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Five Teams to Watch - Part II

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In early November, I selected five teams that would be invited to the 2015 NCAA Tournament that didn’t receive a bid to the event in 2014. It turns out that four of those five schools will be going to the “Big Dance” this March.

1) Minnesota

Let's start out with the one that won't go to the dance unless they win conference tournament. Minnesota pulled off a nice road victory versus Spartans earlier this week but it’s too little too later. The Golden Gophers lost too many close games and couldn't win on the road. This team will go back to the NIT where they won last year. Head coach Richard Pitino really thought he had the team that would be playing with his Dad's Louisville team this year. Instead expect another repeat performance in the NIT.

2) Arkansas

I predicted the Razorbacks to be a No. 5 or No 7 seed but they look more like a No. 4 at this point. Arkansas is ranked fifth nationally in assists at 17 per game, which is led by point guard Rashad Madden’s 2:1 assist/turnover ratio. Power forward Bobby Portis has been incredible, averaging almost a double-double (18 PPG, 8 RPG).

The Razorbacks are averaging 80 points per game, which is ranked ninth nationally. I believe they’re the only team that can give Kentucky a scare in the SEC. This is a team that no one wants to play and the tempo of head coach Mike Anderson is tough to stop. They have 10 players notching at least 10 minutes per game, which will help in the tournament. The defense averages close to eight steals per game, which creates extra possessions.

3) Utah

I had them easily making the tourney this year and that was an understatement. They are even better then I projected. They should earn a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in a couple weeks. Led by NBA prospect Delon Wright, they tout the sixth best shooting percentage (50%) in the nation. The Utes also have talented veterans and a lot depth in the front court, which has helped them hold opponents to 55 points per game, ranked eighth nationally. They won't beat themselves. You have to bring your 'A' game to beat this team. This team has played 11 guys and they do everything well. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak is no Rick Majerus but this team has brought back the memories of past Utah teams that have played in the Final Four.

4) Maryland

In November, I said they will sneak into the tournament. No sneaking here! After knocking off Wisconsin this past Tuesday at home, the Terrapins will most likely earn a No. 3seed come Selection Sunday. Freshman PG Melo Trimble has been as good as advertised and then some. He is impossible to cover defensively and can shoot lights out if forced into a zone.

The combination of senior Dez Wells and Trimble make this a team that will reach the Sweet 16 this March. Jake Layman a six-foot-nine swing man is a versatile player that gives Maryland diversity on offense and defense. When you add sharp shooting G Jared Nickens into the mix, this deep team has the ability to make a solid tournament run.

5) SMU

Head coach Larry Brown will get the last laugh here. Snubbed by last year’s selection committee this team walks in easy to this year’s dance. Junior PG Nic Moore leads an experienced team that can play well on both sides of the ball. The Mustangs made sure they played better opponents outside conference this year. It's better to be 23-5 and lose to Arkansas, Gonzaga, and Indiana then be 26-2 and play nobody. Look for them to be a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in this year’s tournament.

Of the five teams mentioned above, I believe Arkansas could go the deepest come tourney time! The Razorbacks are currently listed as an 80/1 betting choice to win the 2015 NCAA Tournament at [...].

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