5 Mid-Major Programs Who Will Deliver March Madness This Year
Mid-major programs are a big part of what makes March Madness so special. Some of the same schools play the role of spoiler year after year.
At this point of the season, it's time to identify which mid-majors have the best chance at creating the magical March Madness moments we will soon be cheering for.
Having a deep knowledge of the best mid-majors could make the difference between ripping up your bracket after the first weekend of March Madness or gloating about how you miraculously called the big upset.
In what feels like an annual tradition, a mid-major will emerge from the pack. The team is usually anchored by multiple seniors, which in turn sparks conversation about how terrible the current one-and-done rule is for the health of college basketball.
The contrast between a mid-major school and a national powerhouse like Kentucky is ineffable, almost to the point in which one would assume they compete at a different level.
Doug McDermott should be in the Player of the Year award discussion with the way he has carried Creighton through the season's first half. Thus far, McDermott is averaging 23.9 points and 7.1 rebounds and is shooting 55.9 from the field and 48.8 percent from behind the arc.
Creighton is currently 17-2 with losses to Boise State and Wichita State (more on them later). Neither loss is egregious; Boise State has been solid, and the loss to Wichita State came on the road.
The strength of this Creighton team is on the offensive end of the court, with six different players averaging at least seven points per game.
Creighton leads the country in field-goal percentage, converting on 51.8 percent of attempts. Getting so many good shots speaks to the strong coaching in place, an effort led by Greg McDermott.
In terms of assists, Creighton's average of 18.1 per game is fourth in the nation. The Achilles' heel of Creighton might be its effort on the boards, an area in which it is ranked 140th in the country.
After McDermott and Gregory Echenique, Creighton lacks another decent glass-cleaner. Whenever those two players are on the bench, rebounding becomes a major concern.
Creighton is a tough out when the offense is clicking, but if it is slowed down, the team will be severely tested.
Bucknell has gotten off to a fast start in the Patriot League with a 16-4 record. The Bison opened their season with an impressive victory at Purdue and gave Missouri all it could handle in a thrilling 66-64 defeat on January 5th.
Outside of the road loss to Missouri, Bucknell also fell at Princeton and Penn State. Its most damaging defeat came against Lehigh, which dropped Bucknell into second place in the Patriot League.
The reason Bucknell appears on this list rather than Lehigh is primarily due to the Bison's leading scorer, Mike Muscala.
Muscala is a walking double-double, averaging 20.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. He is also arguably the best player in the Patriot League, which gives Bucknell an advantage in every conference game it plays.
At 6'11", Muscala has the size to dominate inside, which is exactly what he does on both ends of the court.
A loss to Lehigh in the Patriot League championship game kept Bucknell from playing in the NCAA tournament last year, and I expect the Bison to get the best of Lehigh if/when the two meet again.
Although Gonzaga recently lost a heartbreaking game to Butler, there is still plenty to love about Mark Few's team.
For one, the Bulldogs have one of the best offenses in the country. Through the first 19 games, Gonzaga is ranked eighth in scoring and second in shooting percentage nationally.
Out of all the teams on this list, Gonzaga is by far the most dangerous. In fact, a strong argument could be made that the Bulldogs should not even be considered a mid-major.
Gonzaga has compiled quite a few remarkable wins this season. Victories over West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Davidson and Kansas State are already on its resume.
Both of Gonzaga's losses came to ranked teams, Illinois and Butler.
Considering that Wichita State lost four main contributors to graduation, it's remarkable the Shockers have managed to play so well this season.
Wichita State's biggest threat in the conference is Creighton, as the two will be jostling atop the Missouri Valley until season's end. Through its first 20 games, Wichita State has only lost twice, with those losses coming against Tennessee and Evansville.
CollegeInsider.com has Wichita State ranked second in the mid-major Top 25 poll behind only Gonzaga. The work done by Gregg Marshall in his six years at Wichita State is remarkable, as the Shockers are on the verge of their fourth straight 25-win season.
Carl Hall is the Shockers' best interior presence and is also the heart and soul of the team. As a senior, Hall is playing an average of 28 minutes per game.
At this point, the Shockers look to be a near-lock to qualify for the NCAA tournament once again.
Belmont has dominated the Ohio Valley Conference, accumulating a 15-4 (6-0) record. With two of those losses coming on the road at Kansas and VCU, the Bruins have continued to build on the conference championship they won last season.
With Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson and J.J Mann on the roster, Belmont has a bevy of experienced scorers who are capable of coming through in crunch time.
At this point, the Bruins are the class of the Ohio Valley Conference. Their main competition will come from Murray State and Tennessee State, although the Bruins have already beaten Tennessee State already.
Belmont's weakness is on the glass, as it is 187th in the nation. In big games, its rebounding woes may come back to haunt the team.
With three seniors and two juniors in the starting five, the Bruins have the experience to give a big-time program a run for its money come March.