NCAA Bracket 2012: Power Ranking Performances of Every Mid-Major Team

Erik Schultz@eschultz530Correspondent IMarch 21, 2012

NCAA Bracket 2012: Power Ranking Performances of Every Mid-Major Team

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    Each year, mid-major schools put the Madness into March.  They make the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament the most exciting four consecutive days of the entire sports year.

    Last year, we had two (Butler and VCU) in the Final Four, with Butler in the national title game.  In 2010, four of the Sweet 16 were mid-majors (Butler, Cornell, Northern Iowa, Saint Mary's).  Butler of course went to the Final Four and title game that year as well.

    This year, mid-majors entered the tournament with very high expectations, given the recent success of Butler and VCU, as well as some very high seedings as a result of outstanding regular seasons. 

    So how did all these mid-majors fare in the first weekend of the tournament?  Here's a look at each of the 24 who were part of the original field of 68.


     Note:  The "mid-major" label applied in this piece does not include teams from the Atlantic 10 (Temple, Xavier, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure), Conference USA (Memphis, Southern Miss) or Mountain West (New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State).  Gonzaga and BYU are also not included, as they are two programs with enough prestige to move above the mid-major status.

24. Lamar

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    Lamar overcame a late-season sound off from a head coach with prestigious bloodlines to win its conference tournament and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

    As impressive as its finish to the regular season was, Lamar was equally unimpressive in its NCAA opening-round game against Vermont.  The Cardinals lost 71-59, becoming the third team eliminated from the tournament.  Lamar never really made a serious push in the second half, trailing by double digits nearly the entire half before making its quiet exit from the field.

    It appears as though coach Pat Knight's rant provided enough motivation to get Lamar into the Big Dance, but certainly not enough to get it any further. 

23. Mississippi Valley State

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    They had a win and a matchup with Kentucky firmly in their grasp.  However, the Delta Devils from Mississippi Valley State found a way to let it slip away.

    MVSU led by 16 with under five minutes to play in its opening-round game with Western Kentucky.  However, WKU ramped up its pressure defense, and MVSU simply could not handle the pressure both from the opposition, and from the game situation itself.

    The Delta Devils lost their entire 16-point lead, as the game went to overtime.  From there, they could not reverse the wave of momentum WKU created with its comeback.  In the end, MVSU lost 59-58. 

    It was a brutal loss for a team, and conference (SWAC), which have seen very little NCAA tournament success.

22. Iona

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    For the first 15 minutes of basketball, Iona had the look and feel of this year's version of VCU.  It looked like an NBA team was playing against BYU, playing at a frenetic pace and getting easy baskets while also making just about every shot taken away from the rim.

    Then the defense changed, and suddenly Iona had the look of a team that should have been anywhere but the NCAA tournament. 

    Iona led by a ridiculous score of 55-30 late in the first half of its NCAA opening-round game before BYU began to chip away.  While BYU gradually pulled closer, the Gaels simply couldn't get anything going offensively.  They failed to score over the final four-plus minutes of the first half. 

    Things never got any better for Iona in the second half, as it scored just 17 points in the half.  Eventually, BYU came all the way back to take the lead late and held on for an improbable 78-72 win. 

    If only Iona could have paced itself a bit better, it could have not only beat BYU but potentially given Marquette a serious run for its money in the second round.  Who knows? We could have been talking about the Gaels at the very top of this list as a Sweet 16 team.

21. Montana

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    Losing by the largest margin of any team in the second round (round of 64) in the NCAA tournament is disappointing.  Combine that with the fact that the team was a not-so-crazy pick to win its game against Wisconsin, and it was an even bigger letdown for Montana.

    After beating Weber State to win the Big Sky conference title, Montana was dominated by a more-than-ready Wisconsin team on the opening afternoon of the second round.  The Grizzlies' 73-49 defeat was an unusual margin for a No. 4 vs. No. 13 game, and was the biggest margin of defeat of any team over the first five days of the NCAA tournament.

    Facing Wisconsin in the tourney is always a difficult task.  However, going out this quickly and quietly can't be anything but a disappointment for Montana.

20. Belmont

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    After coming up just short against Duke in the season opener, Belmont was once again a team to watch heading into March. 

