NCAA Basketball

The 5 Most Underrated Teams in the NCAA Tournament

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Top seeds, beware — chances are, there are at least one or two strong teams lurking in your regions with deceivingly low seedings. And these “underseeded” teams can be the stuff first weekend nightmares are made of.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee seeds teams based on their resumes — the full body of work a team compiles in terms who it played and who it beat. RPI-driven “team sheets,” used by the Selection Committee, place a premium on strength of schedule and quality wins as driving factors for ranking teams for placement in the bracket.

Analytics-based ranking systems, such as our nERD Power Rankings, KenPom, Sagarin, and BPI, consider many other factors to determine the quality of a team’s play. Inevitably these two approaches will diverge in some key areas. Here are the top five teams our rankings peg as the biggest sleepers lurking among the lower-seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament.

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5 Most Underrated Teams in the NCAA Tournament

Kansas State/Wake Forest

Cincinnati will take on the winner of this First Four matchup in Dayton, and they may not like who it sees in either case. Both Kansas State and Wake Forest, despite barely escaping the bubble, both rank as undervalued teams according to our metrics. We’ve got Wake Forest ranked as the 30th best-team in the country, according to nERD, which measures the number of points we’d expect a team to win by against an average one on a neutral court, and Kansas State ranked 32nd. Neither, it appears, would be anyone’s typical idea of a “play-in” 11 seed.

The matchup on Tuesday night will be strength versus strength. Wake Forest is an efficient and balanced offensive team, ranking 14th in our measure of offensive efficiency. The Demon Deacons are a top-30 team in terms of both three-point and free-throw shooting, and also have plenty of inside punch, led by sophomore big man John Collins. Kansas State is more defensively-oriented, ranking 31st in adjusted defensive rating, and one of the very best in terms of generating turnovers.

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