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Nine mid-majors that can be the next Loyola-Chicago

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In each of the last five NCAA tournaments, there’s been at least one double-digit seeded mid-major that’s managed to advance.

The 2013 NCAA tournament boasted two such teams, 14-seed Harvard and a 15-seed in FGCU, that became national darlings over the course of the opening weekend.

Since then there have been repeat winners (Harvard won as a 12-seed in 2015, and Middle Tennessee advanced in both 2016 and 2017), and Loyola-Chicago reached the 2018 Final Four as an 11-seed.

What traits do these teams tend to have in common?

In many cases experience is key, be it from winning an NCAA tournament game the season prior or bringing back many experienced pieces (or both).

And for some teams, the presence of a star player has been the key.

Below is a look at ten teams that could pull off at least one upset in next spring’s NCAA tournament.

NOTE: For this post the following conferences (and teams) are not under consideration: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC, as well as BYU and Gonzaga.

Dan D’Antoni of Marshall (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Loyola-Chicago

As noted above the Ramblers reached the program’s first Final Four since 1963 last season, knocking off Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State on the way to San Antonio. Porter Moser will have to account for the loss of two double-digit scorers (Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson) and the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Richardson) from that team, but reigning Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer is back as are fellow starters Marques Townes and Cameron Krutwig.

Sophomore Lucas Williamson and junior Bruno Skokna will need to take a step forward after serving as supplementary options last season, but the Ramblers’ ability to defend and share the ball on the other end of the floor should serve them well. Will it be enough to cause some mayhem in the NCAA tournament for a second straight year? That’s the question, especially with their top challengers in the Valley having improved.

Buffalo

Nate Oats’ Bulls dominated Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament, shooting nearly 55 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the 89-68 beating in Boise. Three starters from that team, guards CJ Massinburg, Jeremy Harris and Davonta Jordan, return as do valuable reserves Nick Perkins and Dontay Carruthers. Buffalo will have to account for the loss of Wes Clark, who was third on the team in scoring and first in assists, and forward Ikenna Smart, but there’s more than enough talent to get the job done. In addition to the returnees, Buffalo adds freshmen Ronaldo Segu and Jeenathan Williams to the mix. Not only does Buffalo have the tools needed to win an NCAA tournament game for the second consecutive season, but it could go beyond that in 2019.

Marshall

Marshall’s style of play made the Thundering Herd an entertaining team to watch last season, and with the tandem of Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks back on campus for one last hurrah expect more of the same in 2018-19. Elmore and Burks combined to score an average of 42.8 points per game, with the former also responsible for 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per contest. Dan D’Antoni did lose his best front court player from the team that knocked off Wichita State in Adjin Penava, who averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.

Penava’s departure that means players such as sophomore Jansson Williams and Darius George and juniors Mike Beyers Ante Sustic will need to step forward. That being said the backcourt rotation, which in addition to Elmore and Burks includes the likes of Rondale Watson and Jarrod West (both averaged 7.8 ppg last season), is talented enough to cause some chaos in the NCAA tournament yet again. That being said Marshall won’t lack for challengers within Conference USA, one being Western Kentucky.

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HIGH-LEVEL STAR

South Dakota State

Three of South Dakota State’s top four scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back, with the leader of that bunch being one of the nation’s best scorers in senior forward Mike Daum (23.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg). “The Dauminator,” who’s won the last two Summit League Player of the Year awards, is on pace to become the ninth 3,000-point scorer in Division I history, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court (46.2 percent FG, 42.5 percent 3PT, 85.1 percent FT) makes the 6-foot-9 forward an extremely difficult matchup for opponents.

Sophomore David Jenkins Jr., the Summit League’s top freshman last season, and senior guards Tevin King, Skyler Flatten and Brandon Key return as well. T.J. Otzelberger’s roster has both talent and experience, and with a player like Daum this could be the season in which the Jackrabbits break through and pick up the program’s first Division I NCAA tournament victory.

Western Kentucky

When a star has led a mid-major to an NCAA tournament upset, it’s usually be an upperclassman who’s done the honors with Georgia State sophomore R.J. Hunter (2015) being a notable exception. The Hilltoppers land here because of the presence of a freshman many scouting services pegged as a Top-10 recruit in 6-foot-11 center Charles Bassey. Bassey has the size, athleticism and skill needed to make an immediate impact at WKU, and he’ll need to with forwards Dwight Coleby and Justin Johnson having moved on.

That being said, Rick Stansbury has two really good guards in senior Lamonte Bearden and sophomore Taveion Hollingsworth, with the latter having scored 30 in the Hilltoppers’ Postseason NIT win at Oklahoma State. Add in the likes of sophomore guard Josh Anderson, transfers Desean Murray (Auburn) and Jared Savage (Austin Peay) and Top 100 prospect Dalano Banton, and Western Kentucky has enough in the cupboard to reach the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. And they have the potential to do some damage if they get into the field.

