NCAAB

The 10 Most Underrated Teams in the NCAA Tournament

Riley Thomas
Riley Thomas_riley8

Selection Sunday typically leaves a bitter taste in various teams' mouths. Some squads get snubbed from the tournament altogether while others earn a much lower seeding than expected.

The Mountain West and Big East were two conferences that received the brunt of questionable decisions by the committee. This included the Big East's Seton Hall and St. John's falling short of the field, and several teams -- such as Boise State and Colorado State -- felt under-seeded from the Mountain West.

Finding which teams were severely under-seeded can provide excellent value for various bets when looking at FanDuel Sportsbook's college basketball odds. At numberFire, we compare each team's nERD score to the historical average of their given seed. The differential between the two scores shows which squads were perhaps under- and over-seeded.

In this piece, we will look at which teams were under-seeded. Here are the 10 teams in the field with the largest positive difference between their nERD score and historical seed average.

Most Underrated Teams in the NCAA Tournament

10. TCU Horned Frogs (9 Seed, Midwest)

nERD: 11.66

nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.24

numberFire's model projected an 8 seed for TCU. The Horned Frogs aren't too far off as a 9 seed. Still, TCU could bring good value with their first-round matchup against Utah State, who was perhaps a bit over-seeded as their 10.50 nERD rating is more on par with a 9 seed.

The Horned Frogs are 2.5-point favorites in the first round against the Aggies, per FanDuel's NCAA Tournament odds. TCU isn't playing their best ball with a 1-3 record over the last four games.

9. Illinois Fighting Illini (3 Seed, East)

nERD: 15.89

nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.37

This year's field seems to feature a strong crop of 3 seeds as one could argue that all four teams have Final Four upside. Illinois leads the pack with a 15.89 rating via numberFire; this isn't far off from the historical nERD average of 16.33 for 2 seeds.

The Fighting Illini are coming into the tournament red-hot after winning the Big Ten Tournament, and they are 7-1 over the last eight games. Illinois is led by KenPom's third-best offense, and Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask are two scorers who strike fear into opposing teams while totaling at least 16.0 points per game (PPG).

Illinois got a very tough pull in the stacked East region, though. According to FanDuel's college basketball Final Four odds, the Illini have the fourth-shortest odds to win the East (+750).

8. Alabama Crimson Tide (4 Seed, West)

nERD: 15.80

nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.73

Alabama was perhaps one of the snubs for a 3 seed. Losing in their first game of the SEC Tournament by 14 points against Florida was a big blow. The Crimson Tide have defensive concerns (112th in efficiency), but they score at a high clip with the 2nd-best adjusted offensive efficiency while totaling 90.8 PPG (1st in the nation).

Various metrics suggest that Alabama should have a higher seed, for they rank 13th in KenPom and 11th in numberFire's ratings. The Tide's 4-10 record against quad 1 opponents should be a big concern, though.

7. Duke Blue Devils (4 Seed, South)

nERD: 15.85

nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.78

Duke is the second 4 seed among the 10 most underrated teams, and this isn't the last 4 seed on the list. The Blue Devils have elite upside, ranking 8th in KenPom and 10th in numberFire's ratings.

However, Duke comes off a 5-point loss as 11-point favorites against NC State. The Blue Devils tout KenPom's 7th-best offense, but they rank 26th in defense. Opponents have also logged 79.0 PPG over Duke's past two contests. Will the talented squad put it together in the postseason?

6. BYU Cougars (6 Seed, East)

nERD: 14.40

nERD vs. Seed Average: +2.19

BYU could prove to be one of the most intriguing teams in the field. The Cougars were up and down in the Big 12, the nation's best conference. Still, BYU has some upside for a run thanks to their offense.

The Cougars rank 11th in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency and have excellent team shooting splits. According to Bart Torvik, they take 50.7% of their shots from three (first in the tournament) and shoot 72.9% on close twos (tops in the nation). numberFire's model was projecting a 4 seed for BYU. This is yet another under-seeded squad in the East region.

5. Colorado Buffaloes (10 Seed, South)

nERD: 12.78

nERD vs. Seed Average: +2.30

Colorado barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament as one of the teams playing in the First Four. A 10 seed felt pretty disrespectful for the Buffaloes; the First Four selection on top of being under-seeded felt like a slap in the face.

According to numberFire's rating, Colorado was tracking for a 6 seed for the Big Dance. The Buffs come off a solid run in the Pac-12 Tournament, defeating Utah and Washington State. They fell seven points short of winning the Pac-12 against Oregon.

As KenPom's 26th-best squad, Colorado has great value as a First Four team. Typically, one First Four team at least advances to the second round of the tournament. Could the Buffaloes be the next in line?

4. Arizona Wildcats (2 Seed, West)

nERD: 19.17

nERD vs. Seed Average: +2.84

Arizona likely has a sour taste in their mouth entering the NCAA Tournament. After Tennessee and North Carolina sustained losses during the conference tournament week, the Wildcats likely would have earned a 1 seed if they won the Pac-12. However, it was a disappointing showing as Arizona fell in the semifinal round against Oregon.

Per FanDuel's West region odds, the Wildcats are actually the favorite to make the Final Four (+230) compared to 1 seed North Carolina sitting at +380. As numberFire's fourth-best team, Arizona has national championship potential.

3. Michigan State Spartans (9 Seed, West)

nERD: 13.60

nERD vs. Seed Average: +3.18

Tom Izzo and March -- the pair usually produces results. Take last season for example; the Spartans made noise as a 7 seed, taking out the 2 seed Marquette in the second round. After last year's Sweet 16 appearance, could MSU enjoy another second-weekend tournament?

Michigan State has been one of the most disappointing teams of the season after entering the regular season as the AP Poll's fourth-best squad. The Spartans still seem to have high upside, ranking 18th in KenPom.

2. New Mexico Lobos (11 Seed, West)

nERD: 13.25

nERD vs. Seed Average: +3.78

The West region features three of the four most underrated teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountain West fell on the short end of several seedings. New Mexico -- the Mountain West Tournament champion -- is yet another squad from the conference that feels under-seeded.

numberFire's model projected a 5 seed for the Lobos. New Mexico is also only +250 to make the Sweet 16, which is quite low for a double-digit seed. The Lobos rank 23rd in KenPom and feature a lineup with four players scoring at least 12.0 PPG, led by Jaelen House at 16.1 PPG.

1. Auburn Tigers (4 Seed, East)

nERD: 18.69

nERD vs. Seed Average: +4.62

Auburn features a huge differential at +4.62. What makes the Tigers stand out so much compared to the rest of the field? Auburn likely should have earned a much higher seed after winning the SEC Tournament, and they won each contest by an average margin of 19 points.

The Tigers have fared quite well in metrics all season. They sit fifth in numberFire's ratings, fourth in KenPom, and fifth in Bart Torvik. These numbers scream national championship contender. Since 2004, every national champion has ranked in the top 40 of KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency and top 22 in adjusted defensive efficiency. This checks out for Auburn, who sits 10th in offense and 4th in defense.

The Tigers have a concerning 3-7 quad 1 record and have a tough road ahead in the East region.


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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.