“Blue Blood” programs have traditionally dominated college basketball. Teams like North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky and Duke always seem to end up with the one and two seeds in the tournament. But, every now and then, we see a small school make a run in the tournament. Those Mid-Major basketball teams of recent memory have been Loyola-Chicago (2018), Wichita State (2013), VCU (2011) and Davidson (2008).
The fun of March Madness and college basketball, as a whole, is seeing how teams in different conferences matchup against each other. Games where teams that aren’t familiar when they play each other tend to lead to unprecedented stars and all-time moments. This is a reason why March Madness is so unpredictable and almost impossible to fill out a perfect bracket.
With that being said, it is inevitable that a team is going to surprise everyone and make a run to the Final Four. Let’s take a look at some Mid-Major basketball teams that are potentially going to bust your bracket this year.
Located in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Winthrop is atop the Big South, with an 8-0 conference record. Winthrop is lead by coach Pat Kelsey, who is in his ninth year at the helm. Kelsey has won three regular season championships and two conference tournaments, as well as qualified for one NCAA tournament. With their team consisting of a “big three” of seniors, Winthrop is the best mid-major basketball school, other than Gonzaga. This season, Winthrop has wins over Furman and Gardner-Webb.
This team plays a tough style of team ball, with even scoring. Guard Charles Falden leads the team in scoring, at just over 13 points a game (PPG). Adonis Arms, the guard next to Falden, scores 11 PPG. But the most complete player on the team is forward Chandler Vaudrin, who is second on the team in scoring, while leading them with 7.5 rebounds and eight assists per game.
Winthrop is 11th in the country in scoring, at 86.5 PPG. Winthrop also features 12 players who have played eight or more games. Kelsey is an experienced coach who might find himself in a power conference soon. Winthrop, who is currently undefeated, has the experience, leadership, scoring ability and depth to lead them to a surprise tournament run.
The Drake Bulldogs are the early cinderella of college basketball. The Bulldogs are currently 13-0 and atop the Missouri Valley, with a 4-0 conference record. Darian DeVries is in his third season coaching Drake. The one-time Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year has accumulated a record of 57-24 with Drake. This season, Drake has wins over Kansas State and Indiana State. ShanQuan Hemphill, a senior transfer from Green Bay, is the leading scorer of Drake, averaging 14 PPG.
The bread and butter of Drake’s team has been their defense. Coach DeVries took what he learned from his time at Creighton, to develop a dominant full-court press. The Bulldogs’ up-tempo defense is holding teams to 59.9 PPG, as well as forcing 15.2 turnovers a game. What Drake excels at on defense, they equally excel at on offense. The Bulldogs score 84 PPG, shooting 54% from the field, as well as 43% from the three-point range.
Hemphill thrives off of Drake’s defense, which often leads to wide-open, spectacular dunks. This alone makes Drake games must-watch television. If Drake doesn’t win the Missouri Valley tournament, they may have a chance of getting an at-large bid into the tournament. In the tournament, Drake could become a fan favorite, due to their tempo of play and highlight reel dunks.
The number one team in the Southern Conference is led by one of the best young coaches in college basketball. Bob Richey’s Furman team is currently 8-3 and 2-0 in conference. Richey is as promising a coach as you can find in a mid-major basketball school. After Danny Manning’s firing at Wake Forest, many people thought that Richey was going to make the jump to a power conference. In Richey’s fourth year with the Paladins, he has accumulated an 81-28 record, turning Furman into a juggernaut program.
Furman features three starters that average 15+ PPG, with guard Mike Bothwell leading the team with 17.7 PPG. With this scoring, Furman currently sits at 13th in the country, scoring 86 PPG. The Paladins are riding their offense to victories, proved by their 51% field goal shooting (10th) and 64% two-point field goal shooting (3rd).
Richey’s starters are the catalyst of this team. All five starters play more than 26 minutes per game. Although it does seem like a lot of minutes for their starters, everyone on Furman’s bench has played in at least five games. When the bench does come in, Richey has a flurry of options to choose from. Furman will go as far as Richey and the bench take them, but with one of the best starting lineups in the country, the Paladins should be a good bet to represent the Southern Conference in the NCAA tournament.