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Why your favorite Mid-Major team could win a game or 2 (or 6) in the tourney: The South Region

Guaranteed to make you daydream away what was supposed to be your last productive day this work week.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 Big South Tournament - Longwood v USC Upstate
Isaiah Wilkins, the poor man’s broke friend’s LeBron James.
Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re back to inject additional optimism in even your wildest mid-major fantasies.

(Speaking of fantasies actually, I hope the readers won’t find out that I dreamt last night that Youngstown State advanced to the Final Four on a buzzer-beating reverse jam. It was pretty wild and people would think I’m weird. Wait, thoughts to myself appear in the article as parentheticals? Vox has a microphone in my mind? Get out of my f—)

Edit: We’re back to inject additional optimism in even your wildest mid-major fantasies, provided they actually qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Up next, the South Region.

#5 Houston

Our soon-to-be not-so-mid-major friend finds itself down a few pegs from where it was tracking earlier this season after top guns Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser went down for the year in a brutal stretch. But voodoo master Kelvin Sampson has always been able to fight through injuries in the past — like last year when they lost Caleb Mills and played with a hobbled Dejon Jarreau down the stretch — and he’s doing it again. They still produced at a high rate even after the injuries and if your team’s name wasn’t Memphis, they pretty much had their way with you (and they even avenged the Memphis loss in the AAC title game). Something this team can do that last year’s couldn’t: shoot. Last year they were outside the top 200 in field goal percentage, and this year they’re in the top 50. I don’t reasonably understand how you can win without, you know, being able to put the ball in the basket very well, but they made it to the Final Four last year and they know what it takes to get back. (Also, I feel a bit ickey talking about a team that we never considered mid-major until this year. Good thing they’re leaving soon. Going to go rinse off).

- Garrett Lash

#6 Colorado State

Ali Farokhmanesh. You really want to bet against a team that has Ali Farokhmanesh on the coaching staff in the month of March? Pick them for an upset or several just for that. Granted, they also have a great team that’s played consistent basketball all season. David “Big Body” Roddy could certainly be an NBA prospect — or the NFL really — and the Rams are great at getting the ball around the court. They went undefeated in non-conference against several other NCAA teams (hello, Saint Mary’s and Creighton), and wrapped up their Mountain West play with only four losses. In a four-bid(!!) Mountain West, that’s a big deal. But once again: the Farokhmanesh factor. #YouCantBeSeriousWithThatShot

- Hannah Butler, noted NIU stan

#10 Loyola Chicago

They’re just one seed off from 2018’s lucky #11, where they pushed all the way to the Final Four. The Ramblers won the MVC’s Arch Madness conference tournament in their final year before heading off to the A10. The fact they did it as a four-seed may make some people think they’re slipping, when it was actually the result of a three-way tie for second place. They might not have Cam Krutwig’s mustachioed leadership, but they’ve proved that’s not an issue. Loyola has the power of God and anime Sister Jean on their side: don’t count them out!

- Hannah Butler

#12 UAB

When a well respected coach brings their alma mater back to the NCAA Tournament, all bets are off. That’s exactly what former Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy has done in Birmingham. Just look at the numbers. The Blazers are in the top 100 of both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom, while also riding a seven-game winning streak. Only one of their losses this year was by more than two possessions and if we’re going to go through history, the Blazers have won three of its four Round of 64 games since the year 2000. On this current team, they’re led by one of the most electric players in college hoops in Jordan “Jelly” Walker who averages 20.4 points per game. They open up against a Houston team who has played a very limited number of good teams this season. The Blazers are battle tested.

- Nick Lorensen

#13 Chattanooga

America’s favorite food during the month of March is onions and the Mocs served them up just right to open the month. During its conference championship game against Furman, David Jean Baptiste hit a half court shot at the buzzer to send the Mocs to the big dance for the first time since 2016. That was just one of many big shots he’s hit in his Chattanooga career being one of five seniors on the team, led by the oldest player in college basketball, Josh Ayeni. Outside of them, they have one of the best guards in the country in Malachi Smith, averaging 20 points per game while shooting 50% from the field. They’re another team who ranks in the top 100 of both offensive and defensive efficiency, but ask Tom Brady how experience matters in big games? He’ll probably show off his seven Super Bowl rings.