    Many predicted a second-round upset by No. 14 Belmont over third-seeded Georgetown.  Many also thought Belmont was capable of beating fourth-seeded Wisconsin a year ago. 

    However, Belmont once again failed to meet expectations, simply looking outclassed in the NCAA tournament.

    The Bruins lost to Georgetown 74-59 in a game in which they fell behind rather quickly and never could catch up.  They trailed by double digits just seven minutes in and could only make a few brief pushes to cut the lead to single digits before the Hoyas stomped out any remote hopes for a Belmont upset.

    It simply looked like another case of Belmont being unable to handle the challenge of a big-time opponent, despite its outstanding regular season.

19. LIU-Brooklyn

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    After going toe-to-toe in the first half last year with North Carolina in the NCAA second round, LIU-Brooklyn was hoping to remain in the game for 40 minutes this time around in its tournament matchup.

    LIU, a No. 16 seed, trailed by only five at the half against the West Region's top seed, Michigan State.  However, about six minutes into the second half, the Spartans began to quickly pull away. 

    A 21-8 run over a six-minute stretch put State up by 20 and put an abrupt end to any distant hopes the Blackbirds held of pulling out the elusive No. 16-over-No. 1 stunner.  For an LIU team that had no problems scoring this season, its inability to defend consistently showed itself once again and doomed the Blackbirds' chances.

18. Loyola MD

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    Playing in just its second-ever NCAA tournament, and its first in nearly 20 years was a challenge in itself for Loyola.  Add to that a matchup with second-seeded Ohio State and Jared Sullinger, and it was hard to expect a whole lot from the underdog Greyhounds.

    Loyola, the MAAC champions, fell 78-59 to Ohio State in the second round.  The Greyhounds were able to contain Sullinger (12 points on 4-14 shooting) but could not contain  OSU's other forward, Deshaun Thomas.  Thomas scored 31 to ensure Loyola would not provide a serious threat to the Buckeyes.

    While trailing by double digits most of the second half, Loyola still battled until the end despite its lack of size and shooting.  It was a solid effort from a team who has a legitimate chance to return to the Big Dance next season.

17. Detroit

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    For much of the first half, it looked like there may be yet another No. 15 seed ready to pull off a stunning upset over a No. 2 seed. 

    Then, Kansas decided to make sure that didn't happen.

    After playing Kansas dead even for the first 15 minutes, Detroit just couldn't stop a ferocious Kansas rally that spanned both halves, and ended any chances of the Titans' hopes for a third 15-over-2 upset on Friday alone. 

    Detroit, the Horizon League champs, entered the tournament with little to lose but plenty of upside after playing great basketball over the final month of the regular season.

    That set the Titans up to make a run in the conference tournament and made them look like one of the best No. 15 seeds in recent tournament history after the matchups were announced on Selection Sunday. 

    However, it seemed as though the fact that two No. 2 seeds had already lost on Friday woke Kansas up, and the Jayhawks ensured there wouldn't be a third.

16. Vermont

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    Vermont could have been a bit disappointed about having to play in the NCAA opening round.  Instead, it used that initial game as an opportunity to earn a tournament win.

    After finishing 13-3 in conference play and winning the America East tournament, Vermont may have expected to get a No. 15 seed, or at least a "better" No. 16 seed.  Instead, it was placed into a matchup with Lamar in the opening round.  The Catamounts came out and controlled the game, leading throughout en route to a fairly easy 71-59 win. 

    Winning that game gave Vermont a shot at the Midwest's top seed, North Carolina.  Despite losing 77-58, Vermont gave a respectable effort defensively against the Tar Heels, who were still without ACC Defensive POY John Henson. 

    Overall, Vermont made a respectable but unspectacular showing in this year's Madness.

15. New Mexico State

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    After nearly knocking off Michigan State in the NCAA tournament two years ago, New Mexico State got another shot to take down a Big Ten team.  The 13th-seeded Aggies were given a decent chance to knock off the Hoosiers, given Indiana's loss of point guard Verdell Jones III, as well its mediocre play away from Bloomington this season.

    However, they were unable to mount a serious challenge to pull the upset this time around.  New Mexico State, winners of the WAC's automatic bid, fell 79-66 to fourth-seeded Indiana in the second round. 

