5 Underrated and Overrated Teams To Get You Ready For The Stretch Run Before The NCAA Tournament
Selection Sunday is 40 days away so here are a few teams to keep an eye on over the course of the next month heading into conference tournament season. Enjoy.
5 Overrated Teams
1. Gonzaga- This isn't really fair to Gonzaga. The only reason they are on this list is because they are currently ranked #1 in the country and I do not believe that they are the best team. So, they get the ugly designation of being overrated. Make no mistake, however: These 'Zags are for real. They are the nation's only undefeated team left and while they don't play in a 'power 5' conference, they have good wins: Tennessee, Arizona, Iowa State, and St. Mary's. They are also just crushing the lesser competition they face in the WCC. It seems a trip to St. Mary's is the only game left that could keep Gonzaga from entering the WCC Tournament undefeated (Sorry, BYU.)
2. Illinois State- Before everyone in Bloomington, Illinois starts yelling at me, let me be clear: Illinois State is a good team. You don't get to 10-0 in any conference (even a 'down' year in the Missouri Valley) unless you are a good basketball team. But let's pump the brakes a little bit on the Red Birds being Cinderella. They beat the team that has had a stranglehold on The Valley (Wichita State) at home by double digits a few weeks ago. Pretty impressive. However, this year's Wichita team is not your not-so-older sibling's Wichita team: Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet are no longer on the roster. Wichita's best win is against Oklahoma; the 8th or 9th best team in the Big 12. Illinois State's 2nd best win: Loyola-IL. Like I said, Illinois State is a very good basketball team but I am not sold on them being the team that wears the glass slipper this year.
3. Butler- Oh, the Bulldogs of Butler. You know what they are: Tough. Gritty. They're not going to beat themselves. You know what else they are? Unpredictable. A team that has wins over Indiana (when the Hoosiers were healthy and playing well), Cincinnati, #1 Villanova, and Northwestern. But they also have losses to St. John's, Georgetown, Indiana State (not sure how Chris Holtman didn't get nearly as much credit for scheduling that game on the road as Tom Crean did scheduling the IPFW game-but that is a different conversation for a different day), and barely escaped DePaul by a point. Butler has proved they can beat just about anyone but they can also lose to just about anyone. Bottom line: You just can't trust them.
4. Duke- You know it by now: Preseason #1 ranked team in the country by just about everyone, 3 stud freshman injured to start the year, A tripping incident followed by a 1-game suspension to its preseason All-American (Grayson), an injury to its leader and best interior defender (Jefferson), and then back surgery keeping the all-time division I leader in wins by a coach out a month. The season has been a rough one for the Blue Devils. They are ranked #17 in the country this week but they have not looked like a top 25 team for a good amount of time. Their best win, before Monday's win at Notre Dame, was on a neutral court against a Florida team that has been in and out of the top 25 all season. Maybe the win against Notre Dame is a turning point. Maybe it was just one game. Whichever it is, as of right now, Duke is overrated. But I don't think anyone wants to face a team with at least 5 future NBA players on the roster that's coached by Coach K.
5. Creighton and Xavier- You get a bonus team. That's just how nice I am. unfortunately, that is the least harmful thing I am going to say in this section. A pair of Big East teams with high hopes that are (for now) clinging onto a top 25 ranking after their point guards (Mo Watson for Creighton, Edmund Sumner for X) went down for the season with torn ligaments in their knee. Watson lead the entire NCAA in assists/game before he was injured (coincidentally in a game at Xavier) and Sumner either lead Xavier or was 2nd on the team in points, assists, and rebounds. While the supporting casts on these teams are good the ceiling is nowhere near what it was when these 2 point guards were healthy. What a shame! (Well wishes to both.)
5 Underrated Teams
1. Northwestern- Okay. I am putting an end to this right now: Yes, Northwestern is going to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Write it down in Sharpie. Can we stop treating Northwestern like they are just full of "aww, shucks" type kids that are just happy to be playing basketball and If they make the tournament, so be it? It feels like everyone is saying ,"Northwestern. That is so cute of them to make the tournament. Good for them." Can we take them for what they are? What they are is a very good basketball team that will beat you by 30 and not apologize for it (ask Iowa.) The Wildcats are currently 7-2 in the Big Ten and tied for first place in the win column. Yes, their schedule gets tougher (starting with Purdue this week) but make no mistake: Northwestern is making the NCAA tournament. Don't be surprised if they win a game or 2 while they are there, too.
2. Notre Dame- I know what you're saying: Hey, Notre Dame has lost 3 in a row and 4 of 5. I get that. I am not jumping ship quite yet. This is a team that can score the ball, even if they haven't shown it recently. The toughness of Matt Farrell along with the shooting abilities of VJ Beachem, Bonzie Colson, and Steve Vasturia gives me confidence the Irish will right the ship. Mike Brey has a knack of getting his teams to play well during tournament play as well.
3. Florida State- Another struggling ACC team makes the list? You're dang right! You may have heard, the ACC is pretty good this year. The Seminoles have lost 2 in-a-row after going through a tremendous stretch of playing 6 ranked teams in-a-row (I told you the ACC was tough.) The Noles won 5 of those 6 games. I blame a good amount of the back-to-back losses on a bit of a letdown with the schedule easing up. This is still a team that has length and athleticism at just about every position. Leonard Hamilton plays about 11 players, too, so good luck wearing them down. The Noles will be just fine.
4. Wisconsin- Can a team that is ranked #10 in the country be underrated? I say yes. Wisconsin returned just about everyone from a team that went to the sweet 16 last year. They have a senior point guard (Bronson Koenig) and a senior big man (Nigel Hayes.) You probably remember Koenig from last year sinking 2 clutch 3s to knock Xavier out of the NCAA tournament. Sophomore Ethan Happe is one of the most improved players in the country. When the game is on the line the Badgers turn to Koenig. He has simply taken over games this year and willed his team to wins. Wisconsin has needed overtime to win 2 of its last 3 games against Minnesota and Rutgers, but that is life on the road in conference play. A senior point guard and senior big man who have played in multiple NCAA tournament games, including a national championship? I like their chances of a deep run.
5. Oregon- It is somewhat easy to forget about the Ducks: They play on the west coast. Gonzaga is out west and getting a lot of the coverage out there being the #1 team in the country and all. Arizona is the talk of the Pac 12 right now with the return of Allonzo Trier. I'm here to tell you: Don't be fooled. Since the return of Dillon Brooks from injury, Oregon had quietly won 17 games in a row before falling to Colorado. Oregon returns the core of a team that beat Duke on the way to the Sweet 16 last year.
So there you have it. 11 teams to keep an eye on in the stretch run before Championship Week begins. The best time of the year will be here shortly!