Busting Brackets

10 surprise teams primed to steal the NCAA Tournament

These 10 teams who likely won't end up as a No. 1 or 2 seed in March Madness, could shake up their region and maybe even make a run to a national title if things break right.
Saint Mary's Gaels guard Alex Ducas (44)
Saint Mary's Gaels guard Alex Ducas (44) / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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There is a clear top class of contenders for the NCAA Tournament, and that’s even before we finish out Champ Week and decide who takes home to conference crowns. Houston, UConn, Purdue, Tennessee, and North Carolina have separated themselves as college basketball’s elite, but it’s called March Madness for a reason. So, what team that is expected to grab a lower seed, like UConn last year, could steal the national championship in 2024? 

With conference realignment, NIL, and the transfer portal, college basketball is in a state of flux. However, instead of the rich getting richer, there has never been more parity with a mid-major force like the Mountain West expected to get more bids than the ACC, or Josh Schertz’s Indiana State Sycamores possibly grabbing an at-large bid, reaching the tournament for the first time since 2011 after climbing into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1979 with Larry Bird. 

Here, I’ve compiled the 10 teams I could see making a serious run through the NCAA Tournament this season. This isn’t the 13th-seed Cinderella just happy to be there, but the teams of the one or two lines who could be legitimate Final Four teams and national title contenders. 

. . 2427. . team. Indiana State. 28-6 (17-3). Net: 27 Projected Seed: 11. . 10

We need to get Robbie Avila and the Sycamores into the NCAA Tournament. The campaign has already begun after Indiana State was upset by Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Final, but there is a chance that the committee robs us of “Cream Abdul-Jabbar” in March. 

Outside of Avila, who is more than just a hilarious nickname, the Sycamores can really play. They are 27th in the Net Rankings but have just one Quad 1 victory, so they’re squarely on the bubble, and no longer in control of their own destiny. 

Avila, who has done his best Nikola Jokic impression this year, averages 17.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists while shooting 54% from the field and 40.5% from three. The Sycamores are 10th in the nation in points per game, third in field goal percentage, 10th in three-point percentage, and have three players averaging over 15 points a game. 

The defensive end of the floor is the issue for Schertz’s team, but with an efficient offense built around a floor-spacing point-center, the Sycamores will be tough to game plan for on short notice and could make a run, if they get in.