THE MIDNIGHT MAN
Every March, 68 Division I basketball teams begin the NCAA tournament with the hope of cutting down the nets at the end of the championship game. But for many of these teams, the dream of winning a national title is just that: a dream. Unlike in professional sports, where an underdog can come out of nowhere to win a championship (see: New York Giants, 2007), non-Big Six conference teams have rarely competed deep into NCAA tournament. When all the chips are on the table, David hardly ever beats Goliath.
But recently, mid-major teams have begun to buck the trend. In 2010, Butler came within inches of winning the championship. In 2011, they somehow returned to the national championship game. VCU joined the Bulldogs in the Final Four. Back in 2006, we saw George Mason’s Cinderella run also extend all the way to the national semifinal.
With the tourney beginning tomorrow, look for these three teams to possibly make a run into the second weekend and become the media’s and America’s Newest Darling.
Wichita State – A perennial powerhouse in the always talked about yet still underrated Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers are certainly a team to look out for during the next two weeks. Led by senior center Garret Stutz and senior guard Joe Ragland, the Shockers finished the regular season with a overall record of 27-5 (16-2 in conference), good enough for first overall. Though they were upset by Illinois State in the conference semifinals, the team has the qualities needed to make a run in the tournament: strong guard play, senior leadership and a tough, gritty defense. As the No. 5 seed in the South Region, look for Wichita State to defeat both VCU and Indiana. If they get there, they’ll get their shot at top-seeded Kentucky, a team comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores.
New Mexico – A surprise first place finisher in the competitive Mountain West Conference, the Lobos have significant momentum entering the tournament on the heels of their conference tournament victory over fellow tournament team San Diego State. Coached by former Bob Knight “favorite” Steve Alford and led by UCLA transfer Drew Gordon, New Mexico has the capability of making a deep run in the tournament. Seeded fifth in the West Region,New Mexico should easily handle an upstart Long Beach State team en route to a likely monster second round match-up versus Big East Tournament champ Louisville. Despite their recent victory, Louisville has been inconsistent all season. New Mexico should be able to defeat the Peyton Siva-dependent Cardinals. If Michigan State makes it to the Sweet Sixteen as expected, the Lobos will face a difficult opponent, but one that it can certainly beat, especially if Gordon outplays the Spartans’ star point forward, Draymond Green.
Murray State – Hailing from the well-known metropolis of Murray, Ky., the Racers have the potential to steal the hearts and minds of Americans. Entering the tournament with a record of 30-1, Murray State won the Ohio Valley Conference regular season and conference titles. Under the leadership of senior guards Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole, Murray State possesses the scoring and speed that is needed to win in the tournament. On the defensive end, what they lack in size, they make up for with their speed. After a likely victory over Colorado State, the Racers will give probable second round foe Marquette a serious run this weekend. From there, the sky is the limit.