As football action slows down for the year, this is the time when a lot of bettors start to look towards college basketball - to catch up on what they have missed so far. The hardest thing for a lot of casual bettors to deal with is keeping track of mid-majors. They get little media attention for the most part, and unless you live in the footprint of a conference you probably don't get a lot of exposure to it. To help you out, then, let's take a look at some mid-majors to watch this year. The best up to this point, predictably, has been Gonzaga, though as I write this they are just minutes removed from losing at home to BYU, so they aren't the unbeatable team that they have been in past years. Beyond that, here are some of the most interesting squads:
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Valparaiso (14-3, 8-5-1 ATS): Led by very impressive junior forward Alec Peters, and a very rigid discipline towards defense that has them statistically in the Top 10 nationally in key categories, this team in en route to dominating the Horizon Conference. They are a strong 5-3 ATS away from home, so they are tough. They are far from nationally elite, though - losses have come to Belmont, Ball State and Oregon, and none are hugely flattering.
Arkansas-Little Rock (15-1, 9-3 ATS): Offensively, this team is very forgettable. Inefficient and undistinguished - except for free throwing shooting, in which they surprisingly rank fourth in the country. Defensively, though, they are another story. They are tops in the country at scoring defense and sixth in opponent field goal percentage. It's the first year with a new coach, and the change is obviously very positive. The Sun Belt conference is strong - we'll see another team from the group in a moment - so they are still facing a battle, but if they stay as disciplined as they have been they will be tough to beat.
Saint Mary's (15-2, 12-1 ATS): After the Gonzaga loss, the door is open in the conference, and their game at home against the Bulldogs next week is even more important than usual. That will be an interesting test because of the schedule they have faced. They have played only once as an underdog, and they covered in a loss. They also lost last week at Pepperdine - an inexplicable and highly-concerning lapse of concentration. They are a deep and balanced team, though, and could be relevant come March.
Wichita State (11-5, 7-7 ATS): This team stumbled early, losing four of their first six. They are 9-1 since, though, and have looked much more like the team that became a household name over the last few years. The losses mostly weren't embarrassing, and they are the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference unbeaten in conference play. They have veteran leadership that knows about pressure, so they are well-positioned to make a run this year. Again.
Monmouth (12-4, 9-5 ATS): Seven of this team's eight leading scorers are guards. That gives you a good feeling of what they are about. Junior Justin Robinson, despite being just 5-foot-8, is burning up the nets with more than 20 points and two steals per game. They have one loss in conference play, so they have some work to do (and it was a very ugly loss to a bad Canisius team), but they are the kind of bizarre team that can give higher seeds fits in the tournament because they are so hard to prepare for.
Texas-Arlington (13-2, 11-2 ATS): This team gained national attention when they won at Ohio State in their third game. They were 18.5-point underdogs and won by five. Then, next time out, they won at Memphis at 12.5-point dogs. Later, they went to overtime at Texas before losing but still covering. They obviously aren't scared of anyone. They are set up for a heck of a battle at home next week against Arkansas-Little Rock as I alluded to earlier. That game will likely define the season for the Sun Belt conference.
Akron (13-3, 6-4 ATS): The Zips lost their last conference game to become one of six teams in the MAC at 2-1 in conference play. They should have what it takes to break out of the logjam, though. They are an exceptionally tough team to shoot against - especially from beyond the arc, since no team allows opponents a lower 3-point shooting percentage. They also have remarkable balance to rely on - five players average between 11.6 and 10.2 points per game.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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