Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Madness Mid-Majors (Part I)

We were thisclose to crowning a mid-major* champion in last year's tournament when the Butler Bulldogs almost pulled off the upset against Duke. We're unlikely to get a school from a small conference to the national championship again this year, but that does not mean we won't get our usual share of never-heard-of-them-before schools creating all types of havoc within our brackets. Here's my look at five mid-major clubs who could easily win a game or more in this year's Big Dance; check back tomorrow for five more small schools worth your time come Selection Sunday.

*Just for the record: Mid-major, for our purposes, is any school not from the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, or Pac-10. 

Belmont Bruins (30-4, Atlantic Sun champion)

The Deal: I got beat to the punch on this one, as ESPN's college basketball blog did a piece on the Bruins a little bit ago. Basically, two things you need to know about Belmont: First, the Bruins have won 21 of its past 22 games and three of the team's losses came against SEC opponents; second of all, Belmont plays a frenetic style that takes advantage of a deep bench and deft shooting touch that has the team making almost 10 3-pointers a game. 

Your Bracket: Belmont figures to be somewhere in the seeding range of 11-13; at any of those three spots, the Bruins are definitely worth a look. If Belmont is a 12 of 13 and can avoid a 3-seed in the second round, a Sweet 16 spot is not out of the question. 

George Mason Patriots  (26-6, CAA at-large)

The Deal: Our Cinderella story from a few years back, the Patriots lost in their conference tournament but were nationally ranked -- albeit, No. 25 -- before the loss. Prior to the loss to VCU, George Mason had won 16 straight games; I don't care what conference you play in, if you can win 16 games in a row, you're pretty good. Solid, solid team 

Your Bracket: The Patriots are likely to get something in the 9-12 range. If they end up in as a 9-seed, might be a fun pick to win the first game and possibly upset the No. 1 in the second round. Downside to George Mason is that they will not sneak up on any team after its run a few years ago and that might make them first-round vulnerable.

North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs (19-13, Big South champion)

The Deal: These guys didn't have a great year, but they sure did finish well. The Bulldogs won its last six games, including two wins over Coastal Carolina, who at one point had won 22 straight games this season. 

Your Bracket: How about a real underdog? The Bulldogs will likely be in a play-in game before getting the chance to take on a No. 1 seed. Pick'm in the play-in game and then, hey, eventually a No. 1 seed has to lose right? Oh, right ... probably not. 

Oakland Golden Grizzlies (25-9, Summit League champion)

The Deal: Here is a name for you -- Keith Benson. The senior center is a 17-10 guy and sure utilizes his 6-foot-11 body, shooting 55 percent from the floor. Not just a one-man show, Oakland has four players who score in double digits. The Golden Grizzlies average the second-most points in the nation (85.5 points per game) and will prove to be a tough out for any team in the tournament. 

Your Bracket: A lot will come down to the matchup, but this is definitely a team worth giving a shot for a round or two. Oakland figures to be in the 12-14 range, seed-wise, but the Golden Grizzlies could be a fun first-round sleeper if they get matched up with a team that isn't a defensive juggernaut.  

Old Dominion Monarchs (27-6, CAA champions)

The Deal: Out of the same conference as George Mason in what will likely be a three- or four-bid league, the Monarchs have the best resume of any mid-major. Forget coming out of the country's best mid-major conference for a second, the Monarchs also own wins over the ACC's Clemson and the Atlantic 10's Xavier (not to mention playing the Big East's Georgetown to within three points). 

Your Bracket: My guess is the Monarchs will end up in the 6-8 seed-range in the tournament, so the questions with them are A) do they get matched up with a major conference team struggling down the stretch (Villanova?) in the first round and B) do you like them enough for a Sweet 16 push? My gut feeling is that Old Dominion will get a little too much love in the days leading up to the tournament as the chic mid-major upset pick and end up not being able to sneak up on anyone, so a Sweet 16 push might be tough; definitely like them in the first round, though.

--Michael Kelly

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Blogger Dean Collins said...

Dont forget on Sunday we'll be running a 12 hour super chat during #SelectionSunday broadcast for #MarchMadness - http://bit.ly/fwPhJ3

March 9, 2011 at 6:34 AM 

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