Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March Madness Mid-Majors (Part II)

Yesterday, we took a glance at five mid-majors worth considering for an upset pick or two come bracket-filling out time. Since we try to maintain a Kevin Love-like level of consistency here at Four More Years, here's five more teams to keep in mind this Sunday from your non-powerhouse conferences* ...

Butler Bulldogs (23-9, Horizon League champions)

The Deal: OK, we're not exactly breaking new ground here by telling you that last year's national championship runner-up might be a decent pick for a couple rounds, so we'll treat this as more of just an update on how everyone's favorite Bulldogs did this year. Butler actually had a midseason slump this year -- three straight losses a little over a month ago -- but rebounded from it to the team's current nine-game winning streak.

Your Bracket: Don't go crazy with Butler. Nobody on this year's version has the talent of Gordon Hayward, so Butler will struggle to compete with the big boys. Feel justified in picking them as long as they stay clear of the top two seeds in their bracket.

Cleveland State Viking (26-8, Horizon League regular season co-champions)

The Deal: The Vikings are not a lock to make the tournament field since they would need to do so as an at-large, but Cleveland State is an intriguing squad. They boast an RPI of 41 (as of games completed through Tuesday) which is an impressive ranking for a mid-major and Cleveland State a great singular talent in Norris Cole. The senior guard does a bunch of everything -- 21.6 points per game, six rebounds, 5.3 assists -- and can throw up a crazy stat line with the best of them; in his team's win against Youngstown State, Cole went for 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists.

Your Bracket: Unlikely to crack the field, but not a terrible major upset pick, especially if you play in a pool where additional points are given based on a team's seeding. If they snag a 14-seed and play against a fading 3-seed, the Vikings are worth a look.

Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-9, West Coast Conference champions)

The Deal: Much like the other Bulldogs -- for those just skimming, Butler brought us our first collection of Bulldogs; by the way, Bulldogs is the most common moniker for NCAA teams --we're familiar with the Gonzaga program at this point. But this year's batch of left-coast hoopsters has gone, for the most, under the radar because they lost a bunch of games early in their out-of-conference schedule and lack quality wins. But, here are two of the clubs Gonzaga fell to early in the season -- San Diego State (by three) and Notre Dame (by four). Those two teams turned out to be two of the best 10 in the country and Gonzaga played them very close.

Your Bracket: Gonzaga has won nine games in a row and is peaking at the right time; if they get a favorable draw, they're not out of the Elite 8 picture. A favorable draw for them would include playing teams that are not loaded with super-quick guards (think Kentucky, North Carolina or Villanova).

Hofstra Pride (21-11, CAA runner-up)

The Deal: The Pride are on the bubble, but are a team to watch if they do make it into the field. The CAA was fantastic all year, so despite a lack of quality wins outside the conference, Hofstra has been tested. More importantly, the Pride has Charles Jenkins -- the senior guard averaged 22.9 points per game this season 30+ points four different times this season. Love an underdog that has a top gun capable of carrying a team for a night.

Your Bracket: If they get it, likely in the 13- to 14-seed range. If they get a first-round opponent that is more of a size team -- like Pittsburgh -- the Pride are worth a look.

Long Island Blackbirds (27-5, Northeast champions)

The Deal: Essentially, Long Island has played nobody of consequence this season, as the team's best opponent was the MAAC's Iona ... and the Blackbirds took the L in that one. But, the Blackbirds can score (82.5 points per game, sixth in the country) and rebound (41.8 boards a game, third in the country). If you can score and take care of the glass, you can cause headaches in March.

Your Bracket: Possibly a team headed to one of the play-in games for a 16-seed; worth a pick for that round if that is where they end up.

*I left out BYU and San Diego because both teams have been nationally ranked and discussed for most of the year. Obviously, these teams will be expected to win games in the tournament and won't get a chance to spring an upset.

--Michael Kelly

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