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

Is Gonzaga a mid-major?

San Diego State v Boise State
March Madness gives Boise State the opportunity that college football could never.
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

You’re already headfirst into the madness, so let’s get into it.

#1 Gonzaga

Are they really a mid-major? We understand that’s a contentious topic. But to appease the people out there and on this site who contend they are, we’ll include them here, and we shouldn’t really need to convince you that they can succeed in the tournament. They’re clearly one of the nation’s best teams; they have an already polished Drew Timme, magic-beanstalk-in-human-form Chet Holmgren, seasoned leaders like Andrew Nembhard and role players that would start at almost any school in the country. The only question is can they win the big one why are clowns questioning the legitimacy of this program based on the fact that they haven’t won a tournament filled with randomness that only one of 68 mega-talented teams can claim each year? - Garrett Lash

#8 Boise State

What’s there not to like about the Boise State Broncos? They have a top 20 ranked defense in the country, went on a 14-game winning streak in the middle of the season, and have been America’s underdog in America’s conference for a long, long time. Look at their football program and its blue football field. They win! On the court, they play at the newly named ExtraMile Arena (used to be Taco Bell Arena) and have one of the most clutch players in the country in Marcus Shaver. Around him are a bevy of good basketball players on both the offensive and defensive end. You might say, “Nick, they have Gonzaga if they even make it past Memphis.” My response to that is Leon Rice coached under Mark Few for 11 seasons. He knows how to beat Gonzaga. That’s exactly why Few has never scheduled Boise. From there, cake walk. - Nick Lorensen

#9 Memphis

Give it up for the Tigers, who could have fallen apart after Emoni Bates (reportedly) left the program in January and fallen way out of the tournament picture after being ranked in the top 10 for the second time in three years. Instead, the Tigers got hot, winning 10 of 11, including two wins over Houston, to get here. But I’ve got to clear the air and just say it - it’s weird covering Memphis now. Like, Houston and Cincinnati are here for a short time and then we’ll go back to ignoring/rooting against them when they go back to Big 12 oblivion. But Memphis for now is stuck in the AAC, a conference we are starting to cover, I guess, given CBB’s wholesale landscape changes. Anyhoo, this team is littered up and down the roster with talented, blue-chip guys, and if they had the chemistry they had now all season, they might be a top-four seed. It’s not hard to envision them out-talenting a team like Boise State, and a potential matchup between Jalen Duren - a five-star, Freshman of the Year in the AAC - and Gonzaga’s big men could be very fun to watch. But again, it feels like I’m cheating on the rest of the mid-majors just by typing this paragraph. - Garrett Lash

#10 Davidson

Don’t you dare call it a Princeton style offense to Bob McKillop, but Davidson’s cuts and motions would make Pete Carril drool. The Wildcats are another team who know about winning in stretches, as they won fifteen straight earlier this season. They pass the ball unlike any other which leads them to being one of the most efficient teams in the country, the eighth to be exact. All you see in the Wildcats offensive KenPom ratings is green. They are led by the player of the league in the A10, Luka Brajkovic, who I should mention is the team’s third leading scorer. Along with him is the Korean Curry, Hyunjung Lee, and Michigan State transfer, Foster Loyer. Should I mention that Davidson are playing the Spartans in the first round? REVENGE GAME! After that, an in-state rivalry game between two historic coaches from the most historic college basketball state in the country, more than likely. - Nick Lorensen

#12 New Mexico State

The Aggies have made the tournament eight out of the last 10 years, but they don’t have a tournament victory to show for it. Is this the year that changes?? I think it’s certainly possible. The Aggies are playing a virtual road game in Buffalo, but matchup wise this is a good spot for the Aggies. UConn plays at a snail’s pace, (291st nationally) and likes to win games in the mid to high 60’s. What New Mexico State struggles with, (3-point shooting and offensive turnovers) UConn doesn’t really take advantage of ranking in the bottom 200 in each. New Mexico State top scorer Teddy Allen, or should I say Teddy buckets is a dog averaging 19 points per game. If point guard Jabari Rice gets hot, this team is dangerous. New Mexico State has the big to battle the boards with a very talented UConn front court. The first to 60 win this game. New Mexico State fans have a lot of pride in their basketball history. Really the Aggies are basically the Indiana of the Southwest. They just need one tournament run to restore themselves back in the college basketball hierarchy. They will get a Sweet 16 team against Gonzaga and from there we can see who really is the best team in college basketball. - Austin Montgomery