Seth Towns (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

RETURNING TALENT

Harvard

More than 99 percent of the scoring from last season’s Ivy League regular season co-champion team is back, and that includes three all-league selections in juniors Seth Towns, Chris Lewis and Justin Bassey. Towns and Lewis combined to average 28.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game last season, with Bassey being part of a perimeter rotation that includes fellow juniors Bryce Aiken and Christian Juzang. Tommy Amaker has a roster that isn’t short on depth, talent or experience, which is why they enter the 2018-19 season as the clear favorite to win the Ivy League. And if the Crimson can successfully navigate the Ancient Eight’s four-team postseason tournament, something they were unable to do last season, look out.

Southern Illinois

All five starters return from a team that won 20 games and finished second in the Missouri Valley last season, led by seniors Armon Fletcher (14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Sean Lloyd Jr. (12.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Kaivon Pippen (12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg). The experience stands to serve Southern Illinois well in what projects to be a tighter Valley race than a season ago, which Loyola won by four games.

Two things to keep an eye on regarding the Salukis: what senior center Thik Bol can give them off the bench after missing all of last season due to a knee injury, and how they perform in close games. Ten of SIU’s 18 regular season conference games were decided by six points or less, with the Salukis winning eight. Will that good fortune carry over? Or better yet, can Barry Hinson’s team do enough to cut down on the number of close games it has to play? Either way, this sets up to be a good season for Southern Illinois.

Cal State Fullerton

Dedrique Taylor’s Titans won 20 games and the Big West tournament last season, earning the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2008. And with four starters back from that team, Cal State Fullerton may be in line for a return trip. The perimeter tandem of seniors Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad is outstanding, with the former being a first team All-Big West selection as a junior after averaging 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. As for Ahmad, he earned second team all-conference honors and averaged 15.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Add in junior forward Jackson Rowe (12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and all three double-digit scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back. The NCAA tournament experience for the Titans was a humbling one, as Purdue limited them to 48 points, but that should serve as motivation for this talented squad. Cal State Fullerton has the talent to become the first Big West team to win a Round of 64 NCAA tournament game since Hawaii did so in 2016.

Rider

All five starters are back for Rider, which won 22 games and the MAAC regular season title in 2017-18. But like Harvard, memories of how that season ended (a loss in the MAAC tournament quarters) could serve as fuel for the Broncs in 2018-19. Redshirt sophomore guard/forward Dimencio Vaughn, a first team all-MAAC performer, leads the way after averaging 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game with Jordan Allen, Frederick Scott, Stevie Jordan and Tyere Marshall all back as well.

Add in grad student Anthony Durham, and Kevin Baggett has his top six scorers from a season ago to work with as Rider looks for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. Navigating the MAAC tournament has proven difficult for the Broncs since joining the league in 1997, but this could be the group that breaks the run of bad luck. And given the production and experience on this roster, Rider could be a team first round opponents hope to avoid come Selection Sunday.

Dominant first half pushes No. 4 Virginia Tech into second round

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East Region No. 4 Virginia Tech earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 12 years Friday night, as it rode a dominant first half to a 66-52 win over No. 13 Saint Louis.

Buzz Williams’ team limited the Billikens to 18 first half points, taking a 22-point lead into the half as a result. The Hokies weren’t at their best offensively in the second half, but the work done in the first half was more than enough as Saint Louis could get no closer than nine points.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way for Virginia Tech with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals, with Kerry Blackshear adding 15 points and Ahmed Hill ten. The Hokies shot just 41.7 percent from the field, but a 22-for-27 night from the foul line and a 12-point edge in points from the charity stripe made up for that.

Defensively the Hokies were outstanding in the first half, and would limit the Billikens to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 4-for-23 from three. Travis Ford’s team, which erased halftime deficits in three of its four wins at last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, outscored Virginia Tech 34-26 in the second half.

Javon Bess, who sparked the second half rally with some big shots, led three SLU players in double figures with 14 points, with D.J. Foreman adding 12 points and Tramaine Isabell Jr. 11.

Friday’s game also marked the return of Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson, who had not played since late January due to a foot injury. The senior finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, and while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2-for-7 from the field) Robinson’s presence will only help the Hokies as they look to play deep into the tournament.

Next up for Virginia Tech will be No. 12 Liberty, which upset No. 5 Mississippi State in the first game of the evening session in San Jose.

No. 11 Ohio State advances after landing upset of No. 6 Iowa State

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Chris Holtmann has been to five straight NCAA tournaments since he took over as the interim head coach at Butler during the 2014-15 season.

