We're currently smack in the middle of March Madness, with major conference tournaments going on all over the country. During this time of year, the focus tends to be only on teams from power conferences. However, just 2 years ago, Butler and VCU made Final Four runs.
Simply put, don't sleep on the little guys. With a few breaks, these 5 teams from mid-major conferences could be playing deep into March.
|Photo by: Colin Mulvany|
Coach Shaka Smart's "havoc" defense has created problems all year. It is based on man-to-man pressure, with the focus on neutralizing the point guard by taking the ball out of his hands. VCU leads the country in turnovers forced per game with 20.1, and in the last 13 years, no team has a higher steal percentage than the Rams. Where they have been vulnerable is giving up big leads, especially over the second half of the season, as they coughed up double-digit advantages against both St. Louis and Temple. VCU has played a solid schedule which includes the likes of Duke, Memphis and Missouri. Factor that in with an underrated Atlantic 10 schedule and that could very well have the Rams ready to make another deep run in tourney.
- New Mexico
The Lobos won a very tough Mountain West this year by two full games and have been in the top 10 of the RPI rankings for most of the season with wins over Connecticut and Cincinnati. New Mexico has been the classic good at everything but not great at anything team. Conference Player of the Year Kendall Williams will be the key for the Lobos. When he is on, they are extremely dangerous. Williams had one of the best performances of the year in scoring 46 points against Colorado State on February 23rd.
After losing three in a row in mid-February, many experts soured on the Bluejays chances to make the tourney. Creighton responded to the naysayers by winning five-straight, led by All-American candidate Doug McDermott, who averaged over 30 points per game during the streak. The Bluejays have been very efficient on the offensive side of the ball, ranking second in the country in field goal percentage and fifth in total assists. Center Gregory Echenique, who ranks second on the team in points and rebounds, will be key for Creighton. If he can stay out of foul trouble and complement McDermott, the Bluejays should be a tough out.
- St. Louis
The Billikens had to deal with the death of coach Rick Majerus back in December. Interim coach Jim Crews has filled in admirably, leading St. Louis to a 24-6 mark with wins over New Mexico, VCU and Butler. The Billikens win with defense. They are in the top 20 in total scoring defense, and will look to slow the pace in the tournament. Unlike VCU's defense which forces you into turnovers, St. Louis' pesky D forces you into awful shots as the shot clock winds down. The Billikens also have experience on their side, advancing to the third round in last season's tourney before losing to No.1 seed Michigan State, 65-61.
Honorable Mentions: Memphis, Butler, St. Mary's, Colorado State