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3 Mid-Major Schools Who Can Make an NCAA Tournament Run

We are gearing towards the end of February. With football season being over and unknowns surrounding baseball, basketball is at the forefront of sports. The NCAA Tournament is one of the greatest sporting events today, but what makes it so special? The non-stop games, the rare matchups, and the drama all contribute to the fun. However, what makes March Madness truly special is when teams that nobpdy expects to win, win.

With all-time Cinderella stories like the 2006 George Mason team, the 2011 VCU team or the 2021 Oral Roberts team, the NCAA tournament is must-watch television. But who will be that team this year?

With conference tournaments right around the corner, I am going to break down three mid-major schools to keep your eye on for an NCAA Tournament run.

murray state basketball ncaa tournament mid-major
Credit: Dave Winder/Murray State Athletics

3 Mid-Major Schools Who Can Make an NCAA Tournament Run

Murray State Racers

The Murray State racers are playing one of the best seasons in school history. As of Feb. 20th, the Racers sport a 26-2 record, making them the best mid-major school not named Gonzaga. Playing in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Racers are 16-0 in the conference, with their last loss coming to Auburn on Dec. 22. Murray State has not lost in 2022!

The Racers are led by KJ Williams, who averages just under 18 points per game (PPG). Murray State is tied for 19th in scoring this year, averaging just short of 80 PPG. While they score at a high rate, Murray State rebounds well too. Their 39 rebounds per game make them the 48th-best rebounding team in the country. They also only give up 62.2 PPG, which is good for the 20th-lowest in the country. While these numbers sound good, how much can we trust them based on Murray State’s strength of schedule?

The Racers of two wins over Belmont, two wins over Morehead State and a win over Memphis. All three of these teams should be in contention for a tournament spot. The most important thing that the Racers have going for them right now is momentum. Not losing since December is huge. If the Racers can get to the OVC Tournament healthy, an early bye can give them enough rest they need to push a second-weekend tournament run in the NCAA Tournament.

South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Does anyone else remember Nate Wolters? South Dakota State legend and one-time Milwaukee Buck? If anyone would be proud of this South Dakota State team, it is him. The Jackrabbits currently hold a 25-4 record, which is good for first in the Summit League. Much like Murray State, South Dakota State has not lost in 2022. In fact, their last loss came on Dec. 15 to Missouri State.

The Jackrabbits are led by Baylor Scheierman, who averages 15.5 PPG. Outside of Scheierman, two other Jackrabbits average over 15 points. With the three 15-PPG scorers, South Dakota State scores just under 87 PPG, good for second in the country. If you take Gonzaga out of the equation, South Dakota State is the highest-scoring mid-major team in the country. They don’t rebound the ball particularly well, ranking in the middle of the pack in the country, with 35.8 per game.

The Jackrabbits have wins over Oral Roberts, Kansas City and North Dakota State. Their biggest test of the season will come Feb. 26 when the Jackrabbits travel to Kansas City in the last regular season game.

Iona Gaels

Everyone knows the Iona story. After the controversy at Louisville, Rick Pitino eventually landed at the school in New Rochelle, New York. He has quickly turned the Gaels into a juggernaut in the MAAC. The Gaels are number one in the MAAC with a 13-2 conference record and 21-5 overall record.

The Gaels are led by Tyson Jolly, who scores just under 15 PPG. He is one of the players to help Iona to the 72nd highest-scoring team in the country, with 75.8 PPG. At 37.4 rebounds per game, the Gaels are the 101st-best rebounding team.

Even though Iona has lost two of their last four games, there is something that propels them ahead of other mid-major teams. Pitino. To have one of the best coaches in college basketball history in charge of a mid-major squad, it may not matter the talent on the team. Pitino alone should allow for a deep conference tournament run. Iona does have a win over Alabama, but probably won’t win an at-large bid. It seems likely that they do win the MAAC conference tournament, as they currently have a three-game lead over Saint Peter’s. Iona may be able to sneak into the NCAA Tournament as a 13-seed, setting up a major upset watch.

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