The Cinderella story. Every person who watches March Madness knows how fun these games can be when a mid-major makes a run in the NCAA Tournament.
A few years ago we had Dayton go all the way to the Elite Eight in the 2013-2014 season. Florida Gulf Coast labeled themselves as “Dunk City” when they made the run to the Sweet 16 as a number 15 seed.
And who can forget the Final Four runs from teams like George Mason, Butler, and VCU in the past decade to define the term “Cinderella” story. This year there are bound to be some upsets at least in the first round of games and could stretch beyond like we have seen in past years.
Let’s take a look at some mid-majors who can make some noise this year.
The Seahawks will want to score a lot of points versus a very good defensive UVA team, but also a UVA team that has struggled to score at times this year. With three players averaging 15 points per game, the Seahawks can become deadly from the outside. They were 10th in the nation in scoring at 85.2 points per game and hit the 14th most three-pointers in the nation. As a 12 seed, it would not be a crazy pick. They gave Duke a run for their money last year, and look to do the same this year.
Now look, even though Northwestern is in the Big Ten, they have never made the NCAA Tournament before, so that qualifies as a mid-major in terms of college basketball. Do not get me wrong, of all teams classified as a mid-major, this Northwestern team may have the best chance to make a run. They play great team basketball, they don’t turn the ball over, and they play tremendous defense that is ranked 35th in the nation. The Wildcats face a very good Vanderbilt team but could possibly even make some noise against Gonzaga if they were to face them.
The Bison are coming into the NCAA Tournament hot with a conference tournament win and a league leading 15-3 in conference play. They are 14-2 in their last 16 games and feature a mid-major player you all will enjoy watching in Nana Foulland. He was the Patriot League Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year putting up 14.9 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game. With a win over West Virginia, the Bison could be a sleeper in the first round.
Florida Gulf Coast University
FGCU and “Dunk City” are back this year as a 14-seed after they made a run to the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed in 2013. This team will not be the team you saw a few years ago that was all about the uptempo offense. They are rated no. 299 in the NCAA in tempo and they want to keep the possessions down against a team like Florida State. Per Kenpom, the Eagles are the 2nd toughest of the 14 seeds. FGCU is rated 108th, compared to New Mexico State (88), Iona (118), and Kent State (141).
The Wolfpack have won nine consecutive games coming into the tournament. It is their first NCAA tournament in ten years and they have every reason to feel good heading into their matchup with Iowa State. They are led by senior guard Marcus Marshall, a transfer from Missouri State, with averages of 19.8 points per game, shooting 38.6 percent from behind the arc. It shows that they are a great three-point shooting team as a whole at 38.5 percent. Watch out for three balls in their attempt at an upset against the Cyclones.
On a 21-game winning streak, the Catamounts will be facing a very scary Purdue team, but if I were the Vermont fanbase, you should feel very confident heading into this game.
Vermont head coach John Becker spoke on how they won’t feel the pressure in the upcoming matchup versus the Boilermakers. From Yahoo! Sports:
“This would be the first game too that we’ll play without a lot of pressure on us,” Vermont coach John Becker said. “That should be a nice relief for our guys, just kind of cut it loose and I think it will give us a chance to play a really good game.”
Coach is right when he speaks about the pressure. Knowing only winning over the past two months can only help your cause. The pressure is off, you did what you need to do which is win the conference tournament. It’s time to show the country what you’re made of.
My favorite mid-major to cover this year was the Rhode Island Rams, who come into the tournament under-seeded in my opinion. The Rams were seeded 11th and have an outside chance at a Sweet 16 appearance. The Rams come in hot with eight wins in a row and an Atlantic 10 tournament title under their belt. This Rhody team also features three Top 100 recruits in Jared Tarrell, Hassan Martin, and E.C. Matthews. This is the first year all three have been able to play together as Matthews had a season-ending knee injury last year. The Rams will be looking to make their presence felt as they have not been to the tournament since 1999.
The Gaels are no stranger to March Madness as they have been in the NCAA Tournament in 4 of the past 6 years. Iona relies on the 3-pointer as the Gaels’ 836 attempts are 20th most in the country and they shoot 39%. Senior Jordan Washington averages a team-high of 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. The Gaels are a 14-seed and face a tough Oregon team.
Middle Tennessee State
This could be the trendy upset pick as the Blue Raiders take on the Gophers of Minnesota. They upset Michigan State last year as the 15-seed and they have a lot of returning players with NCAA Tournament experience. They added a transfer from Arkansas JaCorey Williams who averages 17.3 points per game. This team won 30 games and they are facing a Minnesota team with very little experience. This match up screams upset.
Other teams to consider:
The Flyers are in the NCAA Tournament year after year and are not far removed from their Elite Eight run in 2013-2014. They are coming into the tournament with a heavy heart as they started this season without big man Steve McElvene as he passed away from a heart condition. The Flyers will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and a head of steam.
Another team that is familiar to games in March. This is their second year under coach Will Wade and they are a few years removed from the HAVOC defense and Final Four run in 2011. This team features big man Mo Alie-Cox whom may be getting looks in the NFL when the season ends for the Rams.
The Shockers are a mid-major that nobody wants to face. They have been on the side of top seed in the tournament, and they have been on the end of underdog. This year with very little pressure heading into the tournament, it pays to know that you have been there in March in the past, and know you belong there.
It’s going to be a fun few weeks of March Madness. Buckle up!