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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Flying under the radar

Underrated teams to watch out for in the NCAA Tournament
Tip+off+in+Reed+Arena+during+Texas+A%26amp%3BMs+game+against+Tennessee+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+10%2C+2024+at+Reed+Arena.+%28Hannah+Harrison%2FThe+Battalion%29
Photo by Hannah Harrison
Tip off in Reed Arena during Texas A&M’s game against Tennessee on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 at Reed Arena. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)

No. 11 Oregon

Finally, the time is here. Flowers are sprouting, the weather is getting warmer, allergies are rising and it also means it’s time for some March Madness.

Though the top dogs like Houston, Iowa State, Duke, Purdue and many others have the odds in their favor to win it all, there is always a sneaky team or two that have a Cinderella run that ruins everyone’s brackets. With all the underdogs itching for that upset win, be on the lookout for No. 11 Oregon in the Midwest.

Early on in the season, the Ducks caught the injury bug, starting in January. In the backcourt, freshman G Mookie Cook, key role player senior G Keeshawn Barthelemy and starting senior G Jesse Zarzuela will be out for the tournament as well as big man junior C Nate Bittle.

Despite all this, Oregon has made a late run in the season, beating No. 6 Arizona and Colorado to win the Pac-12 Tournament. With all the injuries to key players, senior C N’Faly Dante has been the captain of the ship and has sailed the Ducks through the tough waves. Hitting his stride at the perfect time, he will be one of the players to look out for in the midst of top players in the tournament.

Helping out the big man has been the new look backcourt of freshman G Jackson Shelstad and senior G Jermain Cousinard. The duo tandem have been double-digit scorers and if Dante is the captain, then these two are the first mates. They have opened up the floor for the big man to work as well as being threats themselves.

This is an underdog story if I’ve ever seen one and in a time where underdogs shine, I got the Ducks carrying their momentum from the Pac-12 Championship into March Madness.

No. 5 Saint Mary’s

Forget Gonzaga. The Saint Mary’s Gaels are the West Coast Conference team that’s got the best chance of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Plenty of teams in the field can put up offensive numbers, and that’s no struggle for the Gaels. Saint Mary’s is 45th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency — thanks to their 39% offensive rebounding percentage, good for 3rd in Division I.

But if you want to make it past the first weekend, two things matter more than simply scoring: Momentum and defense — and it’s hard to find a team that’s better in either category than Saint Mary’s.

Since Dec. 23, Saint Mary’s has lost once.That was to Gonzaga in the regular season finale — the same Gonzaga team the Gaels beat 10 days later to win the WCC Tournament.

And the biggest reason why they won that title is the other point: Defense. Saint Mary’s is second in the country in scoring defense, behind only 1-seed Houston. And the Gaels happened to land in a region with plenty of offense, but few elite defenses — the only team in the West Region other than the Gaels with a scoring defense among the nation’s top 25 is 16-seed Wagner, who faces North Carolina in the first round.

It’s always a risk to pick a 5 seed to make it to the Final Four, but Miami proved it can be done last season. And what is life without risk? Give me the Gaels to take home the West Region title.

No. 11 NC State

If you asked any average college basketball fan in Raleigh, North Carolina a month ago if the Wolfpack would be dancing in March, you would have been met with laughter.

Now, the other big name in North Carolina college hoops is in the NCAA Tournament after an unbelievable run through the ACC Tournament. Conference history was made with head coach Kevin Keatts’ squad after they won five-straight games in five days to win the ACC Title over rival UNC.

One of the many bid-stealers of the tournament, this squad is primed to catch at least one or two top-seeded teams off guard this year.

With the production from duo senior guard DJ Horne and senior forward DJ Burns Jr., both have improved the offense immensely. Horne sits at 41% from beyond the arc while averaging a team-high 16.9 points a game.

The creative big man Burns Jr. averages 51.7% in FG, and can also find his teammates with court vision normally only seen in a guard.

If this duo gets off to a similar run as we saw just last week in the ACC tournament, there’s an upset capability like we saw against now No. 4 seed Duke and No. 1 seed UNC. NC State could give the Red Raiders in Lubbock an early-round exit Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

 

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About the Contributors
Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis, Sports Reporter
Ian Curtis is a journalism freshman from College Station, Texas. Ian has written about football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, hockey, gymnastics, volleyball and more for The Battalion. Ian's work has also appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle and over the airwaves on WTAW and BCSball.com. 
Justin Chen
Justin Chen, Sports Writer
Justin Chen is a journalism senior minoring in sport management and communication. Justin has covered football, men's basketball, volleyball, baseball and swim & dive. Justin also writes feature NBA pieces and covered the Miami Heat for Sir Charles In Charge. When not writing, he likes to frequent the gym, support Arsenal and watch anime.
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