NCAA Tournament 2012: Missouri and 3 Other Title Contenders

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 09:  Marcus Denmon #12 of the Missouri Tigers reacts in the first half of their game against the Texas Longhorns during the semifinals of the 2012 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 9, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Every year going into the NCAA Tournament, there are a few teams that surprise a lot of people and make a deep run to the title. This year, the Missouri Tigers could be one of those teams.

It might not seem like a significant leap to put Missouri in title discussions as they are ranked No. 5 and play Baylor in the Big 12 Championship, but most people are not going to look beyond Syracuse, Kentucky and North Carolina to win it all.

The Tigers have had a great season. Their only losses came home and away to Kansas State, at Oklahoma State and at Kansas in overtime.

Frank Haith's coaching abilities might have come under question at Miami, but there's no doubt about the job he's done with Missouri.

The team is led by senior forward Marcus Denmon. The Wooden Award finalist has averaged almost 18 points a game to go along with 5.2 RPG and 1.5 SPG. Denmon was also named to the All-Big 12 First Team.

Along with Missouri, here are three other teams you can pencil in as possible title contenders:


Michigan Wolverines

Ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, Michigan seems to be on path toward reaching the plateau set by the "Fab Five."

John Beilein struggled a little bit early in his time with the Wolverines, but it seems to all be coming together this year.

Beilein is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. Although he has only guided Michigan to two second-round exits, Beilein was head coach at West Virginia and delivered a run to the Elite Eight in 2005 and then the Sweet 16 the following year.

Michigan is still pretty young as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are only a freshman and sophomore respectively, but sometimes inexperience can be a positive.

This team doesn't have the weight of expectations on its shoulders.


Baylor Bears

Despite the Bears' recent struggles, don't forget this team started the season out 17-0.

Things started to take a bit of a nosedive in conference play, though. Baylor only managed to go 12-6 in the Big 12.

However, the team is starting to pick up some momentum at the right time.

The Big 12 Tournament has provided an opportunity for a resurrection in Waco. The Bears were able to avenge regular season losses against Kansas and Kansas St. A win against Missouri in the conference final would be the perfect way to end the season.

The NCAA Tournament is all about getting hot at the right time, and that just may be the case for the Baylor Bears.


Marquette Golden Eagles

The ninth-ranked Golden Eagles finished the regular season with the second-best record in the Big East at 14-4.

Their run in the conference tournament ended prematurely with a loss to Louisville in the quarterfinals.

It's not exactly how a team would want to enter the NCAA Tournament, but it could mean that the players will have received enough time to recharge their batteries prior to the first round.

Marquette is led by Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. The senior forward averaged 17.4 PPG and 8.1 RPG.

If Crowder struggles, then Marquette also has leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom to lean on.

Most neutral fans should root for Marquette to simply see how head coach Buzz Williams would react to winning the title. He's already "walked it out" and sent the West Virginia students into a frenzy after dancing on their court after a win.