College Basketball: 10 Teams To Watch in the 2011 NCAA Tournament
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March Madness is right around the corner and the final unbeaten team fell last weekend.
It's time to take a look at some teams who will most likely not be No.1 seeds, but have upset potential at the big dance.
If the tournament were to start today, the No.1 seeds would probably be:
1. Ohio State
Pittsburgh, BYU, San Diego State and Notre Dame are also in the mix. There is an argument to be made for each of those teams getting a top seed.
But who is going to break the brackets this year?
Wisconsin and Jon Leuer
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Wisconsin is an obvious choice after beating Ohio State by four at home on February 12. Was this a great home victory for a motivated underdog, or is Wisconsin a real threat?
Wisconsin has won 17 straight home games and is currently ranked No.10 in the country.
They're for real.
They can consistently rally from 15-point deficits, like they did against Ohio State.
If they can slow the game down and play Wisconsin basketball, they can play into the third weekend of the tournament.
They face Ohio State again on March 6th. However, this game is not a referendum on how good Wisconsin is, as the home court advantage tends not to be a factor in the tournament.
Look for their performance in the Big Ten tournament as a proxy to see how they perform at the end of March.
Georgetown and Austin Freeman
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Georgetown is 20-5 with four of those losses coming within the Big East. They only play two ranked teams the rest of the season (Connecticut and Syracuse).
They have an excellent chance to go into the conference tournament with a record of 25-5.
The Hoyas have great senior leadership in Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Freeman leads the team in scoring and Wright brings in 12 points and five assists per game.
Georgetown is No. 2 in the nation in field goal percentage.
Experience, accuracy and good ball movement could lead the Hoyas to the Final Four.
The game against Connecticut on February 16 should provide a good measurement of how far this team can go.
BYU and Jimmer Fredette
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Jimmer Fredette is the most exciting player in college basketball this year. He's averaging 27 points per game for a team that scores 83 per game—he's 32 percent of the BYU offense.
As goes Jimmer, so goes the BYU Cougars.
BYU has played one ranked team this year. On January 26th, they dominated No. 4 San Diego State 71-58. Then two days later, they lost to New Mexico.
Look for BYU to score a big upset early, then lose to an inferior team.
Notre Dame and Ben Hansbrough
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By now, everyone knows Ben Hansbrough's story. His older brother, Tyler, was the 13th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft after having his North Carolina uniform retired.
Ben initially attended Mississippi State University where he languished on the bench. As a freshman, he scored 7.3 points per game and as a sophomore he scored 8.8.
He transferred to Notre Dame, sat out a year, then came into his own this year averaging 17.3 points per game with a .467 field goal percentage.
Notre Dame basketball is off to their best start in 30 years due to the leadership of Ben Hansbrough. Additionally, sophomore Jack Cooley is getting better with every game and an overtime victory against Louisville has the Irish believing.
The Notre Dame front five can hold their own against any team in the country. The only criticism is their bench, which is thin.
Notre Dame should easily reach the Elite Eight this year, but a Final Four berth is unlikely.
Arizona and Derrick Williams
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The Arizona Wildcats stand alone atop the Pac-10 with a conference record of 10-2. They finish up the conference schedule with a home game against third place Washington and a road game against second place UCLA.
Only one team in the Pac-10 is ranked this season, which is appropriate, as Pac-10 basketball has been weak this year.
Arizona is led by Derrick Williams who is averaging 19.2 points per game. He's a great player and he's carried the team this season.
The challenge for Arizona is that the second place scorer is averaging 10 points per game less than Williams. Unless the rest of the team can step up and help, Arizona is not going to go far.
Arizona played three ranked teams this season (Kansas, BYU and Washington). They lost all three games. If Arizona can win out, look for them to get to the third round. They could upset a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, depending how their draw goes.
Utah State and Tai Wesley
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Utah State is ranked 25th in the nation. Why are they on a list of potential bracket busters? Tai Wesley. He's only averaging 14 points per game, but his field goal percentage is .593.
Utah State is 23-3. They're 12-1 in the WAC with their only conference loss coming to Idaho. The other two losses were to BYU by six and Georgetown by 17.
The Aggies are probably going into the tournament as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. If they get in as a No. 5 seed, they will play a No. 12 seed followed by a No. 4 seed.
Look for Utah State to play during the second weekend.
San Diego State and Kawhi Leonard
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San Diego State is ranked 6th in the country, but are they a real threat?
People who doubt them point to the BYU game in January that the Aztecs lost by 13 points and a narrow three-point victory over Gonzaga. San Diego State also beat Colorado State and IUPU by a total of only four points.
Fans of San Diego State point to their record of 25-1 and look forward to a rematch with BYU on February 26th.
I'm a believer for three reasons.
First, I'm a big fan of leading scorer Kawhi Leonard. He's 6'7" and 225 pounds. In addition to scoring 14.8 points per game, he's averaging 10.6 boards.
Second, the team is balanced with three players averaging over 10 points per game.
Third, they are likely to get a No. 2 seed, which gives them a great shot to reach the Elite Eight. The first weekend, they would play a No. 15 seed and a No. 7 seed.
Look for San Diego State to get the Elite Eight.
Purdue and JaJuan Johnson
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The Big Ten is the strongest conference in college basketball this year with three teams who have a legitimate chance to win the national championship (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue).
Purdue is probably the most underrated of the three.
The Boilermakers have depth and they have experience. JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are both seniors and lead the team in scoring. Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith are juniors.
Last year, Purdue got to the Sweet 16 where they lost to eventual champion Duke. In that game, Johnson scored 23 points and had five rebounds, two steals and four blocked shots.
This season, Purdue has lost to Wisconsin and Ohio State. They play Wisconsin at home on February 16th and they play Ohio State at home on February 20th. Those games are interesting, but not relevant.
Watch Purdue during the Big Ten tournament to see how far they will go. If they win the Big Ten tournament, look for them to make the Final Four.
Connecticut and Kemba Walker
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The Big East has seven ranked teams. Connecticut is fifth in the conference with a 7-5 record. How could they be a bracket buster?
Kemba Walker and Alex Oriakhi.
Walker is averaging 22.8 points per game and Oriakhi is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game.
When they get in rhythm, like they did against Texas in January, they can beat anyone in the country. In that game, Oriakhi had 21 rebounds.
Here is the statistic to watch: Connecticut has not lost a game this season in which Oriakhi had more than 10 rebounds.
Walker is going to get his points, but watch Oriakhi on the boards.
Florida and Erving Walker
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The leading scorer for Florida is 5'8" guard Erving Walker, who is about six inches smaller than average.
He's averaging 14.7 points per game and has the Gators in first place in the SEC East.
Can a 5'8" point guard lead a team to the Final Four? It didn't happen last year, when Florida lost in the first round to BYU in double-overtime.
The difference between last year's Florida team and this year's team is ball distribution. Last year, everyone passed to Chandler Parsons and waited for him to win the game.
This year, Parsons is averaging fewer points per game and four Gators are averaging double digits.
I don't see Florida getting knocked out in the first round this year. They're coming together as a team and Billy Donovan is too good of a coach to have this happen twice in two years. I think Florida gets to the Sweet 16 and possibly the Elite Eight.