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Men’s March Madness Predictions: Sixteen teams to look out for

March 18, 2024

Sixteen teams to look out for in this year’s Men’s March Madness

This year’s college basketball season is nearing its close, but between now and then lies the greatest tournament in all of sports: March Madness. To help you fill out your brackets this year, I’ve gone ahead and picked one team from each seed line that I think are worth watching out for in this year’s men’s tournament. Some are National Championship favorites, some are potential Cinderellas, others are just happy to be here, but I’ve watched too many games of each of these teams this season and think they’re all definitely worth keeping an eye on this March.

1 Seed: UConn Huskies (31-3, 18-2 BIG EAST)

First Round: 2:45 p.m. Friday vs. 16 Stetson (CBS)

There isn’t much to say here other than UConn has been unbelievably good this season. The defending national champions went 18-2 in conference play and were the only 1-seed that won their conference tournament, earning the Huskies the #1 overall seed in this year’s NCAA tournament.

UConn will cruise through their first tournament matchup against the 16-seed Stetson Hatters, and likely won’t face much resistance at all until the Elite Eight. While anything can happen in March Madness, the Huskies seem poised to repeat as national champions for the first time since Florida did it in 2006 and 2007.

2 Seed: Iowa State Cyclones (27-7, 13-5 Big 12)

First Round: 7:35 p.m. Thursday vs. 15 South Dakota State (TruTV)

The Iowa State Cyclones routed 1-seed Houston on Saturday to earn a Big 12 Championship, and there was serious chatter about Iowa State potentially earning the fourth and final 1-seed spot in the NCAA tournament. Because of this, many were surprised not only to see Iowa State given the eighth overall seed, but also to see the Cyclones put into the same region as the UConn buzzsaw.

Iowa State plays their first tournament game against South Dakota State on Thursday, but look for the Cyclones to cruise to the Elite Eight, where a matchup against the Huskies is likely to await them. It’s unlikely, but if there’s any chance for UConn to be upset before the Final Four, Iowa State has the best shot to pull it off.

3 Seed: Creighton Bluejays (23-9, 14-6 BIG EAST)

First Round 1:30 p.m. Thursday vs. 14 Akron (TNT)

Creighton is as good a pick as any to make the Final Four from the Midwest Region. Led by First team all-BIG EAST guard Baylor Scheierman, the Bluejays have played at an elite level at the top of the Big East this year. Creighton defeated tournament teams Alabama and Nebraska in their non-conference schedule, and after a rocky start to Big East play the Bluejays began to soar in a campaign, the highlight of which was a monster 85-66 upset against AP #1 UConn in February.

Creighton will open the tournament Thursday afternoon with a matchup against Akron. The Bluejays will be fighting to avenge their Elite Eight loss last year with a return to the regional finals, and possibly even make it to the Final Four.

4 Seed: Auburn Tigers (27-7, 13-5 SEC)
First Round: 4:15 p.m. Friday vs. 13 Yale (TNT)

Auburn has played consistently well all season long. Six of their seven losses this year have come against teams in this year’s tournament, with the one exception being an admittedly questionable loss to Appalachian State, which itself won the Sun Belt regular season title. The Tigers, however, have finished the season on a six-game winning streak, which includes an SEC tournament championship, and are currently sitting at #7 in the AP poll.

Auburn will hope to continue their momentum when they face off against 13-seeded Yale, tipping off on Friday afternoon in Spokane. I foresee the Tigers defeating the Bulldogs, who barely survived Brown in their conference tournament, before defeating the winner of San Diego State and UAB on their way to a Sweet Sixteen berth. 

5 Seed: St. Mary’s Gaels (26-7, 15-1 WCC)

First Round: 10:05 p.m. Friday vs. 12 Grand Canyon (TruTV)

The Gaels’ season started shaky, with a bad loss to Weber State kicking the team out of the AP Top 25. Since then, however, Saint Mary’s has been a force to be reckoned with, going 15-1 in a strong West Coast Conference with their only loss being against Gonzaga in the final game of the regular season, a loss which was avenged a week later when the Gaels defeated the Bulldogs in the WCC tournament final. 

Saint Mary’s opens tournament play against 12-seed Grand Canyon late Friday night. In a regional that also consists of Alabama and Charleston, it would be no surprise to see the Gaels make the Sweet Sixteen, if not the Elite Eight.

