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Joe Boozell | | March 11, 2019

7 legit Final Four contenders who are outside the AP Top 5

Coaches take us back to their earliest March Madness memories

These teams haven't been consistently dominant all season long. But whether it's momentum, a high ceiling or a track record of March success, there's reason to think these schools can make it to the Final Four.

Here are seven of the scariest teams ranked outside of the AP Top 5.

AP TOP 25: Looking for the Associated Press rankings? Got 'em right here

Texas Tech

Texas Tech is up to No. 7 in the AP Poll, so it's probably considered a fringe title contender by most. But it has the goods to potentially win it all.

The Red Raiders are rolling, having won nine straight, and they've done so in dominant fashion. Texas Tech has a plus-18.9 average point differential in those games, all against Big 12 teams. That's a serious rampage.

And they profile as a team who can win it all. Jarrett Culver, who poured in 31 points Saturday, is good enough to be the No. 1 guy on a title winner. He's arguably a top-five player in America, and Texas Tech also has the No. 1 defense in the country, per KenPom.

Their nonconference schedule was relatively weak, and they got of to a so-so start in Big 12 play. But the Red Raiders are on fire, and have two of the most important things you can have going for them. Look out for these guys.


The Cougars are one of the scrappiest teams in college basketball. But being 'scrappy' alone isn't enough to make a Final Four run. Houston combines effort with talent in the right places, and the Cougars are going to be one of the toughest outs in the NCAA tournament.

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Houston's guards are relentless, and they can all make 3s while maintaining the ability to break down a defense and make plays. Corey Davis Jr. is the leader, and his 31 points were huge against Cincinnati on Sunday. Armoni Brooks is a dangerous second option.

Previous national champions all have one thing in common: balance. Sure, they may be stronger on offense than defense or vice versa, but they are never exploitable on one side of the ball.


Houston ranks in the top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency. It doesn't have an obvious weakness and has only lost once since Jan. 10. Kelvin Sampson has done a masterful job.

Florida State

Florida State is quietly one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and went far in the 2018 NCAA tournament. The Seminoles have won 12 of their last 13 in the loaded ACC, and the one loss came to North Carolina, which may be a 1 seed.

Among the opponents during that stretch: Virginia Tech, Clemson, Syracuse and N.C. State. Florida State hasn't beaten the best of the ACC's best, but it's handled just about everyone else with ease.

The Seminoles are dangerous because they have a ton of ways they can beat you. They rank 35th in offense and 12th in defense, and have as much depth as anyone. Florida State has eight guys who average at least six points per game. Six may not sound like a ton, but when you have that many players doing it, it adds up.

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FSU is deep, athletic, and is playing its best ball of the season. It will be a tough NCAA tournament opponent for anyone.


Nevada only has three losses, but it's actually underachieved a bit this season in the eyes of many. That's because two of the losses were bad (New Mexico, San Diego State) and the nonconference schedule turned out to be worse than it looked heading into the year.

But this team is still loaded with offensive firepower, has a great coach in Eric Musselman, and returns just about everyone from last year's Sweet 16 run. When Cody Martin is your third option, you're a serious threat. Martin could probably be the best player on a lot of tournament teams.

Eric Musselman has something special brewing at Nevada

The Wolf Pack need to establish more consistency, and the defense is a question mark. But not many schools have as high of a ceiling as Nevada. If it can put it all together at the right time, the Wolf Pack could be headed to Minneapolis.


Wisconsin has some Texas Tech in it. Ethan Happ is one of the best players in the country, and the Badgers have the No. 4 defense in America. They aren't as hot as the Red Raiders, but they're playing well. Wisconsin is on a three-game winning streak and is 11-3 in its last 14.

Wisconsin survives Ohio State

Wisconsin also has a recent NCAA tournament track record of success. The Badgers missed the dance in 2018, but reached the Sweet 16 in 2017 and 2016, and the national championship game in 2015. This team is different than those teams, but they are similar in terms of style. Wisconsin plays slow, makes the most out of every possession, and locks you down on the other end.

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It's all about the supporting cast. We know Happ will ball, but when Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice are hitting shots, the Badgers are super tough to beat. We'll see what those guys can do come tournament time.


Villanova may seem like a stretch, admittedly. But the Wildcats have won two of the last three national titles, and at times, have looked absolutely lethal this season.

They've lacked consistency, and aren't playing great right now. Villanova has lost four of six. But their commitment to the 3-point shot is a reason to think they can go further than most expect, or bow out in the first round. More than half of the Wildcats' field goal attempts are 3s, and only two more teams attempt more triples per field goal attempt than Villanova.

Thus, it's a high-variance group. The Wildcats could catch fire from range in these next few weeks and beat anyone. Or, they can stay cold and lose to anyone. But a Jay Wright-led squad with title winners Eric Paschall and Phil Booth is scary, regardless of the current record.


Purdue got off to a mediocre 9-6 start, but has been excellent ever since and has one of the best players in college basketball in Carsen Edwards.

The Boilermakers went 16-4 in a stacked Big Ten and have the No. 5 offense in the country. Edwards is a magician with the ball in his hands, and he averaged 23.4 points per game this season. Purdue surrounds him with shooters and guys who can crash the glass; few teams have had success stopping them this year.

The Boilermakers' defense is only ranked 29th, but it's gotten better as the season has progressed. They've held four of their last six opponents to less than 60 points. Purdue may not have the season-long balance of a title contender, but it has it right now. This could be the year Matt Painter's crew finally breaks through in March.

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