Parity, when participating teams have roughly equivalent levels of talent. In such a league, the “best” team is not significantly better than the “worst” team. This leads to more competitive contests where the winner cannot be easily predicted in advance.
Here are five unlikely teams that could run through March Madness.
La Salle Explorers: 16-6, 6-3 (A10)
Led by Ramon Galloway and his 17.1 PPG, the Explorers are looking to erase a 20-year absence from the NCAA tournament and they might just do it. With solid wins over Villanova, Richmond, a ranked VCU team and conference leading Butler, La Salle ranks 34th in RPI. La Salle hadn’t defeated ranked teams consecutively since the 1952 NIT tournament.
They are projected to win five of their last seven games and still have a shot at winning the A10 outright.
“If you think we’re surprised, you’re nuts,” La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said after the VCU win. “You know nothing about our program and our players if you think we’re surprised about winning against a good team. We don’t care what anyone says or writes. We don’t read articles.”
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels: 18-6, 5-4 (MWC)
Many of you will say, well this wouldn’t be a surprise? But, trust me…it would be. Led by the top freshman in the country Anthony Bennett, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were ranked in the top 25 to start the season. Much like last season they have been unable to accomplish much on the road. Devastating back-to-back losses against Boise State (RPI 48) and Fresno State (RPI 163) sent the Rebels into a tailspin only to be brought back to life by beating New Mexico (RPI 3) at home.
UNLV doesn’t play a cake schedule, ranked 28th in strength of schedule an RPI rank of 20th tells the story. The Mountain West is one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball and as these teams continue to beat up on each other it only makes them stronger. If UNLV can finally put all the talent together they could make a huge run on a way to a Final Four appearance, but that is a big if.
St. Mary’s Gales: 20-4, 10-1 (WC)
Anytime you have the potential to end the season on a 14-game winning streak it bodes well for the NCAA Tournament and selection time.
The Gales have shook off the early season jitters when losing to Pacific (RPI 139) and Georgia Tech (RPI 120), by winning 17 of their last 19 games. Key wins over Harvard (RPI 93), BYU (RPI 60), and Santa Clara (96) aren’t extremely impressive but the momentum is.
Led by guard Matthew Dellavedova and his 15.9 points and 6.6 assists per game the Gales have a very potent offense ranked 11th in the nation. That could spell problems for the opposition.
Middle Tennessee St. : 22-4, 14-1 (Sun Belt)
The Blue Raiders haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1989, but key wins over UCF (RPI 89), Mississippi (RPI 45) and Tennessee St. (RPI 104) have them sitting pretty with an RPI rank of 29th.
16 of their wins have come by double figures, but it’s the defense that makes them tick. Opponents are averaging just 57.9 points per game which leads the nation.
“We’re trying to pressure people all over the court. We’ve got good depth. We play 10 guys double-figure minutes. It allows us to absorb foul trouble and stay fresh. That’s probably our biggest strength right now.”
Wisconsin Badgers: 17-7, 8-3 (Big 10)
Wisconsin has beat nine teams this season with a current RPI of under 100. They also have the nations 17th hardest schedule and still have a shot at winning the Big Ten.
After knocking off Michigan it doesn’t get any easier for the Badgers as they still face Minnesota (RPI 13), Ohio St. (RPI 23), and Michigan St. (RPI 9) before tournament time.
The Badgers are another team that prides themselves on defense as they are only allowing 56.5 points per game in Big Ten play and rank 10th in the nation.
Stats from Wikipedia.com, ESPN.com, RealtimeRPI.com, and CBSSportsline.com were used in this post.