In almost every NCAA tournament, a couple of higher-seeded, unranked college basketball teams make deep runs.
Last year in the Midwest Regional semifinals (Sweet 16), No. 1 seed North Carolina faced No. 13 seed Ohio. Meanwhile, No. 2 seed Kansas lined up against No. 11 seed NC State.
There is no reason to believe that this year will be different.
Here are eight unranked teams (in the AP poll) that are looming large as March Madness approaches. They may have had some bumps in the road along the way, but these teams could be dangerous.
The Creighton Bluejays (23-7, 12-5 MVC) are a fun team to watch. They share the ball and shoot it well, and they score lots of points (75.8 per game).
Because they have Doug McDermott, they have the ability to stretch the floor and beat you in a wide variety of ways.
The Bluejays have defeated good teams, like Wisconsin and Cal, and lost to some marginal ones, like Drake and Illinois State.
Creighton, winners of three of its past four games, face off on March 2 against MVC foe Wichita State for the conference championship.
If you like gritty, in-your-face D that leads to lots of open-court hoops action, then Virginia Commonwealth is your kind of team.
Because Shaka Smart’s squad applies relentless pressure, the Rams lead the nation in steals (12.1 per game). VCU likes to push the ball when the opportunity arises. It scores 77.4 points per game (No. 14 in the country).
In his first three years, Smart has led the Rams to the Final Four and the Sweet 16. He and his team won’t be scared if they get deep into this year’s tournament.
Keep your eyes on Wichita State.
The Shockers, currently 24-6 (12-5 MVC), are tied with Creighton for the Missouri Valley Conference lead.
WSU gets it done with menacing defense. It is holding its opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the field and fewer than 60 points.
Gregg Marshall may be one of the best mid-major head coaches in college basketball.
As the 2012-13 season has progressed, Virginia has created a notable collection of quality wins.
The Cavs have beaten Duke, North Carolina and NC State in ACC play. They also took down Wisconsin in Madison, which is no small feat.
Defense is the name of their game. They are holding opponents under 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc—a combination that usually leads to success.
Sweet-shooting Joe Harris is making a serious case to be named ACC Player of the Year. The 6’6” wing is averaging 24 points per game over the Cavaliers’ past five games.
Before it entered this year’s challenging Mountain West Conference play, UNLV won 13 of its first 15 games.
Since then, the Rebels have gone 8-5 and hold third place with three games left in the regular season.
If they could put it all together, head coach David Rice has what could be the best frontcourt in college basketball, with fab freshman Anthony Bennett (pictured), Pitt transfer Khem Birch and Preseason All-American Mike Moser.
Muhammad has the kind of offensive skills that could help him take over upcoming March Madness games.
If I were Bruins coach Ben Howland, I would find a way to get Muhammad no fewer than 20 shots per game and see what would happen.
Just two weeks ago, North Carolina was struggling big time. The Tar Heels had just been beaten by Duke, and they were carrying a 16-8 record into their ACC stretch run.
Now, four games later, the Tar Heels are finally showing signs of coming together as a team. P.J. Hairston's emergence has transformed UNC from a scuffling squad to a battling bunch.
If Hairston, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo can continue to effectively blend their games, UNC could be a dangerous force to be reckoned with come tourney time.
With its collection of talented transfers, Missouri is still attempting to make all of the pieces fit together. With six players averaging double figures, the Tigers have as many weapons as any team in the country.
If Frank Haith can finish this work in progress and perform some Mizzou magic between now and the opening round of the NCAA tournament, watch out!