    NMSU fell victim to a hot-shooting Indiana team, which shot 59 percent from the field and couldn't do too much to counter.  Indiana led by double digits from the 16-minute mark on, preventing the Aggies from making any kind of serious rally.

    This was more a case of Indiana playing really well and NMSU simply not being able to contend with that.

14. Davidson

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    After beating Kansas earlier this season, Davidson was hoping to duplicate its giant-killer success this March.  Thanks to Louisville, it did not happen, and we will not see any kind of Davidson run through the tourney similar to what we saw back in 2008 with Stephen Curry. 

    The Big East tournament champion Cardinals took care of Davidson 69-62 in the second round.  Louisville led throughout and never let Davidson get into any kind of offensive flow.  The Wildcats had trouble moving the ball around and getting good looks from outside.  It was an impressive defensive effort from Rick Pitino's team.

    Louisville also went on to beat New Mexico in the third round, making Davidson's loss seem even more reasonable and perhaps a little less disappointing.

13. Western Kentucky

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    For a team that was just 9-18 in late February, a chance just to be in the NCAA tournament was rather remarkable.  For that team to also win a game and hold its own against the favorites to win it all is also pretty incredible.

    Western Kentucky, which was in the middle of an entirely lost season just a month ago, pulled off a stunning comeback to beat Mississippi Valley State 59-58 in overtime in the opening round.  The Hilltoppers rallied from a 16-point deficit with just under five minutes to go, the largest such comeback in that time span in tournament history.

    Following that emotional win, WKU got a crack at in-state foe and top-seeded Kentucky in Louisville.  That alone would be an experience of a lifetime for the Hilltopper players.  While the game was never in serious doubt, the Hilltoppers fought hard and actually outscored Kentucky in the second half in the 81-66 defeat. 

    Overall, it was a very improbable, yet successful and memorable trip to the Big Dance for Western Kentucky.

12. Harvard

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    After an outstanding regular season which saw them go 26-4 and beat Florida State, Harvard may have been a bit under-seeded in this NCAA tournament.  The fact that this was its first tournament appearance in 66 years didn't make things any easier.

    As a No. 12 seed, the Crimson had a very tough second-round contest against Vanderbilt, fresh off its SEC championship win over Kentucky.  Harvard ultimately came up short in its only game in its long-awaited tourney appearance, losing 79-70. 

    Like any Ivy League team represented in the NCAA tournament, Harvard didn't go down easily.  Despite trailing by double digits much of the second half, the Crimson put together an impressive rally late.  It cut Vandy's lead to just five with 1:24 to play and one possession later had a chance to cut the lead to just three before turning the ball over.

    Harvard should have nothing to be ashamed of after breaking a brutally long absence from the NCAAs.  A really tough draw was more the problem here.

11. Saint Mary's

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    Saint Mary's entered the tournament with a 27-5 record along with a WCC regular-season and tournament championships.  However, that wasn't enough to ensure a good enough seed to keep the Gaels from surviving and advancing in the NCAA tournament.

    A No. 7 seed, SMC fell to Purdue 72-69 in its second-round matchup.  After trailing by 11 with under five minutes to play, a late rally by the Gaels briefly gave them the lead before Lewis Jackson hit two free throws to give Purdue the lead for good. 

    It was certainly a tough loss for SMC after such a great season.  Purdue should have been seeded higher than 10th after a winning season in a brutal Big Ten.  The Gaels' matchup with Purdue was probably about as tough a first-round draw as any team with a No. 1-No. 8 seed  could have had, outside of...

10. Wichita State

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    As the highest-seeded mid-major team in the entire NCAA tournament field, Wichita State, a No. 5 seed, was not exactly rewarded with their second-round matchup with No. 12 seed  VCU.

    In arguably the most exciting game of the second round, VCU prevailed 62-59 over WSU.  VCU, like it has often done this season, came out of the gate very strong, getting off to a double-digit lead late in the first half.

    In the second half, the Shockers came back and eventually took a two-point lead before VCU immediately answered with a three that ultimately made the difference.

    VCU presented Wichita State a challenging combination of a high-pressure defense not seen during the regular season, combined with the Final Four experience from a year ago.  Throw in the fact that the Rams won 28 games before the tourney and were potentially under-seeded, and it spelled plenty of trouble for the Shockers.

