underrated college basketball

As we officially pass the two month mark in college basketball, we have had enough time to really evaluate each team and how they will fare this season.

Some teams are getting the praise they deserve, and some may be too much praise, but in this article, we will go through each conference and pick one team that isn’t getting as much praise as they should. Make sure to check back in March to see which of these underrated college basketball teams’ takes were accurate and which ended up flopping.

Note: When a team projected to win their conference is viewed as underrated in this article, it’s not from an inter-conference standpoint, it’s a national scale standpoint.

Atlantic 10- George Mason

George Mason is one of two teams in the conference to not play a conference game due to postponements. George Mason is the definition of inconsistent at 7-6, but when they are on their “A” game they are one of the better teams in the conference. They have a road win against then-ranked Maryland, and almost beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, one of the toughest environments in college basketball. This goes along with some questionable losses like Washington and Old Dominion, but in the A-10 where there isn’t a clear #1, George Mason can make some waves and finish closer to the top than people expect now.

Atlantic Sun- Eastern Kentucky

EKU, who were predicted to finish second in the ASUN preseason poll, is off to a surprising and disappointing 0-2 start in conference play. While this may be a cause for concern for some, if we look at how they’ve played this season, there is no doubt they’ll turn it around. They only lost by 1 to West Virginia earlier in the season on the road and actually led at the half, and outscored currently undefeated USC on the road in the second half when they played. While they may not have enough to take down Liberty for the conference title, they are more than capable of finishing Top 3 in the conference.

ACC- Syracuse

It feels like we follow the same formula every year. Syracuse has an okay regular season, does just enough to make the tournament, then somehow makes the Sweet 16. This year, they’re a little behind schedule sitting at 2-3 in conference play and 8-8 overall. However, Syracuse has a lot of talented scorers and a hall of fame coach, which is always a great combo for success. The ACC is having a down year, with only Duke and maybe Miami being legitimate threats, meaning there will be plenty of opportunities for Syracuse to climb the ladder and work their way up to tournament status.

America East- Vermont

Honestly, the America East is having a down year, with no teams looking great so far. Vermont has the ability to turn it around and not only win the conference but put a team on upset alert in the first round like they do most years. A big reason why is they have Ryan Davis, the favorite for conference player of the year at the moment. His skill set is enough to beat any team on any given day and expect Vermont to take control of this conference and head into the tournament as a sneaky 14 or 15 seed. Being 5-0 at home helps too.

American- UCF

In the American, people are only talking about Houston and Memphis, with occasional chatter about SMU. UCF should be the team people are talking about because their resume borders on at large bid. They have a road win against Miami, who sit atop the ACC, and a home win against Michigan, who is having a down season, but still a big win nonetheless. They also only lost by 3 to a borderline Top 25 Oklahoma team in November. This team is very talented, and don’t let a 1-2 conference play start fool you. They are capable of beating any team in the conference on any given night, making them a threat. With Houston suffering two key season-ending injuries and Memphis not performing like many expected, UCF can look past that ugly loss to Temple they suffered at home and bounce back and finish high up in the conference.

Big 12- Texas Tech

I want to make a note that I wrote this pick before they beat Baylor. I know it’s crazy to pick a Top 20 team as underrated, but when healthy, Texas Tech is arguably a Top 5 team in the country. They just beat Kansas by 8 without their two best scorers and nearly beat Iowa State on the road with even fewer guys. All three of their losses have come against current undefeated opponents, and two of the three were without Terrence Shannon Jr., their best player. When Texas Tech gets healthy, their #5 defense according to KenPom and a dynamic offense could take this team to a Final 4 for the second time in four years.

Big East- Uconn

Sitting at 2-2 in conference play and only receiving a few Top 25 votes, many people are clearly underestimating how good Uconn is. When fully healthy, they only have one loss, the narrow road loss to Seton Hall in overtime this past Saturday. They are Auburn’s only loss this season and have stayed within single digits against Michigan State, West Virginia, Providence, and Seton Hall. Now that this team is healthy again, I think they are the team to beat in the Big East, even over Villanova, a Top 15 team in the country. If there was an award for the most underrated college basketball team in the country, they would receive a good amount of votes.

