March Madness 2024: Top NCAAB Mid-Major Teams to Watch

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With a couple of mid-major conference tournaments getting underway this week, it’s time to identify a few teams from those conferences that will be worth watching when the NCAA Tournament tips off later this month.

Even with Gonzaga failing to play up to its lofty standards — for most of this year, at least — the current AP Top 25 features six from mid-major conferences, including Mark Few’s No. 19 Bulldogs. Below is an overview of eight mid-major teams that college hoops fans need to know as the Sun Belt, Missouri Valley, and West Coast Conference tourneys tip off this week, followed by the Mountain West, AAC, and A-10 tournaments, which all begin next week.

Here are the top NCAAB mid-major teams to watch and wager on with March Madness betting promos.

Gonzaga (24-6, 14-2 West Coast Conference)

 

Let’s start with Gonzaga. The Bulldogs will have to take a different route to make a tournament run this year after entering March Madness as a top-four seed in seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments. But Gonzaga, which had to overhaul its roster last summer, has found its footing in recent weeks after an unimpressive start (at least by the standards this program has set in recent years). Led by big man Graham Ike (a transfer from Wyoming) and returning vets Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman, Gonzaga has gone 14-2 in conference play (with the losses coming by a combined three points).

This team has the size, experience, and coaching to once again make noise, and it will help that it has (mostly) lost its status as the hunted.

Grand Canyon (26-4, 16-3 Western Athletic Conference)

 

Coach Bryce Drew is well on his way to leading Grand Canyon to its third NCAA Tourney appearance in four seasons. The Antelopes, a 15-seed in ’21 and a 14-seed in ’23, should get a more winnable first-round matchup this time around (the Antelopes are projected to be an 11- or 12-seed). Grand Canyon has not been tested in the WAC, but took on two tournament teams early this year, losing to South Carolina in November and beating San Diego State in December.

Grand Canyon could absolutely cause problems for its first-round opponent, assuming it wins the WAC tourney — an at-large bid would be unlikely.

Read More: College Basketball Odds | March Madness Odds | How to Bet on March Madness

James Madison (28-3, 15-3 Sun Belt)

 

The Dukes were one of the stories of the first two months of the season after upsetting Michigan State on opening night and going 14-0 to start the year. James Madison, which spent six weeks in the AP Top 25, enters the Sun Belt Tournament as the favorite despite finishing behind Appalachian State in the regular season standings. A third matchup between JMU and App State in the conference championship final (scheduled for Monday, March 11 at 6 p.m.) would be a must-see clash after App won both regular-season meetings.

As long as James Madison locks up an NCAA Tournament spot by winning the Sun Belt tourney, it will be an intriguing candidate to pull a first-round upset thanks to its high-scoring offense (ninth in the country at 84.6 points per game).

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Indiana State (26-5, 17-3 Missouri Valley)

 

Anyone who’s not yet familiar with star Sycamores forward Robbie Avila will be soon. At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, the plodding sophomore big man’s unique look (he’s by far the most prominent player in the country in Rec Specs) and playing style have generated a ton of buzz already, and March Madness isn’t even underway yet.

Avila’s the only player on this roster who has gone viral, but Indiana State is no one-man team — five players average double figures, including three who are scoring 16 points per game or better on at least 37% shooting from deep (Avila and guards Isaiah Swope and Ryan Conwell). If you’re not planning on watching — if not betting on — Indiana State in the first round, you’re doing March Madness all wrong.

South Florida (22-5, 15-1 American Athletic Conference)

 

No.  24 South Florida is set to return to the tournament for the first time since ’12, when it did so as a member of the Big East under coach Stan Heath. This year’s Bulls squad, led by first-year coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, has nearly run the table in the AAC with two games remaining, including a 90-86 win over Florida Atlantic on Feb. 18. That victory over the Owls, who reached the Final Four in ’23 and returned nearly the entire roster this season, showed that South Florida could make a run this March that recalls FAU’s a year ago.

USF is currently on a 14-game winning streak and will enter March Madness as a trendy pick to make a Cinderella run if it can stay hot through the AAC Tournament.

Utah State (24-5, 12-4 Mountain West)

 

The No. 22 Aggies sit atop the Mountain West, which is expected to have several teams make the tournament in a massive year for a conference punching well above its “mid-major” weight. The fact that Utah State is first in a league with five good teams (the Aggies, Boise State, Nevada, San Diego State, and UNLV are all at least 11-5 in the league) is a strong sign this team is ready for March. The Aggies’ top player, 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Great Osobor, averages 17.5 points and 9 boards per game.

San Diego State (22-7, 11-5 Mountain West)

 

No. 21 San Diego State is the highest-ranked team in the conference despite sitting in third place in the standings with two games to play. The Aztecs, who reached the final of last year’s NCAA Tournament as a 5-seed, were outstanding outside the Mountain West, knocking off Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, Washington, Stanford, and California to reach as high as No. 19 in the Top 25.

With four players on the roster who played major minutes in last year’s NCAA Championship Game (Lamont Butler, Darrion Trammell, Jaedon Ledee, and Micah Parrish), San Diego State will enter the NCAA Tournament as a team no one wants to see.

Dayton (22-6, 12-4 Atlantic-10)

 

The No. 25 Flyers are poised to make their first appearance in the tournament since 2017. Dayton memorably finished the ’19-20 season ranked No. 3 at 29-2, but the tournament didn’t take place that year due to the COVID pandemic.

This year’s team, led by eighth-year coach Anthony Grant, has been ranked since mid-January but has lost two of its last three games. Dayton’s top scorer, junior DaRon Holmes II, has led the way since his freshman year and could improve his draft stock with a strong showing in the Big Dance.

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About the Author
Tyler Everett

Tyler Everett

Writer
Tyler Everett has been a sports writer since joining the student newspaper at his alma mater, NC State, back in 2008. He's covered sports and sports business for a number of newspapers and websites, including the Denver Broncos, Charlotte Observer, High Press Soccer, and Sports Business Journal, where he currently works full-time.

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