5 Teams To Watch For in NCAA Tournament
As March Madness gets into full swing this week, pencils are being sharpened, factoids are being studied and basketball junkies are trading sleeper picks around the water cooler. But, sleepers don't win brackets, smart, well-thought-out picks do. Here are 5 teams to watch for in the 2012 Big Dance that are not #1 seeds.
The Commodores are coming off of maybe the program's biggest victory with a win over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. There is a real chance for a let down here as Vanderbilt has underachieved at times, but they can run with the big dogs. The Commodores have three players averaging double figures, led by 6'4″ John Jenkins. Jenkins led the SEC in scoring at 20 points per game. He leads the nation in 3-pointers, averaging nearly four per game. If Vanderbilt can defend the basketball like they did in the SEC Tournament, they have a chance to knock off Syracuse and make a run to the Elite Eight.
The Wolverines quietly put together a very good season in the Big Ten, gaining a three-way share of the regular season conference title. But, the Wolverines looked average in the Big Ten Tournament, nearly losing against the lowly Gophers in the second round and getting handled by Ohio State in the semi-finals. However, freshman guard Trey Burke is the type of player who can emerge when the spotlight is brightest. The 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year averages nearly 15 points a game and almost five assists per contest. Team him up with Tim Hardaway Jr and Zack Novak and the Wolverines have three legitimate scorers. A favorable draw means they wouldn't have to face North Carolina until the Sweet Sixteen and the Wolverines wouldn't be intimidated by the Tar Heels.
The Cardinals are playing some of the best basketball at the right time of year. They absolutely walked through the Big East Tournament and have the talent to be a Final Four team. There is some concern that this team peaked too early or may get complacent. Despite head Coach Rick Pitino's tournament pedigree, the Cardinals have underachieved in the past as evidenced by a first round exit the past two years. Here's why I like the Cardinals…Louisville flew under the radar all year with Syracuse grabbing all of the headlines. They will be motivated despite the conference tournament title. They are also a typical Pitino-coached team in that they will play hard-nosed, pressure defense. This collection of guys you never heard of are led by Kyle Kuric at 13 points a game, followed by Russ Smith at more than 11 per game and Chris Smith at 10 points per contest. Louisville faces a Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State.
The Tigers are no longer going to catch anyone off guard. They are a trendy #2 seed picked to go to the Final Four, but don't go against the grain and end up kicking yourself when they DO make it to New Orleans. This team has everything it takes to win it all…strong guard play, upper classmen and a great big man. They can play four guards and one “big”, three guards and two “bigs” or any combination, really. The Tigers are the most efficient offensive team in the country, led by senior Marcus Denmon who averaged 17.6 points per game and is a flat-out sniper. Senior Kim English is a versatile swingman who can play guard or forward, shoot the three, slash to the basket and is the fulcrum of this high-scoring offense. Add in Senior Ricardo Ratliffe down low, his 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and sophomore guard Phil Pressey's team leading 73 steals and you have the recipe for a deep run in the tournament. The Tigers finished 30-4 on the year.
The Seminoles are no secret anymore garnering a #3 seed, having won the ACC Tournament and beating perennial powers Duke and North Carolina along the way. But, don't forget, Florida State also beat those teams in the regular season along with fellow tournament teams, Virginia and North Carolina State. The Seminoles had a couple of rough stretches during the year and finished 24-9. But, don't be fooled. They play in a legitimate conference and it's no fluke they won the ACC Tournament. Florida State has six seniors on this team…four of them start. Michael Snaer leads the team with 14.5 points per game. Ian Miller averages nearly 11 points and Bernard James kicks in 10.5 points and 8.2 boards per contest. Teams with senior leadership tend to do well in the tournament and if this Seminoles team can stay focused, they have a legitimate shot to emerge out of the East Region. A dream match-up will be a Sweet Sixteen collision against #2 seeded Ohio State.