Five Mid-Major Teams To Watch

By: Scott Laube

With the NFL season ending, it is now time for college basketball to finally take center stage in the sporting world. March is rapidly approaching and it’s never too early to start researching which mid-majors have the ability to wreak havoc in the Big Dance. So without further ado, here are five teams who have the potential to bust your bracket come March Madness time:


Colton Iverson and the Rams could be dangerous come March. (Hunter Thompson/Reporter-Herald)

Colton Iverson and the Rams could be dangerous come March. (Hunter Thompson/Reporter-Herald)

colorado_state_rams_logo_15254Colorado State Rams-While I understand some people don’t consider the Mountain West a “mid-major” conference (I am one of those people), it is clear that many writers do, as the MWC has gotten little respect in the AP Top 25 Poll. Not only are New Mexico (20) and San Diego St. (22) ranked too low, but UNLV is not even ranked despite impressive victories over Iowa State and SDSU. An argument could even be made that my first sleeper team, the mighty Rams of CSU, deserve to be ranked.

Larry Eustachy’s squad is 17-4 on the season and currently tied for second place in the MWC with nice victories over Montana, Washington, and UNLV. They’re not the most flashy squad but the Rams take pride in their play on defense as they rank second in the Mountain West in terms of total rebounds. Perhaps the biggest reason for this has been the impact of the two transfer players on the squad this season – Colton Iverson and Daniel Bejarano.

In addition to leading the team in scoring, Iverson, the one-time Minnesota Golden Gopher big man, is averaging 9.4 rebounds and Bejarano, formerly of Arizona, is averaging 6.2 rebounds at the guard position. CSU made the tourney last year and with Iverson guarding the paint, there’s no reason why this team can’t make a run come March.

indiana-stateIndiana State Sycamores- I have to admit, I’ve been a fan of the Sycamores since their miraculous run in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament two years ago to clinch a spot in the dance. And despite the fact that people are suddenly jumping on their bandwagon after their impressive victory the other night over Wichita State, I still consider them under the radar. In addition to the victory over the Shockers, ISU also has beaten Ole Miss and Miami (FL) this season. There is still some work to be done on Larry Bird’s old stomping grounds, as Indiana State does have seven losses.

But I think if the Sycamores can beat either Creighton or Wichita again at home in the upcoming weeks, they should be safe. ISU is led by one of the more underappreciated point guards in the country in Jake Odum who literally does a little bit of everything for his team (check his stats). While the Sycamores disappointed last season, the difference this season has been Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop. He has picked up some of the scoring behind Odum, averaging 13.2 ppg. Provided they don’t collapse down the stretch, no one is going to want to face Greg Lansing’s club once the NCAAs roll around.

MTU Clubhouse

Marcos Knight and Middle Tennessee are rolling through the Sun Belt. (Josh Henderson/MTSU)

Marcos Knight and Middle Tennessee are rolling through the Sun Belt. (Josh Henderson/AP)

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders- The Blue Raiders (20-4, 12-1) are running away with the Sun Belt Conference. They also own solid victories over Ole Miss and UCF, which add to their resume. Many assumed last year was the year Kermit Davis and his squad would reach the NCAA’s, but they were upset in the conference tournament and had to settle for a good run in the NIT. Based on their play this year, I’d be surprised if they were denied a spot in the bracket this season. They are clearly the best team in an albeit poor conference. Regardless, a 20-4 overall record and 12-1 conference record is impressive and shows Middle Tennessee should be taken seriously, as Ole Miss found out in December.

Davis’ squad plays tough defense and distributes the ball quite evenly on offense as guard Marcos Knight leads the team with only 12.7 points per game. In the few opportunities I’ve been able to catch Middle Tennessee on television, the player that stands out to me as the glue of the team is sixth-man Raymond Cintron. While Cintron can provide offense, his work is mostly done on the defensive side of the ball in locking down opposing teams guard play. While their weak conference may be more of a detriment come March, this team has shown this season and in last year’s NIT they can play with the big boys.

SDST ClubhouseSouth Dakota State Jackrabbits- Don’t look now, but Nate Wolters and the Jackrabbits look like they are finally hitting on all cylinders and they are doing it at the perfect time. Wolters battled injuries early on in the season and SDSU was very inconsistent the first half of their campaign. Despite their obstacles, Scott Nagy’s squad somehow managed to beat New Mexico at The Pit in Albuquerque, which is a task not many teams are successful at accomplishing.

South Dakota St. has now won six games in a row, including victories over the two teams ahead of them at the time – Western Illinois and North Dakota State, to gain a share of the top spot in the league. It is no guarantee that they will win the Summit Conference tournament for the automatic birth into March Madness. But if they do, don’t be shocked to see Nate Wolters and company make up for their disappointing showing in last year’s tournament.

BEL ClubhouseBelmont Bruins- Similar to Middle Tennessee St., Belmont plays in a one of the weaker leagues in Division I, the Ohio Valley Conference. With the exception of Murray St., who is not nearly as formidable as they were last season, the league lacks competition. Still, the Bruins are 9-0 in conference and 17-4 overall which is definitely achievement at this point in the season. Belmont does have some nice non-conference wins against Stanford, Middle Tennessee, and South Dakota State so it’s not like they’ve played all cupcakes. If they are able to get past Murray State on February 7th on the road, I think it would be safe to say Belmont would prove they are the class of the Valley in their inaugural season as a member of the conference. The Bruins are led by their two guards: Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson. Clark can flat out score as he leads the team with 19.2 ppg and Johnson is one of the better distributors in the nation as he averages 4.9. dishes per game. I realize Belmont is a popular selection each time the brackets roll around to be the Cinderella of the tournament. While they’ve come up short the past two seasons, I think if they make it this year, there is a good chance the third time will be a charm and they could shock the world on the opening weekend.


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