With just about a month until March Madness begins, students, fans and analysts have begun to focus in on specific teams as tournament underdogs. The media loves to spend all of its time discussing Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. However, there are plenty of other teams that have the ability to make a splash in the tournament. I will give you my picks on three teams that will surprise many fans this March and tell you why you should keep them on your radar as you think about filling out your bracket.
Marquette currently stands at No. 10 in the country, and for good reason. Marquette is 9-2 in the Big East and will ultimately find itself contending for a conference title this season. The Golden Eagles have been led all season by guard Markus Howard. The junior may only be five foot-11 inches tall, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in scoring ability. Howard is averaging 25.2 points per game, good for the fourth highest per game average in all of Division I college basketball.
Head coach Steve Wojciechowski has effectively led his players throughout the season, limiting bad losses and pulling out improbable wins. In fact, of the team’s four losses, two came at the hands of St. John’s, and another was to Kansas, the second-ranked team in the nation at that time. The Golden Eagles have what it takes to turn some heads in the tournament. With Howard’s unmatched scoring touch and the team’s proven toughness and resilience, I do not think any coach in the country wants to have anything to do with Marquette come March.
Another ranked team, I believe that No. 17 Florida State has something special. Historically a football school, FSU has begun to make a name for itself in recent years as well. Led by head coach Leonard Hamilton, the Seminoles have put together a very solid season thus far. Though Florida State is currently seventh in its conference, that is not necessarily indicative of how competitive the team actually is, considering the ACC is always an extremely tough conference to play in.
Unlike Marquette, Florida State lacks a true NBA-caliber superstar. Still, Coach Hamilton has made the best of what he has to work with, utilizing his deep yet talented roster as best he can. The Seminoles can run with just about anybody, and the experience that this year’s team has from playing formidable ACC opponents like Duke, Virginia and North Carolina will only make the ‘Noles that much more prepared for success come tournament time. Keep an eye on Florida State this year because they just might end up in the Elite Eight.
St. John’s is probably my favorite deep sleeper pick in college basketball this year. They may not make all the headlines or get the same attention as many other teams do, but this roster is made up of legitimate ball players. With five players averaging double figures for the Red Storm, head coach and NBA Hall-of-Famer Chris Mullin has got to be pleased with his team’s steady and efficient production this season.
One name for St. John’s stands out, though, as the true catalyst behind the team’s success: Shamorie Ponds. The junior guard has been lights out for St. John’s all season, consistently exhibiting his ability to take over a game and score at will against almost any defender. Couple that with a supporting cast that features tenacious rebounder L.J. Figueroa and athletic swingman Mustapha Heron and one thing becomes abundantly clear: very few Division I teams can effectively match up against the scoring punch and depth that coach Mullin puts out on the floor game after game. St. John’s might just be the Cinderella story of this year’s tournament.
Contact Ethan Marchetti at [email protected]