Mid-majors still have an impact come March

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We root for them every March.

The Little Engines that Could – and often do – knock off the blueblood programs and make March mad.

So, who are this season’s potential 12-, 13- and 14-seeds that could make noise in the 2019 NCAA Tournament? Here is a look at four mid-major schools that could be this year’s Loyola-Chicago. 

No. 17 Buffalo (7-0). The Bulls are off to their best start since 1930, but they really aren’t surprising anyone (except perhaps Bob Huggins). Seniors CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris are the three leading scorers and rebounders on a team that routed Arizona as a 13-seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Buffalo has been ranked since a win at then-No. 13 West Virginia in early November. The Bulls will find out a little more about themselves when they play Syracuse and Marquette back-to-back later this month.

No. 25 Furman (8-0). One key to success for a mid-major team is the presence of an experienced scorer. The Paladins, who this week entered the Top 25 for the first time ever, have that in 5-foot-11 guard Jordan Lyons, who is averaging better than 21 points per game. Lyons scored 54 in win over North Greenville last month, the highest total since 2009. Furman plays at LSU on Dec. 21 and will have to deal with UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference.

San Francisco (7-1). The Dons were undefeated before a loss to the No. 1 team on this list over the weekend in Northern Ireland. San Francisco is becoming the Moneyball team of college basketball. Head coach Kyle Smith calls it “Nerdball.” The Dons keep track of more than 50 statistical categories for each player – there are 12 unique stats just for rebounding. San Francisco, which has games against Cal and Stanford this month, has a chance to replace Saint Mary’s as Gonzaga’s chief rival in the West Coast Conference.

South Dakota State (7-2). Many college basketball fans who have yet to learn the names of the five-star freshmen at Duke and Kentucky could likely name one of the Jackrabbits: senior forward Mike Daum. Memphis coach Penny Hardaway called Daum the “best individual player we’ve played this season.” Daum is averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds per game and had 41 in a win over Texas-Arlington.


VMI at Virginia Tech: While the Hokies fell at Penn State last week as a 4.5-point favorite, they’ve covered in each of their seven wins, including as a 25-point favorite last out. While this number will likely be even higher, the Hokies should roll at home. VIRGINIA TECH

Washington at Gonzaga: Oddsmakers can’t make the total high enough in Zags games – the Over is 7-1 so far. The Bulldogs are second in the nation at 98.4 points per game. OVER


Maryland at Purdue: While the Boilermakers have lost three of four, the Terrapins have started 7-1 and climbed into the Top 25. Maryland’s only loss was a respectable effort against fourth-ranked Virginia. MARYLAND


No. 6 Nevada vs. No. 20 Arizona State (at Los Angeles): This is quite likely the Wolf Pack’s toughest remaining regular season game. Both teams can score, but Nevada and its talented seniors have the most efficient offense in the nation, according to KenPom.com. NEVADA

Last week: 1-2

Season: 1-2

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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