These Four Sleeper Schools Are Capable Of Getting To ‘Nawlins | North Carolina Tar Heels Enter NCAA Tournament In Unfamiliar Underdog Territory

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This year’s NCAA Men’s Final Four will take place down on the bayou, in the city of New Orleans. It will be the sixth time the city has hosted the event. There have been some epic battles at the Superdome in the past. 

In 1982, a freshman named Michael Jordan hit a game-winning jumper to upset the mighty Georgetown Hoyas led by generational center Patrick Ewing and legendary coach John Thompson. In 1993, Chris Webber called a timeout when his Fab Five Michigan Wolverines didn’t have any, as the Tar Heels won another title in the city of beignets, café au lait and crawfish etouffee.

This season, the favorites may be the No. 1 seeds Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas and Baylor, plus No. 2 seeds Duke and Kentucky. March Madness is never that easily predictable. There always will be upsets, Cinderella teams and historic moments. 

The underdog is a staple of excitement during March Madness and these four teams could end up in the French Quarter playing for a national title.

North Carolina – No. 8 Seed (East Region)

Carolina is as blue blood as it gets and has been recognized as one of the legendary powerhouse programs in college basketball history. The Tar Heels aren’t usually seeded this low but based on their history and the strength of the ACC, you have to believe they can string together a few upsets. 

UNC isn’t a very deep team, but the starting five, which consists of upperclassmen Armando Bacot, Brady Manek, Leeky Black, Caleb Love and RJ Davis, are capable players who can thrive if they elevate one notch during the NCAA tournament. Carolina has played some tough games over the past month and is definitely battle-tested. 

Their big win at Duke in Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium was followed by a dud showing against the eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech Hokies. 

 

Bacot was a strong contender for ACC player of the year and is the key to Carolina’s success. The bruising big man has posted 25 doubles-doubles this season, a UNC record he now holds after surpassing Brice Johnson’s 23 in 2016.

The former five-star product is a menace on both ends, and when he’s in a zone he commands double teams that open up looks for Manek, Love and Davis from the perimeter. Coach Hubert Davis will probably go no more than seven deep in his rotation during the tourney, so it’ll be imperative that he gets spot rest minutes for his five starters.

Only one eight-seed has won a title, UCONN in 2014. Why not repeat history? 

UCONN – No. 5 Seed (West Region)

The Huskies don’t shoot it all that great, but Coach Danny Hurley has them guarding at a high level. They are tough and have a tremendous backcourt. Point guard R.J. Cole and big man Adama Sanogo are the linchpins in the Huskies attack. 

Cole is not like past legendary UCONN point guards; Khalid El-Amin, Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier all led the team to national titles. They had explosive offensive games and had a smoothness about them. 

Cole can best be described as “gritty and clutch.”

Hurley, the son of high-school coaching icon Bobby Hurley Sr., knows the importance of great guard play, and he talked about it recently. 

“You don’t win big without great guard play. R.J. has played great. He’s really quarterbacked this team. Not only did he get us 16 points on 12 shots, so he really was efficient, he really should have had a 20-point game but he missed the two front ends … but what he’s done for us the last two years, is why we’re in a much better spot.”

When the Huskies do lose it’s not by much, with seven losses coming by five points or fewer. They need Tyrese Martin to get hot and he’s more than capable, as evidenced by his recent stretch where he averaged nearly 16 points per game, including a 27-point (4-5 from three) outing in a win over Butler. If he, Cole and Sanogo are all humming, this team can go on a typical UCONN run like in 2011 and 2014, when they shocked college hoops and cut down the nets.

Tennessee Chattanooga – No. 13 Seed (South Region)

The Mocs are looking to be this year’s Cinderella like 2018’s Loyola-Chicago and Wichita State in 2013. Both made the Final Four.

They’ll have some tough sledding having to face Illinois in the opening No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchup, but they have the guard play to stay close. Pulling off an upset depends heavily on what they can get from former Kansas big man Silvio De Sousa in his matchup with the Illini’s Kofi Cockburn. The Illinois big man is the only player in the country averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. 

Standing 7-feet and 285 pounds, he’s a load inside. The backcourt duo of David Jean-Baptiste and Malachi Smith is elite. DJB hit a buzzer-beater to floor Furman in the Southern Conference championship game (64-63).

After testing the NBA Draft waters last summer, the dynamic duo returned to Chattanooga just for this moment. Now they get their chance to put a stamp on great college careers by slaying the Illini. 

Iowa – No. 5 (Midwest Region)

The Iowa Hawkeyes are fresh off winning their first Big Ten tourney title since 2006. The Hawkeyes, led by the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player Keegan Murray, and his twin brother Kris, are very dangerous.

Head coach Fran McCaffery has one of the best offenses in all of college basketball, and in a tourney where matchups mean everything his team could be a nightmare for any opponent in the Midwest region. 

With snipers and savvy players across the roster, the Hawkeyes blend those talents with a cool and calm demeanor on the offensive end. Their defense isn’t championship worthy, but the way they score makes opponents press to keep up.