Category: March Madness nears

The Super Bowl is over. The NCAA tournament is coming up. Get ready.

Belmont v Kansas

Five mid-majors who can throw your bracket into chaos


A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

Every March there seems to be a mid-major program that goes from being a team heard of by few to being a national darling. Here are five teams, all of whom will likely need to win their respective conference’s automatic bid, to keep an eye on as we get closer to the month of March.

1) Belmont (19-4, 10-0 OVC) 

After reaching the NCAA tournament as winners of the Atlantic Sun the Bruins have made themselves right at home in the OVC. Guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson are combining to average 32.6 points per game, and senior forward Trevor Noack (12.5 ppg) has raised his scoring average more than ten points from last season.

Rick Byrd’s team, which has wins over Stanford and Middle Tennessee to its credit, isn’t as deep as last season’s outfit but with an eight-man rotation the Bruins are deep enough. Belmont’s an efficient group offensively (ranking 15th nationally in offensive efficiency and 8th in field goal percentage), and when combining this with their experience at key positions this is a team that can win in the NCAA tournament.

2) Akron (17-4, 8-0 MAC) 

The nation’s hottest team, the Akron Zips have won 13 straight games and are the lone undefeated team in MAC play. Leading the way are 7-footer Zeke Marshall and 6-7 forward Demetrius Treadwell, with five other players averaging between 5.8 and 9.9 points per game. The Zips are one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, ranking 28th in efficiency according to and that front court tandem of Marshall and Treadwell can give opponents fits in the paint. The key for Akron in March may be point guard Alex Abreu however, because when he’s under control and properly balances getting his own shots with putting teammates in the best position to be effective Akron is a handful.

3) Middle Tennessee (20-4, 12-1 Sun Belt) 

Kermit Davis’ Blue Raiders won 25 regular season games last season but a loss in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt tournament resulted in a trip to the NIT. So while their resume this season includes a win over Ole Miss (Middle Tennessee has lost to both Belmont and Akron), that experience and the fact that they have just three RPI Top 100 victories should keep this group motivated to grab the Sun Belt’s automatic bid.

Senior guard Marcos Knight is the lone Blue Raider averaging double figures but five others average between six and nine points per game, and this is a group that gets after it defensively. Middle Tennessee leads the Sun Belt in field goal and three-point percentage defense and they force 16.5 turnovers per game as well. If a team with shaky ball-handling draws the Blue Raiders come March, look out.

4) Bucknell (19-4, 6-1 Patriot) 

Dave Paulsen’s Bison are led by one of the best big men in the country in 6-10 senior Mike Muscala, who is currently averaging 19.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game (he leads the team in each category). Muscala is one of four Bucknell starters averaging double figures, and the Bison lead the Patriot League in field goal percentage.

The Bison have also performed well defensively, limiting opponents to 37.4% shooting (ranking 11th nationally), something they accomplish more with positioning as opposed to pressuring opponents into turnovers (opponents are averaging just 9.3 turnovers per game). Bucknell’s lone conference loss came to Lehigh (who won at Bucknell twice last season), so there’s no guarantee that we’ll see the Bison in the NCAA tournament. But if they can make it the Bison are capable of causing some trouble.

5) Montana (16-4, 12-0 Big Sky)

The Grizzlies had to navigate much of their non-conference slate without the services of senior guard Will Cherry due to a broken foot. But with the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year back in the fold Montana has the best tandem in the conference in Cherry and junior Kareem Jamar. Inside senior Mathias Ward averages a team-high 15.2 points per game, with the versatile Jamar being the team’s best rebounder.

With a two-game lead over Weber State the Grizzlies are in good position to grab home court for the conference tournament, something that served them well in getting to the NCAA tournament last season. With Cherry out other players gained valuable experience, and that could work out in Montana’s favor at the end of the year.

Other teams to consider: Davidson, Detroit, Lehigh, Louisiana Tech, North Dakota State, Valparaiso and Weber State. 

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

Does the lack of a dominant team help or hurt college basketball?

Ben McLemore
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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

This year in college basketball is different. We don’t see a dominant favorite for a national champion like we did last year with Anthony Davis and Kentucky. The No. 1 team in the country has lost on five different occasions, including Duke twice. Every team has at lost at least twice, and seven teams currently have only two losses.

So what does that mean for college basketball? Is that parity, or a sign that the quality of the game is diminishing?

For the casual fan, one who is now getting into the swing of the season after the Super Bowl, it could seem less interesting. John Calipari and the national brand he has built at Kentucky doesn’t have the same luster this season as previous teams that featured John Wall, Brandon Knight, or Davis.

Instead, they’re a team that has looked human, a collection of freshmen that had its struggles early, but is picking up steam and looking for an NCAA tournament berth.