Big Sky- Eastern Washington

The team to make it out of the Big Sky last year looks a lot different this year, losing their coach and conference player of the year, but they are still competing hard every day. When looking at a mid-major that can be successful, you look at two things, road record, and Power 6 opponent results. In terms of the road record, they sit at 6-4, which is two more road wins than the next closest in the conference. Then, they did lose by 32 against Texas Tech, but they beat Washington State by 5 and only lost to Colorado by 3. These are two solid Pac 12 teams and if Eastern Washington can hold their own against them, they can for sure do it against the Big Sky. Additionally, they have three players averaging 13 points per game or more, showing off their versatility in the scoring department.

Big South- Campbell

Sitting at 0-2, many people might see this and think that Campbell is a bottom feeder in a Big South conference that only features 4 teams with winning records. This is not the case, they just got unlucky in scheduling and had to take on two of those teams in the first two games. Campbell sits at 7-6 overall, not great but good for the Big South, and only lost by 11 to Duke and four to VCU. I expect Campbell to go on a big win streak soon and finish top 3 in the conference and maybe even sneak into that conference championship game.

Big Ten- Iowa

Iowa sits at 1-3 in conference play, but their losses are to #13 Wisconsin on the road, #25 Illinois, and #7 Purdue also on the road. Four of their next five games come against non-ranked opponents, which will be a great opportunity to get back into that win column. When you have Keegan Murray, the nation’s leading scorer on your team, any game is winnable, and Iowa will be a team in the tournament that will surprise many.

Big West- UC Irvine

The second-best defensive team in the country from a low mid-major conference (WCC, MWC, A10, and American don’t count), is UC Irvine. Ranked 45th in the country, this team can defend and are much better than their 6-4 record, thanks to the 8th hardest schedule in the country so far. They only lost to undefeated USC by 5 on the road, and have beaten two good mid-major teams in Boise State and Santa Clara. Expect UC Irvine to run through the Big West, and be a team still playing in the Round of 32.

CUSA- North Texas

Remember how I just said UC Irvine is the second-best defensive country from a low-mid-major conference? Well, North Texas is first, sitting at 40th in the country. We’ve seen them play good defense against teams like Kansas and Miami holding them to 71 and 69 points, which is amazing considering both are Top 25 offenses in the country. The CUSA has 4 teams in the top 100 in offense, so if UNT is able to limit these teams’ scoring output, that can lead to major upsets and a chance at the CUSA title.

Colonial- Hofstra

At 9-7, the team picked to finish 5th in the preseason poll may get overlooked, but they have proven that they can be a legitimate threat in college basketball. In non-conference, they took a healthy Houston team to overtime on the road, lost by two to then ranked Maryland, and beat then ranked Arkansas by 8 on the road. No disrespect to their Colonial opponents, but if they can compete with these high major teams, they should have no problem running the conference.

Horizon- Oakland

The Horizon is one of my favorite conferences to watch, and realistically has four teams that can win any similar level conference. Oakland has what it takes to win this one though, and maybe even a game in the tournament. They sit at 5-0 in conference play and 11-4 overall, including a win against Oklahoma State. A big reason why is Jamal Cain, who’s averaging 20.9 points and 9.9 rebounds for the Golden Grizzlies. One of the biggest reasons for upsets between mid-majors and Power 6 opponents is a star player, and they have the keys to shock a lot of people in March.

Ivy- Cornell

The Ivy League is looking like a one-horse race, with Princeton being the clear top dog, but Cornell can ruffle some feathers along the way. Sitting a 1-2 in conference play currently, the Big Red recently went to Princeton and only lost by 2 on the road. They are 6-0 at home this season and lost by 12 or less to Penn State and Syracuse earlier this season. Cornell was picked to finish 7th in the conference before the season, but they can finish top 3 if they continue to play at this level.

MAAC- Monmouth

Can the MAAC be a two-bid league? Iona has made the case to be an at-large consideration, and don’t sleep on what Monmouth has done this season. The team famous for their bench celebrations years ago is now putting the country on notice, starting the season 10-3 with wins over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and only a 5 point loss against St. Johns. This team, unfortunately, hasn’t played since December 22nd due to postponements, but when they return make sure to check out this team. If they can beat Iona and avoid any bad losses, there can be a case for Monmouth on Selection Sunday, something high majors are hoping not to see.

