This article originally appeared at numberFire, powered by FanDuel.
Using analytics from KenPom, BartTorvik, and numberFire’s nERD formula, let’s identify the most under-seeded teams in the men’s 2023 NCAA Tournament field.
Given that we can be surprised over how certain teams are seeded on Selection Sunday, it’s no surprise that sometimes there are teams that are, perhaps, under-seeded based on how good they truly are.
We have an easy way to determine that here at numberFire: we can compare each team’s nERD score — a metric we use to represent an expected point differential over an average opponent on a neutral court — to the historical average of their given seed.
Now, in order to enhance your bracket and betting picks with the most underrated March Madness teams of 2023, here are the 10 squads with the largest gaps between their nERD and the historical seed average for this year’s men’s NCAA Tournament.
10. Auburn Tigers (9 Seed, Midwest)
- nERD: 11.64
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.28
At 20-12, the Auburn Tigers drew a 9-seed in the Midwest region, but numberFire’s model sees them more as a No. 7 seed.
While you need to win games no matter what, the Tigers were just 4-7 in games decided by five points or fewer. That’s the sixth-worst winning percentage in close games among all 68 tournament teams.
Our model is leaning on them to be able to beat Iowa in their 8-9 matchup in the Midwest.
9. Creighton Bluejays (6 Seed, South)
- nERD: 13.50
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.29
Another team with bad luck in close games is the Creighton Bluejays, who went 3-6 in close games, ranking them fifth by win percentage among tournament squads.
KenPom actually ranks the Bluejays 13th overall thanks to a top-30 offense and defense. They’re 329th in KenPom’s luck rating, and we could see a Sweet 16 run through the North Carolina State Wolfpack and Baylor Bears (or the California-Santa Barbara Gauchos).
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs (3 Seed, West)
- nERD: 15.94
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.37
The Gonzaga Bulldogs rank sixth in numberFire’s power rankings and are eighth at KenPom and seventh at BartTorvik. Despite top-eight marks by the metrics, they’re not a 2 seed but rather a 3 seed.
The Zags are 6-4 against Quad 1 teams but have better underlying efficiency in those games than the record implies.
As a team that always has high hopes in March, the Bulldogs may finally surprise us this year after getting off to a slow start to the season.
7. UCLA Bruins (No. 2 Seed, West)
- nERD: 17.81
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.45
The UCLA Bruins are third or better in the power rankings here at numberFire and over at BartTorvik and KenPom. However, they drew a 2 seed in the West.
The team has all the trends that eventual champions possess but are dealing with injuries to junior guard Jaylen Clark (out for the season) and freshman center Adem Bona (whose status for the tournament remains unclear).
It’s a super-talented squad that can’t be overlooked.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks (No. 8 Seed, West)
- nERD: 12.71
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.51
Let’s go back to the close-game discussion. The Arkansas Razorbacks are 3-5 in five-point games. They’re 4-10 against Quad 1 opponents, too.
Overall, then, Arkansas’ season has been marred by injuries and underperformance. BartTorvik ranks them 11th in the nation in talent rating, which accounts for recruiting ratings and playing volume.
A dangerous team, Arkansas seems to have an edge over another team that isn’t exactly ripping off wins, the Illinois Fighting Illini, in the opening round.
5. Florida Atlantic Owls (No. 9 Seed, East)
- nERD: 12.26
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.90
What’s that? A team that’s actually been good in close games? Yep. The FAU Owls are 9-1 in five-point games, but they’re also 31-3 overall, so it’s natural that they had some good luck in close matchups.
They’re 2-1 in three Quad 1 games, all three of which were on the road.
Ultimately, they’re a bit untested, as a result, but they rank 20th at numberFire, 30th at BartTorvik, and 26th at KenPom.
4. Connecticut Huskies (No. 4 Seed, West)
- nERD: 16.01
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +1.93
Another team that has the makings of a future champion, the Connecticut Huskies have twice been the exception to all the rules when it comes to winning the Big Dance in recent years.
Of their eight losses, four of them were by five points or fewer, and they were actually 0-4 in five-point games. That makes them the only tournament team without a close win all season.
By and large, this is a great team, and it’s surprising to see them as a 4 seed. nERD thinks they should be a 2 seed.
3. Tennessee Volunteers (No. 4 Seed, East)
- nERD: 16.19
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +2.11
Up next, we’ve got another No. 4 seed that’s close to a historical 2-seed. The reason for it is that the Tennessee Volunteers, behind the nation’s best defense, are coming in underrated from an overall efficiency standpoint.
Your offense has to be really bad to waste the country’s top defense, but I will point out that their offense ranks poorly enough that they may not be a great pick to win it all.
In total, they’re 7-7 in Quad 1 games with an adjusted offensive efficiency that would rank them 86th in such matchups. They’re a strong 4 seed but will need to answer questions offensively if they want to beat 67 other teams.
2. West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 9 Seed, South)
- nERD: 12.50
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +2.14
Overall on the season, the West Virginia Mountaineers rate out as an underrated squad, but I will point out that they’re only 5-5 over their past 10 games.
Still, they rank 19th here at numberFire and at BartTorvik; KenPom has them even better (17th).
The record (19-14) doesn’t reflect the underlying data, which tells us this is a top-15 offense and a top-50 defense. nERD has them close to a historical 6 seed.
1. Utah State Aggies (No. 10 Seed, South)
- nERD: 12.98
- nERD vs. Seed Average: +2.51
No list of 2023’s most underrated March Madness teams is complete without the Aggies. The metrics really believe in Utah State, who boast a top-15 adjusted offense in the nation.
The numberFire model ranks them 16th in the nation. KenPom’s got the Aggies 18th overall, while BartTorvik ranks them 25th.
Their nERD score is close to a historical 5-seed (13.28) or 6-seed (12.21). That’s why our algorithm really likes their odds against the Missouri Tigers in the 7-10 matchup in the South region.
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