How to pick NCAA tournament underdogs

The key to winning your NCAA tournament bracket is nailing your upset picks. It’s no secret.

So how do you pick your Cinderella teams? By using the knowledge you’ve gained from watching hours and hours of college basketball all season? Ha. No.

Upset teams are chosen using very specific criteria: Team Name, Colors, Entertaining Player Names, Disheveled-ness of Head Coach and Underdog-ity. Same thing every year.

Here are this year’s NCAA tournament underdog evaluations. (Underdogs defined here as mid-major programs with a No. 9 or lower seeding.)


North Carolina A&T (No. 16 Midwest)

Team Name: Aggies

Colors: Blue and Gold

Mascot: An incredibly short bulldog.

Entertaining Player Names: None. That’s a huge strike against the Aggies. No wonder they got stuck in a play-in game.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Cy Alexander has a well-trimmed goatee and often wears a pocket square. Do the Aggies even want to win?

Underdog-ity: High. The 19-16 Aggies didn’t win three games in a row this season until the conference tournament, and they haven’t had a 20-win team since 1988. You definitely don’t have to worry that this team peaked too early.

Liberty (No. 16 Midwest)

Team Name: Flames

Colors: Navy, White and Red

Mascot: Sparky the eagle, who apparently hates children.

Entertaining Player Names: None. The committee picked the play-in teams wisely this year.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: OK. Now we’re getting somewhere. Here we have a center part and negative sideburns. Dale Layer is clearly a man who sees every minute spent on personal grooming as time away from drawing up inbounds plays.

Underdog-ity: Off the charts. If you can pick only one 20-loss team in the tournament, this is the team to pick. (Thankfully, they’re the only 20-loss team in the tournament.)

New Mexico State (No. 13 Midwest)

Team Name: Aggies

Colors: Crimson and White

Mascot: Pistol Pete. Sounds pretty awesome, right? No. It’s a guy in a fake mustache and cheap Halloween cowboy costume.

Entertaining Player Names: Remi Barry is fun to say, but as much fun as making fun of that mascot? No.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Marvin Menzies has to be the best-dressed man in Las Cruces. If only Pistol Pete’s outfit cost one-tenth the price of one of Menzies’ suits.

Underdog-ity: Low. The Aggies have made the NCAA tournament three of the past four years and 20 times overall. On the other hand, how much of a power could they be? I mean, have you seen their mascot? The other mascots probably refuse to sit with him at lunch at mascot school.

Middle Tennessee State (No. 11 Midwest)

Team Name: Blue Raiders

Colors: Royal Blue and White

Mascot: Lightning, a muscular horse-beast that terrifies children.

Entertaining Player Names: Tweety Knight. Boom. We’ve got ourselves a legitimate Sweet 16 contender.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Kermit Davis is fairly well put together. On the plus side, his name is Kermit. Also, Middle Tennessee has an assistant coach named Win Case. Win. It’s like a bracket sign from God.

Underdog-ity: High. The Blue Raiders seem to be the team the big meanies in the national media are hating on in this tournament. You know, like that awful VCU team of two years ago.

Saint Mary’s (No. 11 Midwest)

Team Name: Gaels

Colors: Red and Blue

Mascot: Gael Force One. You can’t help but fear a mascot whose name is a terrible play on words. What other terror might he wreak?

Entertaining Player Names: Beau Levesque. Ooh! Ooh! I’ve got one! Can Saint Mary’s be a Cinderella? You better ... wait for it ... Beau-lieve it!

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Shaved head. Frothing. Tie asunder. Randy Bennett will do nicely.

Underdog-ity: Above-average. Saint Mary’s plays in a mid-major and made the tournament despite not even winning its conference tournament. The audacity!

Valparaiso (No. 14 Midwest)

Team Name: Crusaders

Colors: Brown and Gold

Mascot: The Crusader. The stench inside an all-pleather costume is probably unbearable, but it’s worth it because it looks awesome.

Entertaining Player Names: Bobby Capobianco. “Oh, really? Say my name is entertaining to my face.”