MAC- Ohio

My most underrated team college basketball team in the country is the Ohio Bobcats. In fact, I’m going to say it now. If Ohio is a 13 or 14 seed in the tournament, I will take them to beat whoever their opponent is. The team sits at 13-2, with their only losses to Kentucky and LSU. In the Kentucky game, they were leading as late as 15:17 left in the second half, and the same was in the LSU game when they were tied with LSU until 14:07 left in the second half. On top of that, they have a win against one of the best mid-majors in the whole country in Belmont by 12 and a road win against a 10-3 Cleveland State win on the road. This Ohio team is extremely dangerous and deserves more attention nationally because you’re going to be hearing a lot about them in March.

MEAC- Coppin State

The MEAC is an absolute mess right now, with only one team being over .500 on the season and only three of the eight teams playing a conference game so far due to postponements. Now, at 2-14, Coppin State hasn’t had the most incredible season, but as Sports Illustrated reported in a great story, this team went on a road trip from hell in order to make money for the program. They played 10 games in November, including five in six days to start the season, but that prepared them well for conference play. They took on several high major programs and solid mid-major programs, and now with proper rest and a much easier conference, this team can take on any opponent. It looks like Norfolk State will take the title eventually, but for a 2-14 to even compete in their conference is impressive, and they are already 1-0 after an 11 point road win against SC State.

MVC- Northern Iowa

The MVC got a lot of attention last year when Loyola Chicago and Drake both got tournament bids, a rarity for a conference like the MVC. This year, Loyola Chicago remains on top, but Northern Iowa is slowly climbing the ladder. After entering 2022 at 4-7, it looked like a lost season for the team that used to be the face of the conference. They’ve completely turned it around in 2022 starting off 4-0 in the month and 4-1 overall in conference play. AJ Green, their top guy has been great this month, which has included a 33 point performance in a key conference play victory against Montana State. If you find yourself turning in to MVC conference play, check out UNI, because they might be the hottest team in the conference right now.

Mountain West- Wyoming

The only team in the Mountain West who hasn’t played a conference game so far might be the best, Wyoming. Sitting at 11-2, they boast one of the best records in the country and have enjoyed big wins over Grand Canyon (12-2), Utah Valley (11-4), Stanford (who just beat then-unbeaten USC), and Northern Iowa who I just mentioned as being underrated. Their last game was Christmas Day, so it will be interesting to see how the long pause will affect them, but when you have a two-headed scoring machine of Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado, who are averaging 19.5 and 17.3 points, it’s hard to beat this team. The Mountain West has a lot of good teams, including Colorado State, San Diego State, Boise State, and Fresno State, so Wyoming will have a ton of opportunities to pick up quality wins and attempt to win the conference or receive an at large bid.

NEC- Wagner

Wagner has only played 10 games, but they’ve won the last 7. Wagner is the only team over .500 in the conference, and they are six games over the mark, making this look like a cakewalk to the tournament. A big reason for their success is their defense, which is only allowing 61.9 points per game, the 29th best in the nation. There are two combinations of teams that pull March Madness upsets: high scoring offenses with an extremely high-level scorer (Oral Roberts), or a gritty defensive team that takes a team out of their flow (Abilene Christian). Wagner may fit the latter, so keep an eye out for them throughout the season.

Ohio Valley- Murray State

Most people only know Murray State for being Ja Morant’s alumni school, but the Racers are still an underrated college basketball team on the national scale, and it’s time for them to receive some national attention. They are 59th in KenPom offense and 32nd in points per game, and a big reason why is their star guard Tevin Brown, who is averaging 19.1 points per game and shooting a ridiculous 43.8% from three. As mentioned in the Wagner section, two teams have success in the tournament, and Murray State fits the high offense category. If I’m a 5 seed, I’m praying Murray State isn’t the 12 seed.

Pac 12- Stanford

Right now, the Pac 12 looks like a three-headed monster followed by nothing, with Arizona, UCLA, and USC all being ranked in the Top 6 in the AP poll, then no one else receiving votes. Stanford can change that and at 9-4 can work their way up to an at large bid. They got a great start on the campaign on Tuesday when they knocked off USC and handed them their first loss of the season. They played Texas close too, losing by only 7 and recently beat two good mid-majors in Wyoming and Liberty. A big game to circle coming up is January 20th, when they play Arizona at home. Stanford proved against USC that not only are they underrated, but can cause some ripples in the Pac 12.

