NCAA Tournament: 12 Lower Seeded Teams That Could Shake Up Your Bracket
Every March there are always a few teams that peak at the right time and destroy the brackets of even the most well-informed college basketball fans.
When you consider that the current college basketball season has been as unpredictable as any in recent memory, this year's tournament doesn't figure to be any different.
Last year it was teams like Butler, Northern Iowa, Cornell and Saint Mary's that flew under the radar for most of the season and pulled off some of the biggest upsets come tourney time.
And while the general perception of the teams that are likely to ruin your bracket are that they come from small conferences, have weird mascots and feature players you've never heard of, there's also room for underachieving big-time programs to do the same.
Just last season, it didn't seem like Tennessee or Michigan State were destined to do much in the tournament.
The Spartans entered the dance as a five seed after dropping five of their last 10 games leading up to the tournament and it appeared that this team was slumping at the wrong time.
Tennessee drew a six seed in the same region as Michigan State after the Volunteers endured a 29-point drubbing at the hands of Kentucky in the SEC Conference Tournament. And they still seemed to be carrying around some baggage from the New Year's Day arrests and subsequent suspensions to some of their most important players.
However, both teams put their issues behind them and won three games in the tournament before meeting in the Elite 8. The point is: extremely talented teams that have gone through a few rough patches over the course of a season can still make waves in March if they're playing up to their potential.
As things stand right now, there are no shortage of teams from smaller conferences vying to be this year's Cinderella or of power programs that seem to be on the verge of putting it all together.
So take notice of these 12 teams that have the potential to shake up your bracket should they make it into the tournament.
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They've had one of the most disappointing seasons in all of college basketball, but I feel obligated to include Michigan State on this list because they have as much talent as anyone in the country and Tom Izzo is leading the way.
We've been fooled by Michigan State too many times before to think that this team is dead in the water, and if they're able to sneak their way into the tournament, there's no telling what this team is capable of doing.
One reason why the Spartans will be so dangerous if they make the tournament is because their star point guard, Kalin Lucas, appears to be fully recovered from a pesky Achilles injury which has plagued him for the entire season.
Lucas has regained most of his quickness and confidence over the past few weeks, during which he's played the point as well as anyone at the collegiate level.
Because Lucas has returned to form and Draymond Green is a great all-around player, it seems that Michigan State can challenge nearly anyone in the country as long as they get steady contributions from guys like Delvon Roe, Keith Appling and Durrell Summers.
It's still not quite guaranteed that the Spartans make the tournament, but they've started to show some signs of life in the past few days, as they've taken care of Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota and nearly beat Ohio State on the road.
All of that should make anyone who has to face Michigan State in the tournament as an eight, nine, or 10 seed extremely nervous.
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George Mason is best remembered for the miracle tournament run back in 2006 in which they essentially set fire to anyone's bracket who didn't go to school there.
While it would be hard to see the 2011 version of George Mason duplicating such a run, they're definitely capable of breaking a few hearts this time around as well. The Patriots currently own the longest winning streak in all of college basketball, 13 games, and they feature a well-balanced offensive attack that can beat you in a variety of ways.
Cam Long is the catalyst for this George Mason team and the senior guard can rebound, dish to teammates and he is the team's first option on offense. Long combines with Ryan Pearson, Luke Hancock and Andre Cornelius to give George Mason four viable scoring threats who can all lead this team to victory.
The Patriots are also one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation boasting five players who shoot over 40 percent from behind the arc, making them especially dangerous in late-game situations. On the sidelines, Jim Larranaga is an experienced coach who has shown over the years that he can get this team to embrace the underdog role and execute it to perfection.
George Mason probably won't make it all the way back to the Final Four this season and it seems doubtful that they'll sneak up on anyone this time around. But make no mistake, the Patriots definitely have the potential to pull off a few upsets before they bow out of the tournament.
