March is here and soon enough the madness will begin. With Selection Sunday approaching this weekend on the 11th, the Power-Five conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and PAC 12) are sure to have plenty of teams represented in the big dance. However, as any college basketball fan knows, there is always room for some smaller schools and less historically-dominant programs to make their way into the tournament as well. Cinderella stories seem to happen every year, and yet, we still never seem to expect it. Leaving out the historically-dominant Big East programs Villanova and Xavier, here are some of the mid-major teams that have a serious chance to compete deep into the tournament this season:
Cincinnati Bearcats, 27-4, American Conference
The Cincinnati Bearcats are a serious threat to anyone they match up against in the NCAA tournament. The champions of the American conference boast a 27-4 record that becomes even more impressive when you look into the losses. All four losses have come against RPI top-50 teams, and three of them were by six points or less. The only “bad” loss they have taken this season came on the road at the hands of the mighty Xavier Musketeers, who won the Big East.
Seton Hall Pirates, 21-10, Big East Conference
After stumbling through early February, the Seton Hall Pirates seem to have righted the ship and are playing strong basketball heading into the NCAA tournament. They have won four of their last five games, with the loss coming in the form of a one-point defeat against projected one-seed Villanova. With four players averaging 13 or more points per game, Seton Hall can score against anybody and will be an interesting team to watch when the madness begins.
Rhode Island Rams, 23-6, Atlantic 10 Conference
The Atlantic 10 will likely only be represented by two teams in the quest for the national championship, and Rhode Island is one of them. The Rams have dropped two straight, which raises questions about their current status as the tournament closes in. But, all things considered, they have been a great team all year long. The team went on a 16-game win streak earlier in the season and are 11-5 against the RPI top-150.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, 26-5, Sun Belt Conference
The champions of the Sun Belt Conference may not have played against the toughest competition all year, but it seems like they probably should have. The Ragin’ Cajuns made an impressive run through the Sun Belt and will look to get over the hump against better opponents when the tournament begins. They lost both of their games against RPI top-100 teams, but were on the road for one and at a neutral site for the other. If Louisiana can play their best basketball in March, who knows how far they could go.
Creighton Blue Jays, 21-10, Big East Conference
Creighton seems to have a solid team every year but have not made much noise in the tournament. This year, the Blue Jays finished third in the Big East behind the giants of Villanova and Xavier, but they have proven that they can compete with anybody. Notable wins over Seton Hall, UCLA, Providence, Butler and Villanova show their potential, but Creighton has struggled on the road against tough teams. Six of their seven losses against the RPI top-50 have come on the road, and the home loss was a one-point defeat to Xavier. If Creighton can figure out how to thrive in a neutral environment, the Blue Jays could be dancing their way deep into the tournament.
Wichita State Shockers, 24-6, American Conference
The Shockers are becoming a bit of a household name in the NCAA tournament ever since their historic Final Four run years back. This year, Wichita State will be back and they present challenges to their opponents defensively. The Shockers boast 18.8 assists per game as a team, good for third in the nation, and also score and rebound efficiently, ranking top-20 in the nation in both categories. While they have taken some tough single-digit losses to teams like SMU, Oklahoma and Temple, they have also squeaked out some big wins against Houston and Cincinnati. Don’t be shocked to see the Shockers still hanging around come Sweet 16 weekend.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies, 24-6, Atlantic 10 Conference
The Bonnies have had a fantastic season with NBA prospect Jaylen Adams leading the way. The senior point guard averaged 21 points, five assists and three rebounds per game this season and shoots a ridiculous 48% from deep. St. Bonaventure was 14-6 once upon a time, but have gotten red-hot right in time for March Madness, winning ten straight. The team is 7-3 against the RPI top-100 and cannot be slept on as they enter postseason play scorching hot.
Nevada Wolf Pack, 26-6, Mountain West Conference
Nevada is currently ranked 22nd in the AP polls and are projected to receive a six-seed in the NCAA tournament. Playing in a weaker conference, the Wolf Pack may not be a team you’ve watched much, if at all this season, but they pose a serious threat to anyone they come up against in the coming weeks. Similar to last year’s SMU team, the Wolf Pack have a small roster from top to bottom, but that allows them to play with more pace than teams with larger lineups. Nevada is 17th in the nation in scoring and will be a fun team to watch as they create mismatches against everyone they face.
Houston Cougars, 24-6, American Conference
Houston made ESPN headlines a couple weeks ago when they entered halftime leading the East Carolina Pirates 62-13. Putting up a box score like that against any Division I team in a half has to make you think: “this team is legit”. The Cougars are an impressive 6-2 against the RPI top-50, including a home win over Cincinnati last month and double-digit victories against Temple, Wichita State, Providence and Arkansas. Houston will be a tough team to take on no matter where they end up being seeded come Selection Sunday.