To see the little guy rise up — the figurative David taking down Goliath — is one of the reasons why the NCAA Tournament is such a blast. And as the years have gone by, some of those mid-major squads have risen to the top (hey there, Zags!) while others have established themselves as consistent March Madness threats. This year, there are a lot of mid-major teams who can advance far into the tourney. Here are the three most likely to reach the Sweet 16.
Steph Curry’s not walking through that door, but that’s OK. This 10-seeded Davidson team has what it takes to reach the second weekend. The Wildcats rank among the nation’s top 20 in lowest turnover percentage. They are extremely efficient on the offensive end, thanks in large part to big man Luka Brajkovic and Michigan State transfer Foster Loyer. They are very accurate from beyond the arc and do a good job of limiting their opponents’ second chances. To pull this off, Davidson will have to take down two coaching legends in Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski, but the Spartans have not been very impressive since mid-January, and the Duke’s defense has shown real weaknesses recently.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
The Jackrabbits are a No. 13 seed but only a two-point underdog versus fourth-seed Providence, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. That should give you a hint as to how good the Summit League champions are. Baylor Scheierman is a marksman from 3-point range, and Douglas Wilson is a chief reason why South Dakota State has the second-best scoring offense in the country, trailing only Gonzaga. And no team shoots it better from deep. Their first-round matchup is a clash of styles; SDSU will need to deal with the Friars’ physicality and try to impose a fast pace. If it can do so, it will move on. The Jackrabbits’ second-round game would most likely come against the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have been outstanding over the previous four weeks. That game promises to be an absolute track meet between two programs with questionable defenses. South Dakota State can prevail as long as it keeps hitting its shots like it has all year long.
Murray State Racers
Don’t attribute Murray State’s 30 wins to a poor Ohio Valley Conference. The Racers haven’t lost since December because they are a very well-rounded team, one that will really get after you defensively and rebounds exceptionally well. They are also possibly a little underseeded here as a No. 7. They should get past No. 10 San Francisco in the first round, especially as the Dons will be without their leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, Yauhen Massalski, due to a knee injury. Murray State would probably see Kentucky in the Round of 32, which is admittedly scary; the Wildcats have a real argument as the most talented team in the dance. However, they have been spotty over the past month as they have dealt with injuries. Racers guard Tevin Brown, who was on the Ja Morant-led Murray State team that stunned fifth-seeded Marquette a few years back, is a good scorer and distributor. Forward KJ Williams, who averages 18.2 points per game, will try to give Player of the Year candidate Oscar Tshiebwe all he can handle.