8 Red-Hot Teams to Watch in Your 2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket

Tom Izzo's Spartans usually save their best for March Madness

Last year the Kentucky Wildcats were considered the favorites entering the NCAA Tournament. While Kentucky didn't win the national championship (Duke Blue Devils), the Wildcats advanced to their 17th Final Four.

 

Unlike last year, the 2016 NCAA Tournament is completely wide open as there's a legitimate case for 15-20 teams winning the national championship. While everyone knows about the Kansas Jayhawks, North Carolina Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans, there are a few other teams that could bust up a number of brackets.

 

So who are the teams people should know as we get ready for another installment of March Madness?

 

Oregon Ducks (28-6)

Oregon destroyed Utah 88-57 on Saturday to win the Pac-12 Tournament. There might not be a hotter team in the country than the Ducks, who received the No. 1 seed in the West Region.

 

Oregon has won eight straight games and is second in the country in RPI. Leading scorer Dillion Brooks is averaging 16.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. If you're looking for a team outside of Kansas and North Carolina that could cut down the nets next month, Oregon could make a surprise run to the Final Four in Houston.

 

Michigan State Spartans (28-5)

For a team with nearly 30 wins and a Big Ten Tournament championship to its credit, Michigan State has been a bit under the radar this season, which is the way head coach Tom Izzo likes it. The Spartans did have a mid-season slump when Denzel Valentine was injured. But since his return, Michigan State looks like one of the best teams in the country.

 

Izzo and his Spartan teams usually save their best for the NCAA Tournament and this year may not be any different.

 

Kentucky Wildcats (26-8)

On Sunday, Kentucky won another SEC Tournament, defeating Texas A&M in overtime. The Wildcats have won 10 out of their last 12 games, as head coach John Calipari has his young and talented team peaking at the right time.

 

Kentucky has a good enough frontcourt and a great backcourt with SEC Player of the Year Tyrler Ulis and Jamal Murray (averaging 20.2 points per game) to make a serious run to Houston and the Final Four.

 

UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (25-7)

Kevin Keatts, a former Louisville Cardinals assistant under Rick Pitino has done an incredible job in his first two seasons at UNC-Wilmington. All he has done is win the CAA Conference Coach of the Year in consecutive years and he guided the Seahawks to a CAA Conference Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2006.

UNC-Wilmington plays small ball and is led by junior guard Chris Flemmings. In his first season playing for the Seahawks after transferring from Division II Barton College, Flemmings leads the team in scoring (16.1 ppg) while chipping in nearly six rebounds per game as well.

UNC-Wilmington's defense could be the biggest reason the Seahawks make some noise. Opponents shoot just 34.1 percent from three-point land, a key component for teams looking to advance in the Tournament.  

 

Seton Hall Pirates (25-8)

For the first time 23 years, Seton Hall won the Big East Conference Tournament, which secured the Pirates' first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006. Seton Hall will enter the Tournament winners of eight out of its last nine games.

 

The Pirates are led by Isaiah Whitehead, who averaged 23.3 points per game during the Big East Tournament and was named the Most Outstanding Player.

 

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (27-5)

On Saturday, Stephen F. Austin won its third straight Southland Conference Tournament, as the Lumberjacks defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 82-60. Stephen F. Austin has won 20 straight games and has not lost since Dec. 29 (UAB).

 

The Lumberjacks play a high-pressure defense that’s complemented by an effective and efficient offense. Stephen F. Austin has the talent and roster to pull off an upset in the Big Dance much like it did in 2014, when the 12th-seeded Lumberjacks beat No. 5 VCU.

 

Northern Iowa Panthers (22-12)

Northern Iowa has won six straight games, the last three coming in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Panthers have several good quality wins this season, as they have defeated fellow Tournament teams North Carolina, Iowa State, Stephen F. Austin and Wichita State (twice).

 

The Panthers core of Wes Washpun, Jeremy Morgan, Paul Jesperson and Matt Bohannon are going to be tough for any team to slow down. Northern Iowa has the potential to play into the second weekend of the Tournament.

 

Green Bay Phoenix (23-12)

For the first time in 20 years, Green Bay will be dancing after winning the Horizon League Tournament. The Phoenix are one of the fastest teams in the country, as they average 79.8 possessions per game. Carrington Love (17.7 ppg, 3.5 apg) is one of the best players not many people know about, but that could change this week. With an offense as good as the Phoenix and a top defense, Green Bay could potentially pull off an upset or two.

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

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