01/28/09 — Opinion -- March Madness coming soon

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Opinion -- March Madness coming soon

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 28, 2009 1:46 PM

Christmas and New Year's have come and gone. The Super Bowl is likely to be melodramatic at best and last week brought Wayne County its fair share of snow for the next eight years.

With these annually anticipated events behind us, March Madness -- arguably the greatest sports spectacle known to man -- is now less than two months away.

While college basketball's No. 1 ranking has changed hands each of the last three weeks, a handful of teams that haven't sniffed the nation's top spot are having seasons capable of making them dangerous come March.

Here's a look at four squads that haven't garnered much of the national spotlight this season, but are certainly capable of making deep runs when the Madness begins:

No. 4 Oklahoma (20-1): What the Sooners lack in marquee victories they've more than made up for in winning impressively. Ten of Oklahoma's 20 wins have come by more than 15 points or more and Jeff Capel's club has played just nine games decided by 10 points or less.

National Player of the Year candidate Blake Griffin, the nation's leading rebounder, entered the week averaging over 22 points and 13 rebounds a game. With a trip to rival Texas and a home date with Kansas the last real hurdles on OU's schedule, the Sooners could likely head to the Big 12 tournament with just one blemish on their record.

No. 7 Louisville (15-3): The Cardinals have already recorded wins over five teams in this week's top 25 including victories over ranked Big East opponents Syracuse, Villanova, Notre Dame and Pitt.

Louisville has made its money on the defensive end by holding 11 of its 18 opponents under 40 percent from the field including five of the last six. With five of their next seven games at home, including a Feb. 2 meeting with Connecticut, don't expect the Cardinals to cool off any time soon.

No. 13 Butler (18-1): The Bulldogs began the week ranked third in the nation in fewest points allowed per game at 55.6.

A solid ball-handling team, Butler averages just 11 turnovers a contest. Winners of 10 straight games, the Bulldogs are unbeaten at fabled Hinkle Fieldhouse this season and are the lone unbeaten team in Horizon League play.

No strangers to the rigors of March, Butler has earned trips to the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last 11 seasons.

No. 14 Arizona State (16-3): Sophomore guard James Harden has quietly developed into a National Player of the Year candidate while averaging 22 points, five rebounds and four assists per game. Harden has scored 24 points or more seven times this year including pouring in 30 or more on three different occasions.

Former N.C. State coach Herb Sendek has guided the Sun Devils to conference road wins at Stanford, UCLA and Arizona. Arizona sits just a game back of Washington for first place in the Pac-10 and faces just one ranked team in UCLA the rest of the season.

Once run out of Raleigh for his inability to compete with the big boys on Tobacco Road, Sendek could silence plenty of critics by getting it done in March when it truly matters most.