UK among dark-horse contenders

Why Kentucky, Gonzaga and Minnesota are NCAA title contenders

Originally Published: January 6, 2013
By John Gasaway | Basketball Prospectus

Nerlens Noel, John CalipariAP Photo/James CrispJohn Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats are currently unranked, but still a dangerous team.

The top of the polls have been notably stable for the past month or so, with heavyweights such as Duke, Michigan, Arizona, Louisville, Indiana, Kansas and Syracuse all locked more or less securely in place. You won't raise a lot of hackles by picking any of the above to win the national championship. (Though Sean Miller's Wildcats haven't exactly looked like an unstoppable juggernaut over their past two games. See below for my thoughts on Arizona.)

But what about the teams outside that charmed circle of seven? In terms of per-possession performance, there are at least eight additional teams to watch. Call them "dark horses" if you wish -- these eight teams are contenders in their own right. Of course, the very fact that they're regarded as second-tier teams means they likely won't receive an NCAA tournament seed as high as the teams named above -- and that does indeed impact their national title chances.

Nevertheless, viewed purely on their own merits, the following teams are worthy of inclusion alongside the best of the best.

Kentucky Wildcats (9-4, unranked)
I know what you're thinking. Calling the defending national champions -- a team that has reached the Elite Eight in each of the past three seasons -- a "dark horse" is an abuse of the term. Hey, I don't make the rules, I just play by them. And at the time of this writing, UK is still, incredibly, unranked. (I thought surely that would change after the Wildcats played Louisville into the 40th minute at the KFC Yum! Center a week ago. I was mistaken.)


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