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Kansas State was supposed to challenge for a national title this season, but with an overall record of 18-9 and a 6-6 mark in Big 12 play, it's clear that those expectations were a bit too high for Frank Martin's crew.
The postseason situation in Manhattan was looking bleak just over a week ago when the Wildcats were defeated by Colorado for the second time this season, but a 16-point victory over the then No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks seems to have turned their season around.
Kansas State's performance in that game alone, which saw Jacob Pullen pour in 38 and the K-State defense hold the Morris twins to 16 combined points, shows just how dangerous this team can be if they're playing up to their potential.
Pullen's "screw this, I'm taking over," attitude in the Kansas game was more along the lines of what the K-State faithful were hoping to see out of their team leader during his senior season.
With Pullen stepping up his game, all Kansas State needs is for Frank Martin to stop yelling at Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels long enough so that they can give the Wildcats some production around the basket. If that happens, all of a sudden you have a team with three viable options that can compete with anyone in the country.
The Wildcats are far from a sure bet to make the tournament at this point in the season, but if their recent upset over Kansas is any indication of how they can play when they're motivated, this team could easily be a factor as an eight or nine seed that would no doubt make any one seed nervous about a potential second-round matchup.
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George Mason's CAA rival, Old Dominion, is enjoying nearly as good of a season thus far and figures to be heard from come tournament time.
Old Dominion was actually the last team to defeat George Mason over a month ago and while the Monarchs may be taking a backseat to their in-conference rival in terms of media attention, they're just as likely to pull of an upset or two in the tournament.
In addition to their win over George Mason, ODU can boast victories over Clemson, Xavier, Richmond and Cleveland State, not to mention giving Georgetown all they could handle in their first game of the season.
This experience against major conference teams will be a big boost for Old Dominion when the tournament rolls around and it should have them ready to show that these performances weren't a fluke.
The Monarchs aren't going to wow you with their ability to put a ton of points on the board, but they rebound extremely well and play tough defense.
This team is capable of playing and winning ugly, controlling the tempo and forcing you to play their style of game. Old Dominion has only surrendered 70 or more points four times this season, so if you're playing them you better be ready for a defensive-minded affair.
ODU also features the rugged post play of Frank Hassell who has blossomed into an extremely productive big man during his senior season. He figures to be a difference maker under the basket once the tournament starts.
Simply put, Old Dominion shouldn't be overlooked and it wouldn't be a surprise if they were celebrating during the first weekend of the tournament, while their opponents are left wondering what hit them.
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Talk about peaking at the right time: St. John's has shaken off a few disappointing early season losses and found their stride as March is approaching. If St. John's goes on a run in the Big East Tournament, they might get a fairly high seed, but for now they're still probably a five or higher.
The Red Storm have compiled an impressive 10-5 record in the Big East and the team has also earned a reputation for being a giant killer after their recent upsets over Notre Dame, Duke, UConn and Pittsburgh.
These upsets have allowed St. John's to crack the Top 25 for the first time in a decade and this team will be looking to send off their nine seniors with a bang when March Madness starts.
Steve Lavin's squad is deep, experienced and athletic, all of which make St. John's a serious candidate to continue their upset-minded ways in the tournament.
The emergence of senior Dwight Hardy as the team's go-to scorer seems to be the missing piece that could very well allow the Johnnies to hang with some of the high-powered offenses that they figure to face in the tournament.
Hardy has been the driving force behind the team's recent surge and the 6'2'' shooting guard has scorched the nets for 24 points per game in the Red Storm's last eight contests.
Because St. John's is so athletic and adept at scoring in transition, they present a number of matchup problems for any team that they will face over the next few weeks.
When you throw in the coaching experience of Steve Lavin and Gene Keady, this Red Storm team absolutely has the potential to pull off a couple more upsets in the tournament.
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With their 75-65 victory over St. Mary's this past weekend, the Utah State Aggies silenced many critics who were quick to point out that they hadn't beaten a team in the RPI's top 100 all season.
