Looking for the next Butler or George Mason? Here are a few teams that could make the bold step.
San Diego State (9-0): Aztecs’ coach Steve Fisher has done wonders with this program. Yes, it’s that Steve Fisher, the one who coached the “Fab Five” at Michigan. Fisher has all five starters back from a team that won the Mountain West conference tournament and an automatic trip to the NCAA Tournament last year. San Diego State already has wins against Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and Cal and is ranked 14th in the latest AP poll. Aztec forwards Kawhi Leonard and Billy White lead a very balanced scoring attack.
UCF (7-0): The Knights have gone largely unnoticed this season. Even a win over then-No.18 Florida didn’t garner much nationally for UCF. But look out. This team can score. Led by Marcus Jordan (16.4 ppg), yes the son of his “Airness”, Michael, and Keith Clanton, Central Florida will be Memphis’ chief challenger for the Conference UCF rival. Making things even more interesting is that Memphis’ top scorer Wesley Witherspoon will miss five weeks after having surgery for a right knee cartilage tear. The Knights will meet the Tigers in the first of two tilts on January 26 in Memphis.
BYU (9-0): Although not considered an unknown commodity, the Cougars can certainly claim underdog status in the college basketball world. BYU’s Jimmer Fredette (22.7 ppg., 47.4 fg) is as good as it gets in the backcourt. If Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies can continue to bring it in the paint, the 18th-ranked Cougars could find itself in the Final Four.
UNLV (9-1): The Runnin’ Rebels, like BYU, are far from a being considered a nameless program. But they are also far from the glory days when Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony were ruling the nation. And the Mountain West has always been considered a fringe program. The 20th-ranked Rebels fell on the road to No. 24 Louisville, 77-69, on Saturday. But that doesn’t take away from their promising start, which includes wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech.