The college basketball season always showcases a handful of sleeper teams that don’t quite peak until later in the season. What’s deceiving about that trajectory is that when the NCAA tournament selection committee seeds 68 teams, it’s looking at the overall body of work on a team’s profile.
So, if a team is on the bubble now, there’s a chance that a late-season surge would push it into the No. 7 or No. 8 seed range — seeds that are more than capable of staging an unexpected Final Four run based on late-season momentum.
Here are five current bubble teams that figure to be extremely dangerous when March Madness tips off in six weeks.
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Northern Iowa. The Panthers (19-3, 8-2) are currently projected as a No. 11 seed and their résumé suffers largely from playing in a mid-major league where one loss counts as several compared to power conference foes. But credentials aside, coach Ben Jacobson’s team has all the ingredients to be a March Madness Cinderella (remember this UNI team?). Guards AJ Green (19.4 ppg) and Trae Berhow form a dynamic backcourt, while Austin Phyfe adds a solid interior presence for one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country (ranking fifth nationally with a 39.9% average beyond the arc).
Xavier. The Musketeers (15-8, 4-6), also pegged for a No. 11 seed, started Big East play 2-6 but pulled off a major upset last weekend by knocking off league leader Seton Hall at. Those are the signature victories that can keep a fringe team safe on Selection Sunday. Those results are also evidence of a team’s capability of defeating a better-seeded team. Naji Marshall (16.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.6 apg) anchors this team on both ends as a dynamic playmaker.
Florida. The Gators were expected to be a Final Four-caliber team before the season began, but have fallen far short of meeting those expectations. Still, coach Mike White’s team has the pieces in place for a deep run inf UF can put things together in the next month. Florida convincingly upset Auburn a few weeks back and played No. 1 Baylor close but it’s going to take a few more resume-lifting wins to keep this team safe. Kerry Blackshear Jr. (14.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is a 6-10 forward who drives this team’s identity.
Rhode Island. Dayton is leading the Atlantic 10 and is getting attention as a title contender. The Rams (17-5, 9-1), however, are much more under the radar but close to the Flyers in the A-10 title race. If they keep winning they’ll drift on the safer side away from a current No. 10 seed forecast. But the A-10 isn’t a power conference and could keep Rhode Island on the bubble longer than expected. This team is spearheaded by Fatts Russell (get to know the name), who averages 20.2 points and 4.6 assists a game as a do-everything lead guard.
Saint Mary’s. The Gaels (19-5) lead the nation in three-point field goal percentage fueled by veteran Jordan Ford (21.1 points a game). In a much stronger West Coast Conference this year, Saint Mary’s narrowly fell to BYU on the road last week but gets an opportunity to host Gonzaga on Saturday in a game where an upset would greatly drift this team away from the bubble (they’re currently a projected No. 9 seed).