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Three good teams you need to know in the 2023 NCAA Tournament

They aren’t the No. 1 seeds, but here’s three candidates to come charging through the bracket that you might not expect.

The Drake Bulldogs pose for a photo with the Missouri Valley Conference trophy after defeating the Bradley Braves in the finals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at Enterprise Center. Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness is here, and the only thing we know is that all 32 better-seeded teams are absolutely not winning their first round games.

So who are the smaller schools that can make a run and win some games, perhaps even get to the Sweet 16 and beyond?

We take a look at three candidates to become America’s darlings in March in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Colgate Raiders

Record: 25-8, 17-1 Patriot
Coach: Matt Langel
KenPom overall: 114
KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency: 44
KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency: 232
Pace: 156
PPP overall: 1.130
Leading scorer: Tucker Richardson
NET: 101
Quad 1 record: 0-1
Against The Spread: 17-16-0
Over Total: 20-13-0

Let’s face it: Colgate isn’t going to get a lot of stops against Texas in their first round matchup. But the Raiders do one thing better than anyone in college basketball, and that’s shoot the three: They are No. 1 in the nation at a preposterous 40.9% from downtown, and they also return four seniors from last season’s NCAA Tournament team that was leading Wisconsin well into the second half.

It’s a tough draw, but not an impossible one. If we’re going to see a No. 15 beat a No. 2 this year, it’s likely the team from Hamilton, New York.

No. 12 Drake Bulldogs

Record: 26-7, 15-5 Missouri Valley
Coach: Darian DeVries
KenPom overall: 65
KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency: 98
KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency: 44
Pace: 222
PPP overall: 1.065
Leading scorer: Tucker DeVries
NET: 54
Quad 1 record: 1-1
Against The Spread: 16-16-1
Over Total: 15-18

The Bulldogs are getting a wounded ACC regular season champion Miami team, and they’re pretty good themselves. One of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country (they recover 77.6% of opponents bricks), they’ve won 13 of their last 14 and got a win over their best opponent this year in Mississippi State on a neutral floor.

Tucker DeVries (19.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 39% from 3-pt range) can fill it up, and the lack of Norchad Omier for the Canes only adds to their presence inside. If Miami is going to score, they better do it on their first shot of the possession. Because Drake will get good looks themselves, and they can keep up with what has been of the nation’s better offenses this season.

No. 12 VCU Rams

Record: 26-7, 15-3 Atlantic 10
Coach: Mike Rhoades
Qualifier: Automatic Bid
KenPom overall: 66
KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency: 149
KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency: 17
Pace: 139
PPP overall: 1.016
Leading scorer: Ace Baldwin
NET: 58
Quad 1 record: 1-1
Against The Spread: 18-15-1
Over Total: 14-20-0

Some really good mid-major teams sometimes get a bad draw in the NCAA Tournament, and they’re never heard from again. But if VCU had to pick any team on the top six tournament seed lines to play, they very well might have circled the Gaels of Saint Mary’s.

VCU should start pressing SMC at the team walkthroughs on Thursday in Albany. Blitz, blitz, and blitz some more should be the strategy here, as the Gaels have really struggled against full court pressure late this season. And that KenPom adjusted defense number of 17 should translate and match up really well here.

When the Rams need a bucket, Ace Baldwin (12.7 ppg, 5.9 apg) should be enough of an answer against the famous drop coverage of Randy Bennett and Saint Mary’s. But the Rams should get plenty of stops after makes, as those makes will lead to a set defense that can force turnovers and late-clock misses.