With just a month to go before the start of the NCAA Tournament, college basketball's contenders have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. However, since this is March Madness, it doesn't take much for David to flip the script and take out Goliath. Here are three under-the-radar threats you should get familiar with before filling out a bracket.
*Statistics and rankings courtesy of Sports Reference College Basketball
The casual college hoops fan probably hasn't thought too much about Murray State since Ja Morant was taken second overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, as the Racers have missed the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons. While this year's crew may lack Morant's star power, the roster might be better top-to-bottom than it was just three years prior.
A 24-2 record has carried Murray State to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference, but that might be selling them short. A 27th-best Adjusted Efficiency Margin, according to KenPom, suggests that these Racers are good enough to be in the 6-7 seed range, but may be lucky to place as an 8th seed in a region due to a lack of quality wins. Ranked fifth in the nation in offensive rating, the team has both 6 foot 10 inch forward K.J. Williams and 6 foot 5 inch guard Tevin Brown averaging over 17 points per game. Having to worry about playmakers at every spot on the court, the Racers have enough talent to overwhelm most defenses.
Last tournament, 14th seeded Abilene Christian defeated 3rd seeded Texas despite shooting an abysmal 30
Like Abilene Christian, UAB (19-5) also has a knack for causing chaos. Opposing offenses turn the ball over 17.5 times per game on average, 15th best in the nation. Beyond team defense, ranked 10th in defensive rating, UAB's offense is dynamic in its own right. Headlining the offensive attack is Jordan Walker, (19.7 Pts, 4.6 Ast) who has been on an absolute tear this season; he set the school's single-game scoring record on February 5th with 42 points. With Walker playing like one of the best guards in all of Division I, and a defense that forces poor play, keep an eye out for the Blazers.
Saint Mary's College
Despite a sixteen-point loss to rival Gonzaga last Saturday, Saint Mary's is still the second-best team in a potential four-bid West Coast Conference. Quadrant 1 victories over Notre Dame, Oregon, and San Francisco should do enough to impress the selection committee, with a chance for more big wins during the rest of the regular season and the WCC tournament in early March.
The strength of head coach Randy Bennett's team is its defense, surrendering the eighth fewest points in the country. On offense, four different players average double-digit points at the 23rd slowest tempo in the nation (via KenPom). The Gaels might not overpower opponents, but they have the ability to force other teams to play their game. High-octane offenses, such as Purdue, Alabama, and Iowa, definitely want to avoid Saint Mary's side of the bracket.