And after his No. 11-seed Ohio State Buckeyes outlasted No. 6-seed Iowa State, Holtmann can say that his streak remains intact: He has still never lost a game in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kaleb Wesson scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, overpowering a smaller Iowa State team in the paint and carrying the Buckeyes back to the second round of the dance for the second straight season with a 62-59 win over the Cyclones. Wesson missed a front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left in the game, but Nick Weiler-Babb missed a wide-open three from about 23 feet that would have tied the game.

And with that, the Buckeyes will advance to take on No. 3-seed Houston for the right to play in the Sweet 16.

But the talking point coming out of this game isn’t going to be Ohio State vs. Houston, it’s going to about the future of the Iowa State head coaching position. Avery Johnson is negotiating a buyout with Alabama. Steve Prohm grew up in Georgia and is an Alabama alum. There is more than a little smoke surrounding his potential move to Tuscaloosa, and if that does happen, it opens the door for what was almost unthinkable a couple of months ago: A return to Ames for former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.

And that, in turn, has repercussions that will reverberate throughout the college coaching world. Because Hoiberg was fired by the Chicago Bulls earlier and has been heavily linked with a move to Nebraska to replace Tim Miles, who has not been fired or seen his season come to an end.

This will be fascinating to see get put into motion and where these coaches will land.

But what’s clear is that this process couldn’t start until Iowa State’s season came to an end.

Here we are.

No. 9 UCF beats No. 8 VCU, earns first-ever NCAA tournament win

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East Region No. 9 UCF made history Friday night, picking up the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory as it beat No. 8 VCU by a 73-58 final score. The reward for the Knights is a shot at top overall seed Duke Sunday night, with head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor for the second time in his coaching career.

UCF grabbed control of Friday’s matchup with a 19-0 run that began in the first half, with VCU going nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. Mike Rhoades’ team rallied in the second half but could get no closer than nine points before the Knights put the game away.

B.J. Taylor led three double-digit scorers with 15 points, and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall was the difference-maker in the front court. In addition to scoring 13 points the senior big man also accounted for 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. In addition to the blocks there were shots that Fall altered, and even a couple forced turnovers in which VCU paid the price for making rushed decisions around the basket.

Aubrey Dawkins added 14 points, with Terrell Allen and Frank Bertz scoring nine apiece. With UCF’s win the 9-seeds were 4-0 in first round matchups in this year’s tournament, and three of the wins (UCF, Washington and Oklahoma) were by 15 points or more.

Malik Crowfield led the way for the Atlantic 10 regular season champions with 11 points and De’Riante Jenkins added ten, but VCU shot just 31.1 percent from the field and 6-for-26 from three on the night. UCF used multiple defenses throughout the night, going to a zone when Fall was on the floor and man-to-man when the center was on the bench. The Knights will use a similar formula Sunday in hopes that it will slow down Duke’s talented freshman scorers.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Sunday second round tip times, announcers

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All times Eastern

12:10 p.m.: South No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 2 Tennessee (Columbus; CBS); Brian Anderson/Chris Webber/Allie LaForce

Approx. 2:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 9 Washington vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Columbus; CBS); Anderson/Webber/LaForce

5:15 p.m.: East No. 9 UCF vs. No. 1 Duke (Columbia; CBS); Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill/Tracy Wolfson

6:10 p.m.: West No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (Tulsa; TNT); Brad Nessler/Steve Lavin/Jim Jackson/Evan Washburn

7:10 p.m.: East No. 12 Liberty vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (San Jose; TBS); Spero Dedes/Steve Smith/Len Elmore/Ros Gold-Onwude

Approx.: 7:45 p.m.: South No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Virginia (Columbia; truTV); Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson

Approx. 8:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Houston (Tulsa; TNT); Nessler/Lavin/Jackson/Washburn

Approx.: 9:40 p.m.: South No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 12 Oregon (San Jose; TBS); Dedes/Smith/Elmore/Gold-Onwude

North Carolina shakes off slow start, runs over Iona

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The ACC sent three No. 1 seeds to the NCAA tournament, and all three of them decided that they didn’t need to show up for the first half.

Virginia trailed Gardner-Webb by as many at 14 points before going on to win by 15. Duke trailed North Dakota State deep into the first half before taking a 31-27 lead into the break, but they went on to win by 23 points.

North Carolina completed the trifecta, digging themselves a 38-31 hole and taking a five-point deficit into the break before they finally found their rhythm, running No. 16-seed Iona off the floor, 88-73.

Cam Johnson led the way with 21 points, seven boards and four assists for UNC while Nassir Little chipped in with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. As a team, the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive boards.

That said, the final box score doesn’t tell the whole story.

North Carolina was bad in the first half. They couldn’t get out in transition. They gave up 10 Iona three-pointers. It was the furthest thing from a quintessential North Carolina performance, the kind of showing that will get the Tar Heels on a plane back to Chapel Hill if they play this way against Washington in the next round.

It should be easier to be ready to play when the Pac-12 champs are on the other end of the floor.