Bracket Busters: Non-Power Conference Teams That Can Surprise In March


Tycen Gray


At the time that this article is being written, Selection Sunday is 12 days away. The media has primarily kept the attention on the Dukes, Kentuckys, and Kansases of the world… But let us not forget the small schools that are shifting the face of the 2018-2019 collegiate basketball season. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, here’s a little introduction.
Ranked Teams
Gonzaga Bulldogs (29-2; 1 in AP Poll)
If you were not aware on who the consensus top team in the land is, it is the perennial mid-major power out of the West Coast Conference, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. According to KenPom, the Bulldogs are on pace to possess the second-most efficient offense since 2002. They have a veteran point guard in Josh Perkins, and two budding professional stars in athletic big men Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura. This nucleus is surrounded by a duo of sharpshooting wings, Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert. What makes them scarier is that their stretch 5, Killian Tillie, has not played all season and is set to return by the NCAA tournament. This could be the year for the Zags.
Nevada Wolf Pack (28-3; 14 in AP Poll)
The lore of Nevada has ceased in the national eye since they dropped out of the AP Top 10, but this team continues to be a lengthy squad full of firepower. Twins Cody and Caleb Martin are 6’7” wings that can fill it up from deep and defend positions 1-4. Jordan Caroline is a force to be reckoned with when the ball finds his hands. Jazz Johnson plays jazzy at the point and Tre’Shawn Thurman is an electric small ball 5. Eric Musselman, who has NBA experience and NCAA tournament experience now, could lead this team deep into the tournament if things go their way.
Buffalo Bulls (28-3; 18 in AP Poll)
This team is flat out DANGEROUS. Nate Oats is a mastermind on the sideline and has a walking bucket in 6’3” guard CJ Massinburg at his disposal. They play four guards around one big, who happens to be Nick Perkins standing at a LeBron-esque 6’8” 250 pounds. Oh yeah, he’s shooting the three-pointer at a 37.5% clip too. When Massinburg penetrates, he has a lanky, silky smooth 6’7” wing in Jeremy Harris to splash down some 3’s as well. If this team gets hot, they are a legitimate Top 10 team.
Wofford Terriers (28-4; 20 in AP Poll)
A huge surprise to some, but maybe not if you follow college basketball closely. Fletcher Magee has a super cool name and might possibly be the best shooter in the nation. Averaging 20+ points a game and hitting the long ball at over 43% proves to be a lethal weapon for the Wofford Terriers. Big man Cameron Jackson has been able to hold the fort down in the paint for a smaller Terrier squad, providing a physical presence with some touch around the basket. Storm Murphy runs the point and has shown terrific range as well. After an unblemished 21-0 finish in the Southern Conference, Wofford is ready to extend that streak deep into March.
Saint Mary’s Gaels (22-11)
Despite being 29th in the KenPom rankings, and 34th in the new NCAA NET rankings, Saint Mary’s was given hardly any looks at being in the tournament with Gonzaga being in their tournament. However, once the Gaels overcame the mountainous peak that is the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the WCC, by a score of 60-47, their automatic bid would not be denied. Dethroning the top team in the nation is sure enough to give any 5 seed in the tournament a scare, and long time coach Randy Bennett will be sure to keep his guys hot going into the bracket.
Murray State Racers (27-4)
If you call yourself a basketball fan, then you have to know who Ja Morant is. He is essentially the second-coming of Russell Westbrook who just happens to play at a small college in a western Kentucky town of 19,000. Morant single-handedly willed his squad to a Ohio Valley Conference title, and they will get their crack at a big name in March. Morant has out-of-this-world jumping ability to pair with his speed and shooting prowess. The most impressive part of his game however, is the assist rate he has accumulated. He leads the nation in assists at over 10 a game, and he is surrounded by a bevy of shooters. Don’t count out Ja.
Northern Kentucky Norse (26-8)
The Norse may receive a 14 seed, but they have the intangibles to hang with the solid majority of teams in the nation. They use a nine to ten man rotation that showcases an incredible amount of length and shooting ability, as well as a duo of beefy guys. NKU desires to play at a frenetic pace and put the biscuit in the basket constantly. There always seems to be a surprising upset in the midst of the tournament, and I like the Norse’s chances here.
Vermont Catamounts (26-6)
This one depends on the Catamounts ability to win their conference championship over the nation’s darling, UMBC, but the Catamounts have a different determination this year to get back to the tournament. Vermont displays an incredible amount of veteran leadership and chemistry. Ernie, Everett, and Robin Duncan have always been around each other at their own household playing ball, and they add the perennial America East Player of the Year in Anthony Lamb. John Becker models consistency in the great northeast, and his team is always a favorite to give the big names all that they could want.