This week is all about the underdog, the unknown, the bracketbuster, the next George Mason, the teams you should start paying attention to now in order to fill your bracket out correctly in March. Last week we defined a bracketbuster as a team you’ve never heard of who ruins your bracket predictions by upsetting the big name schools. This week we will take a look at which teams from the smaller conferences are poised to win an NCAA tournament game or two. We will also visit the classroom to find out what school pulled a George Mason before George Mason did.
The week that was
- The Syracuse Orange played some road games and went 1-1. Notre Dame took them down Saturday night in South Bend, but what was impressive was the ability of Syracuse to bounce back just two days later at Cincinnati. The Bearcats had been on a run, but Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim got his players to respond and win in a quick turnaround.
- Duke and North Carolina have a little competition for the ACC league title in Florida State. In the span of one week, Leonard Hamilton’s squad took down the two teams that typically win the ACC every year. Virginia could be in the mix as well.
- Out on the west coast, the Mountain West Conference and the West Coast Conference have both shown to be better leagues than the PAC-12. Considering all of the money spent in the PAC-12, you would think there would be at least one team raked in the national polls. There is just one top-50 RPI team in California (realtimerpi.com).
- It was an interesting week for Michigan and Arkansas. Michigan beat rival Michigan State, but then lost at Arkansas, who was blown out earlier in the week by Kentucky.
- Kansas is proving that old habits die hard. The Jayhawks are 7-0 in the Big 12, with wins over Kansas State and Baylor. Their next two games are winnable (Iowa State, Oklahoma), but after those two, they’re at Baylor and at Missouri, so we’ll see if Kansas can remain the frontrunner in the Big 12.
March Madness Word of the Week
The Next George Mason (technically, this is a phrase):
1. A team, likely from a conference deemed to be “mid-major,” who makes a completely unexpected Final Four appearance as George Mason did in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. (other examples Butler, VCU)
2. George Mason IV’s (one of the “Founding Fathers” of the United States) son, George Mason V
Bracketbusters have been proudly ruining people’s bracket predictions for years.
Valparaiso and Bryce Drew,
Shaka Smart and VCU,
Davidson, George Mason and Gonzaga, to name a few.
(Take that, Dr. Seuss.) Most casual fans know teams from the “Big 6” conferences: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and the SEC. Most are also familiar with the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. So Temple, Xavier, Dayton, UNLV and San Diego State are exempt from this list. And everyone now knows about Butler, VCU, BYU and Gonzaga, so if you see them in the tournament field you should know what they are capable of. So we are going to head into the deeper, murkier, unknown conferences of college basketball. The teams who’s television coverage involve a computer, a high speed connection and low-quality video streaming. Let’s see if we can’t predict just a little bit better this season…
Iona Gaels 15-5 (7-2) Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference – Iona has all of the pieces needed to make a great bracketbuster: multiple guards who can knock down threes, a great assist man in Scott Machado (leads the nation with 10.2 a game), and a capable big man and NBA prospect in Michael Glover (nbadraft.net has him going in the 2nd round). And if you remember Arizona’s run in last year’s NCAA tournament, you’ll recall key player Lamont “Momo” Jones, who transferred to Iona this fall and was eligible to play immediately after being granted a hardship waiver. He’s been there before, and that has to work in Iona’s advantage come tournament time.
Notable Wins: Maryland, St. Joseph’s, Richmond
St. Mary’s Gaels 19-2 (8-0) West Coast Conference – The Gaels have been bracketbusters once before. In the 2010 tournament, they rode big man Omar Samhan to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. This year’s St. Mary’s team is led by forward Rob Jones (14.5 PPG, 10.7 RPG – 9th in the nation) and Australian born point guard Matthew Dellavedova (15.8 PPG, 6.5 APG – 9th in the nation).
Notable Wins: BYU, Gonzaga
Davidson Wildcats 14-4 (8-0) Southern Conference - There is no Stephen Curry on coach Bob McKillop’s squad this year, but they had a big win at Kansas. Considering that Kansas has been one of the top teams in the country this season, Davidson poses as a threat to any team in the tournament. The Wildcats are ranked 13th nationally on offense, scoring 80 points per game.
Notable Wins: at Kansas
Murray State Racers 20-0 (8-0) Ohio Valley Conference – Murray State is the only undefeated team left in the country. Regardless of the level of competition, that’s impressive. The Racers have three players averaging double digit points per game: Isaiah Canaan (18.7 PPG), Donte Poole (14.6 PPG) and Ivan Aska (12.6 PPG).
