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College hoops mid-majors to keep an eye on

March is right around the corner which means it is time to catch up on all the mid-majors to know heading into tournament season. This mid-major season has been so different due to the pandemic's effect on scheduling and skewing the metrics used to rank them against each other as well as compared to power schools.

Aside from a few exceptions, most mid-majors haven't played a lot against power conference schools. COVID protocols have also forced pauses in several schools' seasons and have caused havoc on the schedule. For instance, Richmond was off for nearly three weeks with virus issues and had to schedule Division III St. Mary's College of Maryland just to knock the rust off before a big game against VCU. Many of the smaller schools have played a conference schedule where they play the same team in the same arena two days in a row. That actually helps these schools come tournament time as they'll be accustomed to playing games after a quick turnaround.

Oh, and the Ivy League postponed their entire season, so we won't have the threat of the Ivy Upset this year in the tournament. Some schools decided against having a season while others, like Howard, cut their season short before it ended.

Kudos to all who have managed to navigate to the end of this season ... and respect to those who have found a way to find success despite all of the obstacles faced in a wild 2020-2021 season.

With the prospect of a mid-major school possibly being the favorite to win the entire tournament and the lack of an audience present during March Madness, this could be a crazy tournament for the little guys. So here are some mid-majors to know as we move down the stretch.

 
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Belmont Bruins

Belmont Bruins
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The Bruins have not only raced out to a 22-1 record but they've won 18 of those by double-digits and seven by at least 20. The Bruins are balanced, with five players averaging between 10 and 15 points per game. Nick Muszynski is the anchor of the offense and leading scorer. He does his work inside while Luke Smith, JaCobi Wood, Ben Sheppard, and Grayson Murphy jockey for open shots. Murphy, at just 6'2, leads Belmont in rebounding and is the team's top assist man. 

 
Boise State Broncos
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Boise State has struggled of late, losing to Colorado State and twice to Nevada ... which ended a 13-game winning streak. The Broncos are led by the Mountain West's top returning scorer Derrick Alston Jr. The Broncos have really good size on the wings which can be rare for a mid-major.  Boise State has already beaten BYU this year and hung with Houston before losing. We will really get to see what they're made of as they close out the season with two games against Utah State and two at San Diego State.

 
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BYU Cougars

BYU Cougars
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BYU has lost to Gonzaga twice, USC and Boise State ... all acceptable losses ... and a not-too-bad loss to Pepperdine. When they win, the Cougars are blasting opponents. Their last six wins were by at least nine points, including a 45-point win at Portland. Guard Alex Barcello leads the team in scoring and assists, but the key to BYU's success may be Purdue transfer Matt Haarms. He went scoreless against Gonzaga in their loss last week and went just 3-of-10 against Pepperdine. BYU has battled the best and won't be intimidated by anyone else. 

 
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Drake Bulldogs

Drake Bulldogs
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Drake won their first 18 games of the season before falling to a struggling Valparaiso. They are one of the best offenses in the country and one of the deepest, which will be put to the test after leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill broke his foot. Siena transfer Roman Penn runs the offense, averaging 5.6 assists per game, and will both be asked to carry some of the scoring load as well as acting as a playmaker for others. This is a very versatile team, as eight different players have led the team in scoring in a game this year. After splitting a series with Loyola-Chicago, the Bulldogs look as if they can still be a dangerous team as we head down the stretch.

 
Gonzaga Bulldogs
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Hey, Gonzaga is technically a mid-major despite its 20-plus year reign as one of the best programs in the nation. This year, it may be the  best program. The undefeated Zags have three All-American candidates in Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, and Drew Timme and boast one of the top-scoring teams in the nation. Gonzaga has knocked on the door for years now but this truly may be their best opportunity to win a national championship and cash in on one of the biggest mid-major stories in college basketball history. 

 
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Loyola Chicago Ramblers

Loyola Chicago Ramblers
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Cameron Krutwig was just a freshman on that magical Loyola team that reached the 2018 Final Four. He's been their anchor ever since then, consistently averaging around 15 points and 7 rebounds. The Ramblers play a slow pace with Krutwig as the focus of the offense, but there are four other seniors (like Tate Hall and Lucas Williamson) who play major roles on this team. A very experienced team with a focal point can go far in March. They just split a back-to-back with Drake, winning impressively before losing in a low-scoring rock fight.

 
San Diego State Aztecs
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Remember that the Aztecs were flirting with a No. 1 seed before the college hoops season was canceled last March. They aren't as powerful as that team was, especially with Malichai Flynn now playing professionally, but still could make a run in the 2021 tournament. They pounded UCLA and Arizona State early in the season and has recently been blowing out their Mountain West foes. They have several three-point shooting threats, led by leading scorers Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel, who hit his 200th career three last week against San Jose State. A confident team who can hit threes is always dangerous in March. 

 
8 of 18

Saint Louis Billikens

Saint Louis Billikens
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Saint Louis has one of the strangest stories on this list. They are just 3-2 in Atlantic 10 play due to major pauses due to COVID-19. For example, they went over a month between games ... and then they lost to a very good Dayton team. After another postponement, they lost to lowly LaSalle. The Billikens are one of the best teams in the nation in moving the ball (they are fourth nationally in assists) and have a double-double machine in Jordan Goodwin. Javonte Perkins went from premiere sixth man last season to Saint Louis' leading scorer. If they can actually play games to add to their resume, watch out. 

