10 Dark Horse Teams That Could Make the Final Four in 2021 NCAA Tournament
Perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, this year’s college basketball season has been defined by elite teams that seem almost untouchable. We’re mainly referring to Gonzaga and Baylor, although Michigan has looked elite at times while Illinois has come on strong as of late.
However, nobody expects all of four No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four. In fact, in such a weird and unprecedented season, there’s a good chance the 2021 NCAA Tournament holds plenty of surprises for us. That could mean an underdog team or two sneaking its way into the Final Four.
In the event that happens, here are some Final Four dark horses we like to bust brackets in 2021.
The Trojans are one of the biggest boom-or-bust teams in the tournament.
They don’t have strong point guard play, which means they could go out early. At the same time, Evan Mobley is a beast on the interior and Tahj Eaddy can light it up from the outside.
USC may not have the most balanced and cohesive team, but they have high-end talent and an impressive size in the frontcourt that can give opponents a lot of problems on the defensive end. If Mobley can play at a high level and the Trojans can play consistent defense, a Final Four run isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
The Pac-12 didn’t get a lot of attention or respect this season, but surely the regular-season champions are capable of doing some damage.
Chris Duarte is a special player who’s surrounded by veteran players who have transferred from other schools and have started to gel with the Ducks. Also, keep in mind that the Ducks have been much better over their last dozen or so games with Will Richardson playing point guard.
Oregon has won 11 of 13 and is playing far better right now than the average No. 7 seed. If the Ducks can find a way to upset Iowa in the Round of 32, the West Region could be theirs for the taking.
The Tigers proved during the SEC Tournament that they can go toe-to-toe with just about any team in the country. LSU has four high-level scorers who are all capable of carrying the Tigers in a game, so it doesn’t have to be the same player stepping up every game.
Of course, if the Tigers are clicking on all cylinders offensively, they’re tough to beat in a shootout. There’s also a chance they could luck out by playing Michigan in the Round of 32 without Isaiah Livers.
If LSU can get past Michigan and perhaps start to play a little defense, they have the firepower offensively to reach the Final Four.
If the Hoyas can keep up the momentum they built up last week at the Big East Tournament, the Final Four is an attainable goal. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time we saw a team get hot at the Big East Tournament and carry it deep into March (think UConn in 2011).
The Hoyas are really clicking right now, getting great guard play from Jahvon Blair and impactful play inside from Qudus Wahab. Plus, the East Region looks like it could be a bracket with a lot of upsets, making things wide-open for the Hoyas if they can stay hot.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Consistency has not been a strength for UNC this year. However, there’s no denying that the Tar Heels have the talent to make a Final Four run if they can find a little bit of consistency.
North Carolina has four big men who can crash the boards and pick up garbage points in large quantities. In fact, that might be a potential formula for beating Baylor in the Round of 32. Obviously, there are lingering questions about UNC’s young guards.
But if Caleb Love and company can start to grow up, there could be no stopping the Tar Heels given all they have in the frontcourt.
Purdue is the one Big Ten team that people are forgetting about as a Final Four contender.
The Boilermakers finished fourth in the conference during the regular season. Unlike most teams, Purdue probably isn’t going to succeed with strong guard play. Instead, Trevion Williams and Zach Edey could form an unstoppable tandem inside.
Williams is a first-team performer in the Big Ten while Edey is a 7-4 freshman who is getting better with every game. There aren’t a lot of teams that will be able to contain that tandem in the paint, opening the door for Purdue to make a deep run if the Boilermakers can avoid Big Ten teams and get steady play from their guards.
The Ramblers reached the Final Four three years ago, so why can’t they do the same this year? Loyola has been red-hot down the stretch and brings back a fair amount of experience from that Final Four team from 2018.
Offensively, the Ramblers will have to manufacture points outside of center Cameron Krutwig. But Loyola is also one of the best defensive teams in the country, so they’ll be able to win close, low-scoring games.
Getting Georgia Tech in the First Round is a tough draw. However, if the Ramblers can survive that game, they can give Illinois some trouble and perhaps make another miracle run with Sister Jean watching from the front row.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Speaking of the Yellow Jackets, they are also a potential sleeper if they can get past Loyola in the First Round.
Georgia Tech is a defensive juggernaut that can take any team out of its rhythm offensively. They also have a quartet of capable offensive players led by ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright. Much like Loyola, the Yellow Jackets might be one of the few teams that can trouble Illinois right now, and if Georgia Tech advances past the Illini and goes to the Sweet 16, there’s no reason to think they can’t reach the Final Four.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
It’s a mystery who signed off on Oklahoma State being a No. 4 seed. Nevertheless, that qualifies them to be a dark horse behind Cade Cunningham, who might be the best player in the country right now.
Cunningham has been at another level late in the season and has no problem demanding the ball late in games. The Cowboys also have a vastly underrated supporting cast, so not every game is dependent on Cunningham playing like the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
To be fair, Oklahoma State’s path to the Final Four is by no means easy, starting with a tricky Liberty team in the First Round. But there should be no question that the Cowboys have a team that’s good enough to go deep into March.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Orange made the Final Four as a double-digit seed. Jim Boeheim’s team did so in 2016 and this year’s team is just as capable of doing the same.
The way that Syracuse has played recently, they are far better than a No. 11 seed. The Orange has five quality offensive players in the starting lineup and a bench that’s starting to contribute more each game. Plus, there is Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone, which always seems to play head games and wreak havoc in March when the Orange play teams that aren’t accustomed to seeing it. It’s also fair to say that Syracuse is in the weaker part of the Midwest bracket, so reaching the Elite Eight or the Final Four isn’t hard to envision.
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