7 Most Dangerous Mid-Majors Who Will Be Waiting for a Dance Partner
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As Selection Sunday approaches, everyone wonders the same thing: Which mid-major school will be the Cinderella team that ruins everyone's bracket?
The mid-major conferences are getting better every year. The Atlantic-10 and Mountain West conferences could potentially get four or five teams into the NCAA Tournament this year. These two mid-major conferences have a solid chance of getting more teams in than the SEC does.
With the parity we've seen in college basketball this season, this is a perfect year for more mid-major schools than usual to make noise in the NCAA Tournament.
Here are the seven most dangerous mid-major schools that will be dancing this year.
7. Butler Bulldogs
Butler senior center Andrew Smith.
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Record: 22-7 (9-5 in A-10)
Key Wins: Marquette, North Carolina, Indiana, Gonzaga, Temple
The Butler Bulldogs have to be included on the mid-major dangerous list, even though they have not been themselves lately.
Sure, one could go with UNLV, Colorado State or Akron, but when Butler begins NCAA Tournament play, it becomes a new animal.
Butler has gone 6-4 in its last 10 games and is currently on a two-game losing streak. The Bulldogs were defeated at home against conference leader Saint Louis on February 22 and were dismantled this past Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth, 84-52.
The Bulldogs will look to bounce back this week against UMass and Xavier. They will need to win these games to gain momentum as they head into a difficult Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament next week.
Even though Butler has struggled as of late, it is already a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. Its goal is to win a few more games before heading into the tournament. The last thing you want to do as a team is limp into the dance.
Brad Stevens is a good coach, and he should be able to get his team going before the madness begins. It would be surprising if Stevens didn't have his team ready based on his track record.
The Bulldogs head into the final stretch of the season with senior guard Rotnei Clarke, senior center Andrew Smith and sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones leading the way.
Clarke leads his team in scoring and is averaging 16.5 points per game. Smith has been averaging 11.0 points per game, and Jones has been strong on the boards and averaging 10.8 points per game.
Don't count the Bulldogs out. They can beat the best teams in the country and will be a tough team to take down in the NCAA Tournament as usual.
6. Wichita State Shockers
Wichita State senior guard Malcolm Armstead. (AP)
Record: 24-7 (12-6 in MVC)
Key Wins: Virginia Commonwealth, Southern Miss, Creighton
Wichita State dropped its last two games of the season, and it ended up costing the Shockers the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title. They played tough at Creighton on Saturday, but were unable to hang with the Bluejays in the end.
Even though they failed to win the regular season title, they have a chance to redeem themselves and win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament this weekend. The Shockers are already a secure lock to make the NCAA Tournament, so no matter what happens they will be dancing.
Wichita State will make their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in two years. Last season, the Shockers lost, 62-59, to Virginia Commonwealth in the second round.
With Cleanthony Early, Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State has the opportunity to go back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.
Early, a junior forward, is averaging 14.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game this season. Hall, a senior forward, is averaging 12.4 points and Armstead, a senior guard who transferred from Oregon, has averaged 9.8 points per game this season.
This is a solid team and they have the potential to make some noise in a few weeks.
5. Creighton Bluejays
Creighton junior forward Doug McDermott. Eric Francis
Record: 24-7 (13-5 in MVC)
Key Wins: Wisconsin, Akron, Cal, Wichita State
The Creighton Bluejays clinched the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title on Saturday against Wichita State.
Junior forward Doug McDermott put on one of his best performances of his college career by dropping 41 points on the Shockers in a 91-79 win.
The Bluejays were hyped up to be one of the best mid-major schools in the country this season, but began to struggle in the middle of conference play. They lost three straight conference games in February to Indiana State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa. Then they dropped a big non-conference game at St. Mary's on February 23.
Somehow, Creighton was still able to win the regular season conference title and get in position to enter the NCAA Tournament. With the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament this week, the Bluejays will have the opportunity to give themselves a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament with two or three more wins.
McDermott continues to be one of the best players in the nation by averaging 23.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game this season. His shooting is what makes Creighton a dangerous team to face.
McDermott also has senior center Gregory Echenique and senior guard Grant Gibbs to help him out. Echenique is tough on the glass and has averaged 6.5 rebounds per game this season. Gibbs played a big role in the Wichita State game on Saturday by scoring 12 points.
This Creighton squad seems to be more motivated than ever right now and will be a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament.
4. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
VCU sophomore guard Treveon Graham. Vincent Pugliese-USA Today Sports
Record: 24-6 (12-3 in A-10)
Key Wins: Memphis, Belmont, Butler
VCU is coming off one of its most impressive victories of the season, as the Rams pummeled No. 20 Butler at home 84-52 on Saturday. They appear to be gaining momentum as postseason approaches, winning seven of their last eight games.
VCU is no longer looked down on; it can compete with the best in the country. For example, earlier this season they played tough against a talented Duke team.
