After having watched the first three weeks of the basketball season, there have been some pleasant surprises in the NCAA. Here are my ten teams to watch out for come March that people may not be talking about.
1. Dayton Flyers
Granted they did the same thing last year, this year could be different. Out to a hot start people are starting to wonder if the Dayton Flyers are for real. A 6-0 start and a quality stomping of Marquette has me thinking the Flyers could make the tournament this year. Hopefully they don't fold in the A-10 like last year.
One argument may be that plenty of people know about Butler. However after AJ Graves left, Butler fell off the map—a little bit. After another hot start though the 5-0 Bulldogs are proving that its becoming about reloading not rebuilding. The Bulldogs have a ways to go if they want to be a tournament threat, but are looking to achieve that goal.
After having been off the college basketball scene for the last few years the Golden Gophers seem to be back. The hiring of Tubby Smith has brought in quality recruits and the passion of basketball back to the barn. A fast 6-0 start has landed the Gophers at the number three spot on my poll.
The Illini are back to 6-0 after a down year last year. Although they have struggled with some lower tier teams this year Weber has the boys winning again. Some confidence and experience could push these guys back into the tournament with the conference buddies, Minnesota.
The Flames are off and rolling in 2008. After suffering a tough loss to UNC Asheville, Liberty came back with a big win over ACC opponent Virginia. The arrival of Seth Curry has lit a spark in this 4-1 team. While a majority of them are young the Flames will probably need an automatic bid by winning their conference.
6. Western Kentucky
A big win over No. 3 Louisville makes me a momentary believer. However as impressive as that win was, a 28 point loss to Murray State makes me wonder if they'll reach the .500 mark. Currently 3-2 I'll give the Hilltoppers a chance for two reasons. One, they have a sweet name and two, they were a very solid team last year!
One of my favorite teams in the NCAA this year comes from the lovely state of New York. Niagara has had two key transfers who are going to show up big time for the Purple Eagles. Niagara is off to a 5-1 start, and has been blowing teams out. A tough loss to Villanova shows they have the confidence to hang with quality teams. If they can get past Siena in the conference tournament I wouldn't put it past this small school to pull of a Miracle in March.
Even though Siena is off to a 2-3 start we all know they have a host of potential. Three consecutive losses may mean the Saints need an automatic bid. However their tough schedule and experience could mean for a very tough team later this season. Look for the Saints in field of 65.
9. North Dakota State
The Bison are off to a mediocre 2-2 start but they return tons of talent. A team that has beat Wisconsin and Marquette in the last two years returns most of their players from that roster. If the Bison can learn how to play on the road they may make their first NCAA tournament in school history.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology comes at number the number ten spot. Notice the headline says nothing about how good these teams are, instead it states people know nothing about them. What people may not know is that NJIT has a 38 game losing streak. However the Highlanders look better this year than last. Last year they lost by less than ten points just once. This year they have already played a game within ten points and have lost by 13 twice. I see the Highlanders winning two games this year but playing NO significant basketball in March.