March Madness 2013 Picks: Biggest Mid-Major Dark Horses in NCAA Tournament
No longer are the Gonzaga Bulldogs the darlings of the NCAA Tournament.
On the strength of a 31-2 record, the Bulldogs have a very good chance of going into the Big Dance as the top overall seed. It's quite a departure from a decade ago, when Gonzaga made its reputation by knocking off the big boys.
The hunter has indeed become the hunted.
Not to worry, though. Plenty of schools can make deep runs despite not coming in with glittering pedigrees from major conferences.
The NCAA Tournament as a whole would suffer if every higher seed advanced until all No. 1 seeds were left. Most of the fun comes from feverishly deliberating about which team will be the new Cinderella, causing millions across the country to toss their brackets into the garbage can. In an effort to help sort through the clutter, you can count on these three teams pulling off an upset or two in the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Louis Billikens
Massive credit has to go to Jim Crews for the job he's has done with the Saint Louis Billikens. The departure of head coach Rick Majerus and his subsequent passing could have sent this team into a tailspin. Instead, Crews has helped led the Billikens to 26 wins.
Saint Louis has victories against the New Mexico Lobos, Virginia Commonwealth Rams and Butler Bulldogs, whom the Billikens have beaten three times this year, on its resume.
The Atlantic 10 is not the best basketball conference in the country, but there are some very tough teams at the top. Along with Saint Louis, VCU and Butler, the Temple Owls and La Salle Explorers managed to win 20-plus games. Saint Louis has also managed a 4-1 record against teams in the AP Top 25. This isn't a team that's gonna be overawed by the grandeur of the tournament or the quality of its opponent.
The Creighton Bluejays are far from a one-man team.
Most fans will think first and foremost of Doug McDermott when projecting what Creighton can do in the tournament. A lot will certainly hinge on how well McDermott performs. His 23.1 points per game are second in the country, and he's shooting 56.1 percent from the field.
With McDermott, the Bluejays have the kind of player who can carry the team on his back and make up the talent gap between Creighton and some of the bigger teams in the tourney.
Creighton is not simply McDermott. He's buoyed by dependable scorers like Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Gregory Echenique.
Offensively, Creighton has been ridiculously efficient. The Bluejays are averaging 75.4 points a game, 25th in the country, and shooting an obscene 50.4 percent from the floor, which is tops in the country. Reaching the summit of the Missouri Valley Conference is no mean feat, even if the conference is a bit down this year.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
Now, if you want to see a one-man team, look no further than the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. It was great to see the Jackrabbits win the Summit League Tournament because it meant another shot for Nate Wolters to make his mark on the NCAA Tournament.
In South Dakota State's first-round exit to the Baylor Bears, Wolters finished with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. It wasn't a bad performance, but it didn't capture national headlines, either. Now, Wolters has a chance for redemption.
He averaged 22.7 points a game, fourth in the country, so he's capable of going off during a game. The Jackrabbits' fortunes in March are directly tied to Wolters' performance. If he can put up 20-plus, you could see South Dakota State winning a game or two. If he struggles, the Jackrabbits are toast.
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