In what might be considered the most wide-open tournament in recent history, nothing is locked. Usually the top conferences send the top teams to the tournament, in what usually becomes a battle of the elite basketball institutions. Well, that might not be the case this year.
The top 25 this of this week sports seven mid-major schools (NOT in the ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10, Big 10). Any one of them believes they have a shot to be the Cinderella of the tournament. There are also other college basketball teams on the landscape that won't just be heading to their regional site just excited for the free ride.
That is why this going to be such a great tournament.
Here are the top 10 Mid-Major schools who will be dancing.
#1. New Mexico Lobos: Ranked 8th in the top 25 despite losing last night to a quality San Diego St. team, the Lobos will find themselves dancing late into the night. Excluding last nights game, New Mexico was 15-1 in a conference that will have four teams in the tournament. They also beat tournament teams like California, Dayton, New Mexico St., and Texas A&M. They have four players averaging in double figures, led by Darington Hobson who averages 16.2 points a game, 9.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists.
#2 Brigham Young Cougars: Yes, I am picking another Mountain West school. Yes, they also lost last night, but yes they are also one of the best mid-majors in college basketball. Their only conference losses in the regular season came to New Mexico. They lost one conference game, while beating three major conference team, including Arizona St. They are led by Jimmer Fredette, who averages a staggering 21.7 points per game.
#3 Butler Bulldogs: Butler may not have lost since December 22. They may have swept their conference, and won their conference tournament, however, no offense Horizon League, but your not very good. The Mountain West is a much better conference. Butler hasn't been able to beat those good teams to really make people believe that they might be for real. There is no question that they have a good team with wins over both Ohio St. and Xavier. But with losses to Minnesota, Clemson, Georgetown, and UAB, some people might be questioning if they are elite status.
#4 Gonzaga Bulldogs: The Bulldogs play one of the toughest schedule in college basketball, and the only reason they aren't No. 1 is because they have lost to some bad teams in conference. Another reason is, via a St. Mary's victory, they will have to get an at-large bid. They won the Maui Invitational, but they have lost some heart breakers to Wake Forest, Michigan St., and yes, San Francisco. Their inconsistency might scare some people, however, they will probably be in the Spokane section of the NCAA tournament.
#5: UTEP Miners: Currently ranked #21 in the top 25, the Miners will surely be fighting for the second national championship in school history. They haven't lost a conference game since their first one at Houston on January 13th. They have found ways to win close games, and blow out others. They defeated New Mexico St. and Oklahoma. It is interesting to note that they also defeated Alcorn St. by 60 points. This team is led by Randy Culpepper who averages nearly 18 points per game.
#6: Temple Owls: This team plays in one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA. The A-10 might get five bids, and for Temple it is just a matter of seeding. The Owls have had an outstanding year beating Villanova, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech, and Siena. They lost to Georgetown by just one. Their conference season was the same story, losing just two games to Charlotte and Richmond. This team has potential for a final four bid, and from there anything can happen. They are led by Ryan Brooks, Juan Fernandez, and Lavoy Allen.
#7: St. Mary's Gaels: The Gaels have won 26 and will have an automatic bid because of their win over Gonzaga. They have only one bad loss on the season, to Portland. They have beaten Oregon, New Mexico St., and Utah St., and went 14-2 in conference play. They have Omar Sanham, who gets 21 a game, and is one of the best players in Gaels history. They have unlimited potential going into March.
#8: Cornell Big Red: The Big Red are the most underrated team in college basketball. They can shoot the lights out, and have won 27 games so far. They played and won most of their many road games on the year, and have only one bad loss to Penn. They nearly beat Kansas, and did beat St. John's and Alabama. They are led by their eight seniors, especially Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, and Jeff Foote.
#9: Northern Iowa Panthers: Despite being inconsistent of late, their non-conference schedule is looking great. They beat Siena, Boston College, and Iowa. No those teams aren't amazing, but Northern Iowa is. They have a good class of seniors, and a balanced scoring attack. We really can't say if they will be that amazing, it can go either way for the Panthers.
#10: Utah St. Aggies: This was a hard choice between Xavier, and Siena, and Utah St. But I went with the Aggies. After starting off the year 1-2, they are back where they were last year. They lost just two in conference play, but have won all their games since January 4th. They have 26 wins, including Brigham Young. They are one of those teams that have the potential to surprise people by going to the sweet sixteen and beyond.
And they are just one of many...