No matter how big of a college basketball fan you are, you haven’t watched all 68 teams in the NCAA tournament. There’s no way. Even if you watched every college basketball game broadcast on ESPN this season, you’d miss out on a large portion of the small-league teams who won their conference tournaments to make the Big Dance. But those are the true heroes of the tourney: One will win a stunner, and the one person in your bracket pool who picked correctly will be hailed as a genius, even if they just made their selections based on mascots.
So we’ve delved into the teams from leagues that contributed only one team to the NCAA tournament, attempting to gauge whether or not they’re likely to pull an upset — and also to gauge whether their mascot is cool enough that you should pick them.
Of the 23 teams from one-bid leagues, these are the 10 most likely to pull an upset, ranked in order of likelihood. If a 16-seed does it this year, I am going to punch myself in the face.
1. Wichita State Shockers
Record: 30–4, 17–1 Missouri Valley
KenPom ranking: 8
How likely is an upset? The Shockers beating Dayton would not be an upset. Advanced stats say Wichita State is one of the top 10 teams in the country, and Vegas has Wichita State as a six-point favorite. That the Shockers are a 10-seed is one of the worst seeding jobs in tournament history.
A basketball reason to pick them: The Shockers shoot 40.8 percent from 3, the fourth-best percentage in the country. Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp leads the way at 44.6 percent.
A random reason to pick them: I always like to think about how somewhere out there, the Rockstar Grannies are cheering them on. Also, the whole school has decided making an extremely vulgar hand gesture is normal and OK, which is cool.
2. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Record: 30–4, 17–1 Conference USA
KenPom ranking: 46
How likely is an upset? Likelier than last year, when MTSU shocked the world by upsetting Michigan State in what is probably the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. Last season, MTSU didn’t win its league and MSU was a title contender; this season, MTSU ran away with the C-USA and Minnesota is probably overseeded as a 5. This is a perfect 5–12 upset, and KenPom gives the Blue Raiders a 45 percent chance at victory.
A basketball reason to pick them: The Blue Raiders are incredibly effective at scoring inside. Fifty-eight percent of their points come off 2s, the eighth-highest percentage in the country, and three players, JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw, and Giddy Potts, shoot over 55 percent on 2s with at least 150 attempts each. It’s a stark contrast to last season’s team, which upset MSU by going 11-for-19 from 3.
A random reason to pick them: They have a star named Giddy Potts and a coach named John Davis Jr. who chooses to go by his middle name, Kermit.
3. Princeton Tigers
Record: 23–6, 14–0 Ivy League
KenPom ranking: 58
How likely is an upset? Notre Dame is a clear favorite, but the Ivy League has been an upset haven in recent years — last season Yale beat Baylor, in 2013 and 2014 Harvard got wins — and the Tigers are the first team to go 14–0 in league play since Cornell in 2008. And they topped that by winning the first-ever Ivy League tournament.
A basketball reason to pick them: Princeton runs the Princeton offense — duh — which can help breed upsets. It’s extremely slow and difficult to guard without extensive preparation, and it leads to a lot of 3s. It’s a perfect upset formula: There are fewer possessions for the better team to be better, and a lot of those possessions end up with Princeton getting the most points possible on one possession. It sure worked against UCLA 21 years ago, and one of the players in that game, Mitch Henderson, is now the Princeton coach.
A random reason to pick them: This is the last time these Princeton kids will have a chance to overcome the odds ahead of a life where their degree, intelligence, and social standing will ensure things will be stacked in their favor almost all the time. Don’t you want them to make the most of it?
4. Vermont Catamounts
Record: 29–5, 16–0 America East
KenPom ranking: 62
How likely is an upset? Vermont lost by double digits every time it played a tournament team this year, but Purdue lost to two teams with lower KenPom rankings than the Catamounts, Iowa and Nebraska.
A basketball reason to pick them: If being hot matters, Vermont hasn’t lost since December, running off a national-best 21-game win streak.
A random reason to pick them: I am told every arena in this year’s NCAA tournament has a parking lot.
For the record: A catamount is just a big cat.
5. Nevada Wolf Pack
Record: 28–6, 14–4 Mountain West
KenPom ranking: 54
How likely is an upset? It’s incredible that we’re even talking about Nevada like this. Just two seasons ago, the team went 9–22. Then the Wolf Pack hired former Warriors and Kings coach Eric Musselman, and now they’re one of the best mid-major teams in the country. And though they didn’t beat anyone approaching Iowa State’s caliber this year, they’re good enough to make a win possible.
A basketball reason to pick them: This team might be unkillable. Watch this comeback against New Mexico:
They trailed by 25 points at one point, 19 points with 4:30 left, and nine points with 47 seconds left, and won. Jordan Caroline, the son of former NFL star Simeon Rice, had 45 points. Also watch out for Cam Oliver, a springy 6-foot-8 shot eraser who hits 3s and is the best NBA prospect on any team in this post.
A random reason to pick them: I like that they actually have a pack of wolf mascots, although I’d like to point out that in real life female wolves look pretty much the same as male wolves and don’t have bows in their hair.
