One of the premier sporting events in the country is about to get underway in the upcoming weekend with the NCAA Division I Tournament kicking off.
Every year, as people start to fill out brackets and the entire country turns an eye to college basketball, the nation, whether they have been watching college basketball or not all season, tries to decipher which No.1 seeds are for real along with who the Cinderella story will be.
Heading into the tournament, these are the three dark horses in the bracket. Now not all of these are low seeds, but they are all going to go further than anticipated. After reading way too many brackets and far too many articles, these are the dark horses.
Arizona State Sun Devils
This team was red hot this season, for 12 games. They were the last unbeaten team and averaged 91.8 points per game in their 12-0 run. The streak included wins over Kansas, Xavier and Vanderbilt. They were the hottest team in the country, then went 8-11 over the rest of the season. Their conference record finished at 8-10 and their scoring balanced out to 83.5 points per game.
Despite the flaws and consistency struggles of the team, they still went on a 12-0 run while beating some real contenders. If Tra Holder (18.4 points per game) and Romello White (10.7 points per game) can help get this team hot, they are as good as any organization to make a deep run. The bones for the Sun Devils is getting to warm up in the play in the game against Syracuse.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Because of the Collin Sexton show that took over the SEC tournament, this may not be exactly a hot take, but I have been riding the Sexton train since November. Since I have been on the Bama bandwagon for the season, I still get the dark horse credit for them.
Sexton is an exciting scorer that can hit from everywhere on the court. He averaged 19 points an outing while knocking down 37 percent of his threes. He is surrounded by long athletes that can defend the perimeter and clog up the paint. Donta Hall snags 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, making him the defensive lynchpin of the team. But Bama runs deep, with Daniel Gibbens racking up 1.1 blocks per game and Dazon Ingram leads the team with 157 defensive rebounds. The defensive base around a stud like Sexton, who can explode for 30 points out of seemingly nowhere, Alabama is built to cause upsets.
A No. 1 seed as a dark horse? Hear me out. While the Musketeers are one of the top teams in the country, most of what I read and see has this team bumped by Gonzaga before getting to the Elite Eight. Which is why Xavier is my dark horse Final Four team.
The Trevon Bluiett led squad is ranked 11th in offense (84.3 points per game) and 21st in assists (16.6). The team’s impressive 28-5 record included winning streaks of nine and 10 games. This team can make a run and the only two programs that can really cause trouble are the Gonzaga Bulldogs and North Carolina Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels offense has tailed off since last season and the unlikely star of last season, Luke Maye, has turned into the lead Carolina scorer. It has been a roller coaster season for Carolina, which means they may not be the roster to make a run. Gonzaga has a deep roster but lacks a player that can really take over a game on the offensive side. Bluiett is the best scorer on the floor when these two squads face-off, leaving the Bulldogs with no offensive piece to go shot for shot with him.
Predictions: Xavier makes the final four, Alabama beats Villanova and Arizona State tops Michigan State.
Photo: Alabama’s Collin Sexton, right, heads to the basket as Auburn’s Horace Spencer, left, defends during the second half in an NCAA college basketball quarterfinal game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 9, 2018, in St. Louis. Alabama won 81-63. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)