The 2012 NCAA Tournament may end up being on of the most competitive fields in recent memory. While there are five to 10 elite teams this year, the quality of the entire field is incredibly high. Because of that, and because of what we’ve seen in the past, it is entirely possible that a dark-horse emerges from the field, such as VCU did a season ago.
Even if a darkhorse doesn’t make it to New Orleans, a successful run to the Sweet-16 or Elite Eight is enough to advance the program for seasons to come. Consider this the list of teams that you think could make a run, but aren’t positive enough to vocalize it.
(Note: Our list contains no teams seeded higher than a No. 7-seed)
Florida (No. 7 West):
In the dark: The Gators played in the shadows of Kentucky all season long, and when they had their chance against the Wildcats, they came up short. The SEC was pretty weak outside of Kentucky, so people wrote this team off as a legitimate contender.
Why they can make a run: Billy Donovan is a solid tournament coach, and they have a bunch of guards that can score a bunch of points. If they can feed Patric Young on a consistent basis, this is a team that can do some damage.
Tourney distance: A potential third round match-up with Missouri would be interesting and entertaining considering that both teams are very similar. It would not be a monumental surprise to see this team advance to the Elite Eight or further, but it would be a bit of a shock.
Creighton (No. 8 Midwest):
In the dark: Wichita State stole its thunder late in the season, and even a MVC tournament Championship couldn’t boost the Bluejays tournament seeding.
Why they can make a run: Doug McDermott. That’s why. This team does not play a lot of defense but Doug Mcdermott is an All-American capable of scoring 30 points night in and night out. Antoine Young can make clutch shots and Gregotry Echenique is a force down low.
Tourney distance: If, and that’s a big “if”, they can beat North Carolina in the third round, this team could go all the way. But their lack of defense will hurt them against North Carolina. That being said, it would not be a surprise to see this team advance past the third round.
Iowa State (No. 8 South)
In the Dark: Hoop junkies know how good of a job Fred Hoiberg has done as coach this year, and they know about Royce White. But this would be a perfect time for the casual fans to get introduced to “The Royce White Expressway”.
Why they can make a run: Royce White. The 6-9 forward is a match-up nightmare. He’s the type of player who can put the entire team on his back. But he does have help. Scott Christopherson is a phenomenal shooter, and Melvin Ejim can do a bit of everything. This team was right outside of the Big-XII’s big-3 of Kansas, Baylor and Missouri. Being just outside of that group isn’t too shabby for a team chalk-full of transfers coached by a second-year head coach.
Tourney distance: UConn is a difficult second round match-up, but talented teams that lack cohesiveness don’t usually fare well in March. If Iowa State beats the Huskies they can legitimately give Kentucky a run for their money in the third round. If they can knock-off the overall No.1-seed, sky is the limit.
Kansas State (No. 8 East):
In the dark: The Wildcats have no superstars like in previous years, and play in the shadows on the Kansas Jayhawks. They beat good teams but lost to teams they shouldn’t have.
Why they can make a run: The Wildcats are as tough as they come. They beat up on teams with more size and more talent. They are an extremely good offensive rebounding team and have solid guard play.
Tourney distance: It is possible that they could defeat Syracuse in the third round. The Orange are a poor rebounding tram, and as mentioned, Kansas State is surprisingly good. A berth in the Sweet-16 is possible, but that’s probably their limit. Nonetheless, that would be a significant accomplishment for a team that entered the season with limited expectations.
West Virginia (No. 10 East):
In the dark: The Mountaineers were just 9-9 in Big East play and have a roster with nine freshman on it.
Why they can make a run: Kevin Jones is a force down low. He is a tremendous rebounder, has great hands and can shot from outside. Truck Bryant is a capable point guard who can score in volume when he is responsible with the ball.
Tourney distance: Beating Gonzaga in the first round is very possible. A second round match-up with Ohio State is made less daunting because of Kevin Jones, who can go toe-to-toe with Jared Sullinger.
Xavier (No. 10 South):
In the dark: There might not ever be a downward spiral as big as the one the Musketeers fell into following the Crosstown Brawl. Luckily for Xavier, they had been so dominant prior to the incident, that they were buoyed enough to limp in the tournament.
Why they can make a run: They have a very easy draw, and if they can discover their moxie again, this team is dangerous. Tu Holloway hasn’t had a great season, but we all know what he’s capable of in the tournament.
Tourney distance: They are more talented than Notre Dame, but they will have to be more disciplined. If they can be, and Duke gets upset by Lehigh, which is very possible, a Sweet-Sixteen run isn’t out of the realm of possibillity. A Final-Four appearance probably is however.
Texas (No. 11 East):
In the dark: Only J’Covan Brown, Alexis Wangmene and Dean Melchonni return from last year’s squad. Plus, the ‘Horns finished in the middle of the Big-XII pack at 9-9.
Why they can make a run: They ran with a bunch of the top teams in the Big-XII despite having so much youth on their roster. Plus, their Nashville pod is rather weak.
Tourney distance: A berth in the Sweet-16 would be a tremendous success and would not be too farfetched. Cincinnati is a beatible first round opponent, as is either Florida State or St. Bonaventure’s.
Long Beach State (No. 12 West):
In the dark: Actually, this team is probably one of the sexiest lower-seed picks in the tournament. The 49ers’ monstrous non-conference schedule provided some exposure to the public, but still, they play in the Big West Conference. Not enough people know about Casper Ware.
Why they can make a run: They are loaded with experience. Not tournament experience per se, but all five starters are seniors, and their brutal non-conference schedule has given them confidence to hang with the big-boys. Casper Ware is one of the best point guards in the country, and this team plays a brand of basketball that not may teams want to deal with.
Tourney distance: A Sweet-16 appearance wouldn’t be a huge surprise, but they would have to beat Louisville, a team they already lost to, in order to get there.
New Mexico State (No. 13 South):
In the dark: The Aggies play in the WAC. The only reason you know about the WAC is because of conference realignment. They only played one BCS-conference team (Arizona) and lost 83-76.
Why they can make a run: They’ve won 12 of their last 14 games and all of their key players are upperclassmen. Guard Hernst LaRoche and forward Wendell McKines make up one of the ebst one-two punches out west. They are both capable of 30-point performances, and are both quality shooters. The Aggies aren’t terribly deep, but they have size and strength.
Tourney distance: 6-foot-11 senior Hamidu Rahman will have his hands full with Indiana’s Cody Zeller in the second round, but the Aggies backcourt may actually be better than the Hooisers, so if they can control the talented freshman, they can steal the victory. With Wichita State and VCU facing off in the other match-up, a berth in the Sweet-16 is possible. That’s about as far as this team can go.
Detroit (No. 15 Midwest)
In the dark: The Titans’ early season struggles killed all the preseason hype that was attached to this team. Playing in a Horizon League known primarily for Butler didn’t help either.
Why they can make a run: They have a surprisingly big and athletic team for the mid-major ranks. Ray McCallum Jr. is a five-star guard and Eli Hohlman is a dominant big-man that should be able to give Thomas Robinson some trouble. They also have two athletic forwards in LaMarcus Lowe and Doug Anderson.
Tourney distance: They are a No.15-seed, so earning one win would be considered a success. earning that one win against Kansas would have to be considered an even bigger success. Plus, Kansas hsa a penchant for losing to mid-major teams. Maybe the titans can summon some Horizon League magic and become “the new Butler”.
Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.