BY TYLER BYRUM, @theTylerByrum
There have been exactly 70 double digit seeds to make it to the Sweet 16 heading into this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Every single season, there is always one of the lower seeds that typically show their seeding means absolute squat.
In 2016 it was No. 10 Syracuse making it past the Sweet 16 into the Final Four.
2015 was No. 11 UCLA to the Sweet 16.
2014 was No. 11 Dayton.
2013 was No. 13 La Salle and No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast.
Bottom line, since 2007, the year 11 of the top 16 seeds made it to the regional semifinals, there has always been at least one double-digit seed to make it to the Sweet 16.
In 2017, a year that featured a strict bubble line and only five mid-major at-large teams, upsets might be hard to come by this tournament. There has been a clear separation by the top teams in the NCAA and some of the best teams to pull out an upset will be playing each other. Underdogs may be few and far between, but there are five squads in particular that higher seeds should not take lightly.
-- No. 12 Middle Tennessee State
A common upset pick in the First Round, the Blue Raiders look to make another run this season but instead of a No. 15 seed they are now a No. 12 seed. It is rare to see but Middle Tennessee State has more NCAA experience that their opponent No. 5 Minnesota who had a program-defining year in the Big Ten.
Tournament favorites from last year Giddy Potts and Reggie Upsahaw return for Middle Tennessee but redshirt senior JaCorey Williams is the Blue Raider at the front of the charge. Minnesota though is no joke though as they finished fourth in the Big Ten regular season and were tournament runner-ups. Only one out of conference loss for the Golden Gophers this season and that was to Florida State.
If Middle Tennessee were to win in the first round, they will play the winner of No. 4 Butler and No. 13 Winthrop. Do not count on Winthrop pulling out the upset but Butler is one of the higher seeds that has had a shaky season.
-- No. 10 Wichita State
First, the Shockers should not even be on this list because they should not be a No. 10 seed. At the very least Wichita State deserved a No.7 or No. 6 seed after coming in ranked 21st in the country.
The Shockers will face the two of the toughest matchups if they were to make the Sweet 16 as they play No. 7 Dayton and potentially No. 2 Kentucky, a rematch of their thriller back in 2014. Again it was another seeding blunder by the NCAA Selection Committee, but to have Kentucky playing Wichita so early.
Wichita State played one of the toughest schedules of all the mid-majors and only non-Power 5 loss was to Illinois State which they avenged in the Mountain Valley Championship. Avenging may be what the Shockers have on their mind as they look to avenge their seed and their 2014 loss.
-- No. 11 Rhode Island
Needing an auto-bid to make the NCAA tournament never puts you down as a tournament underdog favorite, but the way the draw shook out favors the Rams. Rhode Island plays a real aggressive defense all over the court, tough for one to find a weakness. Hassan Martin on the inside is a blocking machine, and the Rams guards are highly underrated on their defensive skills.
Facing off against No. 6 Creighton, who has not faced an intricate defense like Rhode Island all season, will have to find ways to combat it with off the ball movement from their post players. Following that they will play No. 3 Oregon who is missing their stretch-four Chris Boucher because of a season ending knee injury.
Not only does Rhode Island play defense but they can score both behind the arc and in the paint, relying on both to win. On top of that the Rams have won eight straight just to make the tournament.
-- No. 12 UNC Wilmington
To make NCAA tournament runs as a mid-major you need talented players and one heck of a coach. Wilmington has both.
If there was a team that could combat No. 5 Virginia’s defensive scheme it would be the Seahawks who have faced a team that runs a similar low possession style basketball. In the CAA, the College of Charleston averaged less than 64 points against all year and UNC Wilmington won two out of three.
Making them so dangerous is their different abilities to win; Kevin Keatts’ squad can win in a shootout or win in a defensive battle. Exactly how the team will need to prepare for Virginia and perhaps No. 4 Florida.
-- No. 10 Oklahoma State
One of the hottest teams in college basketball is the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Ending the season on a 9-3 stretch to make the NCAA Tournament the Cowboys have a tough task ahead against No. 7 Michigan, the Big Ten champions, and the No. 2 Louisville Cardinals.
With a quick scoring lineup that brings in 85 points a game, Oklahoma State can keep their hot streak going in the first two rounds. Three players can take control with Jawun Evans, Jeffrey Carroll, and Phil Forte all averaging double-digits scoring.
A path of Michigan and then Louisville is a tough task, but if there is anyone that can matchup with them both it is Oklahoma State.