Each year millions of people fill out brackets hoping to be the first person in history to predict every game before having their hopes instantly dashed by a dark horse. Cinderella teams and upsets are essentially what makes March Madness so great, and probably the best time of the year.
Picking the team’s that turn college basketball upside down, slight Stranger Things reference, is easily the hardest part about filling out the bracket. We know it’s going to happen, but finding those two or three teams seems nearly impossible. Picking the elite programs going deep in the tournament is the easy part, so with that, here’s a breakdown on the top five dark horses poised to destroy brackets across the country.
5. Butler Bulldogs (23-8, No. 4 Seed in the South)
If there’s one team that has a knack for making runs in the NCAA Tournament when they’re least expected to, it’s the Butler Bulldogs. Butler has won at least one game in the Big Dance in each of their last five trips. They also post a 4-0 record against the Top 25.
The Bulldogs may not be the hottest team heading into March, but they are the only team in the nation who can say they beat one-seed Villanova twice. Somehow they manage to always fly under the radar and surprise everyone come tournament time.
The Bulldogs average 76.3 points per game leading into their favorable matchup against Winthrop and are guided by their leading scorer and rebounder Kelan Martin, who gets it done on both sides of the court. Butler is always a team to watch that loves to bust brackets.
4. Wichita State Shockers (30-4, No. 10 Seed in the South)
The Shockers turns out to be a way too perfect name for Wichita State. They came on to the tournament scene just a few years ago, but now seem to be a March Madness regular. Wichita State is fresh off winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, as well as sharing the regular season title.
With an RPI Rank of 31, they are incredibly low-seeded, but the Shockers have been in these types of situations before. They average an impressive 82.1 points per game, and are currently on a 15-game winning streak. Only one of those games was decided by less than 15 points.
Wichita State is easily one of, if not, the hottest teams in college basketball and now have plenty of experience in March. The Shockers are an elite three point shooting team, and let’s just say Dayton got screwed with their first round pairing. If things keep going Wichita State’s way, expect a huge contest in the round of 32 with Kentucky.
3. Michigan Wolverines (24-11, No. 7 Seed in the Midwest)
Sticking with one of the hottest teams in the nation, look no further than the Michigan Wolverines. Despite an underwhelming start to the season, this Michigan team caught fire en route to winning the Big Ten Tournament, and I don’t think anyone wants to play them right about now.
The Wolverines can ride on their x-factor Derrick Walton Jr., who will force teams to make adjustments. Senior leadership is crucial in the tournament and Michigan has that in Walton Jr. and guard Zak Irvin.
Their offense has finally kicked into gear, and the Wolverines are now 9-3 in their last 12 games. Michigan will face a tough Oklahoma State team, but should be able to move past them in what looks to be a showdown against the two-seed, Louisville.
2. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (30-4, No.12 Seed in the South)
Middle Tennesse is the lowest seeded team on this list, but I knew I had to throw a 12-seed into the mix here considering there have only been four occasions since 1985 where one did not beat a 5-seed.
Overall, I really like the Blue Raiders match-up in the round of 64. They are taking on a Minnesota team that has been fairly up and down this season. Middle Tennessee was last year’s surprise upset team as they absolutely shocked two-seed Michigan State, so they’re not going to sneak up on anyone this year.
The Blue Raiders are an efficient basketball team and now know a thing or two about what it takes to win in March. Most of their squad is back from last season, including the Conference USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw, and Giddy Potts. Some say Minnesota way over-performed so far, but the Blue Raiders are just getting into playing their best basketball of the year.
It wouldn’t be a shock for Middle Tennessee to be a dark horse and wreck brackets again.
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9, No. 5 Seed in the West)
Any team coming out of the ACC is battle-tested to say the least. The Fighting Irish were just a couple plays away from taking down the Duke Blue Devils and capturing the ACC Tournament Championship. Notre Dame has shown they can play with pretty much anyone with two wins against Florida State, plus victories over Louisville and Virginia.
The Fighting Irish went through some rough patches, but proved they are poised to make a run in Big Dance after their performance in the ACC Tournament. They are also strong from beyond the arc and don’t turn the ball over. Their seeding in the West bracket also helps immensely. The one-seed is Gonzaga, and we all know about their tournament woes.
Mike Brey is one of the best coach’s in the conference and Notre Dame has plenty of faith in their star forward Bonzie Colson, who is a headache to cover in the paint. The Fighting Irish are also the best free throw shooting team in the country, which is where you get it done down the stretch. Don’t be surprised to see Notre Dame playing well into the second weekend.