9. Long Beach State

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    Another 5-12 game that lived up to expectations was No. 12 Long Beach State's battle with No. 5 New Mexico. 

    In a game that was almost entirely played within one or two possessions, Long Beach ultimately came up just short in a 75-68 loss.  After briefly taking the lead at 61-59 with five minutes to go, the 49ers couldn't quite get the job on the defensive end to grab the win.

    Despite the defeat, it was a solid showing by a team which proved it could compete with anybody in the country this season.  New Mexico entered the tournament as one of the hotter teams in the country after winning the MWC tournament.  Long Beach may be slightly disappointed with their short stay in the tourney, but they have nothing at all to be ashamed of.

8. South Dakota State

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    For its first ever NCAA tournament game, South Dakota State presented itself quite well against a legitimate Final Four contender.

    SDSU, a No. 14 seed, showed in the first 10 minutes it was a serious threat to pull a huge upset, taking a 19-9 lead.  Baylor eventually rallied to take the lead, but the Jackrabbits never went away as they stayed within single digits throughout the second half.  A three-pointer with just over a minute to play cut Baylor's lead to four, but SDSU couldn't get any closer.

    Had Brady Heslip not made five three-pointers, it's possible SDSU would have pulled out the win.  The Jackrabbits' effort may have been good enough to beat a No. 5 or No. 6 seed but was ultimately not enough to beat the third-seeded Baylor team.

7. Creighton

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    Before Selection Sunday, some felt Creighton had Sweet 16 potential, with All-American Doug McDermott leading the way.  However, after the brackets released, we quickly saw Creighton would have a pretty tough time getting that far.

    Creighton earned a No. 8 seed, and its NCAA Second Round matchup was Alabama was not easy.  Playing a team with hard-nosed defense, Creighton managed to rally in the second half and squeak out a 58-57 win.  It was a well-earned win for the Bluejays, but the resulting joy would be very short-lived.

    Next, Creighton had to go against top-seeded North Carolina.  The Bluejays may have had a shot to take down the Tar Heels had John Henson remained out with his recent wrist injury.  However, Henson returned just in time to all but eliminate any hopes of a headline victory for the Creighton program. 

    In the end, UNC went on to win rather easily, 87-73, over Creighton.  Given its seed and matchups for its two games, this is just how we expected things to play out for the Bluejays.  They represented the Missouri Valley well by getting the league's only tournament win.

6. Murray State

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    Murray State was about eight minutes away from a first-ever Sweet 16 appearance.  Marquette, however, ensured that the Racers would not reach that milestone. 

    Marquette, the No. 3 seed, ended the third-round matchup on a 22-6 run and knocked No. 6  Murray State out of the NCAA tournament.  Regardless, it was an impressive showing by the team that captivated college basketball for much of the regular season in its pursuit of an undefeated season.

    In the end, Murray State finished the regular season at 30-1.  The Racers quickly showed the legitimacy of that record by taking care of No. 11 Colorado State in the second round, 58-41.  They further proved their worth by nearly taking down one of the nation's best teams in Marquette.

    The disappointment over not advancing farther may still be there, but Murray State performed very well all season, including its two tourney games.

5. UNC-Asheville

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    They came pretty close to making history.  With 10 minutes to go, the Bulldogs from UNC-Asheville had many believing it just may happen.

    The No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville led top-seeded Syracuse by four at halftime, and the buzz building inside Consol Arena in Pittsburgh was really starting to grow.  The Bulldogs had the game going at a pace they liked and were able to frustrate Syracuse on the offensive end, forcing them into a jump-shooting team with few opportunities for quick and easy scores.

    With 10 minutes to go, UNCA still held on to a one-point lead.  After James Southerland hit a three to give Syracuse the lead, the Bulldogs still came back to tie it with just under seven to play.

    Even when the Orange built a late seven-point lead, UNCA still came back to cut it to three and may have been a questionable out-of-bounds call away from tying the game in the final minute.  Syracuse ultimately prevailed by a 75-68 final. 

    It's been quite a while since a No. 16 seed gave a No. 1 seed this kind of scare. UNCA played about as well as it could have on the biggest stage possible and nearly came out with a win for the ages.

