While March Madness is usually dominated by the “blueblood” programs, I love a good mid-major to make a deep run. While these teams will be shrugged off due to their “Bad Conference”, these teams could find themselves in Atlanta for the Final Four.
#4 San Diego State (+1700): The Aztecs might be the least talked about thing in sports besides the Milwaukee Bucks. Ok ESPN I know this isn’t Zion, LeBron, the Warriors, or Duke but trust me these guys are good. Being undefeated this late into the season is remarkable no matter the conference they’re playing in. The Mountain West conference isn’t close to the level of other conference but a 25-0 overall record and 14-0 in conference isn’t a fluke. They have the weakest non-conference out of the major contenders and the haters would say that they haven’t had a real test yet this season, and I’d agree. Iowa, Colorado State, Creighton, Utah, and BYU are their biggest wins so far, tricky teams to play against but they haven’t (and won’t) face a ranked opponent this year. A theme you will see in this mini-series of blogs is that these teams all have multiple double-digit scorers, SDSU has four. While they’re a cute story and all, they’re incredibly overvalued. Unlike Dayton and Houston, SDSU has yet to have a real test and I think this could be too good to be true. I’m sorry to pop the bubble but I can’t see this team winning it all. All that being said, if they get through their game vs. the 8/9 and 4/5/12/13 seeds easily OR they lose before the end of the season, I could go back in on the Aztecs but as of now, they’re more pretender than contender to me.
#6 Dayton (+1200): The Dayton Flyers are one of five teams still undefeated in conference play with a 11-0 record and an overall 22-2 record giving them the #6 spot in the most recent AP Poll. The Flyers are in the Atlantic 10 conference, which isn’t the greatest conference but it’s a tricky one. Filled of Cinderellas such as Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, VCU, George Washington, VCU, and Saint Louis, no game is an easy game in the A10, except Saint Joes, they are reallybad. The Flyers have three other double-digit scorers, but the team is led by Obi Toppin. Toppin, currently a Wooden Award finalist, has an impressive 19.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.2 ast, 1.1 stl, 1.4 bpg, stat line while adding 62.6% from the field and 35.5% from three-point range shooting. Dayton’s non-conference resume isn’t great but wins against Georgia, VA Tech, and St. Mary’s are quality wins and their two losses were both in overtime at Colorado who’s first in the PAC 12 and at #4 Kansas who never loses at home. I would say that Dayton is a sleeper, but they have 12-1 odds to win the tournament, currently tied for the fourth best odds. The Flyers have a legitimate shot to win the title this season.
#20 Houston (+8000): The Houston Cougars currently have a 20-5 record including a 10-2 conference record in the American Athletic “every game is a blowout or buzzer beater conference.” Houston and coach NAME have a good thing going in Texas, and if it wasn’t for Jordan Poole’s miracle shot, they would have made another deep run almost two years ago. Houston’s a balanced team that has five players averaging above 9.7 points per game. In five losses this season, outside of their 78-66 loss on the road to #11 Oregon, their losses have been by 1, 6, 2, and 2 points this year meaning they could easily be 24-1 and 12-0 in the conference. They have a 2-1 record against ranked opponents with the wins being a neutral sight victory against #21 Washington and a sound defeat on the road against conference rivals Wichita State 65-54. With their odds at +8000 or 800-1, Vegas isn’t taking the Cougars seriously, but they definitely should be.
Northern Iowa (Over +10000): Now listen I know there’s a better chance that I get struck by lightning while holding the winning lottery ticket during the Detroit Lions’ Super Bowl parade than the Panthers of Northern Iowa winning the title. I love the way the Panthers play and as we saw two years ago with Sister Jean and Loyola’s magical run, the Missouri Valley conference can make the Final Four. I could definitely see Northern Iowa making a run to the Sweet 16. There are three Panthers with double-digit scoring, led by AJ Green who’s averaging 20 points a game. Northern Iowa has had one major test and it was against West Virginia where they lost by 5 at a neutral site. Northern Iowa is one of the best mid-major teams this year in and year out and this year could be another tournament run for the Panthers.