Conference tournaments are winding down, meaning the 2013 NCAA tournament is just around the corner. Which means it's time to start thinking about everyone's favorite word: upsets.
Not only are upsets a staple of March Madness, but they're also one of the most exciting things to happen in the tournament.
And if you pick your dark horses correctly, you could see plenty of lower-seeded teams make deep runs at the Elite Eight or Final Four on your bracket.
With the madness nearly upon us, here are three dark horses to keep your eye on in this year's tournament.
UNC Tar Heels
The Tar Heels are not usually a team you expect to see as a dark horse, but that's exactly where they're at this year.
Despite possessing a 23-9 record, UNC remains out of the NCAA's top 25. A big reason for that is five major losses spanning games against Duke (two losses), Miami (two) and Indiana.
The Tar Heels are great at scoring—they average 77.2 points per game, which is 12th-best in the NCAA—but have struggled on the defensive side.
In those five big losses mentioned above, UNC lost by an average margin of 16 points.
Despite the defensive trouble, this team has a lot of experience and veteran leadership. The Tar Heels sport seven upperclassmen and only four freshmen.
Sharpshooting junior guard Reggie Bullock has emerged as a star for UNC. He's averaging 14.3 points a game, while shooting a team-leading 44.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Not to mention head coach Roy Williams has 22 years of NCAA tournament experience under his belt.
While defense might ultimately cost the Tar Heels, they have enough scoring punch and experience to take a good run at Elite Eight status.
Of all the teams on this list, VCU might be the most well rounded.
Shaka Smart's Rams have enjoyed a strong season, finishing second in the Atlantic 10 with a 12-4 in-conference record, while going 25-6 overall. Highlights of the season include big wins over Memphis, Alabama and Butler.
VCU is great at pressuring opposing offenses, forcing a lot of turnovers. Guards Darius Theus (senior) and Briante Weber (sophomore) are both averaging over 2.5 steals a game.
Overall, the Rams allow 65 points a game.
Although they have an effective heavy-pressure defense, offense is really where VCU's game is at. The Rams average an Atlantic 10-best 78.2 points a game, which is eighth-best in the NCAA.
Senior guard Troy Daniels has been phenomenal this season. He averages 12.2 points a game, while hitting 40.8 percent of his threes.
VCU is also a strong distributing team. It knows how to get everyone involved without giving up a lot of turnovers.
With stingy defense and a sharpshooting offense, VCU will be a fun team to watch this March. A spot in the Final Four is far from secure, but certainly a possibility.
The Panthers are one of this year's most dangerous teams, and should be watched very closely.
Pittsburgh finished the regular season 24-8, and fourth in the powerhouse Big East. While it was unable to get over the Louisville hump, Pitt did find regular-season wins against Syracuse, UConn and Georgetown.
The one thing the Panthers are great at is defense. They had the Big East's best defense, allowing opponents to score just 55.4 points a game.
Pittsburgh is well rounded on that side of the ball when it comes to rebounding, blocking shots and also forcing opportune turnovers.
Center Steven Adams has been the big difference-maker for Jamie Dixon's squad. The 7'0", 250-pound freshman averages 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game
The Panthers aren't the most electric team offensively, but they're patient.
The team averages only 69.6 points a game, but they have everything you want a team to have in March. Overall they're solid at hitting free throws, they have plenty of guys who can sink threes and they are a strong offensive rebounding team.
Pittsburgh won't receive a top-four seed, but they have all the makings of one.
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