6 Seed: BYU Cougars (23-10, 10-8 Big 12)

First Round: 12:40 p.m. Thursday vs. 11 Duquesne (TruTV)

BYU is capable of beating anyone in this tournament. They nearly swept their non-conference slate, and have impressive wins against Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State in conference play this year. The Cougars should easily be able to handle Duquesne Thursday afternoon, and should also be able to keep it close, if not secure a win against 3-seed Illinois in the second round of the tournament.

7 Seed: Texas Longhorns (20-12, 9-9 Big 12)

First Round: 6:50 p.m. Thursday vs. 10 Virginia/Colorado State (TNT)

I’m not particularly high on any 7-seed this year, but despite their middling conference record in the Big 12, the Texas Longhorns have consistently met expectations in what is arguably the strongest basketball conference in the country. Most of the Longhorns’ losses this season have come at the hands of other tournament teams, but they’ve also pulled off impressive wins against TCU, Texas Tech, and Baylor, so it’s not unfeasible to say that the Longhorns are able to compete in this tournament.

The Longhorns face the winner of Colorado State/Virginia Thursday evening. I think the Longhorns will defeat their first-round opponent, and at least keep it close, if not win, against 2-seed Tennessee in the second round.

8 Seed: Utah State Aggies (27-6, 14-4 Mountain West)

First Round: 9:55 p.m. Friday vs 9 TCU (TBS)

I admit I don’t know much about the Aggies, but they’ve done incredibly well in a Mountain West conference which has rivaled the high-majors in skill this season. The Aggies split their season series against San Diego State, who went to the Final Four last year, and all of their conference losses came against teams which made the tournament.

The main reason I like the Aggies, however, is because they square up against TCU—who technically lost to Georgetown back in December—in the first round. Assuming they squeak by the Horned Frogs, Utah State’s second round will almost certainly see them face 1-seed Purdue, a team which has famously struggled in the early rounds of the tournament, with the Boilermakers having lost to a 13, a 15, and a 16 seed in their last 3 years in the Big Dance. It’s not completely out of the question, then, that we could see the Aggies reach the Sweet Sixteen or beyond.

9 Seed: Michigan State Spartans (19-14, 10-10 Big Ten)

First Round: 12:15 p.m. Thursday vs. 8 Mississippi State (CBS)

The 9-seeds this year have generally left much more to be desired, however in my opinion Michigan State is the team on that line who is most likely to make a run. The Spartans are no stranger to the Big Dance, as they are led by head coach Tom Izzo, who has brought the Spartans to 26 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. This year, Michigan State is the 9-seed in the West Regional, which features the weakest overall 1-seed: the North Carolina Tar Heels, who lost to 11-seed NC State in their conference final. 

Assuming the Spartans pull off a first-round victory against a Mississippi State team which has looked lackluster down the stretch, Michigan State has a good chance of pulling off the upset against North Carolina in the second round en route to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

10 Seed: Boise State Broncos (22-10, 13-5 Mountain West)

First Four: 9:10 p.m. Wednesday vs. 10 Colorado (TruTV)

It’s always risky to pick a First Four team to go far in the tournament, but Boise State isn’t just any First Four team. Bracketologists everywhere were shocked at the Broncos’ placement in the play-in round as Boise State was expected to be seeded much higher due to their impressive conference campaign, sweeping both San Diego State and New Mexico while splitting the season series against Colorado State and Nevada.

The Broncos will face a tough opponent in Pac-12 runner-up Colorado in Dayton on Wednesday, but if they make it out of the First Four they’ll face Florida in the first round and likely Marquette in the second, both of which have been dealing with injury issues heading into the tournament.

11 Seed: New Mexico Lobos (26-9, 10-8 Mountain West)

First Round: 3:10 p.m. Friday vs. 6 Clemson (TruTV)

As an unapologetic mid-major enthusiast, I feel no shame in putting three teams from the Mountain West on this list. The Lobos were not supposed to make the tournament, but under the leadership of head coach Richard Pitino (Rick’s son), New Mexico won four games in four days to sweep the Mountain West tournament, earning them an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. This victory wasn’t necessarily a fluke, however. The Lobos have been a good team all year, and defeated tournament teams San Diego State, Nevada, Colorado State, and Utah State in the regular season en route to a respectable 26-9 record.

