College Basketball: 5 Dark Horse Candidates for the Final Four

Hayden Deitrick@hdeitrickFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

College Basketball: 5 Dark Horse Candidates for the Final Four

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    College basketball season is now in full swing, and several teams are beginning to look like they have what it takes to make a run to the Final Four in March.

    Without a truly dominant team or player in college basketball this season, we are in for a treat of an NCAA Tournament.

    While it often feels like anyone could make the Final Four, this season it is truly wide open.

    Could this be the year a mid-major takes the championship?

    Could a long dormant power resurface to reclaim past glory?

    Without further ado, here are five dark horse candidates to make a run to the Final Four.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Minnesota has been solid all season, but they have yet to secure a signature win to put them in the top tier of teams as far as the Final Four conversation goes.

    After back-to-back losses to Indiana and Michigan, the Golden Gophers will look to bounce back and show the nation why they are a contender to win the B1G.

    Sophomore guard Andre Hollins has upped his numbers this season and has become a scoring machine.  He is averaging 14.3 PPG and close to four APG. 

    This team has a great mixture of youth and experience.

    Seniors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams help bolster this team and provides stable numbers with a combined 22.1 PPG and 14 RPG.

    As a team, Minnesota pulls down 40.2 RPG, which ranks them 22nd in the nation.  

    Beyond that, this Minnesota team dishes out 16.4 APG.  This explains how four players average over 10 PPG.

    While the Golden Gophers haven’t taken down any top-10 teams this season, they have the talent to take down top-three seeds in March. 

Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Many were riding high on Gonzaga at the beginning of the season, but now that the Bulldogs have dropped two games, expectations have simmered.

    Basketball fans would be wrong to give up on the Zags this early in the season, though.

    With the frontcourt combination of Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk, this Gonzaga team is able to hang in the trenches against any team.

    Harris and Olynyk combine for 32.9 PPG and 13.7 RPG.

    Beyond these two talented forwards is a bevy of depth in the frontcourt.

    Behind Harris and Olynyk are junior Sam Dower and freshman Przemek Karnowski who average a combined 14.3 PPG off the bench.

    At the end of the day, Gonzaga has five or six players that can conceivably drop 20 points any given night, including sophomore guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.

    Look for Gonzaga to use their depth to push through the tournament come March.

Butler Bulldogs

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    Butler has received a bevy of national attention after their heroic win over Gonzaga this past weekend. 

    That being said, this is a Butler team that has been flying under the radar for the majority of the season.

    Behind sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke and do-it-all big man Andrew Smith, Butler has worked their way to a 16-2 record and have become the favorite to win the Atlantic-10 this season.

    Butler is not going to jump out at you on the stat sheet.  This is a team that is not pretty to watch.

    Butler does not score in bunches, stop teams from running their offense or rebound the ball particularly well.

    All they do is win, and you cannot argue with that.

    While this team does not have quite the same amount of talent that the back-to-back championship game Bulldogs did, it has players of the same breed. 

    These Bulldogs are winners, and come March, there is not a team in the nation that will overlook them in their bracket. 

Creighton Bluejays

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    With a player like Doug McDermott, anything is possible.

    McDermott has turned up his game in recent weeks. 

    This season, McDermott is averaging 24.1 PPG and 7.2 RPG.

    Beyond having the nation’s second-leading scorer, though, Creighton also boasts one of the nation’s most physical big men in Gregory Echenique.

    At 10.1 PPG, Echenique is a great option in the post, and he also pulls down his fair share of rebounds with 7.4 RPG.

    Add in glue guy like Grant Gibbs, the player who helps make this team run, and Creighton has a solid squad with the ability to run with anyone in March.

UCLA Bruins

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    It’s odd to think that UCLA could ever be considered a dark horse candidate.

    It is especially odd considering the incredible hype surrounding this recruiting class.

    While it took this Bruins team time to come together and form their identity, this team seems to have figured out some of their early season issues.

    Ben Howland appears to have given up on integrating these players into his grind it out system, and he instead seems content in letting this team of athletes run the court.

    The key players on this Bruins team are Larry Drew II and Kyle Anderson. 

    Drew II has really come into his own as the leader of this offense.  He averages 8.1 APG and really gets the ball up and down the floor.

    Kyle Anderson is not a spectacular athlete.  In fact, his nickname is Slow-Mo.  What Anderson does do, though, is create all sorts of matchup problems as a point-forward.  This season, Anderson has averaged 9.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG and 3.7 APG.

    When you add an explosive scorer like Shabazz Muhammad to a pass first point guard like Drew II and a do-everything guy like Anderson, good things can happen.

    If UCLA puts it all together in the coming weeks, do not be surprised to see them go on a run in March.