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Wayne Cavadi | | February 24, 2023

7 dark horse teams that could make a run to the DII Men's Elite Eight

Northwest Missouri State wins DII National Championship

There is just one regional ranking left before the DII men's basketball selection show drops on Sunday, March 5 (right here on at 11 p.m. ET). Thanks to last week's rankings and the DII Power 10 rankings that come out every two weeks, we have a general idea of who the main contenders are for the 2023 national championship.

But what about those surprise teams that make a stunning run to Evansville, Ind. every year?

Now, the past few seasons, there just haven't been many deep surprises. You won't see many seven or eight seeds in the finals, that's simply not the way of the DII men's basketball championship. However, last year saw three No. 3 seeds make it to the DII Men's Elite Eight. Back in 2019, No. 4 seed Mercyhurst not only made it to Evansville but gave Northwest Missouri State one of its toughest matchups of the season.

As conference tournaments get underway, let's take a look at some teams you don't want to play this March.

Watch out for these 7 teams in March (in no particular order)


The Lakers are on a three-game winning streak and winners of nine of their last 10. One of those wins came against Indiana (PA), the only loss the mighty Crimson Hawks have on the season. Not only did the Lakers win, their defense — which is No. 10 in DII men's basketball — held that explosive offense to a season-low 49 points. This is what Mercyhurst does: It gives the best teams one of their biggest tests every year, and while the Lakers don't always end up on the winning side, many an opposing coach knows not to take the Lakers lightly. 

TOURNEY TIME: Track every AQ to the 2023 NCAA DII men's basketball championship

Southern Nazarene

There aren't many teams hotter than the Storm in DII men's basketball right now. Southern Nazarene has won 14 in a row heading into its final regular-season game and is winning when it matters, now 5-1 against DII-ranked teams. The Storm also has the best scoring defense in DII men's basketball, allowing less than 56 points per game. Southern Nazarene plays in the loaded Central Region and, like everyone else, has to go through Northwest Missouri State just to have a chance.  

HISTORY: DII men's basketball programs with the most championships

Colorado Mesa

What do St. Edward's, Texas A&M-Kingsville, Black Hills State, Fort Lewis, and Colorado School of Mines have in common? They are all ranked teams in the South Central... and each one has lost to Colorado Mesa. You want to talk about a team that has handled its business against stiff competition, well, meet the Mavericks. Colorado Mesa isn't necessarily the flashiest team, but this core knows how to win. Blaise Threatt is a Bevo Francis candidate and certainly stuffs the box score every night, leading the team in points (18.6 per game), assists (93), steals (44), and 3-point percentage (.485) while placing second with 5.6 rebounds per game. He is one of the best all-around players DII has to offer. 

Emmanuel (GA)

The Lions are a very dark horse, clinging to the DII tournament conversation. But Emmanuel is red hot, closing out the regular season on a 14-game winning streak. The Lions took down top-10 UNC Pembroke by 15 points on Feb. 18, so not only are they hot, they are handling the competition they need to in order to keep dancing. The Lions also have one of the best players in DII men's basketball in KJ Jones III, who is a Bevo Francis candidate and leads DII in scoring at 26.3 points per game. This team will have to make a deep run in the Conference Carolinas tournament to have a chance, but the way they are playing, that isn't impossible.

TOURNEY 101: How the NCAA DII men’s basketball tournament works

Fairmont State

If you follow the Power 10 rankings, you know the Falcons were a preseason sleeper. This squad can flat-out score the basketball, sitting in third in DII with an average of 93.7 points per game. They have beaten both West Liberty and West Virginia State this year, and most recently lost the rematch with West Liberty 119-113 in overtime showing they can clearly hang with the MEC's toughest competition. They are fun to watch because they have so many offensive weapons and come at you in different ways that could possibly cause trouble down the stretch. Watch out for Isaiah Sanders, who is one of the best scorers in the region for a couple of years running. 

Southern New Hampshire

The Penmen are rolling into the NE10 tournament on a nine-game winning streak. That includes a win over Bentley, the current No. 1 team in the East. This is pretty much uncharted territory for the current roster as SNHU hasn't been to the DII men's basketball championship tournament since 2017. Now the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, the Penmen don't necessarily need to win it all, but a deep run should keep them in line for a shot in the dance. That's all they need in an East Region known for surprises — there has been a different team from the East in the DII Men's Elite Eight every year since 2016. So, why not the Penmen in 2023 to keep the streak alive?

West Texas A&M

This has certainly been an uncharacteristic year for the Buffs, but here we are, heading into the Lone Star Conference tournament and coach Tom Brown has yet another 20-game winner on his hands. The difference is we are typically talking about West Texas A&M as a contender and not an under-the-radar team to watch. Still, sitting on a seven-game winning streak with wins against nationally ranked Angelo State and then Lubbock Christian, things are coming together at the right time. They have big-time scorers and can erupt on any night, so it will be fun to watch the Buffs in both the LSC and DII tournament this year. 

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