Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

Five Dark Horse NCAA Tournament Teams

Kris Dunn, Providence
Every single year, the NCAA Tournament is full of at least one "Cinderella", a team rising from a high seed to make a deep tourney run. It is really inevitable, with a tournament full of 68 teams one team is sure to be under seeded, or has momentum at the right time, or just gets the right side of a bracket needed to make a run. It can be mid-majors making a run to the Final Four (George Mason, Butler, VCU, Wichita State) or more notable programs regaining their footing in the college basketball landscape (UConn, Kentucky last season). It is nearly a sure thing that somebody will force many to burn their brackets in disgust. Here are five that could go on truly magical runs this March/April:

Murray State Racers (projected 12-13 seed)
Hailing from the Ohio Valley Conference, Murray State has the 267th strength of schedule in the entire nation, but don't expect that to stop the Racers from making some noise. The Racers have dominated the weak OVC all season long, going 16-0, thanks in large part to a high-scoring efficient offense. Murray State averages 78.8 points per game (13th in the entire nation), while shooting just under 49% from the field. While the NCAA Tournament is going to have tougher defenses than say, Tennessee-Martin and other Ohio Valley squads, the Racers have many of the key ingredients needed to make a run. Their offense can score in bunches, they have a high-scoring dangerous guard in sophomore Cameron Payne (20.2 points per game), great athleticism and perhaps most importantly, experience. Head coach Steve Prohm has been here in the NCAA Tournament before, and the Racers first appeared on the national radar when they hit a memorable shot over Vanderbilt in the 2010 Tournament. With skilled guard Cameron Payne and a ton of other weapons, Murray State has the tools to pull of an upset, and 12 and 13 seeds are always incredibly dangerous.

Providence Friars (projected 5-7 seed)
The Big East hasn't gotten the credit it deserves all season long, but it has a legit shot to put in six teams into the field (over half the conference). But, one of those teams is especially, the Providence Friars, making their second straight Tournament appearance under head coach Ed Cooley. The Friars are armed with one of the nation's most underrated players, do-it-all guard Kris Dunn. Dunn is averaging 15.2 points per game (on 48% shooting), 5.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game along with nearly three steals per game. Add in the dynamic scoring punch senior forward LaDontae Herron, and Providence has plenty of offensive firepower. The Friars went 21-9 this season but proved themselves time and time again against the nation's 11th-toughest schedule. Providence has beat Notre Dame, Butler and Georgetown twice and has also played against both Villanova and Kentucky, two top-tier teams, meaning they will not be intimidated by the strong teams they will face during tourney time. While Providence is set to be a six or seven seed at the moment, a strong showing in the Big East tournament could push them as high as a four or five seed. Armed with Dunn, Herron and a pretty decent amount of depth, the Friars could be extremely scary come NCAA Tournament time.

Harvard Crimson (projected 12-14 seed)
It is not hard to know why the Crimson are on their list. Tommy Amaker has built a program to be reckoned with at Harvard, and the Crimson have advanced into the third round the last two seasons, defeating third-seeded New Mexico two years ago and beating fifth-seeded Cincinnati last season. Intelligent guard Siyani Chambers continues to improve and will lead the Harvard offense, much like he has done the past two seasons. While not an extremely dangerous shooter, the lefty can make big shots and orchestrates the Crimson offense well. Dangerous wing Wesley Saunders is a true offensive weapon, who is sure to give defenses problems in a variety of different ways. While Harvard's postseason history makes them an easy candidate on this list, it will be interesting to see how they handle teams in the tourney that are more competitive than the Ivy League. The Crimson's only RPI Top 50 team they've played this year is Virginia, who beat them by nearly 50 points and held the Crimson's offense to just 27 points. That offensive output will obviously not do in March, but Harvard does have an especially stingy defense. Their experience should also put them in good position, and make them a very scary team, hovering around a 12 or 13 seed.

Oregon Ducks (projected 7-10 seed)
Following an offseason full of dismissals amid sexual assault allegations, Oregon basketball has put it all together in impressive fashion down the stretch this year. A huge victory against Stanford not only likely burst the Cardinal's bubble but only further locked Oregon in the field. The Ducks have one of the nation's premier scorers in Houston transfer Joseph Young. Although relatively small, Young is incredibly quick, a superb athlete and exceptional shooter and those abilities should guide Oregon's high-flying offense. Along with Young, junior forward Dwayne Benjamin continues to put up strong numbers, especially on the offensive and defensive glass, while wing slasher Elgin Cook is a load to handle, averaging over 13 points per game, while shooting over fifty percent from the field. The Ducks have the explosive offense that can do damage in March, and their late season run has certainly given Oregon a dangerous amount of momentum. Led by Young, anything is possible for an Oregon team that continues to improve each and every day.

LSU Tigers (projected 9-11 seed)
It is pretty amazing how quickly Johnny Jones has transformed LSU back into a strong program inside the SEC, and while 2015-2016 is supposed to be the breakout year (nation's No. 1 recruit Ben Simmons arrives), don't overlook the Tigers at all this March. LSU has two of the nation's most versatile forwards in Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey, both sophomores who could join Simmons next year. Neither are huge, but both are very athletic and can finish around the rim, most of the time in very entertaining fashion. While the two sophomores have been huge, the play of wing Tim Quarterman and point guard Josh Gray has really been the major reason for LSU's likely tournament appearance. Gray is still prone to mistakes at times but is a strong defender who can play well in big moments, and none are bigger than the bright lights of March Madness. Depending on LSU's performance against Arkansas and in the SEC Tournament, they could fluctuate as high as an eight seed or possibly drop to around an 11, but either way they could be a major sleeper. While a 10-7 SEC record (as of this point) might not overwhelm most, LSU's performance against Kentucky earlier in the year, despite losing, proved they are a dangerous team with a ton of talent who just needs to figure out how to harness it to make a deep tourney run.

Others to Watch
Ohio State Buckeyes
Iowa State Cyclones
Michigan State Spartans
Northern Iowa Panthers
Iona Gaels
Dayton Flyers

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.