Jarkel Joiner, NC State Wolfpack

CBB Review has all the March Madness coverage you need as the NCAA Tournament gets going.

March Madness 2023 figures to be one heck of a ride. Many experts consider this to be one of the most wide-open fields in recent memory. With so much parity in the game this season, that opens the door for a team to come out of nowhere and make a Cinderella run. If you don’t believe that, just look at what Saint Peter’s did last season, becoming the first 15-seed to make the Elite Eight.

Upsets are part of what makes this tournament the best there is. We can’t promise that another run like what the Peacocks did last year will happen. However, we can give you one lower-seeded team on each seed line to keep an eye on in the first round.

9-seed: West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia was a bubble team just a few weeks ago but emerged from a tough Big 12 schedule jumping a few seed lines above danger. Because of the league they play in, the Mountaineers won’t be intimidated by much. They have been playing championship-caliber teams for the past few months. Erik Stevenson is the guy that makes this team go.

West Virginia likes to attack the rim on offense, and against a Maryland team that is prone to foul trouble, that could be just what the doctor ordered. They will have to find a way to shut down Jahmir Young, but the kind of pressure defense that WVU plays could do just that. As far as a potential second-round date with Alabama, the Mountaineers could test them by simply playing like a team that has nothing to lose.

10-seed: Boise State Broncos

Whether or not you believe in the strength of the Mountain West, Boise State had the metrics to warrant inclusion in the field. The Broncos have a pair of prolific scorers in Tyson Degenhart and Max Rice. They possess a classic mid-major formula in that they play sound defense and are a pretty good three-point shooting squad.

A first-round match-up against Northwestern is really juicy. The Wildcats have lost four of their past five games heading into 2023 March Madness. Furthermore, they have one of the worst offenses in the country. That sets up for a favorable, slow-paced slugfest that the Broncos prefer to play. They have the better offense, which gives them the edge. A second-round match-up against UCLA is less favorable, but the Broncos could keep it close for most of the game.

11-seed: North Carolina State Wolfpack

NC State is another team that some felt shouldn’t have been in the field at all. There certainly wasn’t a lot of meat on the team’s profile, but now they have a chance to make a run. What makes the Wolfpack dangerous is the dynamic duo of Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner. Those two have the ability to take over a game at a moment’s notice.

A first-round bout with Creighton doesn’t look great on paper, but the Bluejays can struggle to defend from deep. Smith and Joiner could certainly exploit that, especially if one of them is feeling it in this game. NC State’s ability to protect the ball also bodes well, which will force Creighton to defend for full possessions. A second-round tilt with Baylor could also be favorable, as the Bears haven’t looked as good of late and could even be susceptible to an upset in the first round.

12-seed: VCU Rams

The 12-seed line is one of the most difficult upsets to pick year in and year out. At some point, your gut might try to convince you that every 12 could win their game (like right now). In terms of favorability, though, VCU fits the bill. The Rams still play their aggressive, pressure defense that looks to create havoc and force turnovers.

The reason that defense is so important is that it could help wear down a Saint Mary’s team that doesn’t have much depth. It could also help force even a talented freshman in Aidan Mahaney into uncharacteristic mistakes. The Gaels won’t go down easy, but could be forced to come out of their own preferred defensive style if they get down early. VCU’s potential second round opponent in UConn would be about as far as they get, though.

13-seed: Kent State Golden Flashes

Kent State, on paper, may not look too threatening. However, the Golden Flashes went toe-to-toe with Houston and Gonzaga this season, losing by five and seven points respectively in those games. Kent State forces turnovers at a high clip and doesn’t turn it over much themselves. That’s a recipe for success for any mid-major in March Madness.

Matching up against Indiana won’t be easy, but as mentioned already, Kent State won’t be scared with their experience. Indiana’s inability to force turnovers could hurt them more than usual given the Golden Flashes like to run their sets and get to the rim. They will force Indiana to defend at an extremely high level. If they can get past the Hoosiers, Kent State would keep things favorable against either Miami or Drake. A Sweet 16 run isn’t out of the question here.

14-seed: Montana State Bobcats

Montana State is making their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, and they are hoping this one goes a lot better this time around. The Bobcats put pressure on opposing defenses by constantly getting to the rim, especially with Raequan Battle and Jubrile Belo. They are also one of the best teams in the country in knocking down their free throws.

Kansas State is built somewhat similarly, knocking down their free throws and looking to get high-percentage shots inside. However, K-State can turn the ball over a bit too much, making them vulnerable to getting into trouble early on. Belo also has the size to bang with Keyontae Johnson a bit down low. It won’t be easy, but if the Bobcats can keep it close, they have the ability to close out games.

15-seed: Colgate Raiders

The past two NCAA Tournaments have shown that 15-seeds shouldn’t be taken as lightly anymore. Now, runs like what Oral Roberts and Saint Peter’s have done recently are still rare. However, if there’s one 15-seed that’s built for something like that, it’s Colgate. The Raiders have been so close to pulling off upsets in their last three appearances, and they are a balanced team that can shoot lights out from long range.

Don’t get it twisted: Texas is a tough first round match-up for just about any team. The Longhorns also like to share the ball like Colgate and don’t give up easy looks. However, the Raiders’ ability to move the ball could create open looks no matter how much Texas locks down defensively. The experience on Colgate’s roster means they won’t be shellshocked by adversity, and they have the scoring prowess to stay in the game by shooting at a high level.

16-seed: Northern Kentucky Norse

The history between 16 seeds and 1 seeds is well known by now. UMBC has a banner that reminds you every time you step into their gym. However, the instances where the lowest of low seeds keeps games close are increasing in the first round. Northern Kentucky fits the mold of the 16 that could put a scare into their opponent. They also have a high-level playmaker in Marques Warrick that can carry them if needed.

I’m not going to mince words: Houston is my national title pick. However, the Cougars are also potentially looking at being without Marcus Sasser for the first round. They looked like a different team without him in the AAC Championship. Northern Kentucky is built on limiting opponent possessions and turning over their opponents after doing so. They will be outsized, but if their offense is clicking, especially from beyond the arc, they could make the Cougars sweat for a lot of those 40 minutes.