5 Small Schools Ready to Make Big Noise in the Big Dance – March Madness

Daniel Mullings

Unbelievable runs and Cinderella stories make watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament unlike anything else in sports. The excitement of David beating Goliath with a three in the last second can take your breath away. The only way to make this victory any better is when you’re the only one of your friends who saw it coming before you filled out your bracket.

We’re here to help you look like the smartest one in the room. Here are five teams to keep in mind when trying to figure out which team will be wearing the glass slipper this year.

1. The New Mexico State Aggies

The 13-seeded Aggies come into the tournament with a 26-9 overall record, including going 12-4 in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and winning the conference tournament. Their most impressive win this season was over in-state rival, New Mexico, which is also tournament bound.

While first round opponent, fourth-seeded San Diego State, has four strong three-point shooters, New Mexico State should dominate inside. The Aggies are huge defensively with 7’5” Sim Bhullar and 6’10” Tshilidzi Nephawe leading the team to an impressive 6.3 blocks per game. They have the size to overwhelm San Diego State and that could be enough to put them in the second round.

Key Players:

G Daniel Mullings (16.8 ppg)

C Sim Bhullar (3.4 bpg)

2. The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

The Lumberjacks are the 12-seeded in the South region, taking on VCU in the notorious for upsets 5-12 matchup. With a 31-2 overall record, and a spotless 18-0 Southland Conference record, the Stephen F. Austin team dominated all season.

Currently on a 27-game win streak, the Lumberjacks are a dangerous team heading into the tournament. They share the ball well, averaging 16.6 assists per game. The good passing leads to balance scoring, with four Lumberjacks averaging in double-figures. The Lumberjacks have the passing ability to break the VCU press and the scoring potential to keep up with four seed, UCLA, their likely opponent should they advance to the second round.

Key Players

G Desmond Haymon (14.3 ppg)

F Jacob Parker (14.2 ppg)

3. The Dayton Flyers

The 11-seeded Dayton Flyers, matching up against sixth-seeded Ohio State in the first round, will be highly motivated to show they can hang with the Ohio big dog.

The Flyers come into the tournament having won 10 of their last 12 games. They finished the season with a 23-10 overall record and a 10-6 record in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Their season featured big wins over George Washington, UMass, and Saint Louis, all of which are tournament teams. Dayton’s high powered offense (73.4 ppg) has been clicking on all cylinders recently and should give the Flyers a great chance against Ohio State.

The likely second round opponent, three seed, Syracuse, stumbled down the stretch run of the season and could be vulnerable to the Flyer’s potent offence.

Key Players

F Devin Oliver (12.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg)

G Jordan Sibert (12.5 ppg)

4. The Providence Friars

The Friars regular season record was only 23-11 and they were just 10-8 in the Big East Conference (BEC), but they got hot at the right time. They grabbed the conference’s automatic bid by winning the conference tournament, knocking off conference powerhouse Creighton in the process. With six players shooting over 30 percent from beyond the arc, The Friars can find the hot hand and put up points in a hurry. That hot hand usually belongs to Bryce Cotton, who averages 21.4 points per game.

First round opponent, sixth-seeded North Carolina, has a tendency to let its guard down against teams with less talent this year, as seen with their losses against Belmont and UAB. The Friars have the shooting ability to blow the Tar Heels off the floor if they don’t show up ready to play.

A first round victory could give The Friars’ sharpshooters the momentum they need going into the second round where they would likely run into three seed, Iowa State. If that matchup plays out, it could make for a very high-scoring game.

Key Players

G Bryce Cotton (21.4 ppg, 5.8 apg)

F Kadeem Batts (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg)

5. The Saint Joe’s Hawks

Like several of the teams on this list, the Hawks come into the tournament on a hot streak, winning nine of their last 11. They finished the season 24-9 overall and 11-5 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Hawks have a strong resume, posting two wins over VCU and another over Dayton. The Hawks play hard and smart. They share the ball and always seem to find the open man, averaging 14.1 assists per game as a team.

Saint Joe’s plays seventh-seeded Connecticut in the first round. With Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie coaching in his first NCAA tournament game, St. Joe’s Phil Martelli will have the edge in the coaching matchup. Martelli should have his squad ready to play and can draw up some new wrinkles to give Connecticut fits.

Should they advance, St. Joe’s would likely see cross-town rival, second-seeded Villanova, in the second round. Anything can happen in a rivalry game and a battle for Philadelphia’s bragging rights would add even more intensity to an already huge game.

Key players

G Langston Galloway (17.5 ppg)

F Ronald Roberts Jr. (14.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg)

The unpredictability of the NCAA tournament makes it one of the most exciting events on the sports calendar. These five teams will be ready to play and we hope you’re ready to watch. Make sure you’ve got all the channels you need from your TV provider so you won’t miss a minute of the action.

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John Dilley is an endless source of new ideas. With a background in both sports and music, he offers a unique perspective. He has written for The Daily Utah Chronicle, Filler, and has contributed content to several commercial websites.

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