Five Teams to Look Out for in the Big Dance
They call it the Big Dance for a reason. The reason: Cinderella was an unknown person who crashed a Big Dance. That is why teams that crash the Big Dance are called Cinderella Teams. I'm not kidding (consult the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia). The Big Dance is coming around the corner and I can't wait. There are Cinderella Teams every single year. These five teams could make a deep run into the tourney.
The Fighting Irish are a very good team that was recently on the bubble but got off of it. They were on a six game win streak before they lost to West Virginia in the Big East semis. This team gets it done during the stretch. Their six game win streak could have easily been a 13 game win streak. They won 8 of their final 13, but their five losses were by a combined 9 points. They lost at Rutgers by one, at Seton Hall by three, St. John's by one, at Louisville by two in overtime at Freedom Hall, and #6 West Virginia by two off of a buzzer beater that was banked in from downtown. This team has quality wins: #6 West Virginia, #16 Pittsburgh twice, and at #22 Georgetown. They have shown that they can win without star Luke Harangody and they have momentum. Coach Mike Brey has done an outstanding job changing their style of play during the stretch to get them into the Big Dance and don't expect an early exit. Notre Dame will make noise in the tourney.
Their team name may be the Rebels but you can also call them Cinderella. UNLV is a very strong team that in my opinion is extremely capable of making a very deep run in the tourney. They have great wins: #16 Pittsburgh (91-52), Louisville, at #8 New Mexico (74-62), #15 BYU twice (88-74, 70-66). The Rebs aren't just winning, they are winning strong. They're on a six game win streak and are playing very well. They are an outstanding offensive team, averaging 75 points a game and 47% field goal, and are red-hot. These guys have a good shot at crashing the Dance.
Who is the only team that has the right to say that they beat two #1 teams? Tennessee. Although Tennessee isn't much of a sleeper, they are not expected to make a deep run in the tourney. I believe that they can reach the Elite Eight. I think they even have a shot at the Final Four. This is because they play quality opponents and can beat almost any team in the nation. Their strong schedule will only favor them in the Dance. They have learned much from competing with the Elite. Beating #1 Kansas by 8 and #2 Kentucky by 9 is important because they know that they can beat the best. I don't think that it matters that these wins are their only true quality wins. They won't be playing USC or Georgia in the tourney, but have a chance at playing Kansas and/or Kentucky. Bruce Pearl will have them ready and prepared for anything that a team throws at them. Expect the Vols to go deep into the Big Dance.
The Terps are lead by ACC Player of the Year candidate Grevis Vasquez and are capable of making a run in the Big Dance. They have a lot of great talent and excellent work ethic. Coach Gary Williams is a phenomenal coach and he will have Maryland ready for the unpredictable. They have beat Georgia Tech by two and Clemson by 88-79 in a shootout. They also beat #4 Duke on senior night, 79-72. They are an excellent offensive team: 80 points per game, 47% field goal, 39% from downtown, and shoot 72% from the charity stripe, which I think will help them close out a few big upsets in possibly the Elite Eight. They are also very good on defense: 40 boards a game, 8 steals a game, and only 17 fouls per game. I think their ability to play smart and not commit fouls (thanks to coach Williams) will carry this team deep into the Dance.
The Lobos are led by third year coach Steve Alford and the unbelievable, underrated Darington Hobson. Hobson is an excellent leader and is a phenomenal player (16 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists). The Lobos have many quality wins: then #25 Cal (86-78), then #24 Texas Tech (90-75), at then #25 UNLV (76-66), #24 Texas A&M (84-81), and BYU twice (76-72 at home, 83-81 at BYU). All of these wins are ridiculous. The Lobos are highly ranked but not expected to make a run in the tourney. I disagree and believe that they are Elite Eight material. They will benefit greatly from their tough schedule and have learned a lot from it. The Lobos average 77 points per game, shoot 44% field goal, 68% from the charity stripe, and 38% from downtown. The Lobos average 40 rebounds a game, but in order to succeed they must get their offense rolling early in the game. I think that this team will make a deep run into the Big Dance and is capable of the Elite Eight, if not the Final Four.