NCAA Tournament 2019: Projecting Bracket Busters Before Conference Tournaments

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 9, 2019

Belmont guard Dylan Windler (3) is defended by UCLA guard Kris Wilkes (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

In the days leading up to the NCAA men's basketball tournament, we are going to dissect the bracket projections in search of the next Loyola-Chicago.

A year ago, the Ramblers made an unlikely run to the Final Four that put them down in March Madness lore alongside teams like VCU, George Mason and Florida Gulf Coast. 

Now the search is on for the next bracket-busting program to erupt on the national scene during the Big Dance and put their name next to some of the teams mentioned above in the history books. 

There are plenty of intriguing options in the mid-major ranks to choose from, and a few like Buffalo and Wofford, have already established themselves on the national scene with tremendous seasons. 

But there are still some mid-major teams flying under the radar as the NCAA tournament approaches, and there are also some power-conference programs worth keeping an eye on if they sneak into the field of 68. 


Potential Bracket Busters


While you've been fawning over Ja Morant and Murray State, Belmont's put together a terrific season in the Ohio Valley Conference. 

The Bruins won the regular-season title and face Murray State in the OVC tournament final Saturday with a trip to the Big Dance on the line. 

Even if Belmont loses Saturday in Evansville, Indiana, it has a chance to qualify as an at-large team because of its strong resume that includes victories over UCLA and Lipscomb and a close loss to Purdue.

What makes the Bruins so dangerous is the play of guard Dylan Windler, who scored 32 points and pulled down 21 rebounds in the OVC tournament semifinal win over Austin Peay. 

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Windler averages 21.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and he'll be a matchup nightmare for whichever team Belmont opposes in the Big Dance. 

In addition to Windler, Belmont has two other double-digit per game scorers in guard Kevin McClain and center Nick Muszynski. 

Belmont head coach Rick Byrd is no stranger to playing top power-conference programs when his teams reach the NCAA tournament, and in the team's last appearance in 2015, it lost to Virginia by eight points. 


South Dakota State

As long as South Dakota State avoids any upsets in the Summit League tournament, you're going to hear a lot about the Jackrabbits in the buildup to the first round. 

A year ago, the Jackrabbits were an attractive bracket buster in the eyes of many, but they weren't able to defeat Ohio State as a No. 12 seed. 

This year marks the last time senior Mike Daum has an opportunity to make a mark on the NCAA tournament, and he deserves to shine under the national spotlight after the tremendous career he's put together. 

FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA - FEBRUARY 16:  Mike Daum #24 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits shoots against Tyson Ward #24 of the North Dakota State Bison during their game at Scheels Center on February 16, 2019 in Fargo, North Dakota. The Jackrabbits defeated
Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The 3,000-point scorer is averaging 25.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, and he'll be a tough player to shut down for any team that ends up opposing the Jackrabbits in the first round. 

Daum has a solid complement of guards at his disposal as well, as David Jenkins and Skyler Flatten both average over 15 points per game

If the opposing defense focuses too much on Daum, Jenkins and Flatten will take advantage of that and beat a team with their shooting. 

NCAA tournament experience should benefit the Jackrabbits, as they've qualified for the field of 68 in each of the last three years, so they know what they'll be up against. 


Seton Hall 

Bracket busters can also come in the form of power-conference teams, as we witnessed with Kansas State a year ago and South Carolina in 2017. 

Seton Hall won't create a ton of buzz entering the field of 68 because it dropped three games in a row in Big East play before upsetting Marquette Wednesday. 

The Pirates are still in good shape to make the Big Dance as an at-large team because of their wins over Kentucky, Maryland and Marquette. 

Kevin Willard's team possesses the capability of making a deep run in March because of Myles Powell, who averages 22.7 points per game

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02 :  Myles Powell #13 of the Seton Hall Pirates dribbles around Jessie Govan #15 of the Georgetown Hoyas during a college basketball game at the Capital One Arena on March 2, 2019 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The junior guard led the Pirates to a first-round victory over NC State in 2018 before they fell short against Kansas. 

Between Powell, Myles Cale and Quincy McKnight, the Pirates have enough firepower in the backcourt to earn a few upsets and move into the Sweet 16.

Seton Hall is projected as a No. 11 seed by ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi, which means it would have a shot at knocking off a No. 6 and No. 3 seed in the first weekend of the tournament. 

A few wins at the Big East tournament should build confidence within the team and allow the Pirates to emerge as one of the dangerous double-digit seeds. 


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