Here’s a look at five teams that could pull off several bracket-busting upsets in the NCAA tournament.
New Mexico State (No. 12 seed, Midwest Region): The Aggies (30-4) had a top-40 score in the NCAA’s NET metric and were a possession away from knocking off Kansas on the road in non-conference action. Chris Jans, the two-time WAC coach of the year, comes from a coaching tree of former Cinderella coaches. He served under Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser’s staff at Illinois State and worked as Gregg Marshall’s top assistant during the Shockers’ Final Four run in 2013 and their near-undefeated season in 2014. Jans’ team ranks in the top-55 nationally in scoring offense and defense.
Eli Chuha, one of the many catalysts, is a 6-7 forward who shoots 66 percent from the floor. New Mexico State draws Auburn, coming off an SEC tourney title, in the first round.
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Belmont (No. 11 seed, East Region): The Bruins (26-5) share the ball better than anyone in the country, ranking first with 20 assists per game, with freshman Grayson Murphy leading the way with 6.6 assists a game. This style gives Belmont a potent offense, trailing only Gonzaga in points scored per game and ranking top-20 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency. Dylan Windler (21.4 ppg, 10.7 rpg) is a 6-8 guard who can stretch the floor by shooting 54 percent from the floor and 43 percent from beyond the arc.
Saint Mary’s (No. 11 seed, South Region): The Gaels (22-11) stunned Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament final a little less than a month after losing to the ‘Zags by 48 points. In the WCC title game, Saint Mary’s limited the nation’s best offense to 47 points. Jordan Ford (21.3 ppg) could be a March star, scoring 28 points or more eight times this season. A surging Villanova team is a tough draw, but the path should get easier for Saint Mary’s if they can start with an upset here.
Liberty (No. 12 seed, East Region): The Flames (28-6) claimed the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid in their first year in the league. This team has a top-six defense (allowing 60.8 points a game) and excellent team shooting percentage (49%). Scottie James (13.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) paces a balanced scoring attack. Liberty is similar to Virginia with the way it slows the tempo of the game (coach Ritchie McKay was UVa’s assistant for six years). It has the ability to stifle a more athletic team like first-round opponent Mississippi State in the same way Virginia beats blue bloods with five-star athletes in the ACC.
Colgate (No. 15 seed, South Region): The No. 2 seeds look unbeatable this year, and it’s no different for a loaded Tennessee team. But the Raiders (24-10) are a top-15 three-point shooting team, and that’s always a good recipe for shattering brackets. Rapolas Ivanauskas, a transfer who was on Northwestern’s NCAA tournament team two years ago, is a 6-10 forward who shoots around 44 percent from three, and guard Jordan Burns is coming off a 35-point performance to help win the Patriot League tournament title.