Beware of Davids: Seven small schools to bust your NCAA Tournament bracket
Every basketball fan knows the film Hoosiers by heart by now, especially the scene before the title game when the Hickory team chaplain quotes the Biblical story of David and Goliath to inspire the upset-minded small school.
In college basketball, those Hollywood stories have become commonplace of late, with Butler and George Mason both reaching the Final Four (which will be held in three weeks in Houston) within the last five years. Those two schools will be looking for miracle runs again this year.
Here are seven more Davids — each of which has already either won its conference tourney or is headed for an at-large berth NCAA Tournament berth on Selection Sunday — with the stuff to send the major-conference Goliaths packing.
BELMONT: You don’t win 30 games by accident. The Bruins ran roughshod over the Atlantic Sun, going 19-1 in league play and winning the title game by 41 points.
A few years back, Belmont gave Duke a scare as a 15th seed, and this year’s team, a ridiculously deep squad that shares the ball with aplomb and shoots lights out, is better than that one. Look for Belmont to get a No. 13 seed this year and have a legitimate chance to take down its first-round opponent.
OAKLAND: It often takes a mid-major school a year to get used to the NCAA Tournament experience. Last year, Oakland made it and got destroyed by Pitt in its first game.
The Golden Grizzles won’t be starstruck this time around. The champions of the Summit League are extremely experienced and have a legitimate NBA frontline player in Keith Benson, while guard Reggie Hamilton gives Oakland a perimeter weapon to keep defenses from crowding Benson.
OLD DOMINION: The Monarchs should sneak up on no one this time around, considering that they dumped Notre Dame in a first round game a year ago. Most of the key components from that team are back, including do-everything swingman Kent Bazemore and hulking forward Frank Hassell.
This is a team that can match up physically with most programs around the country, and Old Dominion could be looking at a single-digit seed, which would help it get a favorable first round matchup.
WOFFORD: Here is another team booking a return engagement to the Big Dance. In last year’s tourney, the Terriers gave Wisconsin everything it could handle before succumbing by just four points. Forward Noah Dahlman, averaging 20 points a game, gets ample support from solid guards Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs.
After defeating a good College of Charleston squad to win its second straight Southern Conference title, Wofford will not be a cakewalk for any first round foe.
MOREHEAD STATE: The likes of Stephen Curry, David Robinson, and Wally Szczerbiak have proven that one transcendent player can take a so-called small school on his back and lead it deep into the NCAA Tournament. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Kenneth Faried, a ferocious rebounder, shot blocker, and inside scorer who led the Eagles to the Ohio Valley championship.
He might be just the type to add his name to that hallowed list.
UTAH STATE: The Aggies have made the tournament for the last two years and in five of the last eight, yet they’ve been beaten in the first round each time by a BCS school. Stew Morrill’s squad, which won 15 of 16 in the WAC and spent the past month in the Top 25, has the talent to not only break that streak but also to make a Sweet 16 run.
Utah State will make the 68-team field even if it is upset in Saturday’s conference championship game.
NORTHERN COLORADO: One of the best stories in this year's NCAA Tournament will be a team that joined Division I just a few seasons ago. The senior class for the Bears, led by Big Sky Player of the Year Devon Beitzel, suffered through the growing pains of the program, which made the thrilling win over Montana in the conference title game even sweeter.
But this team also won the regular season in an underrated conference, so it might just add a few more pages to the storybook before it’s all over.