 
St. Bonaventure Bonnies
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The Bonnies are one of the youngest teams in the country, but they're also one of the most experienced. They start five juniors -- four of which were starters last year -- and have a great point guard in Kyle Lofton. Lofton isn't a very good long-range shooter, but he sets the tone offensively (he leads the team in scoring and assists) and defensively (he's also the Bonnies' steals leader) Jaren Holmes and Dominick Welch are the sharpshooters with Osun Osunniyi protecting the paint. They've struggled of late, losing two games to teams who are also on this list. 

 
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Toledo Rockets

Toledo Rockets
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The Rockets can score (averaging over 80 points per game) and five guys are averaging double figures. Marreon Jackson leads the charge, putting up an impressive stat line (17.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 5.8 APG) though he is known to jack up a lot of shots (he's shooting over 8 threes a game). Spencer Littleson is the one you want shooting threes, hitting them at nearly a 48% clip (leading the MAC). JT Shumate has had a couple of big games of late, scoring 33 on Miami-OH and 25 against Akron.

 
UC Santa Barbara Gauchos
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After a rough four-game stretch early in the season, the Gauchos have won ten straight and have taken hold of the Big West standings. Guard JaQuori McLaughlin  leads the Gauchos in scoring and assists and is shooting around 41% from three this season. Amadou Sow brings an inside presence that balances an efficient offense and allows for UCSB's shooters to fan out for open looks. The starting five features three seniors and a junior who are looking to finally making a splash after three years of second-place finishes in the Big West.

 
12 of 18

UMBC Retrievers

UMBC Retrievers
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Remember UMBC? The school that shocked the world by beating No. 1 overall seed Virginia in the 2018 NCAA tournament could make their return to the big dance. If they make it, you will be treated to 5'2 Darnell Rogers. Rogers is averaging nearly 10 points a game as, what is believed to be, the shortest scholarship player in Division I history. Brandon Horvath is their star, leading the Retrievers in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (8.8).

 
13 of 18

UNC Greensboro Spartans

UNC Greensboro Spartans
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UNCG began the year losing three of their first four games and hardly looked like a team that would be a team to watch in mid-February. But the Spartans have gone on to win 14 of 17 and find themselves as the class of the SoCon. Isaiah Miller is certainly the straw that stirs the drink in Greensboro. He is the only player averaging double figures in scoring (18.4 ppg) and is slightly second on the team in both rebounding and assists. He's also averaging 2.5 steals on the season for a team that plays an in-your-face style of defense. Wes Miller has become a head coach to watch with his intense style. 

 
Utah State Aggies
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The Aggies are a tough defensive team led by a frontcourt of NBA-hopeful Neemias Queta and Justin Bean. Queta is an outstanding rim protector (over three blocks per game) and tends to keep opponents one-dimensional. Sam Merrill is gone so that high flying star scorer position has been replaced by a committee of guards (Marco Anthony, Brock Miller, Rollie Worster). The backcourt must be able to produce in the tournament to compliment that formidable front line.

 
15 of 18

VCU Rams

VCU Rams
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VCU is atop the standings in a very good Atlantic 10 -- there are six teams who feel they have a great shot at not only getting into the tournament but can win once they're in Indianapolis. The Rams have a star player in Nah'Shon Hyland, who is averaging 19 points and 4 rebounds per game, and are one of the deeper teams you will find (nine guys average at least 15 minutes per game). They play that havoc defense where they pressure teams into turning the ball over to get easy baskets. They are third nationally in steals per game and 8th in blocks. It is so hard to prepare for, especially on short notice.

 
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
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The name to know for the Hilltoppers is center Charles Bassey. Bassey was a highly touted recruit who may be a late first-round NBA draft pick this summer. Bassey has recovered nicely from a broken leg that ended his 2019-2020 season. He's averaging over 18 points and 11 rebounds this year and isn't the typical "great mid-major big man who will be outmatched against the power teams" guy. Western Kentucky has a win over Alabama on their resume. 

 
17 of 18

Winthrop Eagles

Winthrop Eagles
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The Eagles are sitting at 18-1 with the only loss coming to UNC Asheville by two. They have a win over fellow mid-major-to-watch UNC Greensboro. Winthrop is led by playmaker Chandler Vaudrin. He is their leading scorer (12.7), leading rebounder (6.8), and leading passer (7.1 APG). He is so important to what the Eagles want to do that he rarely is out of the game. At 6'7, he is able to see the floor and make smart passes while having the strength to finish at the basket on his own. Fun fact: Winthrop entered the week right behind Duke in the NET rankings.

 
Wright State Raiders
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Loudon Love has been a special player for the Raiders for four years. As a senior, he leads the team with 16.7 points and 10.2 boards this season and Wright State to the top of the Horizon standings. He's the program's all-time leading rebounder and is a few points away from reaching the top five in scoring. Wright State is also one of the most tight-knit teams in the country, with guards Tanner Holden and Jaylon Hall, and big man Grant Bastile beefing up an extremely talented rotation. The Raiders are 4th nationally in rebounding and can band with anyone. This team can cause problems come March. 

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