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5 NCAA Tournament Dark Horse Teams for March Madness 2020

Geo Baker & Rutgers
With college football now officially in the rear-view, the next college sporting event? None other than March Madness. If you haven't been following college basketball so far this season, one thing you should know: this has been the year of upsets, and this March is sure to be crazier than ever. With that in mind, I break down five teams who could cause the most chaos come NCAA Tournament time. Not all of these teams are even guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance, but they're worth keeping a close eye on as we inch closer and closer to Tournament time.

Liberty Flames (19-3 overall, 5-2 conference)
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2019
Projected Seed: 11-14
Although two consecutive losses have hurt Liberty's chances of playing in the Big Dance, this is still an incredibly dangerous mid-major. The Flames defeated Mississippi State as a 12-seed in the Tournament last spring, and most of that team returned this season, including guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz and forward Scottie James. This isn't going to be a team that wins on their offense, but instead on their defense, the second best in the entire country, allowing just 51.5 points per game. They play physical defense on the wings, and they don't allow anything down low. They'll still have to figure some things out over the next month and a half to return to the postseason, but this program has established itself as one of the stronger in the mid-major ranks. They also just so happen to play in a conference known for producing Cinderella stories, the Atlantic Sun.

Vermont Catamounts (15-6 overall, 5-1 conference)
Conference: America East
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2019
Projected Seed: 12-13
Speaking of top mid-major programs, one only has to go to Burlington, Vermont, to see an extremely dangerous UVM program. Since 2010, the Catamounts have played in the NCAA Tournament four times, including 2019, when they battled fourth-seeded Florida State for the entire forty minutes. They'll be an incredibly tough out for anybody they see this year, assuming they can hold off teams like Albany, Hartford and Stony Brook in the America East. This is another really quality defensive team with veteran experience, two of the most common components of Cinderella teams. However, they can still score points in a hurry when necessary, thanks in large part to forward Anthony Lamb. Although Lamb's numbers have dipped down from 2018-2019, when he averaged 21.2 points per game on 51% shooting, he's still a prolific scorer that can get to the rim against any defender. If he can catch fire, the Catamounts have enough elsewhere to really overwhelm some opponents. They've been popular upset picks in the Tournament last year and in 2017 and haven't been able to deliver, but I think this is the Vermont team that's finally going to get it done.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-5 overall, 6-3 conference)
Conference: Big Ten
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1991
Projected Seed: 6-10
It's hard to say how much of a "dark horse" Rutgers is this year, as their play this season has been one of the great stories in college basketball. They have their best team since coming to the Big Ten, and look poised to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. What's very impressive is how Steve Pikiell has built the program: by landing unheralded recruits and slowly developing them into the system. It's a difficult recipe in the Big Ten, but it has left this team tough, gritty and experienced. They play hard for the entire game and remind me a lot of last year's Texas Tech team. They might not have a Jarrett Culver on this team, but Geo Baker is a stud when healthy, and Ron Harper Jr. has looked like he can be a leading man. Depending on what happens over the next half of the conference schedule, the Scarlet Knights could have a massive seed range. They have a brutal schedule to finish up the regular season in late February and March, but I think that should be a good thing for this team. It will give them the experience and fortitude they will need to succeed in the Big Dance.

Memphis Tigers (14-5 overall, 3-3 conference)
Conference: American Athletic
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2014
Projected Seed: 7-11
Memphis is a team on the decline right now, still fresh off a shocking 40-point loss to Tulsa. But, based on pure talent, this is the type of team that can create some real chaos. If they can get hot, with their athleticism and scoring punch, I'd watch out. Of course, this prediction would look even better if James Wiseman was still enrolled at the school, but after running into eligibility issues, he decided to prepare for the NBA Draft. Losing the extremely talented rim protector hurts the Tigers on both ends, but there has been other pieces that can pick up the slack. Another former five-star recruit, Precious Achiuwa, has emerged as a real go-to guy who can play both ends as well as anybody. Alongside him, fellow youngsters D.J. Jeffries and Lester Quinones have also stepped up, and seem to be getting more comfortable at the college level. Of course, this team's lack of experience is a significant detriment, but we have seen teams of true freshman make deep Tournament runs (2013 Kentucky, 2015 Duke come to mind). It wouldn't be crazy to see the same thing happen with this Memphis Tigers squad.

William & Mary Tribe (15-7 overall, 7-2 conference)
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: Never
Projected Seed: 13-16
William & Mary holds a distinction only three other original Division 1 basketball programs can claim: never being to the NCAA Tournament. With Northwestern reaching the Big Dance, that list now includes the Tribe, The Citadel, Army and St. Francis (New York). Obviously, that would mean William & Mary just getting to March Madness would be a fabulous story, but I get the sense this team could be ready for something more. This is a balanced group that plays both ends incredibly well, doesn't turn the ball over, has loads of experience, and a proven leading man. That leading man is senior forward Nathan Knight who averages a double-double with 20.5 PPG and 10.4 RPG (while shooting 54% from the field). Joining Knight down low is another behemoth, seven-footer Andy Van Vliet, who is a former Wisconsin transfer that can step out and hit the long ball (39 percent). It's rare in modern college basketball to lean so heavily on two massive forwards who generally do most of their work in the paint, but it works for the Tribe. There a tough matchup not only for mid-major or low-major foes, but also high-major teams that simply don't have the size. This team also earns a spot on the list coming from another conference that has had some incredible Cinderella stories. The Colonial Athletic was the home of two of my favorite March Madness teams, George Mason's Final Four team in 2006, and VCU in 2011.

Others to Keep An Eye On
Winthrop Eagles, Projected Seed: 13-16... Winthrop beat St. Mary's in the non-conference and are currently riding a 10-game winning streak. They'd be a tough opener for any seed, assuming they can clamp down the Big South.
Iowa Hawkeyes, Projected Seed: 4-8... The Hawkeyes have an explosive offense that can hit you in a lot of different ways. Luka Garza has emerged as a bonafide star down low, while Joe Weiskamp is a tough guard on the wing.
Ohio State Buckeyes, Projected Seed: 6-10... Big Ten play has been rough for Ohio State, who has limped to a 3-6 record in the league, but there non-conference play showed the ceiling this team has. They beat Villanova and Kentucky, while dominating a North Carolina team that was at full strength.
Austin Peay Governors, Projected Seed: 12-16... The Ohio Valley Conference is likely to come down to either Murray State or Austin Peay, who are both 8-0 in the league right now. I like the Governors' chances; they have an explosive offense averaging nearly 79 a game, and one of college basketball's most underrated players in Terry Taylor.
LSU Tigers, Projected Seed: 3-7... Another team that may be a loose fit for the "dark horse" label, LSU is currently 6-0 inside the SEC. However, they still haven't got much national attention. This is a tough, veteran-laden team that doesn't have the drama swirling around them and coach Will Wade that they did last year.

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