The top four seeds in each of the NCAA Tournament’s four regions have most of the star power and buzz. But there’s plenty of intrigue among the No. 5-8 seeds, including a treasure trove of offensive weapons. Generally, a recipe for success in the NCAA Tournament is having a a prolific scorer plus solid team defense. That description fits a multitude of teams seeded 5-8, which means the country will be introduced to a lot of new superstars in the coming weeks.
No. 8 Seeds
VCU (Atlantic 10): 25-7
The Rams have made the NCAA Tournament 16 times in program history, losing in the Final Four to Butler in 2011. This year’s VCU squad boasts a regular-season record of 25-7, along with an Atlantic 10 conference record of 16-2. The Rams don’t surprise anyone the way they did in 2011 anymore, and are always a trendy pick to make the Sweet 16. Of note: leading scorer Marcus Evans went down with a knee injury in the team’s A-10 tourney loss to Rhode Island, and although he’s slotted to play in the first round matchup against UCF, Evans’ play may be limited.
Syracuse (ACC): 20-13
The Orangemen, led by high-scoring guard Tyus Battle, enter the NCAA Tournament with a regular-season record of 20-13 and an ACC record of 10-8. The Syracuse program has made the tournament 40 times, winning the national championship in 2003. Battle will need to replicate Carmelo Anthony’s success that year if the Orange are to advance, but that’s a tall ask. ‘Cuse will rely on its patented 2-3 zone to make up for its shortcomings on offense.
Ole Miss (SEC): 20-12
The Rebels enter the NCAA Tournament with a regular-season record of 20-12 and an SEC record of 10-8, led by sharpshooter Breein Tyree. Ole Miss is traditionally a “football school,” but the men’s team has made the NCAA tournament eight times, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in 2001. Despite a 10-8 conference record, this team can play with anyone, taking down red-hot Auburn twice and losing by a combined six points to Kentucky and Tennessee.
Utah State (MWC): 28-6
The Aggies have made the NCAA Tournament 28 times, advancing to the Elite Eight in 1939 and 1970. This will be their first tournament appearance since 2011. This year’s Utah State team, led by Sam Merrill (averaging 21.2 points per game), posted a regular-season record of 28-6 and a Mountain West conference record of 15-3. Craig Smith’s squad is peaking at the right time, having won 17 of its last 18 games, including a regular-season win over Nevada and most recently the MWC tournament championship.
No. 7 Seeds
Louisville (ACC): 20-13
The other team in basketball-mad Kentucky, the Cardinals have won three national championships of their own—though the most recent title, in 2013, was later vacated. This year’s team, led by Jordan Nwora, had a regular-season record of 20-13 and an ACC record of 10-8. With wins over UNC, Michigan State, and Virginia Tech, the Cardinals definitely have the talent to play with the top teams in the country, but going 3-7 in their final 10 games is not a recipe for a deep tournament run.
Nevada (MWC): 29-4
The Wolfpack features a solid, well-rounded cast of players like Jazz Johnson, the Martin twins and potential tournament breakout star Jordan Caroline, although Caroline may be hindered by an achilles injury. They enter the NCAA Tournament with a regular-season record of 29-4 and a Mountain West conference record of 15-3. They have made the tournament eight times in program history, never advancing past the Sweet Sixteen, which could change this year. Ranked in the top-10 for the majority of the year until a couple of late season losses, Nevada has four different guys who can get hot and put up big points.
Cincinnati (AAC): 28-6
The Bearcats, led by guard Jarron Cumberland, have a regular-season record of 28-6 and an AAC record of 14-4. The Cincinnati program is a traditional mid-major powerhouse with some notable alums to their name, including former #1 overall NBA draft pick Kenyon Marton. They’ve qualified for the NCAA Tournament 32 times, winning back-to-back national championships in 1961 and 1962. Mick Cronin’s squad plays smothering defense and beat Houston twice during the regular season.
