Every March, the NCAA Basketball Tournament takes shape and a handful of Mid Majors step into the spotlight and try to steal some of the glory reserved for the big boys. There are usually several surprises and by season’s end, those teams begin to take shape that may have the talent, experience and chemistry to have their one shinning moment. Here is a look at the candidates to do just that as we get ready to tip-off the 2009-2010 season. I will not include the top three which have posted in the top 25 (Dayton, Siena and Butler), but here is a handful of others that could have their day come March:
See our Top 25 for more on these top teams.
It’s hard to believe, but the last NCAA Tournament win for the Cougars came all the way back on March 18th, of 1993. The appearances have been there as the Cougars have been dancing seven times, but were a one-and-done all seven times. This year there is hopes of more as the Cougars return PG Jimmer Fredette, F Jonahthon Tavernari, and Jackson Emery. That trio should be enough to get them to the dance, but can they win one?
Tulsa returns a talented group of players that has won 20+ games each of the past three seasons. They topped it off with a 25-win campaign a year ago. For the first time they are mentioned in the same breath as Memphis in C-USA, and have a bonafide chance to win the conference and grab a game or two in the tournament.
6. NORTHERN IOWA
A hungry Panthers team that lost to Purdue in the NCAA Tournament by just five points a year ago and will likely punch their ticket back to the dance this March. The Panthers return with their starting five in tact, and 92% of their scoring which includes nine of the top 10 scorers. A team that could cause some damage in the Tournament.
The Zips went dancing last year for the first time since 1986 which resulted in a disappointing 77-64 loss to Gonzaga. The McKnight brothers return as the top two scorers as well as a cast of three freshmen, that are now experienced sphomores, and the Zips should be dancing again.
8. WESTERN KENTUCKY
The Hilltoppers, unlike their football team which is still seeking their first FBS win, have not only made the dance, but just missed their second straight Sweet-16 run. This year should be no different as star PG AJ Slaughter returns with three other starters from a 25-9 team. Sweet sixteen anyone?
9. OLD DOMINION
The Colonial had the ultimate Cinderella in 2006 and Old Dominion will likely carry that banner this year for the CAA. ODU brings back four starters from a team that went 25-9 a year ago. The Monarchs have a solid PG and inside presence, a combo that should send them dancing in 2010.
It will be interesting to see if the talented Purple Eagles have enough to unseat Siena in the MAAC. The Purple Eagles went 26-9 a year ago, and four starters return form that team including a pair of All-MAAC players in Tyrone Lewis and Bilal Benn. The MAAC is very unlikely to get two berths, so it could be an interesting final if Siena meets Niagara for the right to dance.
HONORABLE MENTION: San Diego State, VCU, Utah State, Morehead State, Wright State and Cornell.