Every year, one team makes a surprisingly deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This past year it was Butler and VCU making the Final Four, while in 2010 it was Butler making the national championship game and sixth-seeded Tennessee reaching the Elite Eight. This coming season, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State are heavy favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans, but here are 10 teams that could make a surprising run in March.
10. West Virginia Mountaineers
2010-11 Record: 21-12
Bob Huggins’ teams are always known for defense and toughness, and this team will be no different. Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones will be the undisputed senior leaders for the team, while Deniz Kilicli will set the tone for the Mountaineers as he is one of the toughest players in all of college basketball and should see more minutes this year. Freshman Jabarie Hinds will provide playmaking and scoring off the bench for the Mountaineers, but unfortunately transfer Aaric Murray will not be eligible until next season as he could be a real difference maker.
9. George Mason Patriots
2010-11 Record: 27-7
Former Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt walks into a great situation at George Mason this season. This team is a veteran laden squad that is coming off of a first-round victory over Villanova last season. Forward Ryan Pearson could be a mid-major star in the making this year after he averaged 14.2 points on 51 percent shooting and 6.7 rebounds per game last year, and should see those numbers increase. Watch out for the Patriots to make a run similar to their Final Four run in 2006.
8. Cincinnati Bearcats
2010-11 Record: 26-9
While many people have Cincinnati in the top 15, they make this list because of the lack of attention they get behind other Big East teams. Traditional powers Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville are getting all the attention, but people would be wise not to overlook Cincinnati. They return one of the more powerful and athletic forwards in the country in Yancy Gates as well as standout guard Sean Kilpatrick. With those two anchoring the team and a strong freshmen class coming in led by uber-athlete Shaq Thomas, the Bearcats will be very dangerous.
7. Memphis Tigers
2010-11 Record: 25-12
Last season, Memphis was one of the youngest teams in the NCAA boasting a freshmen class of seven including homegrown players Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and Chris Black. The Tigers had some road bumps – as could be expected for any team that young – but seemed to get everything together in time for the NCAA Tournament where they suffered a close loss to Arizona in the first round. With last year’s freshmen all returning with a year under their belts, and another Memphis product, Adonis Thomas, entering the program as freshman, the Tigers should have a smoother season to set them up for a potentially great March.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
2010-11 Record: 17-14
Over the past two seasons, Mississippi State has probably been the most inconsistent team in college basketball. Two years ago, the team’s star freshman, Renardo Sidney, was ineligible for the entire season, and this past year Sidney, Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson were all suspended at some point throughout the season. This year, Bost returns as the floor general in Starkville and he is one of the more underappreciated true point guards in college hoops. The front court will be loaded with Sidney and athletic UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie, in addition to solid backup Wendell Lewis. Also, five-star recruit Rodney Hood should fill the void left by Johnson on the wing. If the Bulldogs can stay on track for the whole season, they have the potential to be really dangerous.