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Five Dark Horse NCAA Tournament Teams

Collin Sexton, Alabama
March Madness may still be over a month away, but in a sport where parity reigns, it is never too early to identify which teams might be bracket-busters when the NCAA Tournament begins. Here are five that could cause plenty of chaos when the bracket is unveiled:

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Projected 10-13 seed
At this point, it's hard to consider Middle Tennessee a dark horse after what they have done the last two NCAA Tournaments. In 2016, the Blue Raiders stunned second-seeded Michigan State and last season they outplayed Minnesota en route to another first round victory. This year's team is just as dangerous as the last two, headlined by stars Nick King and Giddy Potts. King is one of the most underrated big men in the nation, averaging 21.2 PPG and 7.9 RPG, while Potts has been instrumental in Middle Tennessee's last two Tournament victories. The Blue Raiders are not a great offensive team, but they are stingy on the defensive end, where they allow just 64.9 points per game, 23rd in the nation, which should serve them well when March arrives. Right now, Middle Tennessee sits at 8-1 in the Conference USA, and is the clear-cut favorite to win the league once more, likely setting them up for another March run.

Nevada Wolfpack Projected 7-10 seed
The Mountain West doesn't get much national attention, but there is a lot of quality basketball teams in the conference, most notably Nevada. The Wolfpack sit at 18-4 and are one of the most balanced teams in the country, with depth and experience throughout their lineup. The Martin twins, transfers from NC State, have fueled the Wolfpack's impressive start to the season as well as fellow transfer Kendall Stephens, who came from Purdue. Nevada's resume is actually very impressive, as they have an RPI of 18 and their worst loss of the season was to Wyoming by one on the road. Nevada will have to fend off surging Boise State (18-4 overall, 8-2 in the conference) to win the conference, but this is a very dangerous team that has a very efficient offense. We've seen teams from the Mountain West bust brackets before, and this Wolfpack squad could be the next.

Alabama Crimson Tide Projected 7-9 seed
Legendary head coach Avery Johnson has done a terrific job rebuilding Alabama's basketball program, and this year's team looks like they could cause some damage. The Tide have not been playing very well as of late, going just 7-5 in their last 12. However, the talent on this roster is top-notch, and if the youth grows up quickly this is a very dangerous team. Explosive point guard Collin Sexton is one of the funnest players to watch in college basketball, and the unquestioned leader of this team. Fellow freshman John Petty and playmaker Dazon Ingram are also dangerous offensive weapons, and Alabama continue to improve on the defensive side of the ball. A big non-conference win over Trae Young really helped 'Bama, who was slipping towards the bubble. An important stretch upcoming that includes Florida, Missouri, Mississippi State and Tennessee (all who look like Tournament teams) could decide whether this team is ready to take the next step or still has stuff to work on before postseason plays begins.

Butler Bulldogs Projected 6-9 seed
Even though they haven't made a super deep NCAA run since Brad Stevens was on the sideline, Butler has become one of the most consistent Tournament teams in the country. In their last six Tournament appearances, Butler has won at least one game, and have been agonizingly close to some big upsets over the past few seasons. This year's team is clearly talented too, as they are the only team in the nation who has been able to beat the country's current No. 1 team, Villanova. Contrary to the old Butler teams that relied on their stifling defense, this team has a dangerous offense, led by senior forward Kelan Martin. First-year head coach LaVall Jordan might not quite have the magic that Stevens once did when leading the Bulldogs, but this is a tough, well-rounded team that is very consistent. A Final Four run may not quite be in the cards, but don't be surprised if this team is able to finish off a few big-time teams before they are eliminated.

NC State Wolfpack Projected 10-12 seed
With the lone exception of a bad loss in the non-conference to UNC Greensboro, there isn't a 15-7 team with as impressive as a resume as NC State. The Wolfpack, who are led by new head coach Kevin Keatts, have beaten UNC, Duke, Clemson and Arizona, all teams with an RPI at or better than 14. This clearly shows how dangerous NC State is when they are playing well, but they still lack consistency. Al Freeman and Omar Yurtseven are the Wolfpack's best two offensive options, but they'll need more production from their bench if they are to really make a deep NCAA Tournament run. They will also need to have a great end-of-the-year stretch to even guarantee a spot in the Field of 68, as they sit firmly on the bubble at the moment. There is no stretch that is easy in the brutal ACC, but their last few games of the season are extremely manageable.

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