North Carolina has worked through something similar. They likely won’t be competing for an ACC title with Duke, especially with the emergence of a tough Miami team. James Michael McAdoo was billed as the next UNC superstar and has put up good numbers, but isn’t in National Player of the Year discussions.

And all of that plays to the state of college basketball.

Though Indiana is back and the Big Ten is the nation’s best conference, the lack of a definitive National Player of the Year or king in college basketball makes it harder to draw in the casual fan. Parity works well in some sports, but it takes a more involved fan to want to tune in for Wichita State-Creighton (as great a matchup as that is) than any run-of-the-mill mid-season NBA game.

But what that parity promises is a stellar NCAA tournament. Expect shakeups like last season, where two 15-seeds knocked off 2-seeds, or years previous when Butler and Virginia Commonwealth reached the Final Four.

This March is going to be a good one.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Key injuries to know

Ryan Kelly
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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

Injuries can take a season that’s on the verge of becoming special and turn it into a struggle at the drop of the hat, turning contenders into teams lucky to make it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament. Below are some key injuries you need to be aware of as we approach the month of March.

1) F Ryan Kelly (Duke) 

Losing Kelly was a significant blow for the Blue Devils, who were the nation’s top-ranked team when the senior forward went down with a broken right foot. Kelly’s a “stretch 4” with range well out beyond the three-point line, averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game at the time of his injury.

The Blue Devils are 4-2 without Kelly, dropping road games at NC State and Miami with the latter currently in command of the ACC race. Duke has seen a drop in their efficiency numbers on both ends of the floor but they’re still a formidable team, and they’ll be better when he returns to the court. Kelly’s out indefinitely but Duke expects him to return this season. When will that be? That’s anyone’s guess.

2) G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) 

McCollum was well on his way to All-America status before breaking a bone in his left foot in a loss at VCU on January 5, averaging 23.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Without the services of one of the nation’s best guards Lehigh, preseason favorite to win the Patriot League, saw that status handed over to Bucknell. But Dr. Brett Reed’s Mountain Hawks are tied atop the league standings with a 6-1 record, with one of the wins coming at Bucknell.

McCollum was projected to miss 8-10 weeks, which could (on the short end) put him back on the court in time for the Patriot League tournament. Lehigh can certainly win the conference without McCollum (projected to be a first round pick by many who follow the NBA Draft), and they may have to.

3) Lorenzo Brown (NC State) 

Brown missed the Wolfpack’s 79-78 loss to No. 14 Miami on Saturday with a sprained left ankle, and it’s likely that he will be on the floor when the Wolfpack visit No. 5 Duke on Thursday night. In the first meeting between the two teams Brown dished out 13 assists, and he’s generally regarded as the best point guard in the ACC.

Without him NC State went with freshmen Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis at the point against Miami, and while those two performed admirably in a game the Wolfpack led for most of the afternoon this team needs Brown. In spite of their maddening habit of doing “NC State things” in games they’re expected to win, Brown is the kind of point guard capable of taking them a long way in March.

4) G Dominic Artis (Oregon) 

The Ducks were the clear favorites to win the Pac-12…until Artis suffered a foot injury that has sidelined him for the last three games. Oregon’s 1-2 since Artis went down, averaging a staggering 21.7 turnovers per game. Now Dana Altman’s team is in the middle of a serious logjam atop the Pac-12 standings, and the longer their freshman point guard is out the more likely it becomes that Oregon’s Pac-12 title chances dwindle.

Artis is questionable for games this week against Colorado and Utah (Colorado has one of the league’s best perimeter defenders in guard Spencer Dinwiddie), and if he can return at full strength Oregon will be a factor in the league race.

5) F James Southerland (Syracuse) 

It’s an academic issue rather than an injury that has Southerland sidelined for the Orange, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when the senior forward will be able to return to the court. One of the best sixth men in the country, Southerland is also a capable three-point shooter on a team devoid of any other consistent options in that department.

Without him freshman Jerami Grant has received more playing time and taken advantage of it in some spots, most recently scoring 14 points and in a 63-47 win over Notre Dame, but the Orange need Southerland back if they’re to have a shot at getting to the Final Four.

Some other injuries to keep an eye on include:

G P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): Suffered a concussion in a win at Boston College on January 29 and missed Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech.

G Xavier Thames (San Diego State): Starting point guard has dealt with back issues all season long.

F Aaron Jones and G Nick Williams (Ole Miss): Jones (torn ACL) is done for the season while Williams (foot) will miss a significant amount of time for the Rebels.

F Greg Whittington (Georgetown): Academically ineligible so he won’t be back this season; Georgetown is 6-1 in his absence however.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej