You probably know the big guys. But Thursday and Friday are just as much about the teams you don’t know, that come up and give us some of the great moments like Bryce Drew’s buzzer beater for Valparaiso, or Middle Tennessee shocking the world last year as a 15-seed.
Here’s a breakdown of the smaller conference schools seeded 12 or lower. Included in this is a similarity breakdown, using Ken Pomeroy’s pre-tournament data from 2011-2016 (when the field expanded to 68), using overall efficiency, offensive and defensive efficiency both unadjusted and adjusted for schedule (to pickup schedule strength), and tempo to help create similarities in style.
Which team has Florida Gulf Coast from 2013 and Norfolk from 2012 as the top two similar teams? Read further to find out.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (30-4, 12 Seed, 48th in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: beat Vanderbilt by 23, won at Mississippi by 15, beat UNC-Wilmington
Matchup: vs. #5 Minnesota in South Region
Most Similar Team: Richmond, 2011, 12 seed, advanced to Sweet 16
Ten Most Similar Teams: 4-6 in first round, -0.3 point margin. 2 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Middle Tennessee tops the list of Cinderella possibilities. They will be a popular pick to advance for good reason. They added Arkansas transfer Jacorey Williams to the team that pulled the massive upset of Michigan State a year ago, and rolled two SEC teams in the non-conference before dominating Conference USA.
This team could have been a 10 seed, are almost a pick’em against Minnesota, and have a realistic chance to reach the Sweet 16.
PRINCETON (23-6, 12 Seed, 59th in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: won at Bucknell, undefeated in Ivy League (lost to VCU, Cal, BYU)
Matchup: vs. #5 Notre Dame in West Region
Most Similar Team: Arkansas-Little Rock, 2016, 12 Seed, beat #5 Purdue in OT
Ten Most Similar Teams: 4-6 in first round, -2.0 point margin. 1 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
You know what you are going to get with Princeton, even though the coaching has changed hands and Mitch Henderson is now in charge (6th year, but first tournament appearance). You will get a slow pace, efficient and patient offense and back cuts. They draw another top offensive team in Notre Dame, but Princeton is always dangerous in the NCAA.
NEVADA (28-6, 12 Seed, 55th in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: San Diego State, Colorado State twice (lost to St. Mary’s, Iona out of conference)
Matchup: vs. #5 Iowa State in Midwest Region
Most Similar Team: Stephen F. Austin 2015, 12 Seed, lost by 7 to Utah
Ten Most Similar Teams: 2-8 in first round, -8.0 point margin. 2 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
A good offensive team that shoots well from outside and avoids turnovers. On defense, they are in the top 20 in 3-point percentage allowed but otherwise middling. That 3-point D will be tested against Iowa State.
UNC-WILMINGTON (29-5, 12 Seed, 60th in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: East Tennessee State and St. Bonaventure (lost to Middle Tennessee and Clemson)
Matchup: vs. #5 Virginia in the East Region
Most Similar Team: Davidson, 2015, 10 Seed, lost to Iowa by 31
Ten Most Similar Teams: 2-8 in first round, -6.0 point margin. 1 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
UNC-Wilmington is undersized, and relies on an efficient offense and a fast pace. They rank near the top in the nation in turnover rate, 2-point FG rate, and overall offense.
They are near the bottom, however, in field goal defense, something that will be tested against Virginia.
WINTHROP (26-6, 13 Seed, 112th in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: won at Illinois (lost to Florida State and Dayton)
Matchup: vs. #4 Butler in South Region
Most Similar Team: Florida Gulf Coast, 2013, 15 Seed, advanced to Sweet 16
Ten Most Similar Teams: 4-6 in first round, -3.0 point margin. 2 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
Two 15 seeds, Florida Gulf Coast and Lehigh, show up for 13-seeded Winthrop. Yes, the Ken Pom rating is low for a 13 seed, but the pace and style is such that there is hope.
5’7″ Keon Johnson was the Big South Player of the Year, averaging 22.5 points a game. He scored 38 in the win at Illinois. He’s joined in the backcourt by brothers Anders and Bjorn Broman and Roderick Perkins, who can all shoot from outside. It’s imperative that Xavier Cooks, the team’s best rebounder and post defender, stay on the court against the bigger schools.
VERMONT (29-5, 13 Seed, 63rd in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: Yale, Harvard, and undefeated since Dec. 21st (4 of 5 losses to Providence, Houston, South Carolina, Butler)
Matchup: vs. #4 Purdue in Midwest Region
Most Similar Team: Stephen F. Austin, 2014, 12 Seed, beat VCU by 2
Ten Most Similar Teams: 3-7 in first round, -4.1 point margin. 1 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
Vermont has been on a roll since losing to Butler in December, rolling through the America East. In many years, they would have been a 12 seed. They don’t shoot much from outside and shoot a high percentage on 2-point shots, something that will be challenged against Purdue’s front court length. Vermont is one of the slower paced teams in the tournament so expect a low-scoring affair.
EAST TENNESSEE STATE (27-7, 13 Seed, 64th in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: won at Mississippi State (lost to Tennessee, Dayton, UNC-Wilmington)
Matchup: vs. #4 Florida in East Region
Most Similar Team: Hawaii, 2016, 13 Seed, beat Cal by 11
Ten Most Similar Teams: 3-7 in first round, -9.7 point margin. 1 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
One of the most experienced teams in the tournament (4 senior starters), the Buccaneers play a fast-paced style and force turnovers. They are one of the best shooting teams in the country (56.1% eFG) but do turn it over themselves.
BUCKNELL (26-8, 13 Seed, 80th in Ken Pom)
Best Wins: beat Vanderbilt and Richmond, lost to Wake Forest and Butler
Matchup: vs. #4 West Virginia in West Region
Most Similar Team: Hawaii, 2016, 13 Seed, beat Cal by 11
Ten Most Similar Teams: 3-7 in first round, -8.4 point margin. 1 of 10 advanced to Sweet 16
This version of Bucknell (under 2nd year coach Nathan Davis) plays a lot faster than the Dave Paulsen teams you may remember from prior tournaments. The frontline of Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas give them a chance to play against teams inside, and three starters shoot 40% or better from 3.