One of the great things about the NCAA Tournament is the chance its offers all of those smaller conference schools who don’t have weekly dates on ESPN to shine. These teams arguably play under more pressure most of the year, since even teams who dominate their respective leagues often need to win their conference tourney to make the Big Dance.
With that in mind, here are five mid-major teams who have been outstanding all season long and have the opportunity to do some damage in the NCAAs. These are the teams college basketball's powers don't want to see on the line next to their school's name on Selection Sunday.
No Murray States or Creightons in this list. These teams haven’t been in the Top 25. A few are bubble teams that will have to sweat it out Sunday evening. Yet they’re all still worthy and dangerous.
The pride of the Atlantic Sun, the Bruins have made four tournament appearances in the last six seasons. Duke fans should know them well. In 2008, 15th-seed Belmont lost by a point to the Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA, and in the first game of this season, Duke escaped with a one-point win over Rick Byrd's team in Cameron.
Belmont has really hit its stride of late, taking a 14-game winning streak into the Big Dance. Known for shuffling bodies in and out of the game at regular intervals, the Bruins have some legitimate stars this year in point guard Kerron Johnson and 3-point bombers Ian Clark and Drew Hanlen.
The Gaels have the kind of talent to attack major conference teams at their level, as Maryland found out when Iona drubbed the Terps early in the season. Iona, regular season champs in the MAAC, can light it up, thanks to high-scorers Mike Glover, who nearly averages a double-double, and Lamont “Mo-Mo” Jones, who transferred in from Arizona, where he averaged double figures in the Wildcats run to the Elite Eight last year.
What helps those guys — if the commitee recognizes they deserve an at-large berth — is that they have the nation’s premier assist man delivering them the ball in point guard Scott Machado.
Winning in Allen Field House in Lawrence, Kansas is a daunting task for anyone, let alone a team from the Southern Conference. Yet that’s just what the Wildcats did back in December, giving some hope that they can return to the glory years of the recent past when Stephen Curry led them deep into March.
This year’s team went 16-2 in the SoCo, using prolific three-point shooting to lead the way. Then, Davidson survived two overtimes in its conference tournament championship game to nab an automatic spot in the field of 68.
For all of its bombing though, Davidson often looks to the inside strength of De’Mon Brooks, the team’s top scorer and rebounder, when it needs a hoop the most.
When experts talk about the weakness of the Pac 12 this year in college basketball, they often point to the teams in the WCC and Mountain West as the ones that are truly Best of the West. They shouldn’t overlook the Wolf Pack, who dominated the WAC this year and have a win over Pac 12 leader Washington on their resume.
Like many successful mid-majors, Nevada has benefited from transfers from major conference schools. Malik Story and Oleg Czyz started their careers at Indiana and Duke, respectively, and both are averaging double figures.
The Golden Eagles headed into conference play in the Summit League on a high note with a thrashing of Xavier, which was in the Top 10 at the time. They dominated league play with a 17-1 record, and had a nice BracketBuster victory over Akron, but a loss in the conference tournament semifinals has put them in serious jeopardy of being left out.
Dominique Morrison is the star here, averaging more than 20 points a game. ORU can explode offensively and buckle down defensively depending on the opponent like the other schools on this list, but the Golden Eagles are also the least likely to have a Big Dance chance.
They'll have to settle for being a dangerous team in the NIT.