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Oh, I don’t know. Getting swarmed after hitting a famous game-winning shot can make a man look pretty disheveled.

Underdog-ity: Having Bryce Drew as your head coach means your underdog-ity goes to 11. In fact, if you look up underdog-ity in the dictionary, Bryce Drew’s picture is there (in an alternate universe where underdog-ity is a real word).

Albany (No. 15 Midwest)

Team Name: Great Danes

Colors: Purple and Gold

Mascot: One terrified mascot and one angry mascot. The Great Danes had better hope the latter shows up for the tournament.

Entertaining Player Names: None. There goes Albany’s reputation for being the entertainment capital of New York state.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Sufficiently disheveled. You know he won’t let the Great Danes lose without shedding his coat and screaming at least once. That’s all you can ask from a coach come tournament time.

Underdog-ity: Off the charts. They’re playing Duke in the round of 64. They are America’s favorite underdog.


Southern (No. 16 West)

Team Name: Jaguars

Colors: Columbia Blue and Gold

Mascot: Pretty scary. And it’s definitely better than the old mascot.

Entertaining Player Names: Madut Bol. Yes, he is Manute Bol’s son. Feel free to spend the rest of your day watching Manute Bol highlights on YouTube. You’ll no doubt find it’s one of the more enjoyable ways to spend a day.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Roman Banks dresses well. But looking unkempt might come with time. He’s been a head coach for just two seasons. Patience.

Underdog-ity: Low. Southern’s round of 64 opponent is No. 1 seed Gonzaga, a team that has high underdog-ity for a 1-seed. Sorry, Southern. But your underdog-ity has been trumped.

Wichita State (No. 9 West)

Team Name: Shockers

Colors: Black and Gold

Mascot: It’s named WuShock, and it is the stuff of nightmares. Major bonus points.

Entertaining Player Names: Chadrack Lufile, Derail Green, Cleanthony Early, Tekele Cotton. The Shockers have entertaining name depth most teams would kill for.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Who knows. It’s hard to notice anything other than the fact that Gregg Marshall has yellow glasses. Wichita’s LensCrafters must be a wild place.

Underdog-ity: Low. Wichita State is a regular tournament team, and it's playing perennial NCAA tournament disappointment Pitt in the round of 64. It’s hard to be an underdog when you’re a favorite. In fact, it’s like the opposite of the definition of the word.

Boise State (No. 13 West)

Team Name: Broncos

Colors: Orange and Blue

Mascot: I’m going to assume a bronco getting run over by a steamroller that says “BCS” on the side. No? Oh. Never mind. It turns out the mascot is a kind of creepy smiling horse. Even worse.

Entertaining Player Names: Igor Hadziomerovic. It has a certain Ali Farokhmanesh quality to it. Good sign for Boise State.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Leon Rice usually wears a suit and tie, but the Broncos will get a boost if he decides on this orange, ill-fitting, zip-up sweater vest thing.

Underdog-ity: High. The name Boise State is a synonym for “underdog.” And this is Boise State’s basketball program, which takes second billing to its regularly disrespected football program. The underdog is strong in this one.

La Salle (No. 13 West)

Team Name: Explorers

Colors: Blue and Gold

Mascot: Less intimidating when the head is removed. The mascot should take care not to decapitate itself.

Entertaining Player Names: None. This is another team lacking entertaining player names that was forced to start the tournament in Dayton. Greatest selection committee ever? Greatest selection committee ever.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Dr. John Giannini got his doctorate in blind rage.

Underdog-ity: High. La Salle was the second-to-last at-large team let into the tournament. That’s the kind of poor reputation tournament dreams are made of.

Belmont (No. 11 West)

Team Name: Bruins

Colors: Red and Blue

Mascot: Bruiser the Bruin, another mascot intent on scaring children. This seems to be the new trend in mascoting.

Entertaining Player Names: None. But at least that “Mother Goose” book Bruiser has includes some good names like Humpty Dumpty, Jack Sprat, Georgy Porgy, Mother Hubbard and Wee Willie Winkie. Those five would make up a formidable NCAA tournament underdog team.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Rick Byrd enjoys a good sweater vest. Men who are sweater vest aficionados tend not to get very disheveled.