If nothing else, their BracketBuster victory showed that Utah State at least deserves some of the praise that's been showered upon them this season and that they're indeed capable of beating a good team.
While it's true that Utah State hasn't played the toughest of schedules, their game against BYU went down to the final seconds and they played Georgetown tight for a half before ultimately letting the game get out of hand.
Tai Wesley is the Aggies best player and a stud in the post who is a constant threat to go for a double-double.
The 6'7'' senior was the focal point of their victory over St. Mary's and his 22 point, 11 rebound performance was all the more impressive when you consider that he was battling through a broken nose which he re-aggravated earlier in the game.
Utah State isn't an overly-flashy team but they negotiate most aspects of the game well and this WAC standout should enter the tournament with a huge chip on its shoulder to prove that they can hang with the big boys.
If the Aggies have learned anything from their early-season losses to BYU and Georgetown, they should be ready to potentially slay a few giants and make a mess of brackets everywhere.
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You wouldn't expect a team from the Summit League to have played a very challenging schedule, but the Oakland Golden Grizzlies faced off against some of the best teams in the country before conference play began.
Head coach Greg Kampe aggressively scheduled whichever major conference teams would play him in the first half of the season, with an eye on preparing his team for the tournament.
The result was road games against West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio State, not to mention a neutral site game against Michigan State.
And while Oakland went just 1-6 over that grueling seven-game stretch, they were competitive for at least a half in most of those games and gained some extremely valuable experience in the process.
The Golden Grizzlies star center, Keith Benson, showed that he can compete with anyone in the nation during these games and the 6'11'' senior is an imposing force in the paint.
The Michigan native is a double-double machine who has the ability to dominate a game with his scoring, rebounding or defense and he will definitely present a huge challenge to whoever plays Oakland in the tournament.
As great as Benson is, the Golden Grizzlies are far from a one-man show. Other players on their roster, like Reggie Hamilton, Will Hudson and Travis Bader, have the ability to make opposing teams pay should they focus too much on trying to contain Benson.
The Golden Grizzlies are looking to win the Summit League and make their second-straight tournament appearance, where they will no doubt be matched up against a major conference team. Except this time, it will be on a neutral court and the Grizzlies should be well prepared to potentially pull off an upset. It's what they've based their entire season around.
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Ben Howland's UCLA team is definitely a tough one to figure out. They could have beaten Kansas in Phog Allen if not for a questionable last-second foul call and they own impressive victories over BYU and St. John's.
The Bruins were recently riding a six-game winning streak but just when it looked like they were finally making a push for the Pac-10 title and inclusion in the tournament, they drop an overtime game against California and lose valuable momentum before crucial showdowns with Arizona and Washington.
Speaking strictly from a talent standpoint, UCLA definitely has some impressive players on their roster. Guys like Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt and larger-than-life Josh Smith should allow this team to compete with anyone in the country.
And on nights when their top players are motivated and interested, they absolutely can (see their aforementioned games against St. John's, BYU and Kansas).
However, there are times when only one or two of these guys show up and it leads to performances like the one they just had against California.
Inconsistency notwithstanding, this UCLA team should find its way into the tournament, and because they have a number of players who can dominate many different aspects of a given game, they are absolutely capable of shocking some of the best teams in the nation and turning the bracket upside down.
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After his 41-point, 20-rebound game, Norris Cole is no longer one of the best kept secrets in college basketball, but that doesn't mean anyone in the tournament is going to be able to stop him.
After that breakout game against Youngstown State, Cole began to garner plenty of praise from analysts around the country who proclaimed that he was the best point guard at the collegiate level.
Whether or not Cole is better than someone like Jordan Taylor really doesn't matter. The fact remains that he's extremely dangerous on a basketball court and he can impact a game in many different ways.
Cleveland State also has a solid supporting cast around Cole and while they're not likely to lead this team to an upset in the tournament if Cole is off his game, they can play a role in helping their superstar topple a few giants before he graduates.
