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March Madness tournament logo. Image by Greg Johnson for the NCAA.

March Madness Preview: Diamonds in the Rough Ahead of Selection Sunday

As anticipation for March Madness builds, basketball enthusiasts and casual fans alike are looking out for the teams flying under the radar, ready to defy expectations and make their presence in the tournament known. When you look at the most underestimated teams embodying grit and determination, they are poised to shake up the status quo and turn heads with their relentless play. This is an opportunity to spotlight the tough teams gaining momentum, ready to surprise the experts and change the tournament’s storyline. And let’s not forget the excitement of March Madness, where unexpected upsets and underdog victories take center stage.

Amidst the chaos of March Madness, it’s the bold and resilient teams that defy expectations and showcase true greatness are the ones able to etch their names into basketball history. These teams captivate attention in the early rounds due to their unwavering determination, versatile playing styles, and potential for game-changing performances. Each possesses a unique blend of talent, grit, and strategic prowess, making them formidable contenders capable of surprising even the most seasoned basketball enthusiasts. Here are three teams to keep a lookout for in the early rounds of the tournament:


Northwestern Wildcats: This is easily the most efficient offense of Chris Collins’ reign in Evanston. Graduate student Guard Boo Buie is a star and embraces the big moments, while junior Brooks Barnhizer has made a sizable leap in his junior season, practically doubling his points per game average from last season. The Cats are shooting 39.4% from beyond the arc (good enough for sixth in the nation) and do a great job taking care of the ball. However, they will have to figure out how to replace a vital asset to their backcourt success, their best 3-point shooter, senior Ty Berry, who is out for the season with a torn meniscus. They have quality wins, having beaten No. 3 Purdue and No. 12 Illinois, two highly touted teams at this point in the season. With the addition of graduate student Ryan Langborg, the former Princeton Tiger who was a part of the Princeton Tigers’ 2023 March Madness run, they could make up for some bad losses they’ve had this season and surprise some of the higher seeds. 

Pittsburgh Panthers: All of a sudden, the Panthers have ripped off five ACC games in a row: at home against Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Louisville, then at NC State, and Virginia. Jeff Capel’s bunch, led by Blake Hinson (18.3 points per game and 41% from deep), looks to be peaking at the right time. The Panthers had this same type of peak last February, when they made it back to the AP rankings for the first time in over half a decade, but saw a forgettable ACC tournament, as they lost to Duke 96-69 in the 2023 ACC Tournament quarterfinal. However, they shook out a win in the tournament, and this year, they have the potential to do a little bit more than that with senior Blake Hinson leading the charge, as he has been on a tear as of late this season. 

Kentucky Wildcats: No good team has a bigger gap between offensive and defensive efficiency than Kentucky. While scoring is not a problem for the talented Wildcats, Kentucky has given up more than 80 points in 10 out of its 23 games, which is very subpar considering how credible the program is for success on both sides of the floor. Observing their recent road performance against No. 11 Auburn, handing them their only home loss of the season thus far, and a 22-point win versus No.14 Alabama, it’s evident that they possess the capabilities to progress significantly. With everyone in good health, they become a well-rounded team with numerous scoring options available, including Antonio Reeves, D.J. Wagner, Rob Dillingham, and Reed Sheppard. Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso’s strong presence inside will help them stay competitive in the tough games they’ll face during their tournament run.

Indiana State Sycamores: The Sycamores were upset by Illinois State in their first game as a ranked team since Larry Bird had them at No. 1 in the 1978-79 season. The loss was surprising, due to head coach Josh Schertz’s ability to run a well-oiled offensive machine; Indiana State is one of two teams to rank in the Top 15 in 2-point, 3-point, and free throw percentage. Five players on the Sycamores average over 10 points per game, and their star player, 6’10” sophomore center Robbie Avil, does a little of everything. He leads the team in points and blocks and is second in rebounds and assists. The two-game losing streak in the Missouri Valley Conference certainly doesn’t help guarantee a bid to the dance, but if their efficiency and well-balanced offense continue, they’re a team that can make some noise in the early rounds of the tournament. 

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