- Nick Lorensen

#14 Longwood

Does America’s favorite team have the power and strength to last all tournament? Maybe. Do they have guys that can play? Definitely. Let’s start with Isaiah Wilkins who’s like a poor man’s broke friend’s LeBron James. The VT transfer has the body to score buckets on drives to the rim, he can shoot it, and when the game’s on the line it almost always comes through him. Justin Hill and Deshaun Wade can also ball. They shoot it well from deep and are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. D.A. Houston unofficially leads the nation in take-backsies; he has mastered the art of stealing the ball back once the other team has just secured possession themselves on a rebound or steal. But the X factor on this team, besides name-timidation (“volunteers” are no match for “long wood”) is the coaching. Griff Aldrich has impressively built a program basically from the ground up, and his deep knowledge of the law (he worked in law for over a decade) means he may be able to disqualify a couple players or coaches on the other team. Better make sure that program is compliant, Rick Barnes.

- Garrett Lash

#15 Delaware

Ancient Philadelphia prophecies from long, long ago have foretold of a small guard with great passing range and a dynamic scoring ability named Jameer Nelson. Riding along the back of a small school, the prophecies claim Nelson had briefly ended the oppressive reign of Villanova Basketball over the Delaware Valley and returned mid-major madness to an area that had long been plagued by the Wildcats’ tyrannical rule … on Friday, March 18, 2022 history will have a chance to repeat itself when Jameer Nelson Jr. and Delaware ride into town with an opportunity to defeat the dominant Wildcats and once again fulfill the ancient prophecies returning mid-major basketball to the region. Much like his senior before him, Nelson Jr. won’t make this epic journey alone. He’ll be joined by former Villanova transfer Dylan Painter perhaps in search of revenge against those he once called his own and CAA Rookie of the Year Jyare Davis eager to prove himself in the midst of mighty giants. Not to mention trusty and loyal seniors Ryan Allen and Kevin Anderson who have fought valiantly for the Fightin’ Blue Hens throughout their careers. Together, this group will have a chance to take down Villanova but they’ll need to maintain a high paced offense, find some inside scoring, and make sure Nelson and Allen are hitting from three. Following a three game run to win the CAA Conference Tournament the Blue Hens are hot and as they attempt to end Villanova’s reign and once again fulfill the prophecies, could prove a real bracket buster this year.

- Riley Frain

#16 Bryant

Two lovely words: Pride and Kiss. When you have a couple of guys that can put the ball in the basket from just about anywhere on the court like these guys can, there’s always the possibility that they just get super hot and cover up any deficiencies a team might have. You saw a bit of it in the conference championship game, Peter Kiss was going off for 34 points and the Mount couldn’t do anything to stop him. Charles Pride didn’t even have his best game and they won by almost 30. Add in Gregg Calixte and very athletic defender Hall Elisias and you have some defensive presence, too. But back to Kiss especially, the nation’s leading scorer isn’t exactly scared of anything. In fact, he’s one of the nation’s leaders in getting under his opponent’s skin, which isn’t an official stat but is also on full display in every game. Once he started flexing after contested fadeaway threes and dancing after reverse dunks, Mount St. Mary’s was turning it over basically on command. If they get through the first round game against Wright State, Arizona will have to gameplan for Kiss and Pride, but they might not be able to plan for Kiss’s swag.

- Garrett Lash

#16 Wright State

This is a championship level team. Before this season, the Wright State Raiders had won three consecutive Horizon League regular season titles. Now, after some early season struggles they will be able to open up the tournament in its home city of Dayton. Who doesn’t love home cooking? Wright State has one of the best big men in the nation in Grant Basile, placing in nearly every KenPom category. Three out of the other four starters are Juniors who have either started or were the sixth man throughout the rest of the Raider career. That’s something that Arizona doesn’t have… Experience. As its fight song states, RAIDERS ARE THE BEST! They have the potential to raid through this bracket and make some noise, making them the best 16-seed ever.

- Nick Lorensen

*For the rest of the series, have at it: Midwest, West.