Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mid-Major Madness: Best of the Rest

This is the final installment in a series we started running again about a month ago here at March Madness All Season. We did it last year from late January to the end of the season. "Mid-Major Madness" is simply a weekly column chronicling the small-conference sleepers that I feel have the best shot at pulling an upset or two during the NCAA Tournament. The only real criterion is that a team has to be a projected 11 seed or lower in the Big Dance and from outside the major conferences. We looked at all the non-BCS conferences and teams last month, but these are the real sleepers for March. With Championship Week kicking off for some conferences next week, thus the “Mid-Major Madness” column ending, we decided to pick several teams for our last edition. Last Week: North Dakota State. Next Up: A variety of teams

Obvious Choices

The Bluejays were one of the favorites to win the Missouri Valley before the year started, but many thought those chances were done once they were 5-4 in league play. However, they have won eight in a row to move into a tie for first place with Northern Iowa. Creighton has a slew of solid wins, including Dayton, New Mexico, Saint Joseph’s and George Mason. The Bluejays have 11 guys averaging double-figure minutes and they have plenty of options. Guard Booker Woodfox is their leading scorer; he can really shoot it from deep. P’Allen Stinnett is a very good all-around player, while Josh Dotzler is a solid point guard. Cavel Witter heats up in a hurry off the bench. Kenny Lawson Jr. and Justin Carter anchor the frontcourt.

Davidson: Don’t jump off the Wildcats’ bandwagon just yet. Sure, they lost to The Citadel by 18 at home and then looked sluggish in a loss to Butler on Bracket Busters Saturday. However, Stephen Curry was out for the first loss and not fully recovered for the weekend contest. With him healthy, this team can play with anyone in the nation. Curry can score from anywhere on the court and the offense functions through him. The second option is big man Andrew Lovedale, who is a double-double threat every night out. Will Archambault and Bryant Barr can shoot, and Max Paulus-Gosselin is a defensive stopper. Davidson has beaten West Virginia and North Carolina State and also played Duke, Purdue and Oklahoma.

Saint Mary’s: If the Gaels get to the NCAA Tournament, either via the automatic bid or one of the last at-large bids, they are going to be dangerous. The reason is that Patty Mills will finally be healthy. Injured just before halftime in a game they likely would have won at Gonzaga, Mills has been sorely missed by Saint Mary’s, who is just 4-4 without him. He is one of the best point guards in the country and can take over a game. This team has plenty of talent around him, too. The big man tandem of Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan is one of the best in the nation. Both players are double-double locks nearly every night, while Simpson is a better defender and has more of a face-up game. Samhan can block shots and is a load to stop. Carlin Hughes can play both guard slots, and Mickey McConnell has become a big-time scorer in Mills’ absence.

VCU: The Rams are going to be involved in arguably the most exciting and competitive conference tournament in the country, as the CAA features six teams within two games of each other at the top of the standings. However, they have the most talent and will be a tough out if they make the Dance. If you need convincing, just watch their upset of Duke and near-upset of Pittsburgh two seasons ago. Eric Maynor is still one of the best point guards in the country, and he can carry this team. Larry Sanders is a shot-blocker down low with a developing offensive game. Joey Rodriguez can shoot and handle the ball, while Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozell bring quickness. Kiril Pishchalnikov is a banger.

Deeper Sleepers

Western Kentucky:
We all know about the Hilltoppers from last year’s NCAA Tournament, when they reached the Sweet Sixteen after beating Drake and San Diego. Well, they lost Courtney Lee and Tyrone Brazelton from that team, but don’t count them out. They beat Louisville earlier this season by 14 on a neutral court, and also knocked off Georgia, Southern Illinois and Tulane. They are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, making them a threat if they are hitting their shots. A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez form an outstanding backcourt tandem that stroke it and dish it, while Steffphon Pettigrew can also shoot the ball from deep. Sergio Kerusch and Jeremy Evans are underrated down low.

American: The Eagles gave Tennessee all it could handle in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and many of the same characters are back from that team. It all starts with the dynamite backcourt of Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer. Carr is one of the best shooters in the country and could put a team on his back, while Mercer is an excellent point guard who can do it all. Brian Gilmore contributes in a variety of aspects. American is 14-1 in its past 15 games, and will be hitting its stride come Big Dance time. The Eagles slow the pace of the game down to a crawl, making them difficult to beat because they hit their shots at the offensive end and then force very difficult shots at the other end. Plus, they are an excellent defensive rebounding team.

Vermont: The Catamounts are tied with Binghamton for the America East lead right now, and might not get the top seed in the conference tournament, but make no mistake, this team will be a threat should they get to the Big Dance. Mike Trimboli is a very good point guard who can score the ball as well as distribute, and Marquis Blakely is one of the best all-around forwards in the country at both ends of the floor. Colin McIntosh is an excellent third scorer who can shoot, while Maurice Joseph is a former Michigan State transfer. The Catamounts can really score offensively, and they also defend well, blocking shots and forcing turnovers as well as contesting perimeter jumpers. Vermont has lost just once all year by double-figures in regulation (they lost by 15 to Maryland in overtime).

Cornell: The Big Red started slow this season, but once Louis Dale returned from injury, this team took off. They are 13-2 in their last 15 games, and own wins over La Salle and Boston University. Plus, they’ve gone on the road and taken on Saint Joseph’s, St. John’s, Indiana, Minnesota, Syracuse and Siena. Cornell is solid at both ends of the floor, shooting the ball very effectively offensively and stifling opponents at the other end. Ryan Wittman is a match-up nightmare; he and Dale can really stroke the ball. Jeff Foote gives them size down low, and Geoff Reeves is a good complimentary scorer. Could this be another Ivy League sleeper?

Morgan State: I’ve got to have a No. 16 seed on here, just in case it happens (we all know it will happen eventually). And it certainly looks like Morgan State would be the best bet at this point. The Bears have defeated Maryland and DePaul on the road, and also knocked off Marshall on a neutral court. Furthermore, this team faced Washington, Utah, Saint Mary’s, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Mississippi – they will not be afraid of anyone. They defend the ball tremendously well, forcing turnovers and tough shots. Reggie Holmes is a very good scorer and Marquis Kately is tough to guard. Kevin Thompson bangs inside.


  1. Great list, but I'm surprised that neither Niagara nor Siena got shout-outs. Both those teams have the chops to really bust some brackets come March

  2. I discussed Siena in the first "Mid-Major Madness" article, three weeks ago.

    As for Niagara, if they get to the Dance, they are going to be tough. However, I don't see them beating Siena in the MAAC Tournament.

  3. For the sake of accuracy, Vermont lost at Pitt by 29 back in December.

  4. Yeah, that was their one double-digit regulation loss. I mentioned the Maryland game because they lost by double-digits, but NOT in regulation.