#13 Vermont

Every year the question is asked… “Is this Vermont’s year?” I can say with little doubt that they finally do the thing and make the second weekend. It takes a special player in March and the Catamounts have just that in Ryan Davis. He was picked as the America East Player of the Year, leading the Catamounts to rank 3rd in effective field goal percentage while averaging 17.2 points per game at a 59% mark. The only loss the Catamounts have had since December 10th, he didn’t play in, and that was a one-point overtime loss to a team who made the NCAA Tournament last year. Outside of that, the Catatmounts have won the other 22 games. - Nick Lorensen

#14 Montana State

The homies over at SB Nation’s own Viva the Matadors asked me when the Montana State Bobcats were matched with Texas Tech in the 14-3 game “How can Montana State win?” Well, lemme tell you the story of a team whose coach’s name is S-Tier among college hoops: Danny Sprinkle and the Cats. For starters, I think MSU was a tad over-seeded here … hides from MSU fans who know I cover their heated rival school Montana. The Big Sky averages about 13, 14 or 15 seeds, but the talent of this Cats team isn’t quite up to par of the last 14 seed (EWU last season, the team that put a scare into the Kansas Jayhawks). But, hear me out, the Cats can slow things down, meeting Tech’s stout defense head on, and have a trap card in their deck: RaeQuan Battle. This dude is the Big Sky 6th man of the year, and will RIP your heart out (see this shot against Northern Colorado in a meaningless game). If the triple Bs of the Bobcats — Bishop (Xavier), Belo (Jubrile) and Battle — bump balls into buckets, Tech better not balk from the Bobcats. Oh, and Sprinkle has played a part in two of Montana State’s four NCAA Tournaments so expect a statue in Bozeman soon. - Lance Hartzler

#15 Cal State Fullerton

The tired fan says, EJ Anosike hasn’t matched up with someone like Paolo Banchero before. The WIRED fan says, Paolo Banchero hasn’t matched up with EJ Anosike! The grad transfer from Sacred Heart puts up 16 and 8, is a total nerd working on his second master’s degree and naturally has a high basketball IQ. This is a solid defensive team, led by four seniors on its front line, and of course, in order to succeed in the NCAA Tournament, your school has to have a championship pedigree. Welp, the Cal State Fullerton baseball team knows how to win a championship. Can it impart some of that into its basketball squad? We’ll see if the Titans can become the third Big West team to win a first round game in the last six tournaments (and should have been four with Santa Barbara last year.) - Garrett Lash

#16 Georgia State

We’ve barely had the bracket for 24 hours, and so far everyone is focusing on Tennessee as the team that was criminally underseeded. Real college basketball hipsters will actually inform you that the largest absurdity in the entire bracket is the Georgia State Panthers getting a 16. On paper, this is truly one of the best 16 seeds I can remember. Throw computer metrics out the door! This team was bogged down early in the season due to injuries and COVID cases, these circumstances debilitate their overall body of work. Obviously this isn’t how it works, but if you take this team’s resume from the first week of February to present day, it’s clear a 16 seed is way too low. This Georgia State team is experienced, and they haven’t lost a game in over a month. The Panthers have a trio of senior guards in Corey Allen, Kane Williams, and Justin Roberts that are all capable of scoring points. Eliel Nsoseme is a menace in the front court, averaging nearly 10 boards per game. Georgia State enters the tournament winners of 10 games in a row, all they have to do is add just five more to that and their National Champions. - Brian Emory

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