NCAA Tournament: Who could step up to be this year's South Carolina?

DeShaun Tate
February 22, 2018 - 8:41 pm
Hamidou Diallo

© Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

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This time last year, an unranked SEC team was unexpectedly bounced from its conference tournament. What came next was shocking on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

South Carolina busted a ton of brackets with its run to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, defeating Marquette, Duke, Baylor and conference foe Florida.

As we reflect on Frank Martin's magical run and approach the most unpredictable time of the year, the question now... Who has the best chance at being this year's South Carolina?

Kentucky Wildcats

Tate's Take: What better place to start than in the SEC? Kentucky struggled early against names like Utah Valley and Vermont and entered a roller-coaster season that hasn't slowed in its twists and turns. This season's UK team has a bit of a 2013 feel to it where the Wildcats failed to receive an NCAA Tournament bid the year after cutting down the nets.

Typically, teams that make the deepest runs in March are heavily invested in upperclassmen. Kentucky is not. However, if any inexperienced team (not named Duke) is capable to get to the sport's biggest stage, it's these Wildcats.

Calipari's young cats have reached college basketball's pinnacle in four of the past seven years including once as an 8 seed in 2014. Kentucky is more than capable, even as arguably the most disappointing and forgotten about team in the country with the most talented front-court around.

How surprised would you REALLY be to see the 'Cats receive a favorable seeding or region on Selection Sunday and win four consecutive games?

Seton Hall Pirates

Tate's Take: If any team imitates South Carolina's experienced and physical play from a season ago, it is Seton Hall. The Pirates currently sit at 8-7 in Big East play, but we haven't seen them put together their best brand of basketball.

Angel Delgado plays with more emotion than almost anyone around and is a double-double machine. Khadeen Carrington leads a rugged and fearless backcourt that is used to competing in the biggest games in the Big East (just ask Villanova). And Desi Rodriguez can score with the best of them, shooting better than 50 percent from the field on the season.

The X-factor to San Antonio will be versatile sophomore Myles Powell. While bench depth seems to be lacking, Seton Hall's effort and grit isn't. Sometimes that's exactly what you need in order to get over the hump.

Southern California Trojans

Tate's Take: Two different three-game skids got the season started wrong for USC. It didn't help much that the Trojans lost De'Anthony Melton (ineligibility) and Bennie Boatwright to injury, either.

Still, this is Andy Enfield's best chance at a Final Four since his days at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Southern Cal is tough to prepare for with the triad of Chimezie Metu, Elijah Stewart or Jordan McLaughlin taking turns on any given night pouring in 20-plus points.

Considering the injuries, USC still has a deep and versatile bench and could very well be a bubble team destined to do damage in the tournament.

Texas Longhorns

Tate's Take: No stranger to taking "First Four" teams deep into the tournament, if any coach could take a bubble team to the Final Four, it's Texas' Shaka Smart.

Mo Bamba has settled in and looks more like the lotto pick we expected. Matt Coleman has adjusted to full-time duties at point guard. Kerwin Roach provides the defense, leadership and energy that every coach wants and needs. Jericho Sims and Eric Davis Jr. could both make a difference.

Dylan Oswekowski though, an overlooked and nationally underappreciated player, will ultimately be the deciding factor in how far Texas can advance in this tournament.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Tate's Take: Was Arizona State's 12-game roll to start the season real or fool's gold. Since, the Sun Devils have been nothing but inconsistent.

Bobby Hurley's squad has, arguably, the best backcourt west of the Central Time Zone. But success relies upon De'Quon Lake and Mickey Mitchell as the only real front-court threats.

On a neutral site, Arizona State has already proved dangerous. The Sun Devils will need to repeat that anything-can-happen mindset as a likely 8- or 9-seed that will have face a 1-seed early in tournament action.