Skip to content

Five Final Four darkhorses

Mar 20, 2013, 2:00 PM EST

Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament - Championship Getty Images

Despite the thinking for much of the year that the NCAA tournament would be as wide-open as the regular season, many have gone with traditional powers such as Louisville, Indiana and Duke when filling out their brackets. With this college basketball season being as “unpredictable” as it has been, is there an opening for a darkhorse of sorts to get hot and get to Atlanta? Here are five candidates to keep an eye on (seed and region in parentheses).

1. Saint Louis (4-Midwest)

The Billikens, regular season and tournament champions of the Atlantic 10, are well-known by this point in the season. Armed with veterans such as guards Jordair Jett and Kwamain Mitchell and forwards Cody Ellis and Dwayne Evans Jr., interim head coach Jim Crews has the pieces needed to win multiple games in the tournament. Despite landing in the brutal Midwest region, SLU’s attention to detail and its status as one of the best defensive teams in the country (7th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, 10th in points allowed/possession) make them a tough out.

2. Wisconsin (5-West) 

Bo Ryan’s team wasn’t at it’s best down the stretch in their loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game on Sunday afternoon. But with that being said, the Badgers are capable of making a run in the West region. From an efficiency standpoint Wisconsin is similar to Saint Louis: ranked in the fifties offensively but one of the best in the nation defensively. With Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans the Badgers don’t lack for depth in the front court, and point guards Traevon Jackson and George Marshall have improved as the season’s worn on.

3. Syracuse (4-East)

Lacking confidence entering the Big East tournament, Syracuse tallied three wins in New York later and took steps towards the level of play that helped the Orange win 18 of its first 19 games. Of the five teams on this list Syracuse is the only one that ranks in the top 25 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Plenty of teams play zone at some point or another during the year, but how many can do so with the length that Syracuse possesses? And with veterans such as C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Brandon Triche, Syracuse will be formidable in the East.

4. VCU (5-South)

Like Syracuse, VCU offers up a defensive system that will be difficult for opponents to prepare for. “Havoc” is the name of the game for Shaka Smart’s team, with the Rams being the best team in the nation when it comes to forcing turnovers. Opponents have a turnover rate of 28% and average 19.9 turnovers per game. VCU has a deep rotation with guards Darius Theus and Briante Weber spearheading their full-court pressure, and Treveon Graham leads four players in double figures with an average of 15.5 points per game.

5. Arizona (6-West)

Those three McDonald’s All-American big men haven’t played to the level many expected of them before the season began and the Wildcats struggled at time in Pac-12 play. But Sean Miller’s team doesn’t lack for talent, and in senior wings Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom and senior point guard Mark Lyons the Wildcats have tournament experience. The keys for Arizona: defending the three-pointer better than they have for much of the season (opponents shoot 36% from three) and getting consistent production from the trio of Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski.

Others to consider: Oklahoma State (5-Midwest); Butler (6-East). 

Tempo-neutral stats from kenpom.com

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Latest Posts
  1. Another Michigan point guard playing through injury

    Mar 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Michigan point guard Spike Albrecht has been battling a hip injury this season.

  2. Maryland big man will have MRI after missing Michigan game

    Mar 1, 2015, 12:45 PM EST

    Virginia v Maryland Getty Images

    Maryland might miss Michal Cekovsky for some time after the freshman big man was injured during warm-ups on Saturday.

  3. Kansas State lands guard commitment in 2015 class

    Mar 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EST

    (DMV Elite) (DMV Elite)

    Kansas State picked up a Class of 2015 guard commitment on Sunday.

  4. Kaleb Tarczewski produces another quality outing as No. 7 Arizona beats No. 13 Utah

    Mar 1, 2015, 12:43 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    In a game that saw both teams struggle to find their rhythm, “Zeus” and Gabe York came up big for Arizona.

  5. ‘Medical setback’ sidelines San Diego State senior forward indefinitely

    Feb 28, 2015, 10:25 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Dwayne Polee II had to sit out Saturday’s loss to Boise State as a result of an abnormal reading generated by his cardiac monitor.

  6. You Make the Call: Was Texas guard Isaiah Taylor fouled on this drive?

    Feb 28, 2015, 7:42 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    With the loss Texas drops to 1-11 in games against teams in the RPI Top 50.

  7. Why Iowa State fans shouldn’t hyperventilate after a second straight loss

    Feb 28, 2015, 7:03 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The Cyclones lost at home against Baylor and then lost at Kansas State.

  8. No. 1 Kentucky moves to 29-0 with blowout win over No. 18 Arkansas

    Feb 28, 2015, 7:01 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Kentucky has now won 46 SEC titles, and this group looks poised to add more hardware to the trophy case before the season concludes.

  9. Dayton remains tied for first in the Atlantic 10 with win at No. 22 VCU

    Feb 28, 2015, 5:13 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Having just seven scholarship players hasn’t kept the Flyers from playing a major role in the Atlantic 10 race.

  10. Kansas will sit Cliff Alexander against Texas as NCAA issue could affect eligibility

    Feb 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EST

    Cliff Alexander (AP Photo) AP

    Kansas will be without Cliff Alexander against Texas on Saturday.

  11. #POSTERIZED: Jake Layman runs and hides, still gets dunked on (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 1:55 PM EST

    Jake Layman AP

    Jake Layman didn’t want to get dunked on.

  12. #POSTERIZED: Montrezl Harrell destroys Florida State defender (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 12:21 PM EST

    Pittsburgh v Louisville Getty Images

    Robbie Berwick is not going to like seeing this highlight.

  13. Auburn guard Antoine Mason will miss Saturday’s game to deal with the death of his father

    Feb 28, 2015, 11:15 AM EST

    Auburn Alabama Basketball AP

    Auburn will be without second-leading scorer Antoine Mason as he deals with the death of his father.