New Mexico will look to make a statement win on Friday afternoon against Clemson, a team which has lost a handful of games in inexplicable fashion this season, including a 21-point loss to Boston College last week in the ACC tournament. Look for the Lobos to get it done on Friday before likely facing 3-seed Big 12 powerhouse Baylor in the second-round.

12 Seed: McNeese Cowboys (30-3, 17-1 Southland)

First Round: 7:25 p.m Thursday vs. 5 Gonzaga (TBS)

I’ve been following McNeese for months at this point, and I can truly say that they’ve been one of the best stories in basketball this season. After a somewhat rocky 5-2 start to non-conference play, the Cowboys have since exploded to a 30-3 record and a Southland Conference championship under former LSU head coach Will Wade, with the team boasting one of the best three-point percentages and turnover margins in the country, a recipe for upsetting goliaths.

The Cowboys are on an 11-game winning streak, and they will seek to continue that in their first tournament matchup Thursday night against #5 Gonzaga, a team which hasn’t played consistently all year. If they beat the Bulldogs and a Kansas team which has faltered towards the end of the season, McNeese could easily be this year’s Cinderella team and reach the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

13 Seed: Samford Bulldogs (29-5, 15-3 Southern)

First Round: 9:55 p.m. Thursday vs. 4 Kansas (TBS)

I think Samford might just be the lowest-seed to earn an upset win this year. The Bulldogs have had one of the most respectable performances of the smaller-conference teams this year, and currently have a KenPom ranking of 81, which is among many decent high-major teams. 

The Bulldogs play their first tournament matchup Thursday night against 4-seed Kansas, who as mentioned earlier hasn’t played great down the stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulldogs were able to pull off the upset in this one.

14 Seed: Oakland Golden Grizzlies (23-11, 15-5 Horizon)

First Round: 7:10 p.m. Thursday vs. 3 Kentucky (CBS)

Unlike many of the other low-seeds on this list, Oakland has experience playing a number of high-major teams this season and amassed one of the best non-conference strength of schedule ratings in the country. While the Golden Grizzlies didn’t win much out of conference, they did upset Xavier—something which the Hoyas failed to do twice—and cruised to a Horizon League championship and a tournament berth.

Oakland will be squaring up on Thursday night against 3-seed Kentucky, an SEC powerhouse currently ranked #12 in the AP poll. While I think it’s unlikely that the Golden Grizzlies will beat the Wildcats, I do think they’ll make it an exciting game.

15 Seed: Long Beach State Beach (21-14, 10-10 Big West)

First Round: 2:00 p.m. Thursday vs. 2 Arizona (TBS)

One week ago, the Long Beach State Beach looked like a broken team. After a non-conference slate which included impressive wins over high-majors like Michigan and USC, the Beach struggled in conference play, losing five straight games before announcing last Monday that their head coach, Dan Monson, would be fired at the end of the season. With nothing to lose, the Beach suddenly started playing with a spring in their step, upsetting both UC Irvine and UC Davis to win the Big West Tournament and earning a bid to the Big Dance.

Long Beach State will play 2-seed Arizona on Thursday afternoon in Salt Lake City. While it’s unlikely that the 15-seed will pull off the upset, look for the Beach to keep the game close.

16 Seed: Montana State Bobcats (17-17, 9-9 Big Sky)

First Four: Wednesday 6:40 p.m. vs 16 Grambling State (TruTV)

A 16-seed has only defeated a 1-seed twice in the history of the men’s NCAA tournament, so I figured I might as well pick a First Four team as my 16-seed of choice so that there’s a bit of a chance in my pick being correct.

With that being said, I like Montana State on Wednesday against Grambling State. The Bobcats have made the tournament three years in a row, and looked good in their upset against Montana in the final round of the Big Sky tournament to earn the conference’s autobid. Look for Montana State to secure their victory on Wednesday en route to a first-round matchup against 1-seed Purdue, a team which stunningly lost to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson last year.

Henry Skarecky
Henry is the Sports Editor and is a junior in the SFS. He is an enthusiast of college football at all levels, and also enjoys curling, playing the violin, eating Chipotle, riding Japanese trains, and complaining about the Chicago Bears.

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