Underdog-ity: Low. Belmont has made it to the NCAA tournament six of the past eight seasons. It’s getting hard to take it seriously as an underdog.

Harvard (No. 14 West)

Let’s not waste our time. Nothing related to Harvard can ever be considered an underdog. “But the big-brained often make terrible athletes!” Ah, how soon we forget the lessons of Linsanity. Linsanity? No? The guy who played for the Knicks who ... no? Nothing? Doesn’t ring a bell? Never mind.

Iona (No. 15 West)

Team Name: Gaels

Colors: Maroon and Gold

Mascot: Abe Lincoln’s evil twin brother.

Entertaining Player Names: None. Sigh. When people talk about how this was a down season in college basketball, they’re talking about the lack of entertaining player names.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Oh, yes. Tim Cluess is the kind of coach America wants to watch for three weeks.

Underdog-ity: Solid. Iona played well down the stretch and hasn’t lost a game by more than three points since Jan. 20. The Gaels are in every game. This is helpful information for your friendly bracket pool and also for other types of, you know ... point-spread-related basketball wagering that is significantly less friendly if you don’t come up with the money you owe.


Western Kentucky (No. 16 South)

Team Name: Hilltoppers

Colors: Red and White

Mascot: Just the greatest mascot ever.

Entertaining Player Names: O’Karo Akamune, who is a transfer from Eastern O’Klahoma State Junior College.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Grimacing, chewing gum, wrinkles and folds, buttons hanging on for dear life. Ray Harper is the whole disheveled package.

Underdog-ity: High. Western Kentucky does well in all categories. We might find the red blob confusing people all the way to the Final Four in Atlanta.

Akron (No. 12 South)

Team Name: Zips

Colors: Blue and Gold

Mascot: Zippy the kangaroo, one of the few female mascots in college sports. Good for her. No doubt that glass ceiling was broken in a hilarious mascot fashion.

Entertaining Player Names: Carmelo Betancourt, Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell. How tall is Tree Treadwell? Seven-foot-3 maybe? No. He's 6-7. MAC trees aren’t quite as big as your major conference trees.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Keith Dambrot always coaches without a suit jacket and can get quite animated on the sideline, yet his tie always stays tied tight. We’ll give him a C+.

Underdog-ity: High. What good basketball players has the town of Akron ever produced? Oh. All right then. Let’s make it medium then.

South Dakota State (No. 13 South)

Team Name: Jackrabbits

Colors: Blue and Yellow

Mascot: Jack Rabbit. I don’t get it.

Entertaining Player Names: None. And definitely not any as complex as Jack Rabbit.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. Scott Nagy has nice suits and short hair. South Dakota’s many fashion critics wouldn’t stand for anything else.

Underdog-ity: Low. South Dakota State has made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances; it has a potential NBA draft pick in Nate Wolters; and Jack Rabbit seems to do pretty well with the ladies.

Northwestern State (No. 14 South)

Team Name: Demons

Colors: Purple and White

Mascot: This poor thing.

Entertaining Player Names: None. So nothing to distract us from the fact that Northwestern State’s mascot has a rip in its arm and looks like Count von Count’s less successful brother.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: There’s a certain disheveled-ness to Mike McConathy. No rip in the elbow, though, unfortunately.

Underdog-ity: Any team named Northwestern is a huge underdog when it comes to postseason basketball.

Florida Gulf Coast (No. 15 South)

Team Name: Eagles

Colors: Cobalt Blue and Emerald Green

Mascot: Azul, the eagle who gets good seats.

Entertaining Player Names: Filip Cvjeticanin. He’s got what looks like it sounds like “jet” and “cannon” in his name. That’s two more awesome things than most of us have in our names.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. Andy Enfield has a David Letterman-style gap in his teeth, but he keeps everything else together pretty well.

Underdog-ity: Very high. Florida Gulf Coast has been in Division I for just two years and has existed only since 1997, which is probably why you'd never heard of it before looking at your bracket. No need to feel ashamed. This time our ignorance has some merit.


