March Madness 2013: Dark Horse Squads That Could Earn Final Four Bid

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2013

Jan 19, 2013: Pittsburgh, PA, USA: VCU Rams head coach Shaka Smart talks with VCU Rams guard Troy Daniels (30) during the second half at the Consol Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness is upon us, which means upset specials and teams nobody gave a second thought will have the opportunity to shine en route to a potential spot in the Final Four. Fans are usually inclined to root for an underdog, and this year's tournament should provide plenty.

The Butler Bulldogs are not the most conventional of these teams, but their recent history in the tournament speaks for itself. Fans love watching this team and the Bulldogs love putting on a show for the fans.

The question thus presents itself: Who is going to be this year's George Mason? Which under-the-radar team will shock a top program and advance to elite status?

A decent number of teams can reach that level this year, so don't be so quick to fill out your bracket once Selection Sunday is over. These teams can make a lot of noise in the Big Dance, and anyone who automatically assumes that they don't have a Final Four run in them could find themselves at or near the bottom of their March Madness pool.

Colorado State Rams

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The Mountain West does not get as much press as other top conferences, but it still is home to notable teams like the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and New Mexico Lobos. However, Colorado State could be the team that puts the MWC back on the map.

The team is currently ranked No. 22 and has gone 8-2 in conference play and 21-4 overall. Notable head coach Larry Eustachy has done a solid job in making the Rams the best rebounding team in the nation and big man Colton Iverson has done a good job manning the middle. On the season, the 6'10" senior is averaging 13.6 points and 9.6 boards per game.

The only mark against CSU is that its schedule this season has been fairly easy. The only ranked opponents it has faced this season are New Mexico and the once-ranked San Diego State—and the Rams lost both times. With a rematch against New Mexico coming up on Feb. 23, the team must come in with a must-win attitude.

Just the same, the Rams have gone from an above-average team last season to looking like a very good one in 2013. Come the tournament, they could be one to watch.

Virginia Commonwealth University Rams

VCU shocked the world in 2011 when it defeated top-ranked Kansas to make the Final Four, and the team could have another rally in its bones for this year's tournament. The Rams may only be No. 24 in the AP Top 25, but their being 21-5 on the year and first in the ever-growing Atlantic 10 is indicative of just how talented they are.

Head coach Shaka Smart is a wizard when it comes to defense, and VCU has defined itself as a team that never backs down on that front. Even if it's only three minutes into the first half, Smart will have his men employ the full-court press and make life difficult for the opposition.

Guards Briante Weber and Darius Theus are averaging three and 2.7 steals per game, respectively, and Treveon Graham does a solid job in the scoring department at 15.8 points per game.

The Rams may not have much in terms of size, which would explain their seemingly low rebounding totals, but one thing is certain. In everything that they do lack, they more than make up for in heart.

Come the tournament, that's only going to help them.

Memphis Tigers

It's hard being a good team in a smallish conference, and Conference USA's Memphis Tigers are no exception. Even with a recent title game appearance back in 2008, the team ranks No. 21 in the last AP ranking despite being 22-3 on the year and undefeated in conference play.

This can be attributed to head coach Josh Pastner becoming better with each year of experience. He had big shoes to fill when he took over for the legendary John Calipari in 2009 at the age of 32, but has since turned into a respectable sideline general.

His team has two excellent scorers in Adonis Thomas and Joe Jackson, both of whom could form a deadly tandem in the tournament. The two of them and the entire team as a whole know how to communicate, which would explain why Memphis ranks 10th in assists and 16th in field-goal percentage.

The Tigers also have a solid defender in forward D.J. Stephens, who has posted 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game in his senior season. Those numbers may seem average, but keep in mind that Stephens is also 6'5". His feisty nature will make Memphis a pesky team for any opponent, and that could mean a grand run in the Big Dance.

Butler Bulldogs

Once again, we come back to Butler, the team that represented the Horizon League in the 2010 and 2011 tournaments en route to miraculous runs to the title game. The Bulldogs may have lost both times, but now have a new conference and a new attitude.

The team now plays in the Atlantic 10 and ranks No. 15, and it already has a huge win under its belt in a thrilling match with Gonzaga back on January 19. The Bulldogs have a tough conference rival in VCU who is also gunning for a spot in the tournament, but head coach Brad Stevens has done a great job with his roster after missing out on the Big Dance last season.

Sophomore Roosevelt Jones may only be 6'4", but never backs down from a battle and leads the team with 5.7 boards per game. Some may say that 6'11" Andrew Smith may be slow in the paint, and he may be, but he still responds well to his coach and puts in a strong effort with each game.

Just how far Butler goes, however, depends on how much gas senior guard Rotnei Clarke has left in the tank when it comes time for the games that matter. He is averaging 17.2 points per game, but relies a bit too much on his three-point shot. If he goes cold, the Bulldogs' battles instantly become tougher.

But I'm not worried about Butler. This is the same team that stunned top-ranked Indiana in an overtime thriller on December 15, and the Bulldogs know all about winning when the odds are against them.

If there's any team that can go on a run in the tournament and make the Final Four, if not advance further, it's them.

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