    The Bulldogs probably played well enough to beat at least half the teams in the tourney on that day and left quite an impression on fans not only in Pittsburgh, but throughout the nation.

4. VCU

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    VCU may have only won one-fifth the number of games it did in last year's NCAA tournament, but it looked like a team who will be causing plenty of  "havoc" in March for years to come.

    VCU, a No. 12 seed, started off this year's Big Dance with a hard-fought win over the No. 5 seed, Wichita State, 62-59.  The Rams' defense, just like last year, played a big part in carrying them to a tournament win. 

    After beating Wichita State, VCU had No. 4 seed Indiana on the ropes in the third round.  The Rams once again started strong against the Hoosiers and kept the lead well into the second half.

    However, after leading by nine with just over 10 minutes to play, Indiana mounted a rally.  Finally, the Hoosiers took the lead in the final minute and held on for the win after a Bradford Burgess three missed off the front rim.

    While the run ended rather early for VCU this March, they once again showed an ability to compete with top competition.  Considering the amount of turnover from last year to this year, coach Shaka Smart has put together a successful formula for tournament success.

3. Lehigh

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    While UNC-Asheville couldn't quite pull off a monumental tournament upset, Lehigh was very much up to the task. 

    Lehigh knocked off Duke, the South Region's No. 2 seed, 75-70 in the NCAA second round.  While Duke was without one of their best front-line players, Ryan Kelly, the result will still go down as one of the bigger Round of 64 upsets in tournament history.  Lehigh became only the sixth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed.

    After the emotional high of taking down Duke, Lehigh came out strong in its third-round matchup with No. 10 seed Xavier.  The Mountain Hawks built a 15-point first-half lead and just a few minutes before halftime looked like they would be the first ever No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.

    All of a sudden, Xavier turned the game on its head and put a serious damper on Lehigh's party in Greensboro.  A 20-2 run put the Musketeers back in front early in the second half, and they never trailed from there. 

    With a big lead early, the loss was a tough way for Lehigh's season to end.  However, the school from eastern PA made an enormous statement for itself, the Patriot League and mid-major conferences throughout the nation.

2. Norfolk State

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    A MEAC team did it again.  Norfolk State became the most recent team to build on an impressive history of success against No. 2 seeds in the Round of 64. 

    Norfolk State had the single most impressive win of any team the entire first weekend of the tournament, knocking off second-seeded Missouri 86-84.  It became just the fifth No. 15 seed in history to beat a No. 2 seed, but the third from the MEAC alone. 

    With the improbable win, Norfolk State knocked out the first legitimate Final Four contender in this NCAA tournament.  Even more impressive was that the Spartans won despite the fact Missouri played well, shooting 53 percent from the floor, making 13-of-29 three pointers and committing just eight turnovers. 

    In other words, Norfolk State had to play at an elite level to beat a really good team which played up to its normal standards of play.  It did exactly that, and the number of other teams in the tourney who could have done the same on that day would have been very small.

    That monumental effort by Norfolk State could not be duplicated in the third round, however.  Florida, a No. 7 seed, came out firing on all cylinders and buried the Spartans early.  In the end,  The Spartans lost 84-50.

    Despite that rather harsh ending, it was still an incredible tourney showing by Norfolk State.

1. Ohio

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    They crashed the Big Dance in 2010 with an upset over Georgetown.  This year, the Bobcats from Ohio once again have made quite a mark in the NCAA tournament.  The only difference is they are taking things into the second weekend this time around.

    Ohio beat the Midwest Region's No. 4 seed, Michigan, and the No. 12 seed, South Florida, to reach the Sweet 16.  The Bobcats became just the fifth No. 13 seed to make it this far and the first since Bradley in 2006. 

    While Ohio hasn't beat a team the caliber of Missouri or Duke (so far) in the tournament, the fact it is the only true mid-major still standing after the first weekend gives it the top spot on the list. 

    Winning two games against anybody in the NCAA tournament is very impressive.  When you do it as a No. 13 seed, it is extremely impressive.

    Can Ohio knock off top-seeded North Carolina (potentially without PG Kendall Marshall) and become the first ever No. 13 seed to reach the Elite Eight?  Based on how the Bobcats have played so far, we can't rule them out just yet.