Who Will Be This Season’s College Basketball “Dark Horse”?

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The NCAA season is just about to tip-off, and every year we see an underdog rise to the top of the ranks. Over time we have seen teams come out of nowhere, shocking the world, winning multiple games in the tournament that they have no business even being competitive in. Teams such as the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, in 2018 came into the tournament as an 11th seed. Blessed by their number one fan, Sister Jean, the team beat the likes of 6th seed Miami, 3rd seed Tennessee, 7th seed Nevada, and 9th seed Kansas State before falling to Michigan in the Final Four. Following “Cinderella Teams”  on their unpredictable journey makes this sport even more entertaining, everyone enjoys seeing the underdog beating up on the big-time programs. We have seen this happen year after year but the question is: Who will be this year’s “Dark-Horse”? Who will be the team that is forgotten about that will make a run in the tournament come March?

Marquette Golden Eagles

The Marquette Golden Eagles are a very interesting team coming into the 2019-20 season. The end of last season left a sour taste in their mouth, losing six of their last seven games. This dreadful stretch included falling victim to Ja Morant and his #12 seed Murray State Racers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

The Golden Eagles want to focus on the present as they return arguably the best scorer in the country, Markus Howard. Howard returned for his senior season after posting 25.0 points per game a year ago and looks to continue his success. Marquette comes into the season unranked but their difficult schedule leaves them in a place where they can easily boost their resume. The Golden Eagles did lose the Hauser brothers to Virginia and Michigan State. The subtraction of these two solid players will leave a burden that must be filled early on in the season.

 Lacking preseason hype, Marquette could make a run at the final four. We have seen single players take over the tournament such as Stephan Curry, Kemba Walker, and many more; Markus Howard is capable of doing so. When healthy he can not be stopped. 

 Houston Cougars

A #3 seed a year ago in the tournament finds itself unranked. Coming off one of the best seasons in school history, the Cougars look to continue their success. With the loss of their two leading scorers, Armani Brooks and Corey Davis Jr, the Cougars must find ways to put the ball in the basket. Kansas transfer Quenten Grimes should bring the star power the Cougars desperately need this season. For the Jayhawks, Grimes started every single game as a freshman, averaging 8.5 points,2 rebounds, and 2 assists. 

This Houston team is well-coached by Kelvin Sampson. Sampson has been with the team since 2014, appearing in the tournament the past two seasons, reaching the sweet sixteen one year ago. Houston is a team that in recent years nobody wanted to play, this year should be no different. Early on we will see what the Houston Cougars are made of as they travel to #15 Oregon on November 22nd.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Fighting Irish had a really disappointing season a year ago, finishing with a 14-19 record. Head coach Mike Brey looks to bring his team back to the top of ACC again. The team brings back most of their roster, having eleven returning players. Not only does Notre Dame return essentially their whole team, they bring back four of their top 5 scorers from a season ago. Experienced seniors, Guard Rex Pflueger and Forward John Mooney will be key in leading the Irish team that has the potential to make a run in not only the ACC but in the NCAA Tournament. The schedule makers did not make it easy on the team from South Bend, matching the Irish against #9 ranked North Carolina in their season opener. In order for Notre Dame to prove they belong they must play their best basketball early in the season.

 University of Rhode Island Rams

Rhode Island missed the tournament last season after appearing in 2017 and 2018. The Rhody Rams are motivated to get back to the tournament in head coach David Cox’s second season. Year one was not an ideal start for Cox due to URI’s inexperience, after losing Seniors E.C Mathews and Jared Terrell. The team was not terrible but more of a work-in-progress, finishing the season over .500 at 18-15. The Rams came on strong towards the end of the season, winning two games in the A-10 tournament before falling to St. Bonaventure

This year, seasoned veterans; Jeff Dowtin, Fatts Russell, and Cyril Langevine look to lead their team to the top of the Atlantic 10. Rhode Island lacks the elite size that other teams have, to make up for the size they must shoot better from three-point territory. Rhody shot a horrendous 28% from deep which was the worse percentage in the country last season. The idea of improving that percentage is harder than it seems due to the collegiate 3-point line being moved farther from the basket just this past off-season.

New Mexico State Aggies

Every season it seems that New Mexico State is in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies have played in the big dance eight times since 2010 and their success is not about to slow down. A season ago, New Mexico State finished its tremendous season 30-5 but was not satisfied. In round one, the boys from Las Cruces missed ⅔ free throws that could’ve taken the lead with seconds left against Auburn. New Mexico State went back to classes as Auburn went on to the final four. This season, the Aggies will be on a revenge tour, they will win the WAC; which they’ve won eight times this decade, and again make an appearance in the tournament. Returning their leading scorer and 4 out of their top 5 scorers from last season will give them the confidence and experience needed to be this year’s  “Dark Horse” come March.