The Terriers have qualified for the NCAA Tournament just four times in program history, advancing to the second round three times. This year’s Wofford team boasts a regular-season record of 29-4 and a perfect 18-0 record in Southern Conference play. Led by Steph Curry impersonator Fletcher Magee, what Wofford lacks in athleticism, it makes up for in 3-point efficiency, ranking second in the nation at 41.6 percent.
No. 6 Seeds
Maryland (Big Ten): 22-10
The Terrapins (Terps, if you’re feeling casual) enter the NCAA Tournament with a 22-10 regular-season record and a Big Ten conference record of 13-7, led by Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan, Jr. Maryland has made the tournament 26 times, winning the national championship in 2002 under Gary Williams. The Terps have been extremely inconsistent this season, but if Fernando can continue to average a double-double and the team defense can get back to its early season form, then this team could be a sleeper pick for the Elite 8.
Iowa State (Big 12): 23-11
The Cyclones, led by Marial Shayok’s 18.7 points per game, boast a regular-season record of 23-11 and a Big 12 conference record of 9-9. Iowa State has made the NCAA Tournament 38 times. They surprised, well, everyone by dominating conference powerhouse Kansas to win the Big 12 tournament, after a somewhat up-and-down conference record. Steve Prohm’s experienced squad shares the ball really well, with four different players averaging in double-figures.
Buffalo (MAC): 31-3
The Bulls are riding high from last year’s unlikely tournament run, where they beat No. 4 seed Arizona, the first time in program history that they advanced past the first round. This year’s Buffalo team has a sparkling regular-season record of 31-3 and a MAC record of 16-2. But, like many mid-majors, their strength of schedule factored into their relatively low seeding. A senior-led team, Buffalo will rely on its experience and depth to wear teams down.
Villanova (Big East): 25-9
After winning two of the past three national championships, the Wildcats enter the 2019 NCAA Tournament with a regular-season record of 25-9 and a Big East conference record of 13-5. Jay Wright’s squad has lost several key players from last year’s national championship team, but are led by the capable likes of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. While the Wildcats’ 3-point shooting isn’t what it’s been in the past, count them out at your own peril. You know what they say about underestimating the heart of a champion…
No. 5 Seeds
Marquette (Big East): 24-9
The Golden Eagles are entering the NCAA Tournament with a regular-season record of 24-9 and a Big East conference record of 12-6. Their leading scorer is the sensational Markus Howard, averaging 25.1 points per game, who can score from anywhere on the court. As a program, Marquette has made the tournament 33 times, winning the national title in 1977. Will Howard pull a Dwyane Wade and ride a memorable Final Four run to mainstream recognition? If the Golden Eagles’ defense can step it up a bit, this team can definitely make it all the way to Minnesota.
Wisconsin (Big Ten): 23-10
Badgers big man Ethan Happ is in the midst of another outstanding season, averaging a box score-stuffing 17.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Wisconsin enters the NCAA Tournament 23-10 regular-season record and a 14-6 Big Ten conference record. The Badgers have made the tournament 24 times, winning the championship in 1941 and losing in the title game to Duke in 2015. This team team handed Michigan its first loss of the season in late January and finished the season as the top defense in the Big Ten.
Auburn (SEC): 26-9
The Tigers, led by speedy guard Jared Harper, enter the tournament with a regular-season record of 26-9 and an SEC record of 11-7. As a program, Auburn has made the NCAA Tournament 10 times, but have only advanced to the Elite Eight once. Auburn beat Tennessee twice at the end of the season, the second time to win the SEC tournament title. Bruce Pearl’s squad is small in stature, but they make up for it by forcing a lot of turnovers and shooting 38 percent from three.
Mississippi State (SEC): 23-10
The Bulldogs enter the tournament with a regular-season record of 23-10 and an SEC record of 10-8, led by Quinndary Weatherspoon, averaging 18.2 points per game. Mississippi State has made the NCAA Tournament 11 times but only advanced to the Final Four once, in 1996. They have wins over five tournament-bound teams, including the aforementioned Auburn Tigers. This team has to limit turnovers and needs Weatherspoon to score a lot if they plan on making any noise in the tournament.
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