Selection Sunday is two days away and that means it’s time to see what little schools have the ability to make big waves in March Madness. These are schools from one-bid leagues or have lacked television time. Note Gonzaga, the Missouri Valley, the Mountain West and the Atlantic-10 are not on this list as they should be part of the big boys now.
North Florida: Atlantic Sun Tournament Champion
The North Florida Ospreys played most of their non-conference games on the road and lost most of those as a result but it did beat Purdue. North Florida is in the top 50 in blocks giving it some rim protection thanks to forward Demarcus Daniels. The Ospreys strength though is the 3-point line as they are in the top 50 in shooting percentage and defending the 3. Junior Beau Beech is 6’8” but has made 83 3s this year and is assisted with 80 more from guard Trent Mackey. North Florida’s 75.7 point average is in the top 25 scoring offenses in the nation. A team that can shoot the 3, defend the 3, and rim protect can definitely win a game in March.
Valparaiso: Horizon League Champion
Valparaiso with a top 55 RPI and 28-5 would have been a bubble team for an at-large but thankfully the Crusaders don’t have to worry about that with the automatic bid. Coach Bryce Drew said after his squad beat Green Bay in the tourney final that he hopes to have a better matchup this time. Two years ago, Valpo had to face Michigan State and it was not a good fit. The Crusaders may be more versatile this time as they rank in the top 50 in defense, blocks and 3-point percentage. Valpo holds opponents under 60 points a game and 6’10” senior center Vashil Fernandez averages three blocks a game. If Valpo plays a team that likes to keep the pace down, it should be able to hang around and even knock them off.
New Mexico State: WAC
The Aggies have not won the WAC tournament yet but will be a headache for a team in the first round if they do. New Mexico State tore through the WAC regular season with a 13-1 record. It’s all about defense for the Aggies as they hold opponents under 60 points per game as well. Defending the 3-point line is a big part why as teams shoot less than 30% percent from behind the arc against them. That’s just as good as Virginia and close behind Kentucky. New Mexico State doesn’t bail out offenses either as it is in the top 50 fewest fouls. Rebounding is another team strength so the only problems occur on the offensive end. If the Aggies can heat up just a little from the field it should be an interesting first round game.
The Cougars are on the bubble but they deserve to get in as they are a powder keg waiting to explode on the offensive side. BYU averages 83.6 points per game, and that’s good for No. 2 in the country behind Northwestern State. Contributing to scoring is BYU’s No. 5 ranking in free-throw percentage at 76.8%. The Cougars are also sport a plus 4.9 rebound margin giving them some support on the glass. If BYU can draw fouls, it has a chance to pull off wins in the Big Dance.
Stephen F. Austin: Southland
Stephen F. Austin is still fighting for the automatic bid in the Southland tournament so nothing is set yet. With that said the Lumberjacks are scary with a 27-4 record. A top 15 offense at 79 points per game is contributed from six players who average roughly 40 percent from 3. The big strength though is in forcing turnovers and converting them into easy baskets. The Lumberjacks are in the top 20 in turnover margin and pull off eight steals a game. If Stephen F. Austin can get in and play a team with an inexperienced back-court, the Lumberjacks could be on their way to round two and possibly the Sweet 16.
Honorable mentions: Old Dominion, UC-Irvine and Eastern Washington