Who are the darkhorses this March?
LAS VEGAS, NV (The Spread) - After such a promising start to begin the season (12-1 SU), Oklahoma State faltered big time in conference play. Are they the ultimate darkhorse?
Markus Smart was suspended for three games but the Cowboy's troubles cannot be all blamed on Smart's absence. Freshman Stevie Clark was dismissed from the team back in February and he was a valuable option coming off the bench as a point guard with quickness that could create shots on his own.
Oklahoma State failed to win any quality games on the road in conference play as they continuously fall short in close games. The Cowboys played three overtime games and lost all 3 of them. They also lost by 3 to Kansas State, by 3 to Oklahoma, and by 2 to Kansas.
Oklahoma State will have their hands full in the NCAA tournament and while they have talent with Smart, Brown, Nash , and three-point specialist Forte; the bench is thin and very unreliable. Given the fact that Oklahoma State has not been able to beat quality opponents this year and the fact that there is so much pressure on their starting 5, I expect an early exit out of the tournament for the Cowboys.
Outside of Forte who is a 45% three-point shooter, they don't have any other consistent perimeter shooters. Because of their lack-luster conference record, not even a strong showing in the Big 12 Tournament will help them out will help them out with a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament. No matter who they play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it will be a difficult matchup as New Mexico, Kentucky, and Memphis are all first round possibilities.
Of course I cannot predict the bracket, but regardless this is an Oklahoma State team that I will be looking to fade in the tournament if the correct match-up presents itself.
Now here are a couple teams that I have identified that will be under-the-radar and have the talent to make a run in the tournament.
1) New Mexico-----New Mexico will be a tough 'out' this Tournament. They went 11-4 this year on the Road/Neutral sites. Two of those losses were by 3 points @ San Diego State and by 1 point @ Boise State. New Mexico had the lead for much of both of those games before losing in the final minutes. New Mexico has two BIG guys in the paint that the offense can be run through. Cameron Bairstow is a big 6'9" Australian that is scoring 20 ppg, shooting 56% from the floor. Next they have a 7 footer in Alex Kirk who is chipping in with 14 ppg and 8 rebounds a game. These two guys can control the paint and give shooting guard Kendall Williams a nice inside-outside offense. Williams can create his own shot, he can shoot the three ball (41%), and he can shoot free throws (80%), while dishing 5 assist a game. Williams is a NBA ready dynamic player that can take over a game and score in a variety of ways. I look for him to lead the Lobos to the Elite 8 this year.
2) Iowa------Iowa faltered down the stretch of the regular season losing 6 straight games but are a much better team than one might assume after this losing streak. Their stock has fallen and they are going to be a lower seed in tournament now but are certainly a team that can reach the Sweet 16. While Iowa is ranked 6th in the nation scoring 83 ppg , they are also a defensive minded team with size in the paint and length on the perimeter as well. Point guard Mike Gessell has almost a 4:1 assist-turnover ratio and just plays fundamental basketball. Iowa is a big, tall, long, and athletic team. Gessell is a 6'1" point guard, but the other 6 guys that are in the main rotation are all 6'6" or taller. Iowa can go 10 deep if needed. They are versatile and can play different types of basketball. They are also one of the better rebounding teams in the nation and are out-rebounding their opponents by 11 rebounds a game which I feel should be noted come tournament time. They shoot free throws at 73% on the season and if the game is on the line, I like the Hawkeyes to grab loose balls, make free throws, and rely on Roy-Devyn Marble to seal the game. Look for Iowa to make a strong push as a darkhorse in the tournament this year.
In closing, I feel like I have identified three teams that we can either PLAY ON or PLAY AGAINST in the NCAAB Tournament. It is March Madness and we all know that anything can happen, but I clearly feel that Oklahoma State is a position for a first round exit while New Mexico and Iowa are two 'sleeper' teams that are primed for a deep and unexpected run in the Big Dance.