Every season there are teams who defy expectations and emerge as a Cinderella in the NCAA tournament, a conference champion or a Final Four contender. These under-appreciated teams always add to the chaos and fun of college basketball.
On this week's episode of March Madness 365, Andy Katz and Turner Sports' Chad "March Chadness" Aycock rank 10 under-appreciated college basketball programs. This edition of the pod also broke down what the SEC will look like this season with ESPN's Jimmy Dykes and South Carolina's Frank Martin. Katz also ranks his contenders for this season's Julius Erving Award, as some of the nation's top small forward are highlighted.
Here is Katz's list of under-appreciated programs:
Honorable Mention: UC Irvine
Since Russell Turner took over as the Anteaters head coach in 2011, UC Irvine has won the Big West five times and finished second twice. They have also made the NCAA tournament twice since 2015 and have advanced to the Round of 32 in 2019.
When college basketball fans think about the Missouri Valley Conference, they might think about Northern Iowa and Loyola-Chicago first — and for good reason, they have both made it to the second weekend and beyond in recent NCAA tournaments. Don't sleep on Bradley though. They made the NCAA tournament in 2019, pushed No. 2 seed Michigan State to the edge in the first round and have two consecutive MVC tournament championships under their belt — 2019 and this past season in 2020.
9. St. Bonaventure
The Bonnies have posted at least 18 wins each season since 2014, have also nabbed a First Four win back in 2018 over UCLA and have a coach whom Katz is high on — Mark Schmidt. According to Katz, Schmidt is all-in for St. Bonaventure. Some coaches might see smaller schools as a stepping stone to bigger programs, but Schmidt seems to like where he is now in Olean, New York. It's never easy competing in the Atlantic 10, but the Bonnies seem to be in contention almost every year.
8. New Mexico State
The WAC has been all New Mexico State recently. The Aggies have won the regular-season WAC title five out of the past six seasons and have won the conference tournament seven out of the last eight years. NMSU was just one basket away from upsetting No. 5 seed and Final Four bound Auburn in 2019, so the Aggies can play, and if they get the right matchups come March, they can go on a run.
7. Southern Cal
The Trojans are starting to piece things together. They have won at least 21 games in four of the past five seasons and have signed four five-star recruits in the past three seasons. With USC's historic football program, sometimes their basketball team doesn't get as much love as they deserve. Last season the Trojans ended with a 22-9 regular-season record, were third place in the Pac-12 and looked to be heading into the NCAA tournament. We will see if head coach Andy Enfield can replicate that performance for the 2020-2021 season, as the Pac-12 is even more competitive with cross-town rival UCLA as one of the favorites to win the conference.
6. Saint Mary's
It's a tall order to break through Gonzaga's tight grip on the WCC, but if there is one team that has and can do it, it is Saint Mary's. They have won the regular-season conference and tournament conference championship three times in the past 10 years. They have made the NCAA tournament five times since 2010, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance at the start of the decade.
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The Sooners never seem to go away in the Big 12. Oklahoma has produced some big names over the years like Blake Griffin, Trae Yong and Buddy Hield but, as a traditional football school, seem to never get the hype it deserves. It wasn't that long ago when Oklahoma was in the Final Four in 2016. They have had two Sweet Sixteen appearances in the past five seasons. Lon Kruger has built the Sooners to be an NCAA tournament team pretty much every season, making the dance six times since he started coaching in 2011.
Although Xavier was a No. 1 seed in 2018, the Musketeers are seemingly be overshadowed in a crowded Big East conference every year. With the likes of Villanova, Butler, Marquette and others, it is a tough conference to break out of and make a name for yourself. Yet, Xavier is a consistent factor no matter who they are playing. They have made the Sweet Sixteen four times in the past decade and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2017.
If you are playing basketball in the same conference as Kentucky, then you are going to be over-shadowed pretty much every single year. This is the problem for Tennessee, as they have put together some pretty stellar rosters the past couple of seasons, especially 2018-2019 when they landed a No. 2 seed and got to the Sweet Sixteen. Although they lost the big names from that season like Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, the Vols return with another stellar group of players led by Yves Pons and John Fulkerson. They currently clock in at No. 10 in Andy Katz's Power 36.
Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin — these are all big-time programs that compete in the Big Ten, but no team has more Big Ten championships in the history of the conference than the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue is located in a state that lives and breathes basketball, but it's not the Boilermaker state, it's the Hoosier state, and with Indiana getting most of the attention it can be hard to break through. But breaking through is just what Purdue has done the past few seasons. They have made the Sweet Sixteen three consecutive years starting in 2017 and made the Elite Eight in 2019. If there is a Big Ten team that historically deserves more love, it's Purdue.
1. Florida State
Traditionally, when people think about Florida State sports they probably think of college football greats like Bobby Bowden, Charlie Ward and Deion Sanders, and not recent college basketball talents like Leonard Hamilton, Jonathan Isaac and Terence Mann. The Seminoles are consistently one of the most slept-on teams in college basketball — something Katz admits that he does too — but with a 2020 ACC crown and second-weekend appearances in the past two NCAA tournaments, it might be time that the Noles be recognized for their basketball program just as much as their football program.