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. Duke releases awesome ‘mixtape’ to celebrate Coach K’s 1,000th win (VIDEO)

    Jan 27, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    You sometimes forget just how good some of the Duke guards were throughout the years. Here’s a reminder.

  2. New Mexico governor donates $10,000 to Lobo star’s charity

    Jan 27, 2015, 3:33 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Hugh Greenwood made headlines last week for responding to an online troll.

  3. Dan Patrick Show: Coach K talks 1,000 wins, most important player (VIDEO)

    Jan 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    Mike Krzyzewski AP

    Can you guess who the most important player in program history was?

  4. Winter Storms postponing a few college basketball games (UPDATED)

    Jan 27, 2015, 9:16 AM EST

    Ed Cooley (AP Photo) AP

    DePaul may have to reschedule their trip to Providence.

  5. Late Night Snacks: Iowa State tops Texas in top-25 Big 12 battle; North Carolina beats Syracuse

    Jan 26, 2015, 11:45 PM EST

    Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Marcus Paige AP

    North Carolina and Iowa State earned conference home wins on Monday night.

  6. No. 15 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 19 Texas

    Jan 26, 2015, 11:22 PM EST

    Isaiah Taylor, Monte Morris AP

    Iowa State bounced back from a loss against Texas Tech with a big home win over Texas.

  7. Ineligible UCLA freshman forward now allowed to practice with the team

    Jan 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EST

    FIBA FIBA

    UCLA should get a boost in practice with the addition of a four-star freshman forward to its roster.

  8. BYU starting forward could be held out for the rest of 2014-15 season

    Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 PM EST

    Nate Austin AP

    BYU might be without a key frontcourt piece for the rest of the season.

  9. Report: Wake Forest transfer finds a new spot in the CAA

    Jan 26, 2015, 8:00 PM EST

    Wake Forest Demon Deacons v Arkansas Razorbacks Getty Images

    The son of a former NBA veteran is moving on to a CAA program from Wake Forest.

  10. Washington kicks talented shot blocking big man off the team

    Jan 26, 2015, 6:54 PM EST

    Robert Upshaw (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Washington loses one of the most talented shot blockers in the nation.

  11. Pregame Shootaround: A top-25 Big 12 clash highlights a slow Monday night

    Jan 26, 2015, 6:00 PM EST

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwrjywuxywyyywu3mjy5mddjotbkn2i1nzqynjq3zdhk AP

    Not a lot going on Monday night, but still some great games to check out.

  12. Maryland gets a commitment from top-150 point guard in 2016 class

    Jan 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Mark Turgeon AP

    Maryland grabs an impact point guard in the 2016 class.

  13. Indiana’s Robert Johnson injured, cheerleaders’ folders to blame?

    Jan 26, 2015, 3:52 PM EST

    Maryland v Indiana Getty Images

    Johnson landed awkwardly against Ohio State and may have to miss some time.

  14. Videos of all the wild finishes from an insane weekend in college hoops

    Jan 26, 2015, 12:49 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    A recap of the nine craziest finishes from your college hoops weekend.

  15. Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp arrested on Saturday night

    Jan 26, 2015, 10:28 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Frankamp spent a little more than a year at Kansas before transferring.

  16. Weekly Awards: D’Angelo Russell’s ascension, Kansas takes the next step

    Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    D'Angelo Russell (AP Photo) D'Angelo Russell (AP Photo)

    The best players and most impressive teams from the last week of college hoops.