One of the most enjoyable parts of the NCAA tournament is seeing which mid-majors become national stories. For this year’s tournament, here’s a look at three schools you should know before the first round begins on Thursday.
#15 seed Colgate (26-8, 17-1 Patriot League, Kenpom #114)
A big upset in March Madness is generally much easier to accomplish if you’re a team that can easily get hot from three. That’s great news for #15 seed Colgate, who currently lead the entire country with a three-point percentage of 40.9 percent.
Colgate’s impressive three-point shooting helped them dominate their conference, going 17-1 in the regular season before winning three straight in the conference tournament to put them in the bracket. The Raiders averaged 78.2 points against conference opponents, while allowing 65.7 points, a difference of 12.5 points per game.
Colgate is also a noteworthy mid-major thanks to prior tournament experience: the Raiders made the NCAA tournament in 2019, 2021 and 2022. While they failed to win a game in any of those years, it does mean they’re unlikely to get rattled by the pressure of the tournament like some schools making their first appearance in decades.
Colgate’s reward for dominating the Patriot League will be a meeting with #2 seed Texas. The Longhorns are fresh off winning the Big 12 tournament and were 12-6 in conference play during the regular season.
The Longhorns rank 97th among 363 teams for opposing three-point percentage, meaning there’s a decent chance they’ll be able to keep Colgate in check. However, I’d still keep my eyes peeled to see if Colgate can provide us with yet another Cinderella from the #15 seed.
#9 seed Florida Atlantic (31-3, 18-2 CUSA, Kenpom #26)
In 2002, the Florida Atlantic Owls won the ASUN Conference tournament to send them to their first NCAA tournament as a #15 seed. Now, it’s 2023 and the Owls are back as a #9 seed.
2022-23 has quite comfortably been FAU’s most impressive season according to both their record and analytics. It’s the first time they’ve won 90 percent of their conference games and the first time they’ve been ranked higher than #129 on Kenpom.
While someone like Colgate is interesting due to impressive three-point shooting, FAU is noteworthy for being well-rounded. Their strong Kenpom ranking is thanks to being in the top 40 for adjusted efficiency on both offense and defense. The Owls are especially noteworthy for their inside defense, with an opposing two-point percentage that’s 11th in the country.
FAU’s seed doesn’t exactly make them a traditional Cinderella, but it’s still a school coming out of nowhere to earn a better seed than power conference schools like #10 seed USC and #11 seed NC State.
FAU’s second-ever game in the NCAA tournament will see them facing Penny Hardaway’s #8 seed Memphis Tigers.
Hardaway’s team is entering the tournament with momentum, having just won the AAC conference tournament by defeating Houston. The Cougars were the #1 seed in the AAC tournament and have earned a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, making it quite the impressive win for Memphis on a neutral floor.
FAU has never won a tournament game, while Memphis has played in a national title game during the 21st century. These teams may have similar seeds, but there is quite a disparity in program success.
#13 seed Iona (27-7, 17-3 MAAC, Kenpom #74)
How often does the NCAA tournament include a #13 seed with a head coach who has seven Final Fours and two national titles under his belt? Even if the NCAA says some of them didn’t happen, that’s still the resume of #13 seed Iona’s Rick Pitino.
Pitino returned to college basketball after the Louisville scandal by taking the job at Iona before the 2020-21 campaign and has put together three consecutive winning seasons. He made the NCAA tournament in 2020-21’s pandemic season and now has another chance with Iona in much more normal circumstances.
The Iona Gaels are also entering the tournament with a 14-game winning streak, having last lost on January 27 against Siena. In their last 14 games, Iona has averaged 78 points per game while allowing 61.4 points per game, an average margin of victory of 16.6 points.
The selection committee also showed a flair for the dramatic when picking Iona’s opponent and location: a meeting with #4 seed UConn in Albany.
Pitino has prior experience with UConn from his time with Louisville in the Big East, giving Iona a more intriguing opponent than another #4 seed like Tennessee or Indiana. Pitino’s Louisville faced UConn 13 times in the Big East, going 8-5.
Adding to the intrigue is that UConn has already shown they’re vulnerable to a first-round upset. Last year as a #5 seed, the Huskies were defeated by the #12 seed New Mexico State Aggies.
As for the geography, Iona’s campus is approximately 150 miles away from the MVP Arena in Albany, giving them a unique opportunity to play close to home as a double-digit seed. For context, #12 seed Drake will be over a thousand miles away from their campus in Iowa when they play their first-round game in Albany.
A legendary coach at a mid-major facing a program with multiple national titles is perhaps the best storyline of the first round. Let’s see if Pitino has a few more tricks up his sleeve.
Jordan Katz is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, where he worked for The Diamondback as the online managing editor and a sports blogger. As a student, he spent almost all of his time on campus in The Diamondback’s newsroom or at Xfinity Center, Ludwig Field and Maryland Stadium. Jordan gained intern experience with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).