Harvard, making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, is easy to overlook because, well, it’s Harvard (even if it is Jeremy Lin’s alma mater). But the Crimson’s suffocating defense — they rank fourth nationally in scoring “D” — means they’re to be taken seriously. A couple of other reasons to recommend Kyle Casey (pictured) and the rest of the Ivy League champs: signature victories over Florida State and Saint Joseph’s.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Searching for Cinderella
The secret to your bracket? In large part, it’s about finding the Cinderella — that one team that will distinguish your carefully considered picks above all others. In recent years, such teams as George Mason, Butler (pictured) and Virginia Commonwealth have proved the little guys have real hope in the NCAA tournament. So who’s this year’s best hope? Here are five candidates to make it to New Orleans despite a lack of attention and a lack of expectations.
Wichita State (No. 5 seed, South Region)
The Shockers might be the most underrated team in the country. They boast a top-20 offense and victories over Colorado, UNLV and Creighton (by 21 points on the road). They also rank behind only Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State in scoring margin (thanks in part to Joe Ragland, pictured, and his amazing 50-percent clip from 3-point range). In other words, Wichita State is accustomed not only to winning, but also to winning comfortably.
Memphis (No. 8 seed, West Region)
Memphis may be “merely” an eight seed, but in objective terms, it might be one of the 10 best teams in the country. Guard Will Barton (pictured) is quietly one of the nation's top best players, and the Tigers can claim victories over Tennessee (twice), Southern Mississippi, Belmont and Miami. Here are their margins of victory in their past seven games: 23, 20, 29, 12, 18, 31, and 26. Their half of the bracket it brutal, but the Tigers are on a roll and are very dangerous.
Saint Louis (No. 9 seed, West Region)
In some ways, it’s not fair that Rick Majerus’ team has to play Memphis, another leading Cinderella candidate, in the first round. The team that emerges from that brawl, however, will have a real shot at the Final Four. A darling of the most advanced computer rankings, the Billikens have the potential to shock Michigan State in the second round . . . provided they get there.
New Mexico (No. 5 seed, West Region)
Steve Alford’s team shared the regular-season crown in the underrated Mountain West Conference before winning the conference tournament. The Lobos' resume includes victories over Saint Louis, San Diego State (twice) and UNLV (twice). New Mexico, led by Drew Gordon (pictured), ranks seventh in the nation in scoring margin and 14th in scoring defense. A very winnable matchup with Louisville might await the Lobos in the round of 32.