March Madness 2013: Dark-Horse Teams to Watch for Potential Final Four Run

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2013

Mar 6, 2013; Richmond, VA, USA; Virginia Commonwealth Rams fans cheer in the stands as Richmond Spiders guard Cedrick Lindsay (2) attempts a free throw in the second half at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The Rams won 93-82. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In every March Madness, there is always one team that surprises everyone and even gets as far as the Final Four sometimes. George Mason was this team in 2006, this year's crop of squads set to play in the big dance is full of teams that could come out of nowhere to get that far.

One team that could definitely do this is Virginia Commonwealth, who made it to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed in 2011 and is itching to get back there once again. Now that they have proven that they can run with the big boys of the Atlantic 10, the Rams are sure to be out to make a statement.

Similarly, it's going to be hard to not count out the feisty Memphis Tigers, who despite a fairly low ranking have continued to dazzle under head coach Josh Pastner.

These are just a small handful of teams who could go on long runs to the Final Four this year, so everyone should be sure to give them a second look when it comes time to fill out their bracket.


Ohio State

The Buckeyes currently rank No. 14 in the latest AP ranking, which may seem a bit high for a dark-horse Final Four contender. However, consider that Ohio State plays in the incredibly tough Big Ten Conference and has played good basketball this season despite losing Jared Sullinger to last year's NBA draft.

It should also be noted that head coach Thad Matta's team has pulled off some recent epic upset victories. The Buckeyes took down Michigan State on Feb. 24 and also manhandled the heavily favored Indiana Hoosiers on March 5.

All signature wins aside, Ohio State can win solely on the drive and passionate nature of guard Aaron Craft and leading scorer Deshaun Thomas.

Craft doesn't look like much at 6'2", 190 pounds, but is probably one of the best pests in the tournament this year, averaging two steals per game. Thomas, meanwhile, has posted 19.8 points and 6.2 boards on the season.

If this dynamic duo and their teammates can get hot early and ride some momentum, there is every chance that they could get back to the Final Four for the second year in a row and perhaps beyond.


Saint Louis

Not many people know about the Billikens, but they have been making a lot of noise in the Atlantic 10 as of late. The team has won 11 of its last 12 and currently sits tied for first place in the conference with VCU, who they defeated on Feb. 19.

Saint Louis has also defeated Butler twice, as well as the feisty New Mexico Lobos back on Dec. 31. This is a team that has gotten used to playing spoiler all season long and if they can grab some more momentum with a strong showing in the A-10 Tournament, they could definitely be primed for a long run in the big dance.

Don't let their under-the-radar status fool you. The Billikens are ranked No. 16 for a reason, and anyone that underestimates them could wind up learning the hard way.


Virginia Commonwealth

Shaka Smart has a great thing going on at VCU, and the Rams are a lot better than their No. 21 ranking suggests. They are tied for the top spot in the Atlantic 10, and also rank 12th in the nation in scoring.

This can be attributed to Smart's coaching style known as "havoc." The Rams are not hesitant to start using the full court press early, and have shown that they can run on offense too. Defense and speed are the name of the game for this squad, and Kansas learned that the hard way back in 2011.

What makes VCU even more special this season is that they have adjusted amazingly to playing in a tougher conference in the A-10, after spending over a decade in the Colonial Athletic Association. They may be a mid-major program now, but are definitely one that could make a lot of noise once the big dance begins.



The Tigers may not be at the top of the rankings now, but let's not forget that this is the team that almost won it all as a No. 1 seed in 2008. That was when John Calipari was head coach and since he departed for Kentucky in 2009, Josh Pastner has gone 101-33 and kept Memphis strong in Conference USA.

This season has been no exception. The Tigers are undefeated in conference play, rank seventh in the nation in assists and 16th in field-goal percentage, and have a fine young scorer in guard Joe Jackson, who has posted 13.7 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 53 percent from the field and 49 percent from downtown.

Granted, there are still some red flags surrounding Memphis. The team has no signature wins, and Conference USA hasn't exactly been fraught with competition this year.

Just the same, Pastner has his men running on all cylinders and if they can get hot at the right time, they could easily play spoiler and go on a long run that ends in a Final Four berth.