March Madness 2018: Analyzing Underrated NCAA Tournament Contenders

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 4, 2018

Florida guard Chris Chiozza (11) acknowledges the crowd as he leaves the game in the final minute of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, March 3, 2018. Florida won 80-67. (AP Photo/Ron Irby)
Ron Irby/Associated Press

Rarely does the NCAA men's basketball tournament go to chalk. There's always a team or two that flies under the radar before March Madness and captures our attention during the three-week roller coaster.

A year ago, only two No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four alongside a No. 3 and No. 7 seed.

With chaos reigning supreme this season, the expectations for No. 1 seeds are lower and the chance for lower seeds to advance to the Final Four is higher than usual.

Underrated contenders for the national championship come from every power conference, while a few mid-major teams are always clumped in the mix.

Below is a look at three teams who are flying under the radar now but have an opportunity to surprise us when March Madness comes around.

             

Florida

Florida has a chance to catch us off guard for the second year in a row in the NCAA tournament.

A year removed from their trip to the Elite Eight, the Gators could end up anywhere from a No. 5 to No. 7 seed in the Big Dance depending on how much success they achieve at the SEC tournament.

Head coach Mike White's team is trending upward with wins in its last three games, including two over ranked teams Auburn and Kentucky.

Florida is 6-2 against ranked opposition, with the two losses coming by a combined eight points to Duke and Tennessee.

With Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen leading the way, the Gators possess a valuable commodity in postseason experience that could give them the edge in a close matchup.

Ron Irby/Associated Press

Chiozza, who hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in the Sweet 16 against Wisconsin last year, is the team's top distributor, as he's averaging 6.1 assists per game.

If he is able to work into a rhythm and connect with Allen or leading scorers Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov, the Gators' opponents could experience trouble on the defensive side of the ball.

Not that it needed more experience after last season, but Florida will leave the SEC tournament battle-tested, as it's in line for a clash with Tennessee in the semifinals and Auburn or Kentucky in the final if chalk holds and the top four seeds are the last teams standing.

No matter which seed they end up earning, the Gators will be a dangerous round-of-32 matchup for one of the top three or four teams in their region, which could lead to another visit to the second weekend of the tournament.

              

Texas Tech

If you're a casual observer of men's basketball, it's easy to understand why you think Texas Tech being a high seed in the NCAA tournament is a surprise. 

If you pay close attention to the sport, you know head coach Chris Beard was a home run hire for the Red Raiders after he guided Arkansas-Little Rock to the 2015 NCAA tournament and an upset over Purdue in double overtime. 

Beard's Red Raiders were the main contender to break Kansas' record of consecutive Big 12 titles, but they fell a bit short as the Jayhawks captured their 14th-straight regular-season crown.

LUBBOCK, TX - MARCH 3: Head coach Chris Beard and Keenan Evans #12 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders stand on the court after the game against the TCU Horned Frogs on March 3, 2018 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated TCU 79-75.
John Weast/Getty Images

Although they didn't win the Big 12, the Red Raiders still have plenty of potential to become a surprise participant in the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or further.

Texas Tech halted a four-game skid Saturday with a victory over TCU in which Keenan Evans recorded 23 points.

Evans' performance is vital for the Red Raiders to achieve success in March and his Saturday showing was a good sign, as CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein noted:

The senior guard is the most important player on the Texas Tech roster; when he's at his best, he is capable of beating teams by himself.

Evans does have a fine supporting cast around him, though, led by Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith, who both average over 11 points and four rebounds per contest.

If the trio lead Texas Tech to a few wins at the Big 12 tournament, the Red Raiders will regain confidence ahead of the Big Dance. Although they might not possess the experience other programs have, Beard has the potential to be the X-factor as he exploits the weaknesses in opposing defenses with his game plan.

              

Ohio State

It's hard to think of a team that went 15-3 in the Big Ten as underrated but that's what Ohio State is.

The Buckeyes were left in the shadows at the start of conference play when Purdue was receiving national praise, and they've been caught behind Michigan State recently as the Spartans surged to the Big Ten regular-season title.

Head coach Chris Holtmann's team will fly under the radar entering the NCAA tournament because it lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals and its conference tournament was held a week before it normally is.

Keita Bates-Diop is the star on the Buckeyes roster, and is one of the best stories in all of men's basketball; he's improved his points-per-game total by 10 and experienced an uptick in every other major stat category.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: Keita Bates-Diop #33 of the Ohio State Buckeyes handles the ball on offense against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 2, 2018 in New York C
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Despite playing in a weakened Big Ten, Ohio State carries a pair of marquee wins over Michigan State and Purdue into the Big Dance.

In addition to the impressive resume they've put together over the last two months, the Buckeyes have a tremendous coach in Holtmann, who led Butler to the Sweet 16 a year ago before replacing Thad Matta.

If Holtmann parlays the experience gained from his three NCAA tournament appearances with Butler into the Ohio State locker room, he should produce impressive results for a program looking for its first trip to the second weekend of the Big Dance since 2013.

               

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com

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