College Basketball Prediction: 6 Teams That Could Bust Brackets in March
As any college basketball fan knows all too well, the NCAA tournament never goes according to plan.
Last March was a perfect example, as Cinderella stories Virginia Commonwealth and Butler danced their way into April, while conventional powers Ohio State and Pittsburgh were sent packing early.
While we shouldn't expect to see another 11-seed make a run to the Final Four, the 2012 tournament will likely feature another unheralded team making a deep run.
Let's take a early look at six underrated teams that could make some noise next March.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels
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First-year head coach Dave Rice has his work cut out for him, but the Rebels have plenty of talent to make a run in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Despite losing long-time head coach Lon Kruger and leading scorer Tre'von Willis, UNLV returns seven players that averaged more than 11 minutes per game last season.
The arrest of returning leading scorer Chace Stanback is also an issue, as Stanback has a court date set for Dec. 1, after being pulled over by authorities in May on suspicion of driving under the influence. Should that verdict turn sour, Rice could be put in a difficult situation—should he suspend his player five games into the 2011-12 season?
On a brighter note, with last year's Mountain West stars, Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard, now in the NBA, the conference is UNLV's for the taking.
The Rebels should be able to win the Mountain West and perhaps even make it to the second weekend of the Big Dance.
Wichita State Shockers
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Winners of last season's NIT Championship, Wichita State brings back six players who averaged more than 13 minutes per game last season.
With seven-footer Garrett Stutz manning the paint, veteran Toure' Murray at the point, and several players who can slash and shoot, the Shockers should be the best team out of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Many thought the Shockers could have made the field last season.
This year, Wichita State will prove that they belong.
California Golden Bears
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Though they lose leading rebounder Markhuri Sanders-Frinson, Cal returns everyone else to a team that went 18-15 and lost in the second round of the NIT now in-conference opponent Colorado.
Led by seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp and sophomore Allen Crabbe, the Golden Bears have one of the dangerous 1-2-3- punch.
Cal may very well be the dark horse to win the Pac-12, but make no mistake about it; Mike Montgomery's boys will be a team that no one wants to play come March.
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Last year's Atlantic Sun champion, Belmont is in an excellent position to make it back to the big dance.
With six of their top seven scorers, and nine players who averaged more than ten minutes per game back, Belmont certainly has enough returning talent to make some serious noise in March.
Led by veteran coach Rick Byrd, the Bruins can shoot, defend, rebound, and have fabulous point guard play.
Don't be surprised if you see these guys in the Sweet 16.
New Mexico Lobos
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New Mexico loses its leading scorer and point guard Dairese Gray, but they bring back everyone else to a team that went 22-13 last year.
Led by veteran big man Drew Gordon and super sophomore Kendall Williams, the Lobos should give UNLV a run for their money in the Mountain West. Gordon, a lively post with some serious bounce, is the only returning player nominated to last season's MWC All-Conference teams.
Look for the Lobos to do some dancing next March.
Iowa State Cyclones
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Iowa State finished last in the Big 12 last year, but the much-improved Cyclones definitely have enough talent to make it to the big dance in 2012.
Though they lose leading scorer Diante Garrett, the Cyclones add Michigan State sharpshooter Chris Allen and former top-20 Minnesota recruit Royce White to a team that features eight transfer students.
With the continued improvement of players like Scott Christopherson and Melvin Ejim, and another year of experience for head coach Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State could be a scary matchup if they make the NCAA tournament.