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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Talent worthy of consideration

If the University of Florida suddenly and inexplicably disbanded its men's basketball program tomorrow, the Gators' hoops team would probably still be considered a favorite to repeat as national champions.

Similar statements could be made about most of the teams currently residing in the top 10, and most strongly about Wisconsin, Ohio State and North Carolina.

As is the case most seasons, teams currently ranked outside of the top 10 aren't being given much of a chance to win a national title. And, while it's more likely that Florida and its five returning starters will repeat as national champs than say, No. 17 Air Force wins its first championship, it's important to remember that at this time a year ago, the Gators were sitting at No. 12 in the AP poll.

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Though not every season crowns a national champion team that wasn't considered a favorite all season long, it certainly isn't a rarity to see a dark horse make a run at the championship. Along with the Gators, none of last season's Final Four teams were ranked in the top 10 at this time last year, and three seasons ago it was Stanford and St. Joseph's, not eventual winner UConn, that were getting all the attention.

So, of this season's group of teams currently ranked outside the top 10, who might we see make a break for it come NCAA tournament time?

In picking a dark horse team, it's important to first identify teams that include one or more key aspects that are vital to surprise success in the big dance.

An elite player is a must for any team that wants to be successful. Having a star player who can carry the team on his back is a huge advantage when facing an elimination game.

The team must have played a somewhat difficult schedule, ensuring that it is battle-tested when it comes time for the tournament. Teams coming off a year of playing junior varsity-caliber squads — that means you, Memphis — aren't as ready to handle tough opponents as a team that plays in a loaded conference.

A coach with prior experience in big games also comes in handy. There's nothing more comforting than having a coach on the sidelines who has been there before and knows what needs to be done in the most important games of the season.

Lastly, the ability to hit 3-pointers can keep any team in an NCAA tournament game. A sharp shooter catching fire can spell death for opposing teams regardless of how good they are; there's just no stopping a team that can bury the deep ball.

Those qualities already stated, here are five teams not currently ranked in the top 10 that possess one or more of those attributes and has the potential to become this year's Florida.

Marquette

This team could make the same kind of run that the Dwayne Wade-led Eagles did in the 2003 tournament, going all the way to the Final Four. Tom Crean was on the sidelines for that team as well and with Dominic James leading this year's squad another run in March wouldn't be surprising. Coming from the Big East, the Golden Eagles have played in their share of hostile environments and against physical teams, so they'll be ready for whatever the seeding committee may put before them.

Oregon

No team has been as up and down this season as the Ducks, who after climbing to sixth in the polls have now lost four of their last six games. But, Aaron Brooks is one of the most dangerous players in the country and if teams focus too much on him, Oregon has four other players averaging double figures in points that can step up. With the ability to hit the 3 as well as score inside, Oregon figures to create matchup problems regardless of who their opponent is.

Duke

Has Duke really fallen enough in the past couple of weeks to be considered a dark horse? Apparently the Blue Devils and their recent five-game conference losing streak have. Still though, there's no doubt Coach K's success in the tournament and Duke still caries that larger than life aura. Talented and tested in ACC play, Duke has more than just its name to edge opponents. If Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus can ever get their games going at the same time, the Blue Devils can play with — and beat — any team in the country. But that's a big "if."

Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois has virtually become synonymous with the terms "Cinderella" and "dark horse" in the past decade, but this season they really do have a chance to do something special. The rest of the Missouri Valley has finally caught up to them, meaning the Salukis will have played their share of tough games by the end of the season, and defensively there aren't a lot of teams as tough as them. Watching Southern Illinois advance to the Sweet 16 might not seem so impressive anymore, but this team might finally be ready to make the jump to the Final Four.

Texas

Carmelo Anthony made it pretty clear in 2002 what can happen when a dominant freshman scorer gets hot in the NCAA tournament. All the Longhorns need to do is give Kevin Durant an NCAA tournament and the super-talented freshman can take care of the rest. Also like Syracuse, Texas trusts a freshman, D.J. Augustin, to run the point, a task he does very well. With A.J. Abrams camped outside the 3-point line waiting for teams to double Durant, there are plenty of ways for opponents to fall to Texas. No team in the country would feel comfortable with the idea of playing the nation's best scorer, and for that matter, player, with its tournament life at stake.

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