6. UNC-Wilmington Seahawks
Record: 29–5, 15–3 Colonial Athletic
KenPom ranking: 59
How likely is an upset? I like their matchup. Virginia is extremely good, but its painfully slow style of play gives the team relatively few opportunities to exercise that goodness, which increases the likelihood of something random happening. Wilmington took a lead on Duke into halftime last season; if it’s to do the same this year, I won’t be as confident in UVA’s ability to rally back.
A basketball reason to pick them: UNCW has become a mid-major powerhouse under third-year head coach Kevin Keatts. The Seahawks are excellent offensively, turning the ball over on just 13.9 percent of possessions, the second-lowest rate in the country. And center Devontae Cacok hits 79.9 percent of his shots, which shatters the NCAA’s single-season field goal percentage record. (He dunks a lot.)
A random reason to pick them: It’s hard not to root for Chris Flemmings. A Division II transfer, Flemmings was so under-recruited that he was able to walk onto the Seahawks only due to the persistence of his mom. Now he’s their best player.
7. East Tennessee State Buccaneers
Record: 24–7, 14–4 Southern Conference
KenPom ranking: 64
How likely is an upset? Not as likely as Middle Tennessee State’s chances. (For the record, there is no Northern, Western, or Southern Tennessee State.) Unfortunately, Florida is really, really good, probably better than the 4-seed it was given.
A basketball reason to pick them: All five of their starters shoot over 50 percent from inside the arc, and the team is 11th nationally in free throw attempts per field goal attempt, so they can score and draw fouls inside effectively. Every player in their rotation is either a senior or junior.
A random reason to pick them: ETSU is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, which is just about as far east in Tennessee as you can go, and is therefore east of the Cumberland Gap, contrary to the lyrics of a song written by some dudes who went to school in New York and wanted to name-drop Southern places for folksiness’s sake. I want ETSU to win to stick it to the lyrics of “Wagon Wheel.”
8. Iona Gaels
Record: 22–12, 12–8 MAAC
KenPom ranking: 118
Is an upset likely? The Gaels weren’t supposed to win the MAAC; Monmouth went 18–2 in conference play. But they’re effective from beyond the arc, shooting 39.7 from deep, the 16th-best rate in the country. And they shoot a lot of 3s, about 24 per game. And they’re facing an Oregon team without one of its best players, Chris Boucher, who tore his ACL during the Pac-12 tournament. If they hit a bunch of 3s, they can pull this off.
A basketball reason to pick them: They’re led by Jordan Washington, who really should be at Arizona State, but the Sun Devils pulled his scholarship when Washington stole $17.84 worth of DVDs from a Wal-Mart (the DVDs: Taken and Curse of Chucky). He’s a beast, averaging 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in just 21 minutes of game time. He dominates when he’s in, drawing nine fouls per 40 minutes, the second-highest rate in college basketball, which could help pin opposing bigs in foul trouble and always helps open up the game for the team’s shooters.
A random reason to pick them: The Gaels have Sam Cassell Jr. Though he doesn’t look like Sam Cassell.
9. New Mexico State Aggies
Record: 28–5, 11–3 WAC
KenPom ranking: 87
How likely is an upset? They’re playing Baylor, which you may remember from upset losses to Yale last year and Georgia State the year before. There’s no cliff so short they can’t fall off it.
A basketball reason to pick them: The Cowboys lost longtime coach Marvin Menzies and Pascal Siakam, the team’s first first-round draft pick in 46 years … and got better. They are Big Boys, finishing in the top 25 in 2-point field goal percentage, offensive rebound rate, FTA/FGA, and are blocked on only 5.3 percent of their shots, the third-lowest figure in the nation.
A random reason to pick them: Their biggest boy is 7-foot-2 Tanveer Bhullar, the younger brother of 7-foot-5 giant Sim Bhullar who captured hearts and minds in the 2013 and 2014 NCAA tournaments.
10. Bucknell Bison
Record: 26–8, 15–3 Patriot
KenPom ranking: 80
Is an upset likely? The Bison are a decent mid-major, beating Vanderbilt this year at Vanderbilt. I don’t like this matchup for them — they commit a lot of turnovers, West Virginia thrives on forcing turnovers — but they’re not bad.
A basketball reason to pick them: Their frontcourt of Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland has been effective. Both are efficient scorers inside, and Thomas can shoot 3, too. They combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds against Vandy.
A random reason to pick them: They’re the bison and their first-round matchup is in Buffalo, New York. Get out of the mountains, West Virginia, you’re in big ol’ bovine country now.
Honorable mention: Florida Gulf Coast Eagles
Record: 26–7, 12–2 Atlantic Sun
KenPom ranking: 110
Is an upset likely? They’re not playing Georgetown this time around, which cuts the chances of a stunning first-round upset in half, or worse.
A basketball reason to pick them: Remember Dunk City? THEY’RE STILL DUNK CITY:
That dunk in the Atlantic Sun title game actually broke the shot clock. They had to stop play. The Eagles’ style is a bit more boring than in 2013 when they went to the Sweet 16 — that year, they team were 40th in the nation in tempo, this year, they’re 299th — but they still dunk.
A random reason to pick them: Dunks are a non-basketball reason. Dunks transcend basketball.