College Basketball Handicapping: Off-the-Radar Mid-Majors
by Trevor Whenham - 11/18/2011
The best part of the NCAA Tournament every year is seeing the teams from mid-majors that toil well out of the spotlight most of the year get a chance to shine. When they turn some heads it always adds a ton of buzz to the event.
Watching those teams do their damage is even more impressive when they aren’t nearly as surprising to you as they are to most people who haven’t followed things as closely. In an attempt to get a jump on knowing about some of those teams this year here are four mid-major teams that are definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Besides having real tournament potential these squads all should be kind to college basketball handicappers throughout the regular season as well.
Long Beach State 49ers
There is definitely something going on with teams called the 49ers in California right now. Wow.
I’m really a day late on this one because the secret of this team jumped out of the bag Wednesday night when the team scored an incredible and surprisingly dominant win against No. 9-ranked Pitt.
While people will take notice of this team now they are no fluke. They have two key components of a strong team — a very good coach and a nice point guard.
Dan Monson was the head coach who first made Gonzaga what it is before heading to Minnesota. He’s a strong systems guy with a lineup that suits him well.
Key to that is point guard Casper Ware. The senior is a game quarterback who is also an excellent scorer, and when he is playing well he can lead this team a long way. He had 28 points against Pitt and was the driving force for that win.
This team is built to be very tough in the Big West and, I really believe, in the tournament as well. Aside from the talent and the leadership what I like best is their nonconference Long Beach State basketball schedule. It’s just brutal — trips to San Diego State, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina, and a neutral site game with Xavier.
That gauntlet will have two effects. First, it will have this team battle-tested and ready by the time conference play starts. Big West play will feel easy after that, and they will definitely know how to deal with adversity by then.
From a betting perspective the better news, though, is that this schedule should lower expectations for bettors. The team isn’t going to have a great record in nonconference play, so they will be far easier to overlook than they should be. Overlooked teams are a bettor’s best friend.
The CAA is my favorite mid-major conference. The teams are always so tough, and the league is always so deep.
VCU and George Mason have gone one deep runs recently, and it’s no fluke — they are battle-tested in league play.
Drexel is the next team poised to make some noise out of the CAA. They have their two best scorers from last season back, and they are both healthy — an improvement over last year.
They have a solid point guard, they are well coached, and they showed late last year that they were really figuring things out and starting to play together well.
Unlike Long Beach State the Drexel basketball schedule is manageable, so they can gain momentum comfortably and gradually.
The Bluejays have long been a threat in the Missouri Valley, and they are a real threat again.
It helps them that they don’t play in a very tough conference this year. Even if they did, though, they would probably be okay because they have three really impressive players to rally around.
Greg Echenique transferred from Rutgers and was only eligible for part of last year. He obviously has major-conference talent and should really blossom.
Senior Antoine Young is a ball-moving guard with very nice vision.
The key to it all, though, is sophomore forward Doug McDermott. He is head coach Greg McDermott’s son, and he is a very good scoring small forward who played well in international play this summer. He’s the real deal, and makes this team far more dangerous than they are getting credit for right now.
This Summit League squad is always dangerous — they have won two tournament games over the years.
While they have only gotten out to a 1-2 start, this is a team I really liked coming into this season, and I still do. T
hey have seven different players on their roster who have started multiple games for this squad. Most significant is Michael Craion, a very solid senior forward who returns after missing most of last year with an injury. He’s the real deal, and he leads a deep and talented team.
They could have a rocky road in nonconference play, but I expect them to be very tough by the time Summit action starts, and I give them a strong chance of representing their conference in March.
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