We know that everyone loves a great mid major story when they look at the March Madness odds. We don’t necessarily remember that the Duke Blue Devils won the dance last year, but that the Butler Bulldogs came up just a shot short of shocking us all and winning the whole enchilada. When push really comes to shove though, it’s usually nothing but big time teams that end up winning it all. Here are the five from the major conferences that we think could be cutting down the nets and might be underrated going into March Madness.
Ohio State Buckeyes: So the Big Ten is down this year… So what? Head Coach Thad Matta knew right at the start of the year that this was a team that really had the potential to be special. Whether the Buckeyes can really prove the test of tenacity in the NCAA Tournament is still yet to be seen, but there aren’t many teams that are more stacked right at the top than that are. Ohio State might have the best player in the country in Jared Sullinger, and it feels like he’s getting his double-double every single time out there. Jon Diebler, David Lighty, etc. etc. We could go on forever ranting and raving about this team. OSU deserves to be a No. 1 seed, and it will be a legit title contender for certain every step of the way.
North Carolina Tar Heels: Consider yourself on notice, Duke. The Tar Heels are coming to get you! We tend to believe that there are two games left between Carolina and Duke this year. The first will determine the outright winner of the regular season ACC title. The latter, if it happens, will be for the ACC Tournament title, and potentially for a No. 1 seed in March Madness. Harrison Barnes has really become the real deal, and it is his emergence that has really brought the Tar Heels into the forefront of the national scene once again. We know that guard play is what usually wins the dance, and we know that Larry Drew II has left the team, but there are still plenty of guards that can get the job done for this crew. Last year, the Heels came on strong and nearly won the NIT. This season, they might win the whole enchilada.
Syracuse Orange: The Orange had their rough spell over the course of the middle of the season, but we know that it is no accident that they are 11-6 and will almost certainly wrap up the regular season at 12-6 in the Big East. Is this team as talented as the ‘Cuse teams of the past? Probably not. But is Syracuse a legitimate National Championship contender out of a No. 3 or No. 4 seed? You betcha. Rick Jackson is one of the best big men in the country, and Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche are really coming on strong at the right time. Kris Joseph is a lethal shooter and can do it from all over the court. The only thing we don’t like about this team? Free throw shooting. Yikes, is its free throw shooting terrible… But if the ‘Cuse can overcome that, there are a lot of teams that are going to be scratching their heads as Head Coach Jim Boeheim is threatening to cut down the nets in Houston.
Kentucky Wildcats: We might be reaching just a tad about the Wildcats, but why not? Is there anyone that is going to doubt just how good this team has the ability to be? That ugly 3-7 record on the road isn’t going anywhere, but it’s not like the talent isn’t there to win these big road games. Remember the away duel at the Louisville Cardinals? Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller can knock down shots from the outside like it’s no one’s business, and Terrence Jones is quietly having a year in which he is averaging 17.2 points and 9.1 boards per game. Head Coach John Calipari has had better teams, but he has also taken worse teams quite a long way through the dance. He’s been talking a lot of smack about his own team, but we wouldn’t be surprised if the Cats, out of a middling seed no less, shock both their coach and the rest of the nation by getting into the Final Four this year.
Duke Blue Devils: Finally, where would we be without mentioning the Dookies? The defending champs almost always seem to get into the Sweet 16, and with two games likely coming this year in Charlotte, there’s no way that the Blue Devils are getting knocked off in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament regardless if they are a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed. Whether you like ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no ignoring the fact that Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are fantastic collegiate athletes. They did have the help of Jon Scheyer, but they were good enough to win it all last year, and it wouldn’t be all that shocking if they do it again, even if they don’t end up winning the ACC.