Skip to content

Five Final Four darkhorses

Mar 20, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT

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. Four-star 2016 center Schnider Herard announces final five schools

    Aug 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Getty Images

    Herard has scheduled official visits to three of the five remaining schools on his list.

  2. Former Missouri wing headed to San Diego State

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT

    Riley LaChance, Montaque Gill-Caesar AP

    The 6-foot-6 Canadian averaged 9.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last season.

  3. Report: 2016 point guard Myles Powell trims list to five

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour/Getty Images Kelly Kline/Under Armour/Getty Images

    Georgetown, Georgia Tech and Saint Joseph’s failed to make the cut for the New Jersey native.

  4. Big Ten releases full conference schedule

    Aug 27, 2015, 7:43 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    Early favorite Maryland and reigning champion Wisconsin both open league play at home.

  5. Former Arkansas forward joins Middle Tennessee State program

    Aug 27, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Williams’ arraignment on first degree suspicion of forgery charges was postponed until September 2.

  6. New mixtape for 2016’s biggest riser, Wenyen Gabriel (VIDEO)

    Aug 27, 2015, 3:35 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/adidas Kelly Kline/adidas

    Gabriel is a five-star prospect with offers from Kentucky and Duke.

  7. Throwback Thursday: When we realized Russell Westbrook was a freak (VIDEO)

    Aug 27, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Westbrook wasn’t a top 25 prospect in high school. He was a top three player in the NBA last year.

  8. Blue Ribbon announces their preseason all-american team

    Aug 27, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT

    Blue Ribbon

    It’s the first preseason all-american team that we’ve seen this summer.

  9. Cody Zeller, Indiana president speak out against recent athlete legal issues

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:41 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Zeller handed out a warning. Michael McRobbie was a bit more upset.

  10. Five-star 2016 combo guard cuts list to four

    Aug 26, 2015, 10:38 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/adidas Kelly Kline/adidas

    Frank Jackson will take an official visit to one of the four schools this weekend.

  11. Highlights of Michigan State’s Italy trip-opening win over Basket Fiorentina

    Aug 26, 2015, 9:31 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Bryn Forbes scored 18 points to lead a balanced scoring attack for the Spartans.

  12. Indiana president none too pleased with recent legal issues involving student-athletes

    Aug 26, 2015, 7:35 PM EDT

    Michael McRobbie AP

    Michael McRobbie’s address came two days after Emmitt Holt and Thomas Bryant were cited for illegal possession of alcohol.

  13. Seton Hall to give scholarship basketball players $2,600 towards cost of attendance

    Aug 26, 2015, 5:41 PM EDT

    Kevin Willard AP

    Seton Hall AD said his coaches haven’t had to deal with negative recruiting re: cost of attendance stipends, but he’s ready to act if so.

  14. Xavier, Mount St. Joseph to launch the ‘Lauren Hill Tip-Off Classic’

    Aug 26, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Lauren Hill raised more than $1.8 million for pediatric cancer research before she passed away.

  15. LSU highlights from Australia trip (VIDEO)

    Aug 26, 2015, 12:06 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    Get a look at potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons.

  16. Richard Pitino gets contract extension, comments on Norwood Teague

    Aug 26, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    He’s still the second-highest paid Pitino in the coaching world.

  17. Times, networks announced for SEC/Big 12 Challenge

    Aug 26, 2015, 10:51 AM EDT

    Reuters Reuters

    A battle between Kentucky and Kansas headlines this event.

  18. 10 year old Ohio State fan worried heart surgery would make him love Michigan

    Aug 26, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    2ljfrxdhjejmccpdr5ccycxi2

    There’s really nothing more important than that for a 10-year old boy.