NCAA Tournament 2011: 5 Teams Going Under the Radar
The beautiful thing about March Madness is the inevitable upsets that occur during this crazy and often unbelievable month of college basketball. The outcome of these David vs. Goliath matchups can either bust your bracket or make you the office genius.
Now, if you’re smart enough to distinguish the contenders from pretenders— who so often permeate this tournament— then stop reading this article now.
It’s the annual question that always seems to stump us: Which Cinderella team will burst onto the scene with hopes of wedging its size 15 or so sneaker into that glass slipper called a national championship?
This title chase is not determined by some rigged computer system or a cartel of super leagues looking out for its own interest. Nope, the NCAA tournament is open to any team good enough to win its league or conference tournament.
And it works. Not only for Duke and North Carolina but for the mid-major teams as well. Although, is there really a need for 11 teams from the Big East Conference to get invites into the field of 68?
Fans want to see the little guy succeed. We need teams like Utah, George Mason and Butler to grab hold of destiny and ride it all the way to the Final Four —in truth, it's why we watch.
And if Cinderella never shows up to the ball, well, somebody needs to get crushed by Kansas, and it might as well be a team from a mid-major conference. At least that way, it’s not a rehashed game from the regular season.
But this year, you can bet there are teams from the Mountain West, the WAC and the Atlantic-10 that are ready to be giant killers. Some have been there all season long, while others are still creeping under the radar.
The qualifications are simple: Your team must have battle-tested seniors and get strong play from its guards. With that in mind, here are five teams that are poised to make a big splash in the Big Dance.
1. Xavier Musketeers 26-4, 1st in Atlantic-10
The Atlantic-10 champions finished the regular season with a 24-6 record and have four players averaging in double figures.
Led by guard Tu Holloway and his 20-points per game, the Musketeers have made it to the Sweet Sixteen the last three seasons and seem to be primed for a breakthrough.
Xavier comes into the NCAAs having won 16 of its last 17 regular season games, and it has a big defensive stopper in center Kenny Frease.
2. BYU Cougars 28-3, 1st in Mountain West
Everyone jumped off the Cougars band wagon when their third-leading scorer, Brandon Davies, was suspended from the team for an honor code violation. But that just means Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette will have to work a little harder to get the Cougars to the promise land of Houston.
BYU has quality wins over San Diego State (twice), Arizona, Utah State and St. Mary's. The Cougars are also getting great guard play from Fredette and defensive stopper Jackson Emery. BYU should still be a No. 2 seed in the West Regional, which is traditionally the easiest road to the Final Four.
3. Belmont Bruins 30-4, 1st in Atlantic Sun
The Belmont Bruins are a dark horse in the tournament becasue they can score the basketball. Belmont's 11th ranked offense lives and dies with the three-ball.
Projected to be an 11th seed, Belmont will rely heavily on sophomore guard Ian Clark and Mick Hedgepeth, as both players are shooting slightly above 40 percent from three-point range.
4. Utah State Aggies 28-3, 1st in Western Athletic Conference
The Aggies are ranked nationally and have an RPI of 17, but they still might need to win their conference tournament to get in. Forward Tai Wesley is a force inside, averaging 15 points per game and seven boards.
Pooh Williams (8.6 PPG) and Tyler Newbold (7.2 PPG) are veterans in the backcourt, and forward Brady Jardine is shooting 50 percent from three-point range.
The Aggies biggest win this season is their BracketBusters tournament victory over St. Mary's. And their biggest loss was a shocker at Idaho. Utah State could grab an eight-seed if they win the WAC Tournament.
5. Old Dominion 27-6, 2nd Colonial
Old Dominion finished second in the Colonial league but it won its last nine games to finish the regular season with an impressive 27-6 mark.
The Monarchs beat Xavier and played a tight game against Georgetown.
Still, the team got blown out by Missouri and George Mason, but both of those team are projected to be tournament teams, so there's no shame in losing to either school.
If ODU is going make a run, it will need the experience of senior forward Frank Hassell (15 ppg and 7 reb.) and swingman Kent Bazemore. Both are capable of taking over games offensively.
Old Dominion is not a shoe-in for the tournament, but if they get in, they could make some serious noise.