The Full Court Press: SP Sports

If the Slipper Fits…: NCAA Low and Mid Majors Part II

In case you missed part one of our Low and Mid Majors coverage, here it is

There is a lot of low and mid major love to get to, and on the heels of that all the meaty goodness of the bracket, so these blurbs will be considerably more blurby than my offering earlier in the week. Without further ado…

Albany Great Danes
24-8 (15-1)
Chance to be Cinderella – Not bad
The Great Danes are dancing for the second straight year, riding a last minute winner over Stony Brook and a stifling defense (around 60 ppg). Albany is a young team, and not particularly big, but they could pull off the upset if they get into a defensive slugfest, say against Virginia or Louisville.

Big Sky
Eastern Washington Eagles
26-8 (14-4)
Chance to be Cinderella – Good
The Eagles can score. They do it effortlessly. They also cannot defend. At all. That 69-65 Big Sky championship game with Montana was a rock fight compared to EWU’s normal 80 ppg. These guys personify the new-age Cinderella. Run and gun and shoot the lights out, and maybe no one will see you sneak away with the upset win. (They also have a road win at Indiana and close road losses to SMU and Washington. They’re ready for the slipper to fit)

Big West
UC Irvine Anteaters
21-12 (11-5)
Chance to be Cinderella – slim
They’re the Anteaters. How much more do you need to know to get behind UCI? If it helps, they’re going to the Big Dance for the first time in school history. Statistically, the Anteaters (it is still awesome to type!) don’t do anything to wow you, but they don’t lack anywhere, either, They’ve got solid size in the front court and senior leadership. It’s a recipe for a miracle in March. Also, and I can not stress this enough, they are THE ANTEATERS.

Conference USA
UAB Dragons
19-15 (12-6)
Chance to be Cinderella– Slim
It was a rough year for UAB athletics, but the Dragons helped ease the pain by making it to the Dance for the first time since 2011. A bit of a surprise, UAB entered the C-USA tournament as the 4th seed, but with league leaders Louisiana Tech and bubble darlings Old Dominion exiting early, the title was there for the Dragons to take. They don’t excel anywhere really, but they scheduled insanely tough out of conference, so that could pay dividends next week.

Ivy League
Harvard Crimson
22-7 (11-3)
Chance to be Cinderella– Good
Harvard started the year with high expectations, both internally and externally. They’ve danced the last 3 years, pulling upsets along the way, and started this year ranked in the top 25. It was only downhill from there. But Tommy Amakur and his seniors righted the ship, got some help from Dartmouth, and took care of business in the closest thing the Ivy League will ever get to a tournament. The Crimson are experienced, play tough-nosed defense, and are hungry. Watch out for another upset this year.

Buffalo Bulls
23-9 (12-6)
Chance to be Cinderella – Not good
Buffalo joins the list of first time Dancers after winning a scorcher of a game in the MAC title bout. The Bulls score plenty, but are not incredibly efficient about it. They play an up-and-down style that is hard to translate into upsets – a lot of the power conference schools can match them in track meet, and the ones that prefer to slow it down tend to be really good at it. Buffalo probably only plays one game in the Tournament, but considering it is the first one ever, that is nothing to hang their heads about.

Hampton Pirates
16-17 (8-8)
Chance to be Cinderella – Beyond just getting here? None.
So, I’ve been saying for months that people shouldn’t sleep on Hampton. You don’t believe me? How clever of you to see through my deception. I watch a fair amount of low-major college basketball, and I though the MEAC would provide a serious contender for Cinderella – in North Carolina Central. The Eagles were a defense powerhouse, an efficient offense, and had tested themselves in non-conference. They ran the table in MEAC regular season play. And somehow lost in the semis to Delaware state. Which lead to a crazy, who-knows-what-is-going-to-happen final with Hampton. Who then won, of course, becoming just the 20th team in Tournament history to make the field with a losing record. Way to go, Pirates.

Mountain West
Wyoming Cowboys
25-9 (11-7)
Chance to be Cinderella – Good
Wyoming was this year’s first “bid thief,” toppling favorite San Diego State in the MWC final. The Aztecs are an at-large bid lock, so Wyoming basically shrunk the bubble in winning. But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys don’t deserve a shot. They were a mid-major power player before all-around star forward Larry Nance Jr. was sidelined with mono. Nance got healthy just in time to help his team nab their first title in over a decade, and Wyoming could certainly see playing past its first game this weekend.

Patriot League
Lafayette Leopards
20-12 (9-9)
Chance to be Cinderella – Have a shot
The Leopards a) have a much cooler feline-related name than the ubiquitous “Wildcats” and b) score with aplomb. And they do it by being efficient near the basket, because these guys have legit size in their front court, with 3 upper classmen at 6-10. They also shoot nearly 42% as a team from deep, They will try and drag whoever they draw into a track meet, and they will have a shot.

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
29-4 (17-1)
Chance to be Cinderella – Excellent
SF Austin is one of the most prolific offenses in the country, ranking top 10 in ppg, fg percentage, and assists per game. They’re tops in the nation in that last one. They knocked off VCU last year and made a valiant showing in the round of 32. I expect no less this year, where they will likely be the most dangerous 12-seed in the field. All hail the Lumberjacks!

Texas Southern Tigers
22-12 (16-2)
Chance to be Cinderella – Not great
The Tigers were the cream of the crop in the SWAC, rolling to an easy 16-2 record. But that isn’t going to translate well to Tournament success. Texas Southern is just very bland, though they did play a brutal non-conference schedule and have a junior and senior laden squad, I just don’t see it in the cards that they see more than one game this weekend (and they likely will be in a play-in game, so they might not even make it to Thursday. Sorry Tigers.)

Sun Belt
Georgia State Panthers
24-9 (15-5)
Chance to be Cinderella – OK
The top seed from the Sun Belt won a grueling game against Georgia Southern to avenge last year’s heartbreak. The Panthers have solid statistical numbers across the board, including a gaudy 9 steals per game. A projected 13 seed, they could make some noise, if they can score more than 38 points.

New Mexico State Aggies
23-10 (13-1)
Chance to be Cinderella – OK
The WAC isn’t what it used to be thanks to conference realignment, but the Aggies continue to be the cream of the crop in it, making their 4th straight Tournament appearance. This year’s team brings back a number of players that hung tough with SDSU last year. They have size and hang their hat on the defensive end. Coupled with plenty of Tourney experience, they could be trouble next weekend for an unsuspecting team.

We’re a few hours away from the Selection Committee announcing the field. There is plenty of stress at the bottom, where the bubble is incredibly soft and getting pressed in from the top by bid thieves. There’s contention at the top on who will be the remaining number 1-seeds behind Kentucky. The Big Dance hasn’t even started yet and the madness  is already all overflowing!

We’ll have a few more pieces on the field at large before Thursday’s games start. Make sure you check out The Saas Perspective Bracket Challenge to try your hand at out picking the Brothers Saas and scoring some sweet TSP swag. And keep an eye on our Facebook page during the opening few rounds after each game to catch my mildly amusing, possibly insightful takes on every game as I soldier through the best 96 hours of sports.

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