NCAA Basketball: Top 5 Mid-Major Sleepers to Watch
With Virginia Commonwealth, Butler and George Mason all making Final Four, or even NCAA Championship game trips in the recent years, it's obvious that quality College Basketball has extended outside of the six Major Conferences.
While schools like Xavier, Temple, Gonzaga, Memphis, New Mexico and UNLV have broken through and become major programs in second-tier conferences, some other very good teams are still considered mid-major programs.
This article will let you in on five little-known teams who could cause havoc throughout the year and potentially be the next small school to make a deep run in the tournament.
This isn't a ranking, and these aren't necessarily the five best mid-majors. These are just five teams that I really like and believe could have success this year.
Long Beach State 49ers
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Out of the five teams on this slideshow, the Long Beach State 49ers are probably the one who have already made the biggest name for themselves.
Last night, the 49ers did what very, very few teams seem to accomplish every year and that is to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers at their home court. And while I would still pick Pittsburgh, who is a legitimate top 10 team in the country, to still win this game most of the time, Long Beach State's victory should come to nobody's surprise
Casper Ware is one of the best guards in the country, a guy with incredible speed as well as the ability to shoot the basketball. James Ennis is a super talented Junior College transfer who will bring an added dimension to a team that was arguably the best in the Big West last year.
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
While Middle Tennessee State also knocked off a tough nationally ranked team on the road, the Blue Raiders haven't been talked about quite as much as Long Beach State because UCLA had already lost a shocker to Loyola Marymount.
It is true that UCLA has been incredibly disappointing thus far, but it is also true that MTSU could make some waves in a Sun Belt Conference that has produced a few quality bracket-busting Western Kentucky squads.
The team's success this year will weigh heavily on the performance of former blue-chip recruit LaRon Dendy, who comes to MTSU after stints at Indian Hills Community College and Iowa State. Dendy is a 6'9" player who had committed to Clemson after his high school season before opting for JUCO and score a double-double in his first game as a Blue Raider.
The guy in the picture, Marcos Knight, is a good one as well from the JUCO ranks. The biggest question for a team with this many quality transfers is the lack of cohesiveness, but they looked to have very good chemistry in Los Angeles a few nights ago.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
I'm a firm believer that the Colonial Athletic Association is far and away the most underrated men's basketball conference in the country.
Not only have they had two Final Four teams (George Mason and VCU) in the last decade, but neither of those teams were even the conference champions in their tournament runs. The top teams in this conference, usually George Mason, VCU, and Old Dominion, are consistently very, very good ballclubs.
This year, though, the team to beat in the CAA is the Drexel Dragons, who look to prove that there is quality basketball in Philadelphia outside of the Big 5.
They already handled a decent Rider team by a good margin and look to have a good showing in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam this weekend.
Samme Givens' is a 6'5" rebounding machine and Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat can light it up from the backcourt.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
When Arizona transfer Lamont "Momo" Jones was given a hardship waiver to become immediately eligible for Iona a few months back, the Gaels became an immediate contender for any list like this.
Iona already has two mid-major superstars returning, and with Jones they have a Big Three that will rival anybody outside of the top 25 or so teams in the country.
Mike Glover is a stud that the Gaels found out of the College of Eastern Utah last year, and is the preseason MAAC player of the year, while Scott Machado is a true point guard that can not only score the basketball, but be a magnificent distributor as well.
While they lost a tough one today against a good Robbie Hummel-led Purdue squad, Iona will have the chance to be a spoiler out of the MAAC, similar to conference and in-state rival Siena.
Saint Joseph's Hawks
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
Let me first start of with a disclaimer that yes, I am a student at Saint Joseph's, and there may possibly be some bias to this pick.
But, no one can deny the level of talent that this team has, and while they may be a year away from greatness, the Hawks are definitely a better team than they have been in recent years.
Langston Galloway and C.J. Aiken make up the glue of an incredible sophomore class that will bring some pretty amazing things to Hawk Hill in the upcoming year.
Galloway is a do-it-all two guard who was a top contender for Atlantic Ten Freshman of the Year in 2011, despite losing out to T.J. McConnell of Duquesne.
Aiken is a 6'10" freak of nature, who was among the nation's leaders in blocked shots a year ago. This year he has shown the ability to step outside and make an open shot which makes his athletic package just that much more dangerous.
Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic and 2010-11 leading scorer Carl "Tay" Jones also have potential to be all-league caliber players in the Atlantic Ten, and despite only having nine recruited scholarship players, the Hawks could turn some heads this season.