Notable wins: Dayton, at Memphis, Southern Miss
Long Beach State 49ers 14-6 (7-0) Big West – Long Beach State played an aggressive non-conference schedule flying all over the country to take on the nations’ best. The 49ers hung tough at Kansas, at North Carolina and at San Diego State, losing these games by just single digits. They also won at Pittsburgh, but considering Pitt is 0-7 in the Big East, it may not be that great of a win now. Casper Ware is their leading scorer, averaging 17 points per game.
Notable wins: Xavier
Creighton Bluejays 18-2 (8-1) Missouri Valley – Creighton has been ranked most if not all of this season and will not sneak up on any teams in the tournament, but they might sneak up on the casual fan. Doug McDermott leads his team and is 3rd nationally in scoring, with 23.2 points per game. The Bluejays are more than a one-man show though, as they are in the top 10 nationally in many categories. They are first in field goal percentage (.514), second in assists per game (19.2) and ninth in points per game (81.5).
Notable wins: at San Diego State, at Wichita State
Cleveland State 17-4 (7-2) Horizon League - Cleveland State seems to be the best team in the Horizon League, a league that has produced back to back NCAA finalists in Butler. So we should probably pay attention here.
Notable wins: at Vanderbilt, St. Bonaventure, Butler
Harvard 16-2 (2-0) Ivy League – It’s rare for an Ivy League school to pose a threat in the NCAA tournament. Princeton used to be the only threat, but Cornell made the Sweet Sixteen a few years back, and coach Tommy Amaker has a great squad at Harvard. The Crimson have been in the top 25 for many weeks this season and have a win over Florida State that keeps looking better and better.
Notable wins: Florida State, St. Joseph’s, UCF
Others to keep an eye on: Wichita State, Nevada, Northern Iowa, Oral Roberts, New Mexico State, Hawaii, Belmont, Weber State
College Basketball History 101
The Original George Mason
In 2006, coach Jim Larranaga and his George Mason Patriots captivated the country. They were an unknown team from the Colonial Athletic Association who took down bigger named foes in North Carolina, UConn and Michigan State. After their run, many experts are always looking to find “The Next George Mason.” The next small school that could get all the way to the Final Four. Many even said it would never be done again, and then Butler went to the championship game…twice.
But long before the George Mason run came a similar run from the Charlotte 49ers. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte became a full time university in 1949, and in 1965, they started playing collegiate basketball. By 1977, they had their team in the Final Four, and it was the first year they were even in a conference!
Much like George Mason, most people had never heard of UNCC (as the team was then referred to). But led by the scoring prowess of Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell and key teammates Melvin Watkins, Lew Massey and Chad Kinch, the 49ers beat Central Michigan in overtime in the first round, knocked out No. 5 Syracuse the next round and toppled top-ranked Michigan in the regional final before a tough 51-49 loss to Marquette in the Final Four.
Back then the NCAA tournament did not have the same level of television coverage and hype, but maybe when we are looking at a team to be the next George Mason, we should really be looking for the next Charlotte 49ers…
The week that will be
NC State at #8 North Carolina - This was once a great rivalry, but it has been one sided in favor of the Tar Heels for many years now. State fans would love to see a competitive game at Chapel Hill in hopes of a win at home in Raleigh.
#17 Indiana at #25 Wisconsin – Playing at Wisconsin is always tough, and IU really needs a win.
#20 Saint Mary’s at BYU – The Gaels have a gaudy record but could use a few more quality wins for their tournament seeding. A road win in Provo against BYU would be just that.
Saint Louis at Massachusetts – Another game for Saint Louis to get themselves on the right side of the bubble.
#16 Mississippi State at #13 Florida – A rare top-25 matchup in the SEC. It should be a good one.
#22 Michigan at #3 Ohio State – A rivalry in football spills over into basketball.
Pittsburgh at West Virginia – Even though Pitt has tanked in Big East play, you have to watch the “Backyard Brawl” basketball edition.
#11 Michigan State at Illinois – Illinois could use a big win against Michigan State after losing two disappointing games to Penn State and Wisconsin.
“Old School” is a column for college sports fans. Contact Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @pplcallmeblue. Yes, his nickname is Blue.