Each NCAA Tournament brings a new Cinderella team that busts brackets and captures hearts. Last year, 11-seeded Loyola Chicago danced all the way to the Final Four, proving once again that any squad is capable of a magical run.
So, before you grab a salty snack like Wonderful Pistachios and talk about March Madness with your friends, do a little homework and read up on three lower-seeded teams that are poised to make moves in the 2019 edition of the tournament.
While the 12th-seeded Racers aren't close to being the best team, they do boast one of the nation's top players in guard Ja Morant.
The sophomore is averaging 24.6 points, 10 assists, and 1.8 steals per contest, and turned his game up another notch in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament by pouring in 32.5 points per appearance on 56.4 percent shooting, leading Murray State to the title.
A game-changing guard can be the ultimate trump card in the NCAA Tournament. Stephen Curry led 10th-seeded Davidson to within a game of the Final Four in 2008 and Kemba Walker carried UConn to an improbable national championship in 2011. Morant is a projected top-three pick in this year's NBA draft and is more than capable of leading Murray State on a run of its own.
The Pac-12 endured one of its worst seasons in years, which is why Oregon is seeded 12th despite winning the conference tournament. Still, the Ducks are entering the Big Dance as one of the hottest teams in the nation, riding an eight-game winning streak.
Oregon's defense has sparked the turnaround. The Ducks have allowed just 54.3 points per contest during their winning streak, and that end of the court is being anchored by Kenny Wooten's interior shot-blocking presence. Meanwhile, junior guard Payton Pritchard is playing at a high level at both ends, averaging 15.8 points and 2.8 steals per contest during the streak, and freshman forward Louis King has emerged as the scoring option he was expected to be as a five-star recruit.
So, despite losing star freshman Bol Bol for the season, Oregon shouldn't be taken lightly. The team needed some time to find its stride, but the Ducks are finally showing why they were ranked 14th in the preseason AP poll and were considered the Pac-12 favorite.
The 13th-seeded Anteaters dominated Big West Conference play this season, going 15-1 to win the regular-season title before routing Cal State Fullerton by a conference-record 28 points in the tournament final. Defensively, they rank 21st in the nation in opponents' points per game (63.8), while a deeper dive shows they're even more dominant at that end of the court.
UC Irvine opponents are shooting just 37.9 percent from the field and 40.6 percent on 2-point attempts, and those defensive marks rank fourth and first in the nation, respectively. Some of that success can be attributed to seniors Elston Jones and Jonathan Galloway, who've combined for 2.7 blocks per contest while altering plenty more attempts in the paint.
The Anteaters also do a great job on the glass, which limits second-chance opportunities. The team ranks 11th in total rebounds per game (40.3) and 16th in defensive boards per contest (28.5).
It will also help that UC Irvine should have plenty of crowd support during the tournament's opening weekend, with the team's first- and potential second-round matchups just a six-hour drive up the California coast in San Jose.
Are you ready for the madness? Make sure you have lots of snacks handy, like Wonderful Pistachios. According to a survey by the brand, over a third of Canadians snack more when there's more on the line for their team!