March is finally upon us and the madness is set to begin tomorrow night when the Mt. Saint Mary’s Mountaineers take on the New Orleans Privateers. The winner of this game will have to face the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats and although it doesn’t look good for these two small programs going forward, here are three teams that can make some noise in the early stages of the tournament:
Wichita State Shockers
The Shockers are by far the best 10-seed in this tournament and also happen to be the biggest favorite for a 10-seed in over 12 years. At -6.5, the Shockers are far from an underdog in their upcoming game against the Dayton Flyers. VCU, Marquette, and Oklahoma State are no slouches as well, but Dayton may have caught the worst possible matchup out of any 7-seed. The one problem with this 30-4 team may be the fact that 3 of their 4 losses came from the likes of Louisville, Michigan State, and Oklahoma State. This is alarming because it hints at the fact that Wichita State is a product of their weak schedule and could have trouble in the later rounds. Despite this, I fully expect a first round win from the Shockers.
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
The Blue Raiders are back and better than last year, moving up from a 15-seed to a 12-seed. Their first round matchup against the Minnesota Golden Gophers is much less intimidating than last year’s date with Michigan State and with that experience under their belts, expect Middle Tennessee State to work their way back into the Round of 32. Minnesota will play their first tournament game under Richard Pitino, making this a very good opportunity for the Blue Raiders to exhibit what they learned last year. Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw stole the show and I see no reason why they can’t do it again.
Rhode Island Rams
The Rams took care of business on Sunday by winning their conference tournament and locking up a spot on the bracket. Rhode Island was given an interesting first round matchup in Creighton, who are without their best player. If healthy, I think the Bluejays win this one by double-digits. Unfortunately for Creighton, Maurice Watson’s ACL is still torn and because of this I’m going with the Rhode Island upset. Rhode Island’s biggest strength is their ability to limit threes as well as points in transition. Luckily for the Rams, Creighton relies on threes for 32% of their points and a field-high 34.2% of their total field goals are attempted while in transition. On top of all of this, Creighton opened up as a -2 favorite and is now down to PK, which tells me this game is going to be close at the very least.