Dark Horse Final Four Contenders

After a few long months of NCAA basketball, it’s time to start looking forward to March Madness and teams that could potentially bust all brackets.

Heading into each NCAA Tournament, there are always the favorites. Even though this year, a year in which no team has distanced themselves from the pack, teams like Villanova, Kansas and Oklahoma are projected to be one seeds. Then there are the teams where there is no shot of them winning a game, like a 16 seed or a team that draws a bad matchup for them in the first round. Then there are some teams out there that can certainly pull off the upset if given the chance. These are the bracket busters, and everyone who fills out a bracket is afraid of these teams. So as it stands, let’s take a look at the teams nobody is talking about, that could make a surprise run to the Final Four in Houston.

Oregon Ducks

The Ducks are ranked 16th in the AP Poll with a record of 20-6. On top of that, they are tied for the PAC-12 conference lead but they still aren’t getting the respect they deserve. They’ve played the second hardest schedule in the country and have an RPI ranking of fourth in the country. Oregon uses balanced scoring, with four players averaging double figures, led by sophomore breakout star Dillon Brooks (17.2 PPG). Freshman Tyler Dorsey has also established himself as a potential PAC-12 Freshman of the Year candidate. With Chris Boucher manning the paint and swatting 3.2 shots per contest, there’s no going inside on this Ducks roster. Oregon has one of the most talented starting fives in the nation, and can fill it up offensively. After last season’s loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament, the Ducks seem locked in for another chance at a Final Four run.

Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns are a tough team to gauge because they played in an absolutely loaded BIG 12. On the year, Texas is 17-9 with an 8-5 conference record. They have quality wins over West Virginia (twice), North Carolina, Iowa State, Baylor and Vanderbilt and have hung in with conference powerhouses Kansas and Oklahoma. Texas has a strength of schedule ranking of four and an RPI ranking of 21. The Longhorns are a deep and veteran roster, anchored by the big bodied Cameron Ridley in the middle, who is averaging a double double. The offense is spearheaded by junior guard Isaiah Taylor, who leads the squad in points and assists. They still need to do a little bit of work to be a lock for the tournament. Head coach Shaka Smart has already been to one Final Four with VCU, and this roster is far more talented than that roster, so there’s no counting out this Longhorns team.

Purdue Boilermakers

Purdue came into this season expecting to be one of the most improved teams in the nation, and they have not disappointed. With a 21-6 record and an AP ranking of 17, Purdue is certainly one one of the teams that can make a Final Four run. Led by seven footers A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers are one of the best rebounding and defensive teams in the country. Even though the leading assister on this team only averages three assists a game, Purdue is 14th best at assists per game. In last year’s NCAA tournament, Purdue lost a heartbreaker to Cincinnati in the second round, but this season, they’ll have aspirations to make the Elite Eight, and maybe the Final Four.

Texas A&M Aggies

Despite losing five of their last seven, TexasA&M is a dangerous team. The Aggies are 19-7 with a 8-5 record in conference play and sit just 1.5 games out of the drivers seat in a crowded SEC. Danuel House and Jalen Jones both lead the team in points with 15.6, and that scoring duo is one of the best in the country. Freshman Tyler Davis has brought toughness to the paint and even shows good touch around the rim. The Aggies run deep into their bench, with 10 players averaging between 10 and 30 minutes a night. Having fresh bodies in the tournament is crucial, and with the depth and the mix of experience and key freshman make this team unique. They aren’t a lock for the tournament yet, but a big win over Kentucky this Saturday could just about lock them in. Regardless of what seed they land at, the Aggies will be a tough out for any team and could make a surprising run to the Final Four.

Wisconsin Badgers

One of the most changed rosters since last season, the Badgers were expected to be in a down year this season. Some projected them to miss the tournament all together, especially after Bo Ryan suddenly retired. The Badgers seemed to be a forgotten team until a month ago when they knocked off then #7 Michigan State. Since that January 17th season changer, the Badgers have gone 6-0, with their last win being over Maryland, who was ranked #2 at the time. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig were expected to be the main cogs in the Wisconsin attack, but the emergence of Vitto Brown and freshman Ethan Happ have provided huge boosts to this club. March Madness is just about as much as who comes into the tournament playing the best basketball as to who has the best roster. The Badgers have played themselves into the NCAA tournament and with crucial conference match ups against #8 Michigan State, #4 Iowa and #17 Purdue, the Badgers could go into Selection Sunday with a large amount of confidence and momentum that could lead to a Final Four appearance for the third straight season.

Photo via JCOnline.com

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