5 Mid-Majors Capable of a Surprise Sweet 16 Run
One of the most captivating parts of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is the so-called Cinderella runs of mid-majors into the second weekend of the tournament.
During last year's edition of the tournament, the Ohio Bobcats stole the show by defeating Michigan and South Florida in their first two games to earn a highly-publicized matchup with North Carolina.
The Bobcats eventually lost to North Carolina in the Sweet 16, but they were just the most recent example of a mid-major taking the nation by storm in March.
We have all gotten accustomed to seeing perennial mid-major powers like Gonzaga, Butler and Creighton make deep runs in March every season and that for that reason, those three teams will not be included on this list.
Other teams that are excluded from this list are the three Mountain West powerhouse programs—UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State—that have received plenty of national attention in the past few years.
As for the teams that are on the list, some are teams that have made the tournament before and have failed to pull off an upset and some are programs on the rise that could come out of complete obscurity to shock the nation this March.
Here are the five teams that are best suited to make a surprise Sweet 16 run this March.
Long Beach State
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Conference: Big West
The record of the Long Beach State 49ers may suggest that they will not make a run to sweet 16, but if you look closer at their schedule, you can understand why they are just at .500 so far this season.
The 49ers played one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the nation with just four home games—two of which came against strong opposition in North Carolina and Fresno State.
Also included on the brutal nonconference schedule of the 49ers were road losses to Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State and UCLA.
The 49ers showed plenty of resolve during their nonconference schedule and have rebounded nicely with a 4-1 record to start their Big West schedule.
If Dan Monson's 49ers continue their strong play in Big West games, they will be able to build plenty of momentum heading into March.
With a team that is already battle-tested against big-name opposition, the 49ers could be a very dangerous No. 12 or No. 13 seed when March rolls around.
Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com
The same conference that produced last season's Cinderella team could produce another surprise team this season.
The Akron Zips are the biggest contender to Ohio not only in the MAC, but in the conference's East Division.
The two teams are on a collision course headed towards their February 2 game in Akron.
Both teams are undefeated in the conference and they could force the selection committee to choose two teams out of the MAC.
The Zips boast one of the best senior centers in the nation in Zeke Marshall, who averages 12.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
If the Zips are to earn a bid into the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, they will need Marshall to step up in big games throughout the season, including the two against Ohio.
Once they get into the tournament, Marshall and the Zips will fly under the radar just like Ohio did and they could shock people just like the Bobcats did last season.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Conference: Mountain West
Amidst all the madness at the top of the Mountain West standings is underrated Boise State.
The Broncos have already shown their worth in conference play with a win over previously unbeaten Wyoming and they forced No. 19 New Mexico into overtime before losing on Wednesday.
The Broncos have three strong scorers in sophomores Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic, as well as junior Jeff Elorriaga.
Marks—who did not play against Wyoming—scored 27 in the loss to the New Mexico.
Drmic has been a consistent performer all season with double-digit point totals in all but three of his games.
Elorriaga has come on recently with six-straight double-digit point performances.
All three guards have the potential to become matchup problems for any big-name team in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
While they will be overshadowed by teams like UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State, the Broncos should sneak into the field of 68 with a 10-win conference season.
With three strong scoring guards, the Broncos have a chance to surprise anyone in the nation when it comes down to one-and-done games.
North Dakota State
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Conference: Summit League
North Dakota State will most likely not get any national attention until the time the Summit League tournament comes around at the beginning of March.
The last time that the Bison were this good was in 2009 when Ben Woodside led the team to a No. 14 seed and a matchup with Kansas.
The Bison have started their conference campaign with six-consecutive victories in dominant fashion.
During nonconference play, the Bison played Minnesota tight and only lost by 13 points to the Gophers at The Barn.
The biggest wins by the Bison in nonconference play came against Duquense, James Madison and Morehead State.
One quality of this Bison team that could be the most valuable when March comes around is their .488 field-goal percentage, which ranks 14th in the nation.
The biggest contributor to that high field-goal percentage is junior forward Marshall Bjorklund, who is shooting an unreal .721, which includes six games where he has been perfect from the field.
Any team that shoots the ball as well as the Bison has a chance against anyone when March comes around.
Photo Courtesy of charlotte49ers.com
Conference: Atlantic 10
Another team that will be overshadowed by the teams at the top of their conference is Charlotte.
With Butler, VCU and Xavier stealing all the headlines out of the A-10, the 49ers could fly under the radar.
Alan Major's team started the season with nine-straight wins before falling to Miami (FL) in a blowout road loss.
Since their loss to the Hurricanes, the 49ers have won five out of their last six games. Their only loss was to Florida State on December 22.
For Charlotte to prove their critics wrong they will have to play strong during their two-game stretch against VCU and Butler in early February.
There is no doubt that the 49ers can qualify for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, but for the team to make a run into the Sweet 16 they will have to play well against the class of the A-10.
Which mid-majors do you think will make a surprise run into the Sweet 16?
Comment below or leave me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90.