Part of the beauty of the NCAA Tournament is the unpredictability of it. There is always a team from a smaller conference such as the Horizon League or an Atlantic Sun Conference that surprises and upsets a major school.
Back in the day, those “Cinderella” schools typically lasted a round or two and were eventually forgotten by the Final Four. That isn’t the case anymore.
It’s perfectly acceptable to predict a mid-major school to make a run in March and possibly win it all. Wichita State came close last year. Butler went to consecutive championship games in 2010 and 2011. VCU and George Mason have made Final Four appearances in recent years.
Another small school could pull it off once again this year and punch its ticket to Arlington’s AT&T Stadium for the Final Four, although the shock factor is gone.
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Just look at how the college basketball season has gone this month.
San Diego State snapped Kansas’ 69-game nonconference home winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday and then followed it up with a three-point victory over Boise State.
Harvard opened 2014 with consecutive 15-point victories over Boston College and Rice before falling to Connecticut by five points.
Wichita State has started Missouri Valley Conference play with three wins by at least 14 points, and Cincinnati continues to show its ability to win close games with a seven-game streakthat includes one-point wins over Pittsburgh and Houston.
Here’s a look at four mid-major conferences that could supply the NCAA Tournament with multiple teams capable of going deep into March:
Why: The A-10 has traditionally produced NCAA Tournament surprises. It has quality and depth throughout. La Salle reached the Sweet 16 last year, and VCU went to the Final Four in 2011. VCU is a darkhorse team that could make noise this March, as is 19th-ranked Massachusetts, which is 13-1.
NCAA Tournament teams (4): VCU, Massachusetts, Saint Louis, Dayton.
Why: The MWC had a conference-record five schools make last year’s field, though it will probably fall short of that this season. Still, it’s a competitive conference with several Tournament-caliber schools. San Diego State has always been solid under Steve Fisher, New Mexico has a respected program, and Boise State has been on the rise.
NCAA Tournament teams (3): New Mexico, San Diego State, Boise State.
Why: Gonzaga has carried this league for years and is doing so again, even with an upset loss at Portland on Thursday. Saint Mary’s and BYU consistently field quality teams, and San Francisco is off to a 4-1 start in conference play.
NCAA Tournament teams (3): Gonzaga, BYU, Saint Mary’s.
Why: Always a fun basketball conference to watch, it suffered a blow when Creighton departed for the Big East. Wichita State has emerged as a legitimate title contender, and Missouri State and Indiana State could be on the bubble come Selection Sunday.
NCAA Tournament teams (1): Wichita State.