Time to talk Mid Majors that might surprise us come March. I know what you’re thinking “Oh it’s only the middle of February, I’ll research on Selection Sunday”. That’s why I’m here. I want everybody to succeed with their bracket come March and I want everybody to be a top tier player in their respective pools. So let me help you as the March Madness Madman that I am.
I’ve weeded out the top 15 mid major schools. Most of these teams will most likely be winning their conference tournaments. These teams will be the victim of a Cinderella conference tournament team. These guys just aren’t quite as good as the others and will be 15 and 16 seeds. This is where we will tip our caps to those teams and congratulate them on probably making the tournament and having really good seasons.
- Stony Brook (21-5)
- UC-Irvine (22-5)
- Old Dominion (21-6)
- Murray State (21-4)
- UNC-Greensboro (22-5)
- Liberty (23-5)
- Texas State (21-5)
- San Francisco (20-6)
- College of Charleston (21-7)
- Northern Kentucky (20-7)
Despite only playing Division 1 basketball for 12 years, the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State are a force to be reckoned with. They dominated Division II basketball for a long time and quickly brought that success to the next level. They’ve appeared in 5 NCAA Tournaments, 3 consecutively. All this success, but they’ve yet to sniff an NCAA Tournament win. The Jackrabbits have been as high as a 12 seed twice. Expect a similar seeding this year again.
Why do I believe the Jackrabbits have the possibility to get their first tournament win this year? Two words: Mike Daum. Known as “The Dauminator”, the 6 foot 9 inch redshirt senior is averaging 25 points and 11 rebounds per game. He’s been doing this for the past 3 years. He’s been named Summit League Player of the Year in consecutive seasons and you can expect the Kimball, Nebraska native to given that title again. Not only do they have the magic of March, The Dauminator, but they also have their second returning scorer from last season, David Jenkins Jr, back and better in his sophomore year. Averaging 20 points a game and shooting an unconscious 47.8% from three point land. Put all that together on a day in March and that’s a recipe for being a spoiler and maybe a Cinderella story.
The Jackrabbits have a funny team name, but this team has a funny actual name of the college, Lipscomb. The Bisons are tied for their conference lead at 12-1. They lost on Wednesday the 13th to the team also in first, Liberty, which split the season series. How do I justify this team’s ranking after that? Well they only lost by 8 points, but won by 20 earlier in the year against Liberty.
This team’s numbers are incredible. They are 6th in the country in points per game with 85. That’s not a typo, out of 353 Division I basketball teams they’re 6th. That being said, they don’t slouch defensively either. A defensive rating of 8th out of the 353 is a terrifying combo. The crazy thing is that this is a team affair. 11 of the players on the team play 10 minutes per game and have appeared in at least 23 of the 26 games. It helps when those 11 players shoot a combined 48.8% from the field, good enough for 16th in the country. You can’t go wrong with holding opponents to 40.8% shooting, which is 41st in the nation. Please don’t write off this team with a funny name come Selection Sunday.
For the next team on the list, we are reverting back to funny team nicknames. This time it’s the Vermont Catamounts. Last season, Vermont won the America East regular season conference championship, but their post season plans were foiled when UMBC hit a game winning shot in the conference championship game and downed those hopes. That magical shot kept the Catamounts from consecutive appearances in the big dance.
This season, Vermont is headed by 6 foot 6 inch junior forward, Anthony Lamb. As a freshman, Lamb started in 24 games and led the team in scoring. In his sophomore performance, he suffered a foot injury that kept him out of league play. Now, Lamb is playing to the tune of 21 points, 7 rebounds, a pair of assists and pair of blocks per game. With Lamb doing just about everything inside of the arc, he’s getting help from his redshirt senior teammate, Ernie Duncan, from downtown. The career 3-point percentage leader in Catamount history, is shooting a mind-boggling 45% from Montpelier. With a lack of major height, Vermont shoots well enough to cover that up. That is, as long as they don’t give up too many offensive boards they’re an easy take for an upset.
Playing in a fantastic conference that has 4 teams with at least 21+ overall wins, they lead the conference with a 15-0 record in league play. The team I’m talking about is they Wofford Terriers. They’ve won 14 straight and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Overall the Terriers are 23-4 and most games haven’t been particularly close.
Led by 6 foot 4 inch Senior, Fletcher Magee, Wofford is in the upper echelon of offensive production. Magee leads the team in scoring averaging 20 points per outing. Having an outstanding season from behind the arc, Magee is 41% for the season and 92% from the line. HOWEVER, they have 4 players who take 3 or more 3-point attempts a night and shoot over 40%. Another team that is incredibly deep, they have 9 players who have played at least 23 games. 8 of them have played in all 27. As a team, they’re 11th in the country shooting a RIDICULOUS 49% from the field. Add to that the fact that they shoot 42% from downtown, which is 2nd best in the country. They’ve made the 5th most 2-point field goals and 3rd most 3-point field goals. That’s a recipe for an upset if I’ve ever heard one.
Now, drumroll please! The team you can lock in as an easy upset is…
The Belmont Bruins. A fantastic program that is headed by a fantastic coach. Coach Rick Byrd is one of the most winningest and tenured coaches in the NCAA. Over the 33 years Byrd has spent in Nashville, he has won now over 700 games for Belmont, not including his almost 100 wins in 5 more years as head coach for Maryville College and Lincoln Memorial a pair of NAIA schools. Byrd coached Belmont while they were in the NAIA for 10 years before they moved to the NCAA Division I in 1996. He’s had 5 seasons under .500 at Belmont and 4 seasons with 30+ wins. An obvious example of what winning is, he’s continued that this season.
The Bruins are lead by a pair of Seniors. Leading scorer, Dylan Windler, is a 6 foot 8 inch stud who averages 20 points, 10 rebounds, and a steal a game. Shooting 54% from the field and 41% from downtown, Windler’s ability to do just about everything and Kevin McClain’s defense and 16 points a night helps two Freshman Nick Muszynski and Grayson Murphy as a big man, little man combo. All four of the studs are averaging at least 10 points a game. Everyone brings something different to the table. Windler is a great shooter, McClain a great defender, Muszynski protects the paint, and Murphy leads the team in assists. They’re very similar to Lipscomb because many players see time. There are 9 Bruins that have more than 20 games played and over 10 minutes a night which sets up for an incredibly balanced and talented team.
As a Team
The Bruins beat Lipscomb, you’ll recall they’re number 4 on this list, TWICE. They also went to West Lafayette and gave Purdue a run for their money before ultimately losing by 11. As a whole, they shoot 49.3% from downtown good enough for 9th in the country. While they do that, they are a fantastic rebounding team and are 13th when it comes to total defensive rebounds. Every part of this team is solid because they’re also 5th in total assists and at the end of the day they score the 3RD most points in the country per game at 86.8.
Belmont has appeared in 7 NCAA Tournaments. They’ve lost all 7 of their games in the tournament leading up to this point. That fact might be the one that keeps you from taking them from winning their first round game, but I’m pushing the to the Sweet 16 at the very least. This team will be there and will be the key to picking the best upset for your bracket come March. Heed this warning now, or risk having an awful bracket.