A few weeks ago I mentioned five teams that I felt were low profile but had the potential to be tournament spoilers, if they get there.
Now, I will take a closer look at those teams. There are, however, certainly other teams that could emerge from a non-power conference, make the field of 65 and be a dangerous first-round tournament opponent.
Teams like Bucknell, Charlotte, Davidson, Drexel, George Mason, Houston, Iona, Miami (Ohio) and Xavier to name a few. Such is the competitive balance in college hoops – a balance that tends to be more pronounced in the non-power conferences.
Even though it's true that only about a third of the tournament field is made up of teams from these conferences, it's never too early to scan for candidates. With that said, let's dive in.
The Zips play in the very competitive and underrated Mid-American Conference. As of this writing, they lead the MAC in scoring, are second in field goal percentage, hit nine threes per game and have a whopping 1.6-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.
This is a very good offensive team that overcomes a relative lack of size by forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. Romeo Travis averages 14 points per game and is an excellent finisher. Nick Dials is the only other double-figure scorer with 11, but the other seven players who make up Keith Dambrot's nine-man rotation are all solid contributors.
Teams like this with multiple scoring options, a consistent three-point threat and solid defense are always worth a closer look.
The likelihood that two teams from the MAC make the tournament is not great, but I like what I've seen from the Bobcats. Led by sweet-shooting senior Mychal Green, four players average double-figures. Leon Williams, the MAC freshman of the year last season, gives OU a tough inside presence, while Jeremy Fears and Sonny Troutman are good penetrating guards.
The Bobcats have a plus-3 turnover margin and currently lead the league in three-point conversions. Forcing turnovers helps negate the minus-1 rebounding margin, and this team plays with a fearlessness that serves it well. But carelessness with the ball and poor shot selection are areas that need work.
Tim O'Shea has his team expecting to do big things, and it very well might.
The Monarchs start an experienced lineup with three juniors and two seniors. The backcourt of Drew Williamson and Brian Henderson is solid and efficient. Combined, their assist to turnover ratio is three-to-one. Isaiah Hunter is a creative scorer who leads the team with 14 points per game.
Coach Blaine Taylor plays eight-to-10 players, but the pace is moderate and the scoring has come in fits and starts. The Monarchs average just 70 points per game and are shooting only 42 percent from the field. Good defense and 73 percent free-throw shooting help overcome some of that, but that number must go up for Old Dominion to rise to tournament level.
Coach Gregg Marshall plays about 11 players, and by doing so, the Eagles are able to play defense with good energy and intensity for 40 minutes – an intensity that has allowed them to dominate on D in conference play so far. They lead the league in points allowed, field goal defense, rebounds and steals.
The offense has been serviceable, but not consistent. Three players – Craig Bradshaw, James Shuler and Torrell Martin – average double-figures and all of them create matchup problems for opponents. Bradshaw is a big guy with a nice perimeter stroke, Shuler is strong and attacks the rim and Martin is a nice open-court player.
They have played a good non-conference schedule so far, beating Marquette on the road and losing to Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina and Memphis (all on the road), and were competitive in all but the South Carolina game.
The Eagles' weaknesses – 45 percent shooting from the floor and 69 percent from the foul line.
It's a rarity to see a team start more than a couple of seniors, much less five like the Panthers. And their five can play, too – take last year's Sweet 16 run.
Last season' s leading-scorer, Ed McCants, is the only starter who didn't return, and thus far his three-point shooting has been missed.
Nonetheless, first-year coach Rob Jeter has several seniors who know how to win. In addition to the five starters, two other seniors are part of his rotation.
Joah Tucker and Boo Davis carry the offensive load, averaging a combined 32 points per game.
The Panthers are winning with defense, rebounding and a league-best 26 free-throw attempts per game. All of the starters do a good job of attacking the basket and drawing fouls, but none better than Tucker. He has a nice combination of agility, bounce and power that make him difficult to match up with.