As March Madness approaches, it’s time to start researching teams that have a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, so you can get an edge in your pool.
The days of the “Blue Bloods” dominating the tournament are fading, with contenders emerging from Mid-Major conferences every year to make a bid for the Final Four. We’ll take a look at the best candidates from those conferences to surprise during the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Keep an eye on injury news right up until tip-off since things can change quickly in the NCAA Tournament. The odds listed may change, and strategies may differ as news continues to break leading up to Selection Sunday.
Top Mid-Majors That Could Make a Final Four Run
Notes on Strategy
Some of the Mid-Majors listed are relatively high seeds, but the public could be wary of selecting a team that is not a perennial contender. We take a look at the overall resume and roster composition of those programs in trying to determine their chances to make the Final Four.
Taking a high seed such as Houston could still differentiate in smaller pools (40 or fewer entries). But the options at the lower end of the list could help you separate in a large pool by picking a true “Cinderella” to make a deep run.
No. 6 Seed Buffalo (Mid-American Conference)
We begin with some of the more recognized seeds to come out of the Mid-Major conferences. Other than Houston, Buffalo is one of the most prolific seeds from a less-known conference (Mid-American). The Bulls average 85 PPG, good for the sixth-best average in the country. They also rank sixth in rebounding and second in second-half points. Buffalo shoots the ninth-most threes per game, so a cold performance could lead to an early loss if the Bulls go up against a team that defends the 3-point line very well. But between the versatile C.J. Massinburg, poised Jeremy Harris, and strong Nick Perkins, they have the personnel to make a run with a 4.3% chance of making the Final Four, according to Bracketology models. They would have to get past Texas Tech and potentially Michigan or Nevada, but an Elite Eight appearance against No. 1 Gonzaga could be in the cards.
No. 7 Nevada (Mountain West Conference)
Nevada is a senior-laden team that only gives steady run to one underclassman (freshman Jordan Brown). Plus, they have size and versatile defenders across the board. While the Wolfpack fell recently in a close game at Mountain West rival Utah State, Nevada is better equipped to succeed in the Big Dance. The Wolfpack average the seventh-most FTM (17.5) per game, a huge when tournament games get bogged down. This experienced team averages 43.7 PPG in the second half (fourth best in the nation) and turns it over on just 12.6% of possessions, the eighth-best ratio in the country. Nevada has a solid 7.7% chance to make Final Four and a 1% shot at winning it all, according to Bracketology models.
No. 12 New Mexico State (Western Athletic Conference)
New Mexico State has twice edged Western Athletic Conference rival Grand Canyon, which is another Mid-Major name to know if the Lopes make the tournament. While it hasn’t always been easy, New Mexico State won 15 straight heading into its conference tournament, meaning the Aggies are comfortable in close games. Their biggest asset is a disciplined defense that allows the fewest APG (8.7) and forces 12.1 turnovers per game. New Mexico State also leads the nation in offensive rebounding rate. But some of that might be skewed by facing less athletic teams in the WAC. If the Aggies first-round opponent Auburn goes cold beyond the arc, look out. NMSU could then face a weak Kansas team or No. 13 seed Northeastern for a chance to make the Sweet Sixteen.
No. 12 Murray State (Ohio Valley Conference)
Fans are certainly excited that Murray State made the tournament. The Racers have one of the most electric players in the country. Ja Morant is averaging 24.1 PPG and 10.3 APG with a flair for acrobatic dunks and a solid mark of 34% from beyond the arc. If defenses sell out to stop Morant, Murray State has the personnel to capitalize with Shaq Buchanan, Tevin Brown, and Darnell Cowart forming a solid supporting cast. Murray State won its last nine games heading into the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and has a slight chance to win an at-large bid even if they fail to win their conference tournament. The Racers average the sixth-most APG (17.3) and 11th-most PPG (82) in the country, so they could get hot and down a couple of higher seeds to make the Sweet Sixteen or even the Elite Eight.