Over the years, we've seen dynamic players like Cole simply takeover tournament games and will their underdog teams to victory over even the toughest of opponents.
This Cleveland State team still has some work to do before they're assured of a spot in the tournament, but if they do make it to the Big Dance, don't be surprised if Cole saves his best for last and helps Cleveland State pull off an upset or two.
The Charleston Cougars will pose an interesting challenge to some big-name programs should they make it to the dance. They have one of the premier scorers in all of college basketball on their roster in Andrew Goudelock, who has shown that rare ability to get hot and be virtually unstoppable.
Goudelock is a marksman behind the arc, hitting 41 percent of his attempts this season, and when you consider that he shoots over eight three-pointers per game, he can definitely change the complexion of any game in a hurry.
With the help of their 6'2'' senior guard, Charleston has held their own against quite a few major conference opponents this season. Before losing in heartbreaking fashion, they held second-half leads against Maryland, Clemson and North Carolina, not to mention beating Tennessee by 13 on the road.
Goudelock came up big in every single one of those games, but the fact that he put up 13 points in just two minutes against UNC is the perfect example of just how explosive he can be.
The Cougars were dealt a huge blow when they learned that their second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, Jeremy Simmons, will be out indefinitely with a blood clot in his shoulder.
The team is hopeful that he will be ready to return by the time the tournament gets underway, but in the meanwhile they've had players like Trent Wiedeman, Antwaine Wiggins and Willis Hall take on bigger roles under the basket.
The fight that the Cougars displayed against some good teams earlier in the season shows that this team should be taken seriously come tournament time and whenever you have a player like Goudelock, you're always a threat to shake up a few brackets.
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The Washington Huskies were supposed to be the class of the Pac-10 this season, but things haven't gone according to plan for Lorenzo Romar during conference play.
Recent stumbles against Stanford, Oregon St., Oregon and Washington St. have seen the Huskies fall to third in the Pac-10 and out of the Top 25 completely.
This slide, which also includes a heartbreaking loss to Arizona in the final seconds, has certainly hurt Washington's chances of earning a high seed in the tournament, but there's still plenty of talent on the Huskies roster.
Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning headline a Washington team that can score with anyone in the country and combine to make one of the best inside/outside combinations in the collegiate game today.
The injury to Abdul Gaddy was definitely a blow to this team, but it's allowed Thomas to become a more complete player and his 10-assist performance against Arizona shows just how far he's come in the past few months.
Aside from Thomas and Bryan-Amaning, the Huskies have a deep rotation full of guys who can hit the three and are more than capable of giving their two stars the support they need.
Washington might not be the Top 25 team everyone thought they were going to be when the season started, but these guys have too much talent and are capable of putting up too many points to be taken lightly when the tournament starts.
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The Morehead State Eagles are currently riding a nine-game winning streak and they have one of the most dominant players in college basketball on their roster in Kenneth Faried.
Since the beginning of the season, Faried has been tantalizing NBA scouts and causing sleepless nights for opposing head coaches regardless of what conference they hail from.
The 6'8'' senior big man more than held his own against the imposing frontcourts of Florida and Ohio State and drew high praise from both Billy Donovan and Thad Matta in the process. During both games, Faried's play had the Eagles in prime position to upset two of the nation's best on their homecourts, but they ended up falling short on each occasion.
The extremely athletic forward is known for his incredible rebounding and defensive prowess but he's also Morehead State's leading scorer, thanks in large part to the fact that he's shooting 63 percent from the field.
Faried's running mate is Demonte Harper, a fellow senior whose versatile perimeter game is the perfect compliment to what Faried does in the paint.
It will certainly be an uphill battle for Morehead State to pull off an upset in the tournament, especially when you consider that they will almost definitely be getting a 15 or 16 seed.
But when you have an NBA talent as transcendent as Kenneth Faried, anything seems possible. If his performances against Florida and Ohio State tell us anything it's that this team has plenty of heart and just might be able to shock the world.