Bracketology: Mid-Major Teams with Realistic Sweet 16 Dreams

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIMarch 6, 2013

Bracketology: Mid-Major Teams with Realistic Sweet 16 Dreams

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    When the 2013 NCAA tournament commences, the world will enter frenzy. As always is the case, March Madness will cause brackets to be filled out and dreams to be broken.

    The question is, which mid-majors will enter our hearts as they become Cinderellas and reach the Sweet 16?

    It happens every year. A team that comes from one of the less notable conferences rises up and takes down a Goliath to begin its NCAA tournament journey.

    In 2013, we expect that to be no different. After all, why would we argue with years of history?

    Fortunately for those in doubt, there are a group mid-major powers with a realistic shot at advancing to the Sweet 16.

Belmont Bruins

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    RPI: 24

    SOS: 72

    Record: 24-6, 17-2 OVC

    Ranking: N/A

    The Belmont Bruins are a lethal offensive team that overcomes a weak effort on the glass by converting well from all areas of the floor.

    They're 16th in points, 17th in assists, fourth in field-goal percentage and 13th in three-point field-goal percentage.

    In other words, these kids can score.

    Belmont is led by a potential tournament star in scoring guard Ian Clark. He's presently averaging 18.1 points per game on a slash line of .543/.462/.826.

    He can shoot the lights out and take over a game with efficiency.

    That will be a theme throughout this slideshow.

    The Bruins could struggle if they run into a powerful interior team. With that being said, their shooting will keep them in any game.

    A run to the Sweet 16 is very realistic.

Bucknell Bison

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    RPI: 52

    SOS: 189

    Record: 25-5, 12-2 Patriot

    Ranking: N/A

    I may not be sold on Bucknell as a team, but center Mike Muscala is one of the best centers in the nation—his presence alone makes a Sweet 16 bid possible.

    Muscala leads the Bison in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocks per game. He's second on the team in steals and first among qualified players in field-goal percentage.

    That's more a sign of how dominant Muscala is than it is how weak the rest of Bucknell's roster is.

    At 6'11", Muscala has imposed his will en route to averages of 19.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 blocks. He's also posting a slash line of .523/.308/.775.

    "What can't he do?" is the best question to ask.

    As a team, Bucknell is proficient from beyond the arc and solid enough from the free-throw line. They move the ball, play selfless basketball and have a true star in the middle.

    This will be a team to watch come tournament time—a Sweet 16 bid is not out of the question.

Butler Bulldogs

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    RPI: 26

    SOS: 46

    Record: 22-7, 9-5 A-10

    Ranking: N/A

    After everything the Butler Bulldogs have accomplished under head coach Brad Stevens, are we really going to be naive enough to say they can't make another run to the Sweet 16?

    Butler may not have the star power of a Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack or Matt Howard, but they're doing perfectly fine without them.

    Thus far in 2012-13, Butler owns victories over Gonzaga, Indiana, Marquette and North Carolina.

    Although they've recently shown signs of weakness, the Bulldogs are your quintessential "underdogs." Time and time again, this team fights back to shock the world.

    Until they're eliminated from the NCAA tournament, there will be no logical way to write them off. Butler was the runner-up in 2010 and 2011, which beckons one question.

    Are you ready for another magical run?

Creighton Bluejays

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    RPI: 35

    SOS: 92

    Record: 24-7, 13-5 MVC

    Ranking: N/A

    The Creighton Bluejays are a disciplined team that wins games by virtue of their patience and efficiency.

    Thus far in 2012-13, the Bluejays are first in the nation in field-goal percentage, second in three-point field-goal percentage and 18th in free-throw percentage. They're also eighth in assists per game.

    They move the ball well, create open looks and convert at a high rate—the perfect formula for a successful NCAA Tournament run.

    Believe it or not, it gets better. Creighton also has one of the NCAA's premier star players.

    Doug McDermott is going to go down as one of the greatest college players of his generation. Not only is he the human form of the word "efficient," but he's developed a mean streak in 2012-13.

    McDermott is currently averaging 23.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists on a slash line of .560/.481/.866.

    Good luck slowing this team down.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    RPI: 11

    SOS: 96

    Record: 29-2, 16-0 WCC 

    Ranking: No. 1

    Is there any doubt about this?

    The Gonzaga Bulldogs recently claimed the top spot in the AP and USA Today Coaches polls for the first time in school history.

    They're 29-2 overall and play for a coach that has made five Sweet 16 appearances since 1999.

    Led by center Kelly Olynyk, the Bulldogs have a rare formula in today's up-tempo game. They can pound it inside, punish smaller defenders and create high-percentage looks.

    That's why they rank ninth in the nation in scoring and third in field-goal percentage.

    Led by Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., the Zags are also capable from beyond the arc. This high-octane offensive attack should be enough to win at least two games as a No. 1 seed.

    The question is, can they actually make it past the Sweet 16?

Memphis Tigers

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    RPI: 18

    SOS: 74

    Record: 25-4, 14-0 C-USA

    Ranking: No. 25

    The Memphis Tigers are getting hot at the perfect time.

