The Top 5 Most Overlooked Teams In College Basketball
By Christian Pierre-Louis
As the college basketball season winds down and heads into conference tournament week, I would like to shine a light on five teams who deserve more love from fans and the media. All season you have been hearing about great teams like Syracuse, Kansas, Duke, Arizona and Florida, but there are some under the radar teams that could make some noise in the NCAA tournament.
5. Saint Joseph’s– Ten years ago, guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West led the Hawks to an undefeated regular season and a trip to the Elite Eight. The Hawks have made the NCAA tournament only one time since, in 2008, when they fell to Oklahoma in the round of 64. The Hawks lost four of their first eight games of the season, including a 30-point loss to Big East rival Villanova. They have since lost only three games — at then-No. 19 UMass on January 8, Richmond on January 25, and to then No. 13 St. Louis on February 5th. Saint Joe’s has quietly climbed the conference standings since, passing teams such as UMass and Dayton, and now sits just two games out of first place. Winning the A-10 might not be a realistic proposition for the Hawks, but a solid formula for an at-large bid could involve one win this week as they face St. Bonaventure tomorrow afternoon.
4. Providence– Being on the bubble to qualify for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament entering the first weekend of March always makes for great basketball, as teams are fighting for victories to make a case to get in the tourney. That is the case for the Friars; they have an 8-7 conference record, and with three games remaining, they need to separate themselves from the pack. Coach Ed Cooley has worked wonders with his Providence team this season amongst a massive amount of chaos. The Friars essentially face three must-win games with the end-of-season clash at Creighton being the most important one. Providence already has a win over the Bluejays in its pocket, but a road win would carry more weight during the selection process. Just like their conference rival St. John’s, with whom it split road victories in conference play, Providence is in need of a good showing at Madison Square Garden next week to solidify their chances of getting in.
3. Harvard– Harvard, under coach Tommy Amaker, is trying for a third straight Ivy League title this season and it, too, has the most-gifted roster in the conference. It may be building toward some kind of a breakthrough as well. But if the Crimson can make it back to the Big Dance, all top teams need to be put on notice. Last year as a No. 14 seed Harvard shocked No. 3 New Mexico in the Round of 64. They did that last year as their All-Ivy players Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were wrapped up in a cheating scandal that involved about 125 students and they withdrew to keep the chance to return to school and also preserve their final year of eligibility. Without them, Harvard overachieved and ended up with that win over the Lobos before falling to Arizona two days later. This year those two are back, along with multidimensional Wesley Saunders and slippery quick Siyani Chambers, who are now the two leading scorers but this team full of balance with six players averaging between 14.8 and 9.0 points. Watch out for the Crimson, as they have the firepower to make some havoc and bust some brackets.
2. SMU– The SMU Mustangs are a team that should be considered to be one of the most dangerous heading into the tournament. Thanks to Larry Brown, this year’s squad is looking to make a run and prove doubters wrong. Less than two years after being lured out of retirement, the Hall of Fame coach has transformed one of college basketball’s biggest doormats into a team that is ranked No. 23. When you look at the Mustangs’ resume, they have marquee wins over the Connecticut Huskies, Memphis Tigers and Cincinnati Bearcats, which is nothing to scoff at. At 22-6, SMU deserves more recognition from the public. They still face the Louisville Cardinals and Memphis to finish out the season, and should only need to win one of these games along with a home game against the UCF Knights to better their profile for the Big Dance. The Mustangs are a good team that could pull off a few upsets in the tournament, and it wouldn’t be March Madness without teams like them.
1. Witchita State– Most of you are wondering how could the No. 2 ranked team in the country be overlooked, well they are and it’s a travesty. A lot of people point out that the Shockers play in a weaker conference and that their competition is bad. I tell those people to go look at the tape, this team is ridiculously impressive and have a chance to finish the regular season undefeated! No matter who you play, that is quite impressive in today’s world of college basketball. One of the best stories in college basketball this season has been reduced to a talking point, and that discussion will ramp up as we head for the exit of the regular season. This team has won 30 straight games and with the way teams now schedule, it’s tougher than ever before to go wire to wire without a casualty on the schedule. To the skeptics, I’ll say this: Fight it all you want, but Wichita State will be on the top line as a 1 seed if it’s got a bagel in the L column come March 9, the finals of the MVC tourney. I would be stunned beyond belief if Wichita State isn’t handed a No. 1 in that scenario. Being perfect carries symbolic and tangible significance. In fact, even one loss would keep them in the conversation. For those who keep on underestimating the Shockers, be advised that come late March-early April, you may be watching them cut down the nets.
Christian Pierre-Louis is a journalism major at Seton Hall University. He is a HUGE fan of the, LA Lakers, NY Giants, and NY Yankees. He is also an assistant sports producer at Seton Hall’s radio station WSOU 89.5 FM. You can follow him on twitter at @CPL_78.