LIU Brooklyn (No. 16 East)

Team Name: Blackbirds

Colors: Black and White

Mascot: Just a traditional bird costume. You might not think it looks cool, but that’s the point. It’s ironic. Ah, you’re hopeless.

Entertaining Player Names: Booker Hucks. And, yes, LIU Brooklyn’s colors are black and white, meaning the big corporate Nets came in and stole that from them. Figures.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Brooklyn’s new coach is Jack Perri. You've probably never even heard of him.

Underdog-ity: The Blackbirds have made three consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament. They were a lot better before they went mainstream.

James Madison (No. 16 East)

Team Name: Dukes

Colors: Purple and Gold

Mascot: A guy in a gray Snuggie and a dog head with human mascot eyebrows. Worst of all, its name is Duke Dog, which sounds like a “cool” rapper name a Duke student would give himself.

Entertaining Player Names: Dimitrije Cabarkapa, Andre Nation. We’re one tournament run from basketball fans saying they’re members of Andre Nation Nation.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. Matt Brady is a man who knows his way around a brush, hair dryer and bottle of Aqua Net.

Underdog-ity: High. James Madison hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 19 years. Plus, it has a dog mascot that looks as if it would be seeded 16th in a dog mascot tournament.

Temple (No. 9 East)

A No. 9 seed and mid-major status aside, Temple is not a basketball underdog. The program has a proud and accomplished history. If you want to talk about an underdog team at Temple, look at the football program. The Owls once got kicked out of the Big East for being too bad at football for the Big East. It gets no lower than that.

Montana (No. 13 East)

Team Name: Grizzlies

Colors: Maroon and Silver

Mascot: High-quality for a mid-major. They could have made it a little less friendly-looking, though. It is a grizzly bear, not a teddy bear. Opponents tend not to be intimidated by something they want to cuddle.

Entertaining Player Names: None. But ... wait for it ... wait for it ...

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Their coach’s name is Wayne Tinkle! Who cares how he dresses. Who cares that his players have boring names. This program is run by Tinkle.

Underdog-ity: Low. Montana has made the tournament three of the past four years. On the other hand ... this looks like a hopeless underdog. Our mascots’ heads are falling off!

Bucknell (No. 11 East)

Team Name: Bison

Colors: Orange and Blue

Mascot: Doesn’t seem to terrify children. Strange. It definitely looks like it should terrify children.

Entertaining Player Names: None. They need to do a better job in recruiting.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: High. What is happening to Dave Paulsen here? Who knows. But we want to see more of it.

Underdog-ity: High. Bucknell famously once knocked off Kansas in the NCAA tournament. (No, not that time Kansas got eliminated early. Or that time. No, not that time, either. Nope. Wrong again. Remember now? Yeah. That time.) The Bison's underdog cred is legit.

Davidson (No. 14 East)

Team Name: Wildcats

Colors: Red, White and Black

Mascot: Mr. Cat, who has a giant leather ottoman for a nose and baseball gloves protruding from each cheek. Why? Because that’s how wildcats look. Duh.

Entertaining Player Names: None. But it’s OK. That mascot is entertaining enough.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. Bob McKillop keeps his hair in place even when getting elbowed in the face.

Underdog-ity: The Wildcats made a run in 2008 with Steph Curry, and they made the tournament last year, as well. Show them some underdog respect. After all, their mascot isn’t named Cat; it’s Mr. Cat.

Pacific (No. 15 East)

Team Name: Tigers

Colors: Orange, Black and White

Mascot: PowerCat, who is half tiger, half Santa.

Entertaining Player Names: Sama Taku. He is third on the team in scoring, but first on the team in name.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Bob Thomason has a tie with little cartoon basketball players on it. Bob Thomason is a legend.

Underdog-ity: Pacific lost three games to tournament teams this season. The Tigers lost those games by an average of 22 points per game, including a 28-point loss to Saint Mary’s. There’s no better way to burnish one’s underdog cred than getting crushed by other underdogs. This team is legit.