” swingman Shavon Shields told the media of what it means for the program, per Huskers.com. “It’s a small step in the big picture of where we want to be and what we want to do. We kind of underachieved in the Big Ten tournament and I think we are ready to bounce back for the NCAA’s.”
First-round opponent Baylor won’t be easy. Then again, that is the same squad that went 2-8 in a 10-game stretch earlier this season.
With Shields playing some of his best basketball—he’s averaged 16.3 points and 7.7 rebounds over the last six games—and Terran Petteway (18.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG) in the mix, Nebraska can hang with any opponent.
And if the team can get past the Bears, a second-round date with Creighton—arguably the least talented No. 3 seed in the field—awaits.
A run to the Sweet 16 is there for the Cornhuskers if they really want it.
South: No. 7 New Mexico (27-6)
Many were surprised when the Lobos were seeded as low as No. 7.
Don’t expect the same reaction when they make a run to the Sweet 16.
Believe it or not, New Mexico has all the ingredients to accomplish the feat. The team is riding a wave of momentum—winners of 15 of the last 17—and leading scorer Cameron Bairstow is getting hot at the right time.
Over the last six games, the senior forward has averaged 20.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
The Lobos shouldn’t have too much trouble with first-round opponent Stanford. Which leaves a potential second-round meeting with No. 2 Kansas in St. Louis on Sunday.
With Jayhawks big man Joel Embiid sidelined, expect New Mexico’s size to play a role in the upset. Between the 6’9” Bairstow and 7’0” Alex Kirk (13.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.7 BPG), the team has plenty of size and talent in its frontcourt.
Look for that to be the X-factor.
East: No. 6 North Carolina
Selecting the Tar Heels to make a deep run is not unheard of. After all, this is the same team that has made more Sweet 16 appearances (25) than any other school.
But as the Washington Post’s Jason Reid notes, it all depends on which North Carolina team shows up:
Random thought: North Carolina could make Sweet 16 or lose by a point in first round after trailing by 30.— Jason Reid (@JReidPost) March 17, 2014
When it’s been on point, this team has topped Michigan State, Duke and Kentucky with relative ease. However, the Tar Heels have also suffered back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Miami—a combined 13-23 in the ACC—this season.
Still, with Marcus Paige pouring it in lately—20.4 points per game over last five games—North Carolina should handle business against first-round opponent Providence, which has conceded 69.5 points per game this year.
Facing Iowa State in the second round will be no easy task. But if the Tar Heels can take advantage of the boards—No. 9 in rebounds per game (39.8)—they can take advantage of a vulnerable Cyclones defense that ranks No. 278 in points allowed.