Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and Syracuse; we all know the stories behind the major players in this years tournament.
Villanova, Ohio State, Georgetown, and Michigan State most can relate to, but what about everyone else?
There's something different about this year's March Madness, and it isn't the exclusion of North Carolina, Connecticut, and UCLA that I'm speaking about. It's the saturation of mid-level talent that has completely taken over and captured the interest of every college basketball fan around the nation.
This year there is a significant portion of the field with schools that have either snuck in on a last ditch attempt, or have earned a spot by winning a less than competitive conference.
However this new-look field should not to be condemned for its mediocrity, but rather celebrated because of the new and exciting possibilities that some of these schools can create.
The field is now full of teams who can rise up and fill the shoes Cinderella has left behind. The only question is, how many will fit into the glass slipper?
The Big East was once again a monster conference, delivering eight teams to the dance, including a No. 1 seed in Syracuse, and a pair of No. 2 seeds in West Virginia and Villanova.
However the one team people need to start paying attention to is the lowest seed coming out of the Big East: Louisville.
The Cardinals have had a shaky season thus far, and took some tough losses this year to Western Carolina and Cincinnati, but tournament time is a different time.
Head Coach Rick Pitino seems to shine brightest on the big stage, and his Louisville team has found ways to shut opponents down at crucial moments.
This season the Cardinals defeated Syracuse twice, including a game on the road by a score of 66-60. The Orange average 81.5 points per game, but couldn't score over 70 in either matchup against Louisville this season.
Guard play is very important around this time to win, and the Cardinals can definitely lockdown and trap the opposing guards, resulting in turnovers and bad shots. If Louisville can get past Duke in the second round, look for them to easily reach the Elite Eight, as potential opponents include a hobbled Purdue, an untested Siena squad, a product of a bad division in Utah State, and a fairly competitive, yet very beatable Texas A&M school.
West Region—Murray State
Thirty wins in a weak conference is overlooked in many cases, but Murray State is definitely an exception.
With a very diverse class of players, Murray State rumbles into the tournament having won 21 of their last 22 games; clearly they are not used to losing.
Although most will say they are untested, not many teams have five players averaging over ten points per game, and three of those five averaging over four rebounds per game.
The Racers also have the ability to score inside and out with Tony Easley, B.J. Jenkins, and Isaiah Canaan.
Easley is 6'8", and is averaging almost six rebounds and three blocks per game.
Jenkins and Canaan provide the three point theatrics, as Canaan is averaging 45.7% beyond the arc, and Jenkins shoots 37.7%.
The Racers have a stellar defense as well, as they are 19th in the country in blocks per game, and fifth in steals with 10 per game.
Murray State is certainly capable of taking out Vanderbilt in the first round, however they face a tough road after that, with another possible Cinderella in UTEP or a solid Butler team in the next round.
In either scenario, with their numerous contributors and well-rounded defense, the Racers can certainly find themselves on the winning side in the first two rounds, and then after that anything is possible.
There is one reason why BYU can make a serious run into the late rounds of the tournament this year, and his name is Jimmer Fredette.
Fredette is that special kind of player who can will his team to victory, even when their play should result in a loss.
Seven times this season Fredette dropped 30 points or more, including a 49-point performance against Arizona. The junior point guard also scored 45 against TCU during the conference tournament.
Although they lost two of three to UNLV, the Cougars are one win away from reaching 30 for the season, and have surrounded Fredette with a decent supporting cast.
Four Cougars are averaging over four rebounds per game, and BYU is the top free-throw shooting team in the nation, something very important during tournament time.
In addition to their charity-stripe performance this season, the Cougars are tied for second in the nation in three-point percentage, thanks in large part to Fredette.
With 83 points per game, BYU has to like its chances of being able to score with anybody in this tournament, even though they havn't seen the greatest defenses this season.
Since they are on the bottom half of the West Region, the biggest threat to them is a dangerous Kansas State team, who can swing with almost every team in the tournament. If BYU can get past Kansas State, then there is no reason they can't make a run towards the Elite Eight, and if lucky, face either an injured Syracuse squad, or perhaps another Cinderella who has already slayed the Big East giant.
Midwest Region—New Mexico State
If there is any truth to it's not how you start but how you finish, then New Mexico State is just hitting their stride.
The Aggies have certainly had their bad losses this season, including blowouts to UCLA and Saint Mary's, but their late surge has gotten them into tournament play.
This season they have defeated UTEP once and Utah State twice, including a victory in the WAC Championship by a score of 69-63.
The Aggies have five players scoring in double figures this season, including two remarkable athletes in Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson.
Young, who is averaging 20.5 points, can rebound and defend well, and is accompanied by Gibson in the back court, who is averaging 17.5 points per game.
The duo is joined by excellent talent in the paint, with Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman.
McKines is averaging nearly a double-double with 10.8 points and 9.9 rebounds a game.
His partner in crime Rahman, is also a solid player in the paint, averaging 10.4 and 8.1 points and rebounds respectively.
With a complete game inside and out, the Aggies are certainly a team who can upset a lot of teams starting with Michigan State.
The Spartans have not fulfilled their expectations this season, and can struggle with New Mexico's size as the Aggies have three players of 6'6", 6'8", and 6'11", all scoring in double figures.
The Spartans are also dealing with internal issues and injuries, so an upset here would not be shocking to some.
New Mexico is then certainly capable of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen where they would most likely face an equally hot and perhaps more talented West Virginia team.
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