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Joe Boozell | | December 27, 2018

7 college basketball teams quietly putting together strong NCAA tournament resumes

USA TODAY Sports North Carolina State's Torin Dorn. North Carolina State's Torin Dorn.

We know all about teams like Duke, Kansas and Virginia, as we should. But several schools who are having outstanding seasons are flying under the radar.

Let's highlight seven of them who are building a strong case to be in the field of 68.

NC State

Kevin Keatts looks like he could become a superstar head coach. After leading the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament last season, NC State is off to an 11-1 start. Its only loss is a four-point defeat to Wisconsin, which is forgivable. The Wolfpack have solid wins over Vanderbilt, Penn State and Auburn.

NC State is proof of how much the 3-point battle matters. The Wolfpack are making 41.2 percent of their 3s, which ranks eighth in the country. On the flip side, they only allow foes to make 26.7 percent of their 3s, which ranks ninth.

The Wolfpack's balance is remarkable. Point guard Torin Dorn is the best player, but the depth is impressive. Seven players average at least seven points per game; NC State can boast lineups with size, shooting, speed and defense. The versatility will help in ACC play.

The Wolfpack still aren't on the level of the elite ACC schools; there's just an undeniable talent gap. But they can catch anyone on the right night.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech is 10-1 with wins over Purdue and Washington, and a loss to Penn State. In that context, the resume doesn't stand out. But the advanced numbers love the Hokies. They're ranked ninth at KenPom, and the reason is pretty simple: they blow teams out on a nightly basis.

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Eight of Virginia Tech's 10 wins have come by double-digits, its only loss was by one, and its closest win was a five-point victory over the Boilermakers. The offense has been great. Virginia Tech ranks seventh on that end and is shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range, which ranks fourth. Buzz Williams makes a point of playing five shooters at once, and it's working. The Hokies make a bunch of 3s and force a bunch of turnovers on the other end; they take the ball away on almost 26 percent of opponents' possessions, which ranks second.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson are each shooting better than 40 percent from 3 and complement one another extremely well. The defense is good enough. Consider this your daily reminder that the ACC is stacked.


Jamie Dixon has his team overachieving again. The Horned Frogs are 11-1 with three top-100 KenPom wins, and their loss to Lipscomb doesn't look so bad. TCU has five players averaging double figures.

TCU has a ton of playmaking in its backcourt, which is what's driven the offense. Alex Robinson is the best passer in the country not named Ja Morant; he's averaging 13.1 points and 8.6 assists. Jaylen Fisher is playing more off the ball these days, but he's capable of running the offense in a pinch. Desmond Bane is steady as usual, and the Horned Frogs have top-30 units on both ends of the floor.

TCU has done this before. It shows out in the nonconference before falling off in Big 12 play. We'll see if the Horned Frogs short circuit the trend this year.


Nebraska is compiling quite the resume, and like TCU, it has top-30 units on both sides of the floor. The Cornhuskers have wins over Seton Hall, Clemson, Oklahoma State and Creighton. The losses to Texas Tech and Minnesota are defensible.

James Palmer is one of the most underrated players in the country. He's averaging 19.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists while making 36 percent of his 3s on high volume. Isaac Copeland has settled in as a quality second option.

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Nebraska probably won't challenge a team like Michigan for the Big Ten title, but it should make the NCAA tournament if it keeps this up. It's taken time, but Tim Miles has his program headed in the right direction.

Ohio State

Ohio State lost a whole bunch of key parts, including Keita Bates-Diop, off of last year's team. We didn't expect much out of the Buckeyes this season, but they currently sit at 11-1 with wins over UCLA, Minnesota, Creighton and Cincinnati.

Quinn Harris | USA Today Sports Images ohio-state-basketball

The Buckeyes are mostly doing this with defense. They rank 15th on that end and are holding opponents to a 43.2 effective field goal percentage, which ranks 10th. Kaleb Wesson is a monster, averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds on 54 percent shooting. The 270-pounder is a throwback; he's the rare player in today's game that requires a double team when he posts up.

C.J. Jackson has made a leap, and the freshmen have been solid. Ohio State may not be a national title contender, but it should remain in the top 25 all year long.


Houston is undefeated, which is, you know, the goal of all of this. But the Cougars haven't just fattened up on a bunch of low-level teams. They have some real wins on their resume.

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Houston has beaten BYU, Oregon, Oklahoma State, LSU and Utah State and has the No. 14 defense in the country. KenPom only projects Houston to lose twice the rest of the way, at UCF and at Cincinnati. This is a really good team that won't beat itself. The Cougars only allow opponents to make 25.3 percent of their 3s and rarely turn the ball over. That's a winning formula.

The role allocation is clear. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. each average around 15 points per game and are the top two options. They're surrounded with a bunch of a competent role players. Kelvin Sampson has it rolling in Houston.

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs have won eight straight games and are 11-1 on the season, with double-digit wins over Clemson, Cincinnati and Wofford.

They have the nation's No. 20 offense and, like a few teams prior on this list, are incredibly balanced. It starts in the backcourt, where Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters are the team's two best players and leading scorers. But five Mississippi State players average double figures, and they have a ton of guys capable of driving to the hoop and kicking to shooters. They don't have a ton of size, but that's OK. The Bulldogs have defenders who play an inch or two taller than listed.

Tennessee looks like a title contender, and Kentucky may have found its footing after a win over North Carolina. But don't sleep on these guys in the SEC.

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