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Four dark horse Final Four teams

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PREVIEWSDummy’s guide to filling out a bracket  |  7 must-watch games  |  Sleeper teams

As evidenced by the brackets filled out by the CBT writers, there are just a handful of teams with a reasonable expectation to make the Final Four in this year’s tournament. Arizona, Florida, Louisville, and Michigan State (with one selection of Wichita State) headline the group, but despite this unintentionally uniformed thinking, could there be an outlier, or two, that end up playing until April’s first weekend? We examine the four teams that could possibly keep dancing.

No. 7 Oregon — West

At one point, the Ducks were among the nation’s hottest teams, but a midseason swoon — Oregon won just two games over the course of the month (losing eight contests) — subsequently sidelined Dana Altman’s squad. The team finished league play strongly, posting wins over Arizona and UCLA, and have been propelled by their offensive efficiency rating — 1.16 points per possession — which ranks twelfth nationally. Oregon was fortunately seeded amongst teams whose defense is, at best, optional.

Other than Nebraska, no other team in San Antonio or Milwaukee holds opponents under one point per possession, catnip to Joseph Young (52 percent of his twos, 41.6 percent of his threes) and the other offensively proficient Ducks. Oregon already has an advantage even before the tournament tips — UO played its first-round opponent, BYU, during its non-conference slate, and the Cougars will be playing without arguably the best player (Kyle Collinsworth). If Dana Altman’s squad emerges in the Elite Eight, a potential match-up is Arizona looms, a team UO already split with during Pac-12 play (their lone loss to the Wildcats was by two points).

No. 4 UCLA — South

UCLA has likely the least chance of this quartet to make the Final Four, but that is why the Bruins are a dark horse! It is unclear whether Steve Alford’s team will even escape their first, or second, round games, but if they do manage to leap-frog their initial region, one filled with swipe-happy, ball-pressuring defenses, a match-up versus Florida will determine UCLA’s NCAA livelihood. The Bruins’ unique offense, one that starts with an iso problem in Kyle Anderson, continue with the Wear twins (both dilemmas for opposing bigs), and ends with one of the Pac-12’s most improved players, Norman Powell, is a defensive nightmare — i.e. in the Pac-12 final, against Arizona, the Bruins scored north of 1.40 PPP — and even though the Gators’ defense is stingy, the team hasn’t faced an offense as explosive as the one showcased in Westwood.

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 that won’t  |  TV times  |  Bracket contest

No. 11 Tennessee — Midwest
The toughest region in this year’s bracket, the consensus picks to reach Arlington are Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, or Duke, BUT there is another team that could completely bust the bracket and win four games — Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin’s team has twelve losses, but eleven of those defeats were within single digits (two of those losses came on buzzer-beaters to Texas A&M). The Vols have an offensive and defensive efficiency rate that both rank within Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, and UT is able to withstand their low shooting percentages by grabbing a high rate of their misses (nearly 40 percent, fifth nationally). Mercer has become a trendy upset pick to beat Duke — this is one of the weakest Blue Devil defenses in the KenPom era (since 2002-03) — and should the Vols get past (likely) Michigan, the squad is familiar with one of their potential Elite Eight match-ups — UT faced the Shockers during their non-conference slate and only lost by nine.

No. 7 New Mexico — South

We keep telling ourselves that the Lobos won’t desert us like last year. That first-round, premature exit thanks to Harvard can’t possibly happen again. The Mountain West team is too experienced, and much more efficient from within the arc (51.8 percent, as compared to 46.1 percent in ’13), to suffer another early exit, and the selection committee did Craig Neal’s squad a solid by setting up a potential match-up with Kansas, a team with a frontcourt that may miss Joel Embiid, or Ohio State, a squad that is backcourt-heavy. Should they advance to play either of those teams, the odds have to favor the Lobos, but first they need to beat to Stanford, which is certainly no easy task.

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.