Skip to content

Five mid-majors who can throw your bracket into chaos

Feb 5, 2013, 10:30 AM EST

Belmont v Kansas Getty Images

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. 

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

Latest Posts
  1. Super Bowl Sunday Snacks: No. 11 Utah rebounds, Michigan State holds off Michigan

    Feb 1, 2015, 6:02 PM EST

    Denzel Valentine AP

    Both Cincinnati and UConn dropped conference games on the road as well.

  2. Foot injury will keep Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. out for ‘foreseeable future’

    Feb 1, 2015, 4:45 PM EST

    Bucknell v Michigan Getty Images

    Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will miss even more time with a foot injury.

  3. Florida State rallies from 16 down to beat No. 23 Miami

    Feb 1, 2015, 2:45 PM EST

    Davon Reed, Devon Bookert,Jim Larranaga AP

    Florida State had a rough start, but managed to rally and knock off in-state rival Miami.

  4. Why Duke’s road win at Virginia was so shocking

    Feb 1, 2015, 1:15 PM EST

    Duke Virginia Basketball AP

    Duke’s road win at Virginia was one of the most shocking results of the college basketball season.

  5. Missouri freshman guard suspended

    Feb 1, 2015, 12:15 PM EST

    Missouri v Kentucky Getty Images

    Missouri has more issues off-the-floor as a freshman guard is suspended.

  6. Holy Cross forward Malcolm Miller makes a case to be in the college dunk contest (VIDEO)

    Feb 1, 2015, 11:15 AM EST

    Holy Cross v Syracuse Getty Images

    Holy Cross senior forward Malcolm Miller makes a case for the college dunk contest in a new video.

  7. The end of the Division II Drury/Quincy game is one of the best college basketball finishes of the year (VIDEO)

    Feb 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

    bundy

    The ending to a college basketball game doesn’t get much better than this.

  8. Pregame Shootaround: Only 12 games on Sunday, but one is a classic Big Ten rivalry

    Feb 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    Branden Dawson, Brandon Nazione AP

    With the impending football game, not a lot of college hoops on Sunday.

  9. Three-plus months after undergoing brain surgery, Santa Clara senior forward makes season debut

    Jan 31, 2015, 11:43 PM EST

    Santa Clara Athletics Santa Clara Athletics

    Andrew Papenfus made his season debut for the Broncos Saturday night, just over three months after a benign tumor was removed from his brain.

  10. Briante Weber suffers season-ending knee injury in No. 14 VCU’s loss to Richmond

    Jan 31, 2015, 10:42 PM EST

    Briante Weber, Shaka Smart Briante Weber, Shaka Smart

    Kendall Anthony scored 20 points in the second half to lead Richmond to the 64-55 win, but the status of Weber is VCU’s greatest concern.

  11. No. 4 Duke ends No. 2 Virginia’s unbeaten season

    Jan 31, 2015, 9:03 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    No. 4 Duke lands a stunning, come-from-behind win over No. 2 Virginia.

  12. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell channeled his inner Grant Hill Saturday afternoon (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 8:31 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    In the midst of Louisville’s comeback from an 18-point deficit, Montrezl Harrell showed why he’s considered to be one of the best athletes in college basketball.

  13. Foul line, offensive rebounding aid No. 13 Louisville’s comeback effort

    Jan 31, 2015, 8:02 PM EST

    Montrezl Harrell, Justin Jackson Montrezl Harrell, Justin Jackson

    Louisville outscored North Carolina by 16 from the foul line and by 15 in second-chance points, which helped them erase an 18-point second half deficit.

  14. Saturday’s Snacks: No. 4 Duke rebounds to beat No. 2 Virginia, and No. 8 Notre Dame falls

    Jan 31, 2015, 7:10 PM EST

    Cameron Wright, James Robinson Cameron Wright, James Robinson

    Also of note Saturday afternoon was No. 18 Northern Iowa rolling past No. 12 Wichita State.

  15. Seth Tuttle, No. 18 Northern Iowa roll past No. 12 Wichita State

    Jan 31, 2015, 6:39 PM EST

    Seth Tuttle Seth Tuttle

    UNI went on a 22-6 run over a ten-plus minute stretch as they moved into a tie for first in the Missouri Valley.

  16. No. 8 Notre Dame upset by Pitt

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:11 PM EST

    Notre Dame v Pittsburgh Getty Images

    Jerian Grant, Notre Dame see comeback fall short at Pitt.

  17. Trevor Lacey’s insane 3-pointer gives N.C. State a buzzer-beating win at Georgia Tech (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 2:34 PM EST

    Justin Jackson, Trevor Lacey, Marcus Paige AP

    Trevor Lacey makes one of the best buzzer-beaters of the season to give N.C. State a road win at Georgia Tech.

  18. POSTERIZED: Florida’s Alex Murphy dunks all over Arkansas defender after breaking a press (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 1:45 PM EST

    Mississippi St Florida Basketball AP

    Florida’s Alex Murphy with a nominee for Saturday’s dunk of the day.

  19. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl greeted with cheers during first return to Tennessee (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 1:15 PM EST

    Auburn Tennessee Basketball AP

    Bruce Pearl received a warm ovation from Tennessee fans in his first game back as an opposing head coach.

  20. Injured Illinois guards suspended indefinitely

    Jan 31, 2015, 12:34 PM EST

    Rayvonte Rice, Joseph Young AP

    Illinois will continue to be without two injured guards as both players were suspended indefinitely.