College Basketball Final Four Dark Horse Contenders: Texas Tech Headlines 3 Top-Notch Candidates
Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryson Williams (Texas Tech)
We’ve now hit the mid-point of the season, with each team having a few conference games under its belt. Now is a good time to look at some Final Four dark horses to find value before the tournament seeding begins to take form.
Here are some teams that jump out to me, according to the current odds at DraftKings.
Illinois is not just a dark horse to make the Final Four, but its live to win the NCAA Tournament.
The Illini are led by one of the top centers in the country in Kofi Cockburn. The 7-foot big man has been a monster this season, putting up 22 points and 12 rebounds per game.
According to Hoop-Math, Cockburn has taken 65% of his field goal attempts at the rim and scores 70% of the time.
Brad Underwood has surrounded Cockburn with a plethora of shooters on the perimeter. Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison have hit a combined 114-of-277 from behind the arc (41%).
As a team, Illinois has hit 38% of its perimeter shots this season, which ranks 16th nationally. It’s also the top offensive rebounding group in the nation, extending possessions on 41% of its misses.
The program is 13-3 on the season and has only had Andre Curbelo for four games this season. He was presumed to be an All-American contender, and made his return known in a big way against Purdue on Monday.
ANDRE CURBELO WELCOME BACK‼️
What a finish to tie this up late!pic.twitter.com/a4Hh1Qkms6
— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) January 17, 2022
According to KenPom, Illinois owns a top-10 offensive and top-20 defensive efficiency ranking.
The Fighting Illini are reminiscent to the 2009 Orlando Magic, who surrounded Dwight Howard with a group of 3-point bombers.
If Illinois can continue hitting its outside shots come tournament time, it will be a dangerous group that no one will want to matchup with.
The Red Raiders are red hot after wins over two top-10 opponents in Kansas and on the road against Baylor. Those victories prove even more impressive as they came without leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr.
Texas Tech owns the second-best defensive efficiency ranking and the eighth-best scoring defense, allowing less than 60 points per game. Only two teams have eclipsed the 70-point mark against the Red Raiders this season.
They’re dominant at defending inside the arc, holding opponents to 44% on 2-point attempts (15th). The Red Raiders thrive with their defensive pressure and force turnovers on over 24% of possessions.
The offense is a well-balanced group that has six players averaging over nine points per game. They also split the shot distribution evenly.
Texas Tech has proven that it can beat the top teams in the nation and can put the clamps down on any offense.
There is value on Texas Tech to make a run to the Final Four at its current odds of +900.
Xavier has done nothing but impress this season, but yet still own long-shot odds of +1600 to make the Final Four.
The Musketeers opened the season with wins over Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State. The group owns a top-30 offensive and defensive efficiency ranking and has made its living at the free-throw line.
Two of their three losses were to Villanova, but the Musketeers showed promise in those games. In the second matchup, they held the Wildcats to 20% on their 20 attempts behind the arc and forced 13 turnovers.
According to previous Final Four Dark Horse columns, the benchmark for a Final Four contender is an adjusted offensive efficiency of 114.0 or higher and a defensive efficiency of 96.2 or lower.
Xavier currently meets the criteria with an adjusted offensive efficiency ranking of 114.3 and defensive ranking of 94.3.
Xavier opened the season 9-2 against the spread and have exceeded expectations all season. Watch out come tournament time, as the Musketeers have proven to be efficient on both ends of the floor.
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