First off, I don’t consider the American Conference a mid-major and obviously I’m not going to write about Gonzaga, Nevada, Buffalo, and Wofford. Those four will all make the tournament with a top 8 seed barring something crazy. However, some of these teams may sadly not end up in the tournament. But if they do, I think they could do some damage.
The Rams are no stranger to upsets in the tournament so this year wouldn’t be anything new. VCU has KenPom’s #4 defense that is allowing just 62 points per game. They do have a lackluster offense but they have won 9 games in a row and have wins over Temple, Hofstra, Texas, and Dayton (twice), and close losses to St. John’s and Virginia. They’ve held good offenses like Texas and Virginia to under 60 points. VCU could easily shut teams down and win a couple games in the tournament.
The Racers, led by future top five pick Ja Morant, are in a tight race for the Ohio Valley Conference regular season title with Belmont but could get an at-large bid even if they don’t win the conference tournament. Murray State leans heavily upon Ja Morant which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when Morant is this good. He plays 36 minutes a game and is extremely productive in that time. Morant averages 24 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists, and 2 steals. There’s a reason a mid-major player is that high up draft boards, he could put Murray State on his back in the tournament and at least pull off a first round upset.
The other team tied for the OVC lead, the Belmont Bruins, may not be given the same respect as Murray State in an at-large bid discussion because they don’t have a high profile player like Ja Morant, however the Bruins have an even better resume and a tremendous offense. The Bruins have two wins over Lipscomb (also on this list). a win at Murray State, a win at UCLA, and wins against solid mid-majors like Western Kentucky, Austin Peay, and Illinois State. Belmont’s offense averages almost 88 points a game and is KenPom’s #21 in adjusted offensive efficiency. They are led by senior’s Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain and redshirt-freshman big man Nick Muszynski, who I got to see play in high school and I still hear about from my coaches. All three of these players average at least 15 points a game and are efficient on offense. Belmont has shown that they can play with really good teams and this will continue in the tournament.
Saint Mary’s was just as good if not better last year than this year and was snubbed from the tournament so I think they will likely need at least a win against Gonzaga on Saturday and possibly just an autobid from winning the WCC tournament. However, if they do make it they could win some games. They have Jordan Ford, who is averaging almost 22 points a game and is one of the most gifted scorers on the West Coast, and versatile forward Malik Fitts who averages over 15 points a game. The Gaels are ranked #34 in adjusted efficiency margin, once again have a high-powered offense but their defense is better than last year. They have wins over San Diego, San Francisco, BYU, and New Mexico State as well as close games against Mississipppi State and LSU. I’m rooting for this team even though they’re going to run into the buzzsaw that is Gonzaga and likely have their March Madness dreams crushed.
The Bisons are in a tight conference race with Liberty but I think Lipscomb is the better team and is capable of much more in the tournament. They are solid on both ends of the floor, are efficient from the foul line and three-point line, and move the ball well on offense. Senior guard Garrison Mathews is their offensive leader, a great shooter, and will be a leader in big games. He led them to the tournament last year and they are way better this year. This is an experienced team that will give somebody a lot of problems if they make the tournament, which I think they will.
Hofstra has one of the best offenses on this list but also the worst defense on this list. Justin Wright-Foreman leads this offense and is second in the nation in points per game. As a whole, this offense is 9th in the country in points per game and is top 15 in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free-throw percentage. Despite their terrible defense this is a good team that if they get in will probably be seeded pretty low and in a position to pull off a huge upset.