By Shane Bidwell
With the conference tournaments upon us, teams are looking to improve their seeding, and punch their tickets to the Big Dance. This year’s field is wide open and there are some Mid-Major teams that could make some serious noise. Here are the one’s I think have the best chance at claiming glory:
Rhode Island Rams
The Rams have quietly strung together an impressive season sitting at a 23-5 record overall and a 15-2 record in the Atlantic 10. Senior guard Jered Terrell is averaging nearly 18 points per game, and Stanford Robinson is chipping in 2.4 steals per game, good for 12th best in the country. Rhode Island was red hot and improving their stock until they got absolutely man handled by St. Joseph’s 78-48 Tuesday night. Granted the Rams were fresh off celebrating their first outright title in A10 history, but this loss still does not look good. If this is just a fluke and Rhode Island can get back on track, they become a nightmare matchup in the tournament due to their ability to force turnovers and push the ball in transition.
Coach McDermott has built Creighton into a consistent contender year in and year out. This year the Jays have not garnered as much national attention as they have in years past despite wins over Villanova, Seton Hall, UCLA, and Nebraska. This team has shown they can compete with and take down the giants, and is hungry for more. Creighton scores a whopping 85 PPG, and the two headed monster that is Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas is as good as any in the country. They have the potential to make a run at the Sweet 16 and maybe farther. Anyone that plays the Bluejays should be on notice.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
As seen in the past this team is lethal late in the season and there’s no exception to that this year as the Blue Raiders are currently riding an 11 game win streak. The Raiders have great senior leadership; Giddy Potts coupled with Nick King averaging 21 PPG makes this team down right scary. After beating pulling upsets each of the last two years MTSU is a team to be feared.
New Mexico State Aggies
Jemerrio Jones is averaging a double double with a staggering 12 boards per game. The Aggies have already topped a major conference member in the Miami Hurricanes and currently lead the WAC, sitting at 24-5. What could be New Mexico State’s achillies heel is their poor three point shooting. The Aggies convert threes at a 31% clip which is quite an issue. Although if New Mexico State can win the battle on the boards, score in the paint, and get to the free-throw line this team could knock off an unsuspecting foe.