There are some teams throughout the league that can and will make runs in March. How many will be from mid-major conferences?
1. Cincinnati (American Athletic Conference)
The Bearcats are on a sixteen-game winning streak, and their only two losses were back-to-back, one at Xavier and the other versus Florida. Cincy has much improved since the losses, though they haven’t played anyone too special during the streak.
The Bearcats out of conference schedule wasn’t anything great either, with their only fairly “good” wins being beat ups of Mississippi State at home and UCLA in Pauley Pavilion.
Cincy will be tested in their final six games, playing at Houston, and two games versus Wichita State. If the Bearcats can complete the season sweep of Houston and defeat the Shockers twice in two weeks, then they’ll have a much better resume then a win at UCLA, Mississippi State, a loss at a neutral site to Florida and a double digit loss at Xavier.
If Cincinnati can take care of this six-game stretch and the AAC Tournament, they are a potential one seed.
The Bearcats have been playing team basketball all season. The four lead scorers for the team average between 10.7 and 13.7 points per game, which is outstanding heading into the post-season, not just relying on one or two players to carry the team to a victory.
Cincy also has the nation’s second best defense, with opponents averaging only 56 points a game. In six games this season, they’ve held opponents to under 50 points.
The Bearcats have the best chance at a national title for all mid-major schools, and one of the best in the entire country.
2. Gonzaga (West Coast Conference)
The runner-ups of last years National Championship game are no strangers to making a run in the NCAA Tournament.
The Zags have a better strength of schedule than Cincinnati, with wins against Ohio State, Saint Mary’s, Washington, Texas, Creighton, and BYU. The Zags have four losses, those being a double-OT thriller to Florida, a blowout loss to Villanova, a close road defeat to San Diego State, and Saint Mary’s, who Gonzaga ended up splitting the season series with.
Gonzaga has about a 50/50 chance on winning the WCC Tournament. The likely championship game matchup will be Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s Part 3, avoiding an upset prior.
The Zags are not known for their defense this season, ranking 78th in the country in points allowed. Their offense on the other hand, is stellar, averaging 86 points a game. Gonzaga also doesn’t have a true leader on offense, as six players average from 10 to 13.4 points per game.
If Gonzaga can win out and win the WCC Tournament, they have a shot at least making it to the Sweet Sixteen, possibly the Elite Eight.
3. Saint Mary’s (West Coast Conference)
The Gaels have yet to prove that they are an elite team this season, though there have been flashes of greatness throughout.
Compared to Cincinnati and Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s strength of schedule is terrible. Their only good wins are New Mexico State and Gonzaga. They have two simply bad losses to Georgia and Washington State, with the Cougars having yet to hit ten wins on the season. The loss to Gonzaga isn’t too great either, losing by 13.
Based on their resume, WCC Tournament Champions or not, Saint Mary’s will have to fight during the NCAA Tournament, because there is high doubt they will be seeded 1-4.
The Gaels don’t have an amazing offense, though their defense is top 20 in the country. Saint Mary’s is the worst rebounding ranked team by a long shot, as they average only 33.3 boards a game. That’s 289th in the nation.
Saint Mary’s will have to work hard to make a run in March, though it is possible for the Gaels to do something.
4. Nevada (Mountain West Conference)
The Wolfpack have a recent home loss to UNLV, but bounced back and blew out San Diego State on the 10th.
Nevada has had quite a season so far, with wins over Rhode Island, Boise State, and UC Davis. They have losses to Texas Tech, TCU, San Francisco, Wyoming, and UNLV.
The Wolfpack has a tough game at Boise State on the 14th and will go to UNLV the 28th. Both games are important for the MWC Tournament and seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
Like Saint Mary’s, Nevada has terrible rebounding for a top 25 team, at 136th in the nation. The Wolfpack’s offense is great, averaging 83 points per game, though their defense is lousy, which will not help to make a run versus top teams.
Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline have led Nevada on offense this season, as the two combined average 36.5 points per game.
Nevada has a challenge ahead of them, but like the other top mid-majors, it is possible.
5. Wichita State (American Athletic Conference)
The Shockers are a great passing and rebounding team, two assets that will help them survive in March.
Like the other mid-majors, Wichita State’s strength of schedule is not too great, though the Shockers have defeated Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Houston. They’ve lost to Notre Dame, Oklahoma, SMU, Houston, and Temple.
Wichita State has Cincinnati twice in their final six games, and winning one of those will give Wichita State a much better resume.
The Shockers are top-twenty offense and top-three in rebounds (41.9 RPG) and assists (19.2 APG). Their defense is not their strong spot, as they allow 69 points a game.
Wichita State has a very unique rotation. Nine players play about 24 minutes a game. Depth is very important come tournament time as well.
The Shockers stats look great for a team to make a run in March, they just need to prove it.
Honorable Mentions: Rhode Island, New Mexico State, Middle Tennessee State, Houston, East Tennessee State, Vermont.
These teams look very capable to make a run. Now all they have to do is win.