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January 22, 2008

SCS.comMarch Madness has long been known for dramatic buzzer beaters, memorable upsets, and crushing defeats. Guys named Tyus go coast to coast and become heroes for several hours as fans throughout the country breathe a sigh of relief and put that red pen away, the same pen that comes out a few hours later to get some heavy work as some guy named Bryce stakes his claim in March Madness history with a play called "pacer." It's moments like these that make March special. Unless the thought of Ryan Howard taking BP off some AA pitcher in Clearwater gets you going, then these are the type of moments that make James Forrest, Mike Miller, and Tate George legends (possibly begrudged) to college basketball fans everywhere.

The real pageantry of college basketball was captured by George Mason just a couple of years ago when they made an unprecedented run to the Final Four, yes the Final Four that is supposedly reserved for the North Carolina’s, Duke’s, and UCLA’s of the world. But that is the beauty of the NCAA Tournament, it is a one and done format. George Mason only has to be better than Connecticut for a single game; Virginia Commonwealth only has to have an answer for Duke once in order for Eric Maynor to be etched in Blue Devil fans’ nightmares for an entire off season. But when fans are filling out their brackets, they want to be able to say they knew what kind of team George Mason or Gonzaga was all season.

Here are several teams you may want to keep your eye on over the next few weeks and see which one you will be comfortable with making a Cinderella run in March. None of them are household names, nor come from major conferences, but one of these teams could very well be playing past the first weekend of March Madness. Now get out the TV Guide and see when they are playing so you can figure out which teams will carry you to office pool glory.

San Diego State

San Diego State does not have any notable victories, and they even have several bad losses. Yet they find themselves undefeated in Mountain West Conference play, alone atop the standings, and possess a 14-4 overall record. Not too shabby for a team still looking for its groove. Despite the less than impressive profile, the Aztecs do have a lot of athleticism and talent. Although there is no one dominant force on the inside, nor any seven footers making an impact for San Diego State, they are not truly an undersized team.

Leading the way is junior swingman Lorrenzo Wade. Wade gets to the basket very well and is complimented by Kyle Spain and Kelvin Davis. The Aztecs have several players who are between 6’6 and 6’8 giving San Diego State a long team that will be able to hold their own on the boards. San Diego State will more than likely have to win their conference tournament, or at least get through the Mountain West with only a loss or two and then avoid an early loss come conference tournament time. But if they do find their way into the tournament keep an eye on whether or not their opponents can guard the wing and stop penetration. If not, The Aztecs might be a very viable Cinderella candidate.


Sitting in third place and two games behind conference leader Drake, Creighton looks like a team that will keep getting better as the season advances. Dane Watts does a little bit of everything and is the glue that keeps this team together. He rebounds well, shoots the ball better than expected and leads the team in scoring. Most importantly is his leadership after the Blue Jays lost several key players from last season.

The real key to Creighton’s success in March will lie in the hands of a freshman. P’Allen Stinnett is second on the team in scoring and will athletically give any opponents fits, even foes from larger conferences. Creighton has already beaten Saint Joseph’s, DePaul, and Nebraska showing they can go toe-to-toe with top frontcourts and beat more athletic teams. Expect to see Creighton dancing in March, and as usual some team will have to earn a victory if they want to advance past the first round. Also, the Missouri Valley Conference should still be good enough to send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament taking a touch of pressure off of Creighton in their pursuit of an invitation to the ball.

New Mexico State

How does a team with ten losses prior to the last week of January have a chance to make a name for itself come March. Easily, they have every opportunity in the world to get hot and takeover its conference before season’s end. They played a tough schedule early and their record reflects the rough road. Justin Hawkins is a dynamic scorer and excellent on the glass, he is definitely more than capable of getting the Aggies through the Western Athletic Conference and into the NCAA Tournament. Oh by the way, a top-notch recruit happens to be getting ready to make his debut in the middle of the season.

It was not clear whether or not Herb Pope would ever suit up for New Mexico State after troubles with the NCAA and higher authorities. But before the end of the month, Pope will make his debut and help makeup the best duo in the WAC and one that can catch lightning in a bottle versus pretty much any team in the country. Now for the problems, the Aggies need to get to the tournament which means they basically need to win the WAC Tournament. The second problem is whether or not Pope will mesh with his new teammates. However, should the Aggies find their way into the tournament; they will be an absolute handful for their opponent. This is a team that at least on paper has Sweet Sixteen talent.


Teams from conferences such as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference generally find their biggest match up problems in the paint and even in close games, the difference on the boards is too great for David to overcome. Rider has the luxury of a 6’11 future NBA player on its roster. Jason Thompson is a big fish in a small pond and has the talent to be a big fish in most ponds. Currently Rider is right in the thick of things in the MAAC, a game behind Siena.

Thompson has showed he can bang with some very good frontcourts. In his three contests with Kansas State, Drexel, and North Carolina State, Thompson averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds. Jason’s brother Ryan and fellow guard Harris Mansell combine to provide a wonderful inside-outside combination reminiscent of teams from much larger conferences. Rider will have to win the MAAC Tournament in order for a chance to prove its merit in March. This is a team with the capability of ruining a whole lot of brackets, but at the same time, could make you look like a genius.

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