Shaka Smart has continued to make this mid-major school better and better each year. Making the Final Four in 2011 was no fluke. VCU went into last year's tournament and defeated a good Wichita State team, then almost took down Indiana.
The Rams are in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season and appear to be on the verge of clinching a spot this week. A win over either Richmond or Temple would get the job done.
Chances are, VCU will win both games this week and be a contender in next week's Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament in Brooklyn. It is also still in the running to win the Atlantic-10 regular season title.
The Rams need to win their season finale against Temple this week to have a chance of winning or sharing the regular season title. A Saint Louis loss to Xavier on Wednesday could also benefit VCU.
VCU has been led by sophomore guard Treveon Graham and junior forward Juvonte Reddic. Graham is averaging 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season. Reddic, on the other hand, is averaging 14.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest.
Senior guard Troy Daniels has been shooting lights-out as well. He has averaged 14.5 points in the Rams' past two games.
Smart will have his team ready to go for the NCAA Tournament. Look for VCU to be dangerous again and potentially knock off a team from one of the Big Six conferences.
3. New Mexico Lobos
New Mexico junior guard Kendall Williams. (AP)
Record: 26-4 (13-2 in MWC)
Key Wins: Connecticut, Cincinnati, UNLV, Boise State (Twice), Colorado State (Twice), San Diego State
The New Mexico Lobos have been the best mid-major school, besides Gonzaga, this season. They are currently ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll and have already won the Mountain West regular season conference title. New Mexico has quality wins, an RPI of 2 and an SOS of 5.
What is interesting about New Mexico this season is that it has been a solid, yet quiet team. It has been ranked in the Top 25 every week since December 31 and continue to bounce around between the middle of the AP Top 25 rankings.
Head Coach Steve Alford continues to make New Mexico better at basketball every season. Last season, the Lobos almost took out Louisville in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
This is a talented team that can compete with some of the best teams in college basketball.
Junior guard Kendall Williams continues to be the leader of this New Mexico team. His performance at Colorado State on February 23 will go down as one of the best of the season. He had a career-high 46 points and drained 10 three-pointers to give the Lobos a 91-82 victory.
Sophomore guard Alex Kirk has been solid this season by averaging 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Junior guard Tony Snell has also pitched in by averaging 11.8 points per game, and junior forward Cameron Bairstow has averaged 5.5 rebounds per game.
New Mexico is a sure sleeper going into the NCAA Tournament. Don't be surprised if the Lobos make the Sweet 16.
2. Saint Louis Billikens
Saint Louis senior forward Cody Ellis.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Record: 23-6 (12-3 in A-10)
Key Wins: New Mexico, Butler (Twice), Virginia Commonwealth
The Saint Louis Billikens have become one of the hottest teams in college basketball after winning 11 games in a row. They sit atop a competitive Atlantic-10 Conference and are looking to win a regular season title.
How fitting would it be for this basketball team to win a conference title for their late coach, Rick Majerus, who passed away on December 1? It would be one of the most inspiring stories of the 2012-2013 college basketball season.
Junior forward Dwayne Evans has been the leader of this Saint Louis team. He has averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game this season.
Senior forward Cody Ellis, who comes off the bench, and senior guard Kwamain Mitchell will also play a factor in the Billikens' winning the Atlantic-10 and being a contender in the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Louis is already a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, and the Billikens will be looking to advance even further in the tournament than they did a year ago.
Last season, Saint Louis made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2000 season and advanced to the third round, where it lost to Michigan State, 65-61.
Look for it to have higher expectations this time around and be a much more dangerous team.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Gonzaga junior forward Kelly Olynyk.
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Record: 29-2 (16-0 in WCC)
Key Wins: Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Saint Mary's (Twice)
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have hit the No. 1 spot in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in school history. It's hard to argue that they don't deserve this ranking based on the conference they play in. Gonzaga has quality wins and an RPI of 9.
The chances that the Bulldogs lose a game before the NCAA Tournament are very slim. They don't play until the fourth day of the West Coast Conference Tournament and would play two games at most. The only way Gonzaga loses is if Saint Mary's somehow defeats it in the tournament championship.
Junior forward Kelly Olynyk has been one of the best players in the country this season. He's averaged 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game this season.
Olynyk is the leader of this team and is going to play a big role in carrying the Bulldogs through the NCAA Tournament. Senior forward Elias Harris and sophomore guard Kevin Pangos will also have to play well if Gonzaga is going to contend for a national championship.
Gonzaga has never advanced to a Final Four. The furthest it has ever made it is to the Elite Eight, and that was back in 1999.
The Bulldogs are a regular in the NCAA Tournament now, as they have been to the dance 14 straight times. They soon will be making it 15.
Head Coach Mark Few has his squad atop college basketball and in a position to receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This could finally be the year where Gonzaga makes it deep into the tournament and challenges for a national championship.