Mid-majors that could surprise

By David Dorman  (VSiN.com) 

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As we prepare to fill out our brackets in a couple of weeks, which teams might be in the 2021 NCAA tournament and which might make you look really smart (or really lucky)? Let’s look at some of the conference tournaments tipping off this week.

 

ASUN

Some scorching flames are coming out of Lynchburg, Va., where Liberty is one of the hottest teams in the country. The Flames are 20-5 and have won nine straight. If they can run the ASUN tournament, I have them in line for a No. 13 seed in the NCAA bracket. This will be a team no power-conference school will want to play. If Liberty were to lose in the conference tournament, it would still merit discussion by the NCAA selection committee, but I believe Liberty would fall just short. The second-best team in the conference is Bellarmine, but the Knights are ineligible for the NCAA tournament because it is their first season in Division I. Liberty should play with a chip on its shoulder and run through the ASUN tournament. If the Flames end up in the NCAAs, look for them to win a game or two. Coach Ritchie McKay’s teams are known for playing their best ball in March, as his teams have won back-to-back ASUN tournaments. McKay also guided Liberty to its first NCAA tournament in 2019, and the Flames knocked off Mississippi State as a 12th seed.

Pick: Liberty 

 

ATLANTIC 10

The A-10 is usually one of the last conference tournaments to tip, but due to concern about COVID-19 hampering the tourney, the event will tip off early, beginning Wednesday. This conference title is up for grabs. Richmond generated most of the preseason talk, boasting experience all over the court and an impressive 24-7 campaign last season. But the Spiders stumbled a few times this season, opening the door for schools such as VCU, St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis. And don’t count out UMass, which has shown signs of being able to string together some wins. The Atlantic 10 teams with the best at-large resumes are VCU and St. Bonaventure. With or without the conference title, I see the Bonnies still making the NCAAs as a 10th seed and the Rams as a 12th seed. With teams like Michigan State and Duke on the cut line, these A-10 teams do not want to leave their fates in the committee’s hands. I believe Richmond, VCU and St. Bonaventure could win a game or two in the NCAAs — if they get there.

Pick: Richmond 

 

BIG SOUTH 

Winthrop entered the Big South tournament Monday night at 20-1 and advanced to the semifinals by beating High Point. The Eagles have dominated the conference all season, losing only to UNC Asheville by two points. If Winthrop fails to win the Big South tournament, the NCAA selection committee will have to have a long discussion about the Eagles’ at-large resume. Winthrop would like to eliminate the discussion and just grab the automatic bid. I have Winthrop as a 13th NCAA seed. The Eagles will benefit enormously from the format of this year’s Big South tourney. All games will be on the campuses of the better seeds, so Winthrop is playing for an NCAA bid on its home floor. If the Eagles can put together two more wins at home, look at this team very closely in your NCAA bracket. Winthrop can make some noise and knows how to finish games.

Pick: Winthrop

 

OHIO VALLEY

Most of the talk in mid-major basketball this year has centered on Belmont. The Bruins were cruising, not having lost since early December — until last week, when Belmont lost consecutive Ohio Valley games to Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State. The good news for Belmont is that those teams will be seeded second and third in the conference tournament this week in Evansville, Ind. That means the Bruins will have to play just one of them on their way to an automatic NCAA bid. If you enjoy mid-major basketball at its best, don’t miss the Ohio Valley semis and finals Friday and Saturday. After dropping its last two games, the only path I see for Belmont to the NCAA tournament is to win the automatic bid.

Pick: Eastern Kentucky 

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