Patriot- Boston

Boston has started a disappointing 2-2 in conference play after being named the preseason favorite, including a loss to 4-0 Navy. For that reason, a lot of people have written them off. Don’t count them out yet though, because they have the talent to win this conference and maybe cause some fireworks in March. They took Florida State to overtime and only lost by 1, meaning they’re more than capable of pulling off an upset. That Navy loss might be tough to overcome, but Boston knows that there’s no better opportunity than now to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

SEC- Florida

Florida has been an extremely weird team this season, losing to an 0-7 Texas Southern team, but they do have quality wins against Florida State and Ohio State. They are sitting at 0-2 in conference play, but those two games were against Alabama and Auburn, both ranked in the Top 25. The SEC has their five ranked teams, then everyone else, and Florida has the talent and coaching to work their way up to that 6th or 7th spot. If they can establish a clear #2 option after Collin Castleton, they can knock off any team at a similar or lower level than them and even one or two of those ranked teams.

SWAC- Texas Southern

Texas Southern came into the season with a strategy of booking a lot of good-level teams, so that if they win one or two it’s an immediate resume and confidence booster for the team. This looked like a plan that backfired until they went and beat Florida by 15. Now, they sit at 3-1 in conference play and are really hitting their stride, beating their last two opponents by 19 and 27. They kept it within single digits against St. Mary’s and NC State earlier this season, and if they can compete with these high-level programs they should have no problem in the SWAC.

Southern- Chattanooga

Give Chattanooga the recognition they deserve now, or what you hope will be your perfect bracket will be busted by them. Chattanooga is ranked 62nd in KenPom ratings, higher than teams like Virginia, Miami, and St John’s. They have the 25th best offense in the country and a 20 PPG scorer in Malachi Smith. Another key piece is Silvio de Sousa, the former Kansas Jayhawk who has made a big impact on this team. If you had to guess right now which projected 12 seed or lower is most likely to make the Sweet 16, Chattanooga has to be in your top 3, and media outlets should be giving them the attention they deserve.

Southland- Nicholls

Fun fact about the Southland, they haven’t technically played a conference game yet. Instead, they started off the year with a conference tournament, which ended with SE Louisiana beating Nicholls in the championship. While Nicholls may have proved they aren’t technically the best in the conference, we should see a different result in march, especially after looking at their nonconference. First, they went to Wisconsin and only lost by 3. They then traveled to Purdue later that month and scored 90. When you have a 21 point per game scorer in Ty Gordon, that is usually what it takes to send your team to the tournament for the first time this century.

Summit- South Dakota State

When covering the Summit conference, the media narrows in on last year’s darlings Oral Roberts and Max Abmas, and neglects the rest of the conference. The team to cover though is South Dakota State. This team scores at a ridiculous pace, currently 5th in the nation with 84.6 points per game. They don’t seem to have any off nights in the scoring department, scoring less than 76 points once this season but going over 90 six times. Oral Roberts made the Sweet 16 due to their high scoring, and South Dakota State might be a copy and paste of that team. Watch out for the JackRabitts in March.

Sun Belt- Troy

The key to success in the long term in college basketball is the ability to win both at home and on the road. Troy has a winning record in both departments, starting off 7-1 at home and 4-3 on the road. They have looked great in conference play already, beating their opponents by an average of 13 points. The Sun Belt is another wide-open conference with every team having between 5-9 losses and now teams being worse than two games under .500, but Troy may have the tools to finish in that top spot.

WAC- Utah Valley

Only one team has a Top 25 victory in the conference, and it’s Utah Valley. A big reason why is Fardaws Aimaq. He scored 24 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in that upset win against BYU, and those numbers aren’t uncommon for the center, who averages 19.7 points and 13.8 rebounds a game. The WAC has surprisingly been one of the top mid-majors this season, with New Mexico State, Grand Canyon, Abilene Christian, Cal Baptist, Seattle, and Utah Valley all having big years. Utah Valley has a tough uphill battle to get to the top, but with Aimaq they are more than capable of doing so.

WCC- Santa Clara

The WCC is always a three-man show, with Gonzaga, BYU, and St Mary’s finishing top 3 every year, and this year San Francisco has made a name for themselves with their red hot start. The WCC has a 5th team that can make a name for themselves though, and that’s Santa Clara. When they were healthy, they were a high-level team, starting the season with wins against Stanford, Nevada, and TCU. A few injuries and a current postponement streak of four straight games slowed them down, but now they are well-rested and looking to get back on track. Are they going to beat Gonzaga? No. But can they beat two of BYU, St. Mary’s and San Francisco? Absolutely.

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