Feb 5, 2013, 10:30 AM EDT
A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.
Every March there seems to be a mid-major program that goes from being a team heard of by few to being a national darling. Here are five teams, all of whom will likely need to win their respective conference’s automatic bid, to keep an eye on as we get closer to the month of March.
1) Belmont (19-4, 10-0 OVC)
After reaching the NCAA tournament as winners of the Atlantic Sun the Bruins have made themselves right at home in the OVC. Guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson are combining to average 32.6 points per game, and senior forward Trevor Noack (12.5 ppg) has raised his scoring average more than ten points from last season.
Rick Byrd’s team, which has wins over Stanford and Middle Tennessee to its credit, isn’t as deep as last season’s outfit but with an eight-man rotation the Bruins are deep enough. Belmont’s an efficient group offensively (ranking 15th nationally in offensive efficiency and 8th in field goal percentage), and when combining this with their experience at key positions this is a team that can win in the NCAA tournament.
2) Akron (17-4, 8-0 MAC)
The nation’s hottest team, the Akron Zips have won 13 straight games and are the lone undefeated team in MAC play. Leading the way are 7-footer Zeke Marshall and 6-7 forward Demetrius Treadwell, with five other players averaging between 5.8 and 9.9 points per game. The Zips are one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, ranking 28th in efficiency according to statsheet.com and that front court tandem of Marshall and Treadwell can give opponents fits in the paint. The key for Akron in March may be point guard Alex Abreu however, because when he’s under control and properly balances getting his own shots with putting teammates in the best position to be effective Akron is a handful.
3) Middle Tennessee (20-4, 12-1 Sun Belt)
Kermit Davis’ Blue Raiders won 25 regular season games last season but a loss in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt tournament resulted in a trip to the NIT. So while their resume this season includes a win over Ole Miss (Middle Tennessee has lost to both Belmont and Akron), that experience and the fact that they have just three RPI Top 100 victories should keep this group motivated to grab the Sun Belt’s automatic bid.
Senior guard Marcos Knight is the lone Blue Raider averaging double figures but five others average between six and nine points per game, and this is a group that gets after it defensively. Middle Tennessee leads the Sun Belt in field goal and three-point percentage defense and they force 16.5 turnovers per game as well. If a team with shaky ball-handling draws the Blue Raiders come March, look out.
4) Bucknell (19-4, 6-1 Patriot)
Dave Paulsen’s Bison are led by one of the best big men in the country in 6-10 senior Mike Muscala, who is currently averaging 19.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game (he leads the team in each category). Muscala is one of four Bucknell starters averaging double figures, and the Bison lead the Patriot League in field goal percentage.
The Bison have also performed well defensively, limiting opponents to 37.4% shooting (ranking 11th nationally), something they accomplish more with positioning as opposed to pressuring opponents into turnovers (opponents are averaging just 9.3 turnovers per game). Bucknell’s lone conference loss came to Lehigh (who won at Bucknell twice last season), so there’s no guarantee that we’ll see the Bison in the NCAA tournament. But if they can make it the Bison are capable of causing some trouble.
5) Montana (16-4, 12-0 Big Sky)
The Grizzlies had to navigate much of their non-conference slate without the services of senior guard Will Cherry due to a broken foot. But with the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year back in the fold Montana has the best tandem in the conference in Cherry and junior Kareem Jamar. Inside senior Mathias Ward averages a team-high 15.2 points per game, with the versatile Jamar being the team’s best rebounder.
With a two-game lead over Weber State the Grizzlies are in good position to grab home court for the conference tournament, something that served them well in getting to the NCAA tournament last season. With Cherry out other players gained valuable experience, and that could work out in Montana’s favor at the end of the year.
Other teams to consider: Davidson, Detroit, Lehigh, Louisiana Tech, North Dakota State, Valparaiso and Weber State.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
The Wildcats knocked off a tough Notre Dame team.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Dekker scored 20 of his 27 points in the second half at Wisconsin beat Arizona in the Elite Eight for the second straight year.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:34 PM EDT
Frank got a little funky after Wisconsin’s win over Arizona.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:27 PM EDT
This is too funny.
Mar 28, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Barnes coached at Texas for 17 seasons.
Mar 28, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
So Andrew Harrison was a grown man in middle school?
Arrests made as Michigan State fans gather, set fires near off-campus apartments after Sweet 16 win (VIDEO)
Mar 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Some Michigan State students got a little too rowdy following a win over Oklahoma.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT
The Citadel hired away the head coach of a Southern Conference rival.
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey on college hoops: ‘It’s absolute torture watching some of these games’ (AUDIO)
Mar 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had some strong words on the current state of college basketball.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Frank Kaminsky’s path to stardom may not follow that of last year’s national Player of the Year winner, Doug McDermott, but it’s one that many players hope to navigate during their own time in school.
Tom Izzo blames himself, new Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart movie on Michigan State’s sluggish Sweet 16 start
Mar 28, 2015, 10:55 AM EDT
Michigan State might have been the only people in the country watching “Get Hard” on Friday afternoon.
Former oddsmaker believes Kentucky would be underdog against all-time great college basketball teams
Mar 28, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Kentucky might finish the 2014-15 season unblemished, but how do they stack up against some of the best teams in college basketball history?
Mar 28, 2015, 12:52 AM EDT
Get caught up on all of Friday’s NCAA tournament action.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:27 AM EDT
The schedule for Sunday’s Elite 8 games.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:23 AM EDT
Second straight Elite 8 appearance for Tom Izzo and Co.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT
No. 1 Duke advanced to the Elite 8 with a win in the South Regional over No. 5 Utah.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:31 PM EDT
This is a pretty nice move from Amile Jefferson.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Wardle spent five seasons as coach at Green Bay.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:47 PM EDT
Will play the winner of Michigan State-Oklahoma.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT
Caleb Martin’s only two points of the game.
- Andrew Harrison’s late free throws send No. 1 Kentucky to the Final Four 12
- Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky catch fire as No. 1 Wisconsin beats No. 2 Arizona 6
- Rick Barnes is no longer the head coach at Texas 10
- Frank Kaminsky’s growth results in individual and team benefits for No. 1 Wisconsin 3
- Tourney Snacks: Duke-Gonzaga, Louisville-Michigan State advance to Elite 8 11
- No. 1 Duke advances to Elite 8 with win over No. 5 Utah 2
- No. 2 Gonzaga gets past No. 11 UCLA to advance to Elite 8 2
- Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close (36)
- Kentucky responds to Daxter Miles Jr.’s pregame comments (30)
- West Virginia freshman on Kentucky: ‘They’re going to be 36-1′ (20)
- NCAA’s Mark Emmert calls Indiana’s religious freedom bill ‘especially concerning’ (20)
- No. 3 Notre Dame knocks off No. 7 Wichita State to get to the Elite 8 (17)