The 2022 NCAA Tournament provided us with one of the best Cinderella stories in the event's history when No. 15 seed Saint Peter's captured the hearts of everyone across the nation. Not only did the Peacocks stun No. 2 seed Kentucky in the first round, but they advanced all the way to the Elite Eight as the first No. 15 seed to ever make it that far in the Big Dance.
It was an incredible story that sets a high bar for hopefuls in the 2023. With Thursday's first-round games approaching (and don't forget about the First Four action on Tuesday and Wednesday), there are plenty of double-digit seeds lurking with the potential to become darlings.
Even if nothing quite so outlandish as a No. 15 seed making the Elite Eight occurs, there is always the potential for a team playing in the First Four to get hot and make a run. That's what No. 11 seed UCLA did in 2021 on its way to the Final Four. Then, there's always the example of a team that sneaks in after getting hot in their conference tournament and makes a run, like No. 12 seed Oregon State did in 2021.
The bracket is full of Cinderella scenarios and hypothetical matchups that could create a memorable run from someone this March. So, as you fill out your bracket and decide which squad with long shot odds is worth a look, here is one team from each region to consider.
No. 11 seed NC State (23-10)
NC State is all over the map, evidenced by its performance in the ACC Tournament. The Wolfpack throttled Virginia Tech by 20 in a game they desperately needed for their NCAA Tournament hopes. Then, they lost by 26 against Clemson the next day. This team has victories over Duke and Miami but has also lost by double digits on five occasions. With a high-powered offense led by guards Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, the Wolfpack are capable of getting hot and running through Creighton and Baylor, neither of whom are playing particularly well entering the tournament.
No. 13 seed Kent State (28-6)
First up: No. 4 seed Indiana. Then possibly: No. 5 seed Miami.
Kent State lost just 49-44 at Houston on Nov. 26 and just 73-66 at Gonzaga on Dec. 5. This team has the athleticism and toughness to compete at the highest level and represents a difficult draw for No. 4 seed Indiana in the first round. The player to watch is senior guard Sincere Carry, who averages 17.6 ppg. Defense is where this team can hurt you, though. The Golden Flashes allow just 65.7 ppg. Even mighty Houston shot just 32% against these guys. Another senior guard, Malique Jacobs, is second in the nation with 89 steals this season.
No. 12 seed VCU (27-7)
Like Kent State, VCU is a defensively ferocious mid-major team with experience against power conference teams from early in the season. The Rams took down quality foes Pitt and Vanderbilt and nearly added Arizona State to the list. This team is on a nine-game winning streak and was downright nasty in the second half of the A-10 Tournament title game on Sunday, rallying from a six-point halftime deficit by limiting Dayton to 20% shooting. Junior guard Ace Baldwin leads the team in scoring and steals, and is the name to know.
No. 12 seed Oral Roberts (30-4)
First up: No. 5 seed Duke. Then possibly: No. 4 seed Tennessee.
Oral Roberts owns the nation's longest winning streak at 17 games and has the nation's No. 7 scorer in senior guard Max Abmas, who was a hero during the team's Sweet 16 run in 2021. The Golden Eagles were a No. 15 seed then, but are getting some respect this season after standing out as the only team in the country to go unbeaten in conference play. In addition to Abmas, 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover is a 3-point shooting threat who can draw Duke's big men away from the basket. Playing the red-hot Blue Devils is a tough draw for ORU, but this will be the first NCAA Tournament experience for many of Duke's rotation players. ORU has Abmas, Carlos Jurgens, Kareem Thompson and DeShang Weaver -- all of whom were rotation players on the 2021 team that stunned No. 2 seed Ohio State in a first-round game. They will draw on that experience and shouldn't be flustered by the bright lights and big-name opponent.
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