College Basketball Handicapping: Teams That Could Shine in March Madness
by Trevor Whenham - 2/17/2011
The postseason in college basketball is all about surprises -- teams that perform much better than the public expects them to. Sometimes those teams come from nowhere to become media darlings. More often, though, they are teams that had a lot of things working for them and looked like they were on the right path. These surprise teams can take many forms -- they can be strong second-level contenders in major conferences, or teams that toil in obscure conferences away from the public radar. Here are seven teams that to look out for in your college basketball handicapping when March Madness rolls around this year.
St. John’s - This team has already beaten four teams ranked 13th or higher at the time they played them -- Duke, UConn, Notre Dame and Georgetown. They really lack consistency at this point, though, and have a couple of bad losses counting against them.
Still, Steve Lavin has a record of getting the most out of his teams in the tournament, and this team obviously rises to the occasion. They are getting a lot of attention already, but there is room for a whole lot more if they get a tournament win or two under their belt.
George Mason - The Patriots were the biggest story of the year in college basketball a few years ago. They might not be quite that good this year, but they are still a very solid club.
They are a very strong shooting team that has won 12 games in a row. They haven’t played a tough schedule this year -- though the Colonial Conference is a fairly tough group -- but we know that they are well coached and that they will be prepared for the tournament.
One thing to watch about this team is Cam Long -- he’s a much better player than the Patriots had last time they made a run, and is a serious pro prospect. He’s fun to watch.
Belmont - The Bruins are another team that always seems to be prepared when they make the tournament.
They have played a pretty soft schedule, but there are a couple of reasons to be excited despite that. First, through a quirk of scheduling they have played Tennessee twice. They lost both, but they played much tighter the second time, so they clearly learned from the experience. Second, they not only win games, but a lot of times they win games by a whole lot. That means they have a killer instinct, they can score, and they don’t let up. That can be dangerous in the tournament.
Arizona - Sean Miller is a very good coach -- something he showed at Xavier. There have been some growing pains in his move to Tuscon, but he has things on track now.
The team is heating up as the season progresses, and are now the class of the Pac-10. They won’t likely be viewed like the leader of a major conference, though, because the conference is so weak right now. That would be a mistake -- Miller is a proven tournament performer, and his game is tough -- they have won six of eight on the road.
Butler - Butler’s biggest problem right now is making the tournament. If they can manage that -- and I think they will -- then they are going to be a team to watch.
They have fallen off the radar thanks to a very disappointing start to the season. This team still has some serious talent, though, and they have the experience of making it all the way to the final last year.
It’s rare that a team of this caliber gets overlooked like Butler could be.
Utah State - This team won’t come as a total surprise because they are ranked, but I think that they are a much better team than people give them credit for.
They can get lazy -- like they did in a horrible loss at Idaho -- but when they are focused and on their game they are going to be tough to beat.
Senior Tai Wesley is a very legitimate player with a sweet shot, and he leads the way for a squad that a lot of teams will want to avoid.
Long Island - We know from past experience that No. 15 seeds can win a game in March. Long Island is shaping up as a 15 seed, and I sure wouldn’t want to play them.
There are a couple of things to really like here. First, they are very balanced -- five players average between 10.2 and 12.5 points per game. That means that it’s hard to shut them down by focusing on one or two players. Second, they are effective -- they are third in the whole country in rebounds, and ninth in points per game.
They could be a nightmare matchup for a very good team.
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