    The Tigers started slow, losing two of their first four games. Since then, they're 23-2 and undefeated in Conference USA.

    Their only losses have come against Louisville and a quality Xavier squad.

    Their other two defeats on the season came against VCU and Minnesota—clearly forgivable for a team approaching the tournament.

    Memphis is supremely athletic and more than capable of dominating a game in transition. They're also very proficient in working the half court, as they move the ball as well as any.

    The Tigers rank seventh in assists, thus resulting in an average of 75.2 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting.

    If you don't believe in the team, you can at least trust Joe Jackson.

    The junior guard is averaging 13.9 points, 4.8 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals on a slash line of .534/.479/.750.

    They're a dominant force with balance and a late-game hero—what more could you ask for?

New Mexico Lobos

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    RPI: 2

    SOS: 3

    Record: 25-4, 12-2

    Ranking: No. 12

    Shockingly, New Mexico has the second-best RPI and third-strongest strength of schedule in the nation.

    This comes with good reason, as three of New Mexico's four losses have come against teams with RPI rankings of 33 or better.

    The other loss was against an NCAA tournament-contending South Dakota State team.

    The Lobos have eight wins against teams within the RPI Top 50. Despite being a below-average offensive team, they've accumulated those wins by playing lockdown defense.

    Alex Kirk is a handful down low, and he will collapse defenses to give his shooters open looks.

    As long as New Mexico makes perimeter shots, which it struggles to do at times, it will make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Saint Louis Billikens

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    RPI: 29

    SOS: 80

    Record: 23-5, 12-2 A-10

    Ranking: No. 16

    With perennial powers Butler and Xavier falling out of contention for the regular-season crown, this may be the year of the Billikens.

    Who would've thunk it?

    Saint Louis is leading the way at 23-5 overall and 12-2 within the conference. To reach that plateau, the Billikens have taken down several elite mid-major teams in their path.

    Saint Louis owns victories over Butler, VCU and New Mexico—three teams on this list.

    Entering their Wednesday showdown at Xavier, the Billikens lead the Atlantic 10. They've done so by winning every game since a Jan. 19 overtime loss to Rhode Island.

    That's 11 consecutive victories, for those keeping track.

    The Billikens get by on hard-nosed defense and offensive balance. Three players average double-figure scoring, while an additional two put up at least 9.3 points per contest.

    At 35.7 percent from beyond the arc, Saint Louis can also keep up in a shooting contest.

    Led by forward Dwayne Evans, this team will be a tough out come the tournament—one that has realistic Sweet 16 dreams.

Saint Mary's Gaels

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    RPI: 41

    SOS: 126

    Record: 26-5, 14-2 WCC

    Ranking: N/A

    The Saint Mary's Gaels are one of the most intriguing teams in the NCAA.

    They're 20th in points per game, 12th in field-goal percentage and 25th in three-point field-goal percentage.

    Perhaps most important of all, they're led by a legitimate star in guard Matthew Dellavedova.

    Dellavedova is reaping the benefits of having played for the Australian national team during the 2012 London Olympics. 

    With averages of 16.5 points and 6.2 assists on 38.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc, his proficiency and versatility are evident.

    As a team that shoots well and utilizes wide array of rotational sets, the Gaels could make it to the Sweet 16.

UNLV Rebels

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    RPI: 15

    SOS: 20

    Record: 22-7, 9-5 MWC

    Ranking: N/A

    The UNLV Rebels may have cooled down as the season has progressed, but they remain one of the most talented groups in the nation.

    Say what you will about their offensive woes, but UNLV is excellent on defense. For evidence, check the numbers.

    Only one team has scored at least 80 points against the Rebels in 2012-13—the Oregon Ducks on Nov. 23.

    With explosive athleticism and dominant rebounders all around, UNLV will limit second-chance scoring opportunities. Considering UNLV ranks eighth in the nation in assists, it's clear that it will score at a high rate as well.

    Anthony Bennett is the type of superstar talent that can be expected to shine in the NCAA tournament.

    If not, look for the forgotten Mike Moser to remind people why he was once considered one of the top power forwards in the nation.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams

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    RPI: 30

    SOS: 58

    Record: 23-6, 11-3 A-10

    Ranking: No. 21

    After making it to the Final Four in 2011, there are few who doubt that Virginia Commonwealth can make it to the Sweet 16 in 2013.

    Coming off of a 32-point win over the Butler Bulldogs, the intrigue about how far this VCU team can go is growing larger.

    The Rams are as well-coached as any team in the nation with Shaka Smart at the helm. They're also one of the most balanced.

    Four players are averaging double figures for VCU. One player that isn't is point guard Darius Theus.

    He's dishing out 5.0 assists per game instead.

    The question about the Rams is simple—can they shoot? The numbers say they can't, as they're converting 34.8 percent from beyond the arc and 69.0 percent from the free-throw line.

    Something tells me that coach Smart will find a way to make it work.