The Underdogs of March Madness
Arts & Entertainment editor
With the arrival of March, nearly every sports fan, casual or diehard, gets ready for March Madness. Most of these fans don’t even watch a single college basketball game the entire year but quickly do research to fill out the best bracket possible. Per NCAA.com, there is a 1 in 120.2 BILLION chance of filling out a perfect bracket, yet we all still think ours will be perfect every year. The main reason for these brackets getting ruined is due to upsets and Cinderella teams who shock the world multiple times and go much further than expected. For example, last year we saw Saint Peter’s, a 15 seeded team, advance all the way to the Elite Eight by winning three games. In 2018, Loyola Chicago had a memorable run as the 11 seed who fought their way into the Final Four. Teams like these all cement a legacy in college basketball, and even if we couldn’t predict it fully correctly, there will be another amazing story of a team who wins as the underdog every time out.
One team that looked like they could have caused problems was the 13 seeded Kent State. While many tournament watchers fill out their brackets with basic stats, the Golden Eagles are a team that has thrived on their lesser-known statistics. The stat that sticks out the most for them is their overall turnover margin. They force 16 turnovers per game and give up just 11.3 per game; they are top 20 and top 40 in these categories, respectively. This statistic is considered one of the most accurate when it comes to underdogs preparing to upset higher seeds. The Golden Eagles rank first out of all mid-major NCAA teams in this category and fourth in the whole nation. Along with their team success, they had a prolific scorer in 5th-year guard Sincere Carry, who scored 17 points and five assists per game. They also had a two-way specialist in their second option Malique Jacobs, who averaged three steals per game, the second best clip in the country. With those players in the backcourt, and an ability to lock up any team while taking care of the ball, the Kent State Golden Eagles were an underdog that had a chance to make a very deep tournament run. Despite all this hype, Kent State went on to lose to the University of Indiana by 11 points, though they seemed to be battling all game.
Another under the radar team that could have become a Cinderella story is Furman University. Furman was the 13 seed in the South division of the bracket and they beat the University of Virginia, a team who has been badly upset multiple times in recent history. The first thing that any fan will notice with a brief look at Furman is their high-powered offensive production. They averaged 82.1 points per game during the regular season, leading them to a top 35 ranked offense, per KenPom rankings. This production is due to four different players each averaging double figure points this season, but there are two in particular who stand out: Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson. Bothwell, a fifth-year senior guard, averaged a team-leading 18.4 points per game while shooting over 53% from the field. The Paladins’ second option, Slawson, is a 6 '7 " forward who put up over 15 points and seven rebounds per game. He also provided outstanding efficiency, as proven by his 56% field goal percentage and 39.4% from three point range. Slawson has also been Furman’s defensive anchor, as he racked up 1.6 steals and blocks per game this season. As if they couldn’t get more favorable factors, the Paladins’ took a six game winning streak into the tournament, and a record of 14-1 in their last 15 games. Due to their stars and offensive efficiency, plus them being one of the hottest teams in the tournament, Furman was a low-ranked team that had all the potential to make a Final Four appearance and surprise everyone in this year’s NCAA tournament, however they lost to the 5 seeded San Diego State in the second round.
Photo Credit: https://furmanpaladins.com/sports/mens-basketball/roster/jalen-slawson/5101