Mid-majors ready to crash the dance

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

It’s Ali Farokhmanesh.

It’s Dunk City.

It’s George Mason, Bryce Drew, Butler and Wichita State.

The NCAA tournament’s popularity and icon status is due in no small part to the success of the little guy.

The upsets and the stories that accompany them are what makes March magical.

Here are who you should expect to hear from, likely in dramatic fashion, in four months.

Jock Landale (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

1. St. Mary’s: As described elsewhere, for our purposes, we’re going to classify Randy Bennett’s Gaels as a mid-major. Whatever your thoughts on that, they’ve got a chance to have a breakthrough season this year. And more importantly than that, they have a team built for March.They’re experienced, with nearly everyone back from last year’s 29-win team while also adding fifth-year senior graduate transfer Cullen Neal. They shoot the heck out of the ball, having made nearly 40 percent of their 3s last year. Lastly, they have a game-changing talent in Jock Landale, one of the most productive and efficient offensive players in the country. It’s a profile that will not only rack up a ton of regular season wins, but one that can bulldoze its way to San Antonio.

2. Oakland: The Golden Grizzlies have experience and talent. They’ve got four starters back, headlined by Martez Walker and Jalen Hayes. Plus, Greg Kampe’s squad will be adding Kendrick Nunn, who averaged double figures in back-to-back seasons at Illinois before being dismissed from the team after a domestic violence arrest. Oakland should be plenty motivated after getting knocked out of the Horizon League tournament in their first game last season when they were riding a nine-game winning streak. Shooting could be an issue for Oakland, but the Grizzlies have the pieces to be dangerous to any high-major opponents that may come their way this spring.

3. Yale: After ending a 54-year NCAA tournament drought in 2016, the Bulldogs appeared as though they may go in back-to-back years, but a broken foot cost Ivy League player of the year Makai Mason the season and Yale it’s best chance at returning to the Big Dance. Mason is back, joining last year’s leading scorers Alex Copeland Miye Oni and making Yale a threat as a veteran team. Defending will likely be their biggest issue as the Bulldogs experienced major slippage on that end of the floor last year after being one of the better defenses in the country in their NCAA tournament season.

4. College of Charleston: The Cougars have been on a serious upward trajectory in the first three years of Earl Grant’s tenure and look poised to make another leap – into the NCAA tournament – in Year 4. Offense was a struggle at times last year for Charleston, but getting all its leading scorers back should help in that department. Defensively, the Cougars are constricting, both in terms of slowing the pace and offenses. Offense is a chore against them.

5. Vermont: The Catamounts bring four starters back from a team that went undefeated in the American East and gave Purdue problems in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Trae Bell-Haynes is the reigning conference player of the year and Anthony Lamb is going to be a real problem for teams after a freshman year in which he up 13 and 6 while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Vermont is balanced, talented and proven winners. That’s a recipe for March success.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

1. UT-Arlington
2. Florida Gulf Coast
3. Grand Canyon
4. Belmont
5. Missouri State