Top Ten Teams That Could Become Cinderellas in March

NOTE: Eight are listed here. More to come Monday.

By: Kels Dayton

Most people are stunned when they look up at their TV screens in mid-March and see the directional school from a conference they’ve never heard of celebrating a jaw-dropping victory over a big-time power. Think Lehigh or Norfolk State. It’s part of what makes the NCAA Tournament the greatest sporting event in the history of organized civilization. I mean, football is cool and all, but it doesn’t have moments like this. It doesn’t have CJ McCollum dropping 30 on Duke, or Kyle O’Quinn going from no-name to national hero overnight.

Most people never see it coming.

Their brackets are left shattered, irrevocably damaged, almost unrecognizable just days after the Madness begins. They never even had a chance.

Those people don’t visit Roundball Daily. Here, we’ve got our eye on the prize all year long. Who’s the favorite in the MEAC this year? We’re thinkin’ Savannah State. Who’s the best in the Horizon? Detroit, no doubt. So when we tell you that the following teams are worth keeping an eye on coming into this season, you should probably pay attention.

Unless you want to be slumped over your bracket, crying like a baby.

No one wants that kind of March Madness. So here, help yourself, and take a look at our Top 10 Mid-Majors To Watch Out for this season:


Ohio Bobcats

WHY THEY’RE SCARY: The Bobcats have won three games in the tourney since 2010, pounding Georgetown as a 14-seed that year and upsetting Michigan and South Florida before giving North Carolina all it could handle in the Sweet 16 last year. You might remember that we labeled them the Bobcats the “Coolest team in the Sweet 16.”

WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: Senior point guard D.J. Cooper looks like a young Michael Jackson  and plays like Mark Jackson–grown man style. Cooper averaged 14.6 points and 5.7 assists per game last season. This year, he should be the favorite for MAC Player of the Year. Senior guard Walter Offutt (12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg) is a big-time player, and sophomore Nick Kellogg, son of Clark, is a deadly shooter whose role is growing.

WHAT COULD KILL THEM: There are several quality teams that could trip up Ohio before it even has a chance to wreck more havoc in the NCAAs. Akron is the most dangerous. The MAC isn’t normally a two-bid league, so the focus will be on the conference tourney.


G D.J. Cooper (5-11, 165, Sr. )

G Walter Offutt (6-3, 190, Sr.)

G Nick Kellogg (6-3, 185, Jr., 9 ppg, 1.9 rpg)

F Ivo Baltic (6-8, 214, Sr., 8.7 ppg, 5 rpg)



Murray State Racers

WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Why not? Do-everything guard Isaiah Canaan is back for his senior season after a year in which he was one of the faces of college basketball. Canaan was a Roundball Daily first-team All-American last year and should be even better this season. Powerful senior Ed Daniel (6.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) also returns up front.

WHAT SCARES US: Second-leading scorer Donte Poole (14 ppg, 3.6 rpg) bruising forward Ivan Aska (10.6 ppg, 6 rpg), and Ohio Valley Defensive Player of the Year Jewuan Long are all gone. Sophomore guard Zay Jackson was supposed to step up and fill Poole’s role, but instead he decided to intentionally hit people with his car in a Wal-Mart parking lot (he’s being charged with first degree assault).


G Isaiah Canaan (6-1, 195, Sr.)

F Ed Daniel (6-7, 215, Sr.)

F Stacy Wilson (6-3, 185, Sr., 4.3 ppg)


Creighton Bluejays

WHY THEY’RE SCARY: There are only a few locks for the preseason All-America team, and Doug McDermott is one of them. The big man has a rare combination  of size, shooting ability, rebounding and passing ability not often found at the mid-major level. Senior enforcer Gregory Echenique (9.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is a defensive stopper inside, and 6-7 forward Ethan Wragge can shoot the lights out. It’s all about McDermott though, as he is one of the best players in the nation and will be the reason Creighton contends for a Top 10 ranking.

WHAT SCARES US: The Bluejays lost starting point guard Antoine Young (12.1 ppg, 4.2 apg), and must find an adequate replacement for his production. Sophomore Austin Chatman is the best bet, but he didn’t contribute much last season (2.4 ppg).

FINAL DESTINATION: There are no dominant teams on the college basketball landscape this season, so this could be the year when a mid-major finally cuts down the nets. If it does happen, Creighton will be the team to do it. McDermott is as talented a player as there is in the country, and the Bluejays have a corps of senior leaders who are hungry to leave their mark. Like Butler, Creighton has long been a basketball power. Now it’s time for the Jays to take the national stage.


F Doug McDermott (6-7, 220, Jr.)

C Gregory Echenique (6-9, 270, Sr.)


Lehigh Mountain Hawks


WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Ask Duke. The Mountain Hawks shocked the Blue Devils, and the rest of the college basketball universe by taking Duke behind the woodshed in the first round of the NCAAs last season.  Even more impressive is the fact that Lehigh didn’t even celebrate after the win–just shaking one another’s hands and patting each other on the back. Incredible for a 15-seed after beating a No. 2.

WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: Senior guard C.J. McCollum, who scored 30 on Duke and averaged 21.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and 3.5 apg. Coach K called McCollum “the best player on the floor,” in the tourney game, adding “it wasn’t even close.”It really wasn’t. McCollum is an NBA prospect and the clear-cut best player in the Patriot League. He’s Speedy Claxton-quick, a deadly shooter, and can cross you over like Tim Hardaway.


WHAT COULD KILL THEM: The Mountain Hawks aren’t extremely deep, and they’re relatively thin up front. Bucknell will give them a run for their money in the Patriot League. If Lehigh stumbles in the conference tournament, it may not have a chance to shock the nation again.

 KEY PLAYERS:G C.J. McCollum (6-3 190, Sr. )F Gabe Knutson (6-9, 220, Sr, 12.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg)G Mackey McKnight (6-0, 170, Jr, 8.8 ppg, 3.6 apg)
Long Island Blackbirds

WHY THEY’RE SCARY: The Blackbirds have made back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament, and return four starters from a team that won 25 games. That’s a recipe for a Cinderella right there.

WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd (17.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg) is an absolute beast and a  he’s good a player as you’ll find at that level. Forward Jamal Olasewere (16.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg) is similarly beastly, and has gotten some buzz as an NBA prospect. Both players are terrific scorers and rebounders, but Olasewere is more of a slasher at 6-7, while Boyd plays under the basket. Guards C.J. Garner (12.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and Jason Brickman add even more senior leadership.

WHAT COULD KILL THEM: The NEC is 3-30 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and has never won a game in the Round of 64. This group is looking to become the first team ever to win three straight NEC crowns, but a lack of size in the backcourt may hurt them in the Big Dance.


F Julian Boyd (6-7, 230, Sr.)

F Jamal Olasewere (6-7, 215, Sr.)

G C.J. Garner (5-10, 160, Sr.)

G Jason Brickman (5-11, 165, Jr.)


Saint Louis Billikens

WHY THEY’RE SCARY: Under head coach Rick Majerus, the Billikens were one of the toughest, nastiest, hard-nosed defensive teams in the nation. Senior guard Kwamain Mitchell

(12.4 ppg, 3 rpg) is a smart, gritty player who isn’t afraid to mix things up on either end of the floor. Dwayne Evans and Rob Loe give SLU some punch inside.

WHAT SCARES US: Head coach Rick Majerus has very serious heart issues and will miss the entire season. This is scary not only for Saint Louis’ season, but because one of the great

coaches of our time is fighting for his life. Whatever happens with the Billikens, here’s hoping Majerus will return to the sideline soon.

FINAL DESTINATION: If it weren’t for Majerus’ health issues, this team would have been rated much higher.  It’s going to be interesting to see how the Billikens come together under very difficult circumstances. On the court, this team is as talented as any in the Atlantic 10, and could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The question is, how will they fare without their leader?


G Kwamain Mitchell (5-10, 175, Sr.)

G Jordair Jett (6-1, 210, Jr.)

F Rob Loe (6-11, 240, Jr.)


San Diego State Aztecs


WHY THEY’RE SCARY: The Aztecs boast one of the best backcourts in the nation, with Mountain West Player of the Year candidate Jamaal Franklin (17.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg), three-year returning starter and sharpshooter Chase Tapley (15.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg), and point guard Xavier Thames (10.1 ppg, 4.1 apg). Senior James Rahon is also a defensive catalyst and good spot-up shooter. Sophomore forward Dwayne Polee II gives the Aztecs a little bit of size inside.

WHAT SCARES US: The frontcourt is thin, mostly because the Aztecs prefer to play that way. Head coach Steve Fisher is using a Villanova-style four-guard offense. That means that teams with more muscle inside should be able to control the boards and dictate the style of play.

FINAL DESTINATION: Steve Fisher has transformed San Diego State into a bona-fide basketball power. The Aztecs surprised the college basketball world in 2011 by going 33-2, earning a 2-seed and advancing to the Sweet 16. That was supposed to have been the dream season, but the dream has lived on. Don’t be surprised if this group posts similar results, and maybe a deeper NCAA run.


G Jamaal Franklin (6-5, 295, Jr.)

G Chase Tapley (6-3, 195, Sr.)

G Xavier Thames (6-3, 195, Jr.)

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

WHY THEY’RE SCARY: The Rebels are loaded in the frontcourt. Junior forward Mike Moser (14.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg) is a scoring and rebounding machine, and heads into the season as the frontrunner for Mountain West Player of the Year. Pitt transfer Khem Birch (6-9, 220 pounds) was one of the biggest recruits in the country last season and has NBA lottery pick talent. Freshman Anthony Bennett (6-8, 240) is another high recruit with the potential to become a star.

WHAT SCARES US: The backcourt. UNLV lost key guards in Oscar Bellfield (9.8 ppg, 5.4 apg) and Chace Stanback (12.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg), and someone (Anthony Marshall?) is going to have to step up and fill their roles. UConn transfer Roscoe Smith was denied an opportunity to play right away by the NCAA. Had Smith been eligible, this team could have been a Final Four sleeper.

FINAL DESTINATION: Dave Rice has done a terrific job of continuing the momentum that Lon Kruger built in Vegas. UNLV is loaded up front, and if it can find comparable production to Bellfield and Stanback in the backcourt, the Rebs have a chance to do some special things this season.



F Mike Moser (6-8, 210, Jr.)

F Khem Birch (6-9, 220, So.)

G Anthony Marshall (6-3, 200, Sr.)

More to come Monday.