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.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Chris Walker sounds pretty funny.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Jaylen Brantley is Maryland’s first commitment in the class.
Oct 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
After riding the coattails of a pair of Californians, Weber State’s focus on recruiting the state of Texas will pay off this season.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT
Thon Maker has another mixtape out.
Oct 20, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT
Mudiay has now played two preseason games as a professional.
Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Weber State will be the preseason favorites, but Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Eastern Washington will lead a group of challengers capable of pushing the reigning champs.
Oct 19, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
Junior forward Mark Tollefsen may be one of the best dunkers in America.
Oct 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT
Chris Jones’ three-pointer in the final seconds gave the White team a 75-72 win over the Red.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Evan Smotrycz was re-evaluated Saturday after suffering the injury at the end of practice Friday.
Oct 19, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
Johnson last played in live action on January 11, when he suffered a torn ACL in the Panthers’ loss to Virginia.
Oct 19, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
With three of their five seniors being front court players, Colorado State needs to add depth ahead of the 2015-16 season. Sunday’s commitment will help in this area.
Oct 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Alan Williams gets most of the attention nationally, but he won’t be alone as the Gauchos look to rebound from last year’s disappointing finish.
Oct 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
La Salle nabbed a talented combo guard.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A more mobile Dakari Johnson could be a scary thought.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
An entertaining regular season was followed by a wild conference tournament in 2013-14. Will that once again be the case?
Oct 19, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Purdue is in the unique position of having two talented centers on the roster.
Oct 19, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Freshman wing Sam Logwood of New Mexico can get up.
Oct 19, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT
With Texas Tech’s top two guards being upperclassmen, C.J. Williamson’s commitment is an important one for the program.
Oct 19, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the victorious Red team with 13 points, and Stanley Johnson scored a game-high 17 to lead the Blue team.
Oct 18, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT
Southwest Tennessee CC transfer Chris Hawkins showed off his jumping ability in winning the dunk contest at Memphis Madness.
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