As Carl Spackler reminded us in the movie Caddyshack, everyone loves a Cinderella story.
Each year, college basketball fans try to predict which small school team will fit into “the glass slipper” and upset one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The excitement level of the opening round is directly correlated to the number of upsets we see in those first few days. Now that the Seeding Committee has provided insight into the seeding minds of the NCAA Tournament with Saturday’s Bracket Preview Show, we can turn our attention towards identifying this year’s most dangerous mid-majors.
Here, in reverse order, are the Top 5 small schools that could be this year’s “Cinderella” in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Most Dangerous Mid-Majors In College Basketball
5. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Adj Off/Def Efficiency: 52nd, 53rd
Best Wins: VCU (70-54), at Richmond (69-66)
Bad Losses: None
What is the 𝙤𝙣𝙡𝙮 #A10MBB program to score 🔟 or more wins in conference in each of the last 6⃣ years?
— Bonnies Men's Basketball (@BonniesMBB) May 18, 2020
The start of St. Bonaventure’s season was delayed two weeks due to COVID protocols, but the Bonnies have started to show their potential. Their big issue is depth, especially after junior Anthony Roberts (5.3 ppg, 2.7 apg) left the program permanently three weeks ago. Roberts averaged a critical 21.3 minutes per game, and has left the Bonnies’ rotation at just six players. Head coach Mark Schmidt‘s team has still managed to go 6-2 since Roberts departure, and have the talent to beat any team in the country.
They have a remarkable group of five juniors, who account for over 63 points per game. Point guard Kyle Lofton (15.4 ppg, 5.1 apg), Jaren Holmes (13.8 ppg, 40.7% 3P), Jalen Adaway (12.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg), and Dominick Welch (11.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 38.4% 3P) fortify a strong perimeter attack. But the most valuable player is 6-foot-10 forward Osun Osunniyi, who averages 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. They will need to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, but Schmidt’s Bonnies certainly have the talent to do so. If St. Bonaventure can avoid foul trouble, they are a tough matchup for any Top 25 program.
4. Saint Louis Billikens
Adj Off/Def Efficiency: 46th, 42nd
Best Wins: LSU (85-81), N.C. State (80-69)
Bad Losses: at LaSalle (82-79)
Saint Louis has been severely impacted by the COVID protocols, going over one month without playing a game. The Billikens defeated UMKC on December 23rd, and then played their next game on January 26th at home against Dayton (a 76-71 loss). That lack of visibility has caused most college basketball fans to forgot how good this Saint Louis team can be. They rank first in Atlantic 10 play in 2P percentage allowed, holding opponents to just 39.4% from inside the arc. They are also one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, ranking Top 25 in both offensive and defensive rebounding efficiency per KenPom. The Billikens have also greatly improved at their Achilles’ heel, free-throw shooting. Saint Louis is shooting a respectable 71.7% from the foul line, a vast improvement over last season’s 57.1%, worst in college basketball.
They have a dominant three-guard lineup with Javonte Perkins (17.8 ppg, 41.9% 3P), Jordan Goodwin (15.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg), and Gibson Jimerson (10.8 ppg, 43.7% 3P) the Billikens are a nightmare to defend on the perimeter. Point guard Yuri Collins (5.7 ppg, 6.4 apg) is currently out with an ankle injury, keeping the Billikens under the national radar. If they find their way into the NCAA Tournament, watch out for Saint Louis as one of the most dangerous mid-majors.
Bulldogs Overcoming Adversity
3. Drake Bulldogs
Adj Off/Def Efficiency: 56th, 64th
Best Wins: Loyola Chicago (51-50 OT)
Bad Losses: at Valparaiso (74-57)
Pretty much a perfect result for Valley: Loyola winning the first game in a blowout makes it highly likely they'll stay in the top 30 of NET, so Drake's game 2 win will be Q1.
— Bart T🏀rvik (@totally_t_bomb) February 14, 2021
Just when everyone (including myself) was ready to write-off Drake after losing senior forward ShanQuan Hemphill to a broken foot, the Bulldogs pull of a fantastic 51-50 overtime win over rival Loyola Chicago. Led by point guard Roman Penn (12.1 ppg, 6.5 apg) and sharpshooter D.J. Wilkins (43.3% 3P) the Bulldogs still have a chance to tie the Ramblers for the regular-season Missouri Valley Conference title. They are one of the best in the country at guarding the arc, allowing opponents just 29.6% from 3P. The Bulldogs are also one of the nation’s top all-around rebounding teams. Reports are that Hemphill could return in time for the NCAA Tournament, making Drake’s Quadrant I win over Loyola-Chicago even more critical. If the Bulldogs make it to Indianapolis, and Hemphill returns, you are looking at one of the most popular first-round underdogs picks.
The Surprise Dangerous Mid-Major Team
2. Wright State Raiders
Adj Off/Def Efficiency: 59th, 47th
Best Wins: at Bowling Green (85-67)
Bad Losses: Youngstown State (74-72)
Wright State basketball: Raiders move into tie for first in Horizon League https://t.co/D2qtgJimzD
— David Jablonski (@DavidPJablonski) February 14, 2021
Wright State has a very similar profile to Loyola Chicago, but is getting much less attention. The Raiders are also anchored by a strong interior presence in 6-foot-8, 260 lb senior Loudon Love (16.7 ppg, 10.2 rpg). Over the last five games, Love is averaging 25 points and 10.8 rebounds with four double-doubles. Wright State has superb balance, ranking 43rd in 2P offense (54.3%) and 22nd in 2P defense (44.3% allowed). The Raiders are shooting a blistering 38.8% from 3P in conference play, led by Grant Basile (48.6%), Tim Finke (41.7% 3P), and Jaylon Hall (44.4% 3P). However, the Raiders are not overly reliant on their proficiency from beyond the arc, generating only 27.5% of their overall points from 3P (265th nationally).
Head coach Scott Nagy has assembled a roster that is strong on both ends of the floor, with size inside and solid three-point shooting. Wright State has not played any of the national powerhouses, but they still remain one of the most dangerous mid-majors if they make the NCAA Tournament.
Top of The Dangerous Mid-Majors
1. Loyola Chicago Ramblers
Adj Off/Def Efficiency: 38th/1st
Best Wins: at Drake (81-54), North Texas (57-49)
Bad Losses: at Indiana State (76-71)
Different 5-out zoom variations from Loyola Chicago's wins over Evansville this weekend pic.twitter.com/gAVsnla7pE
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) February 8, 2021
This season, there is no better mid-major team this year than Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers are looking eerily similar to the 2017-2018 team that reached the Final Four. Their defense is elite, ranking 12th in defensive rebounding and 48th in lowest 2P percentage allowed (48%). Senior Cameron Krutwig (15.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) anchors the interior, with double-digit scoring in 17 of his last 20 games. The Ramblers are shooting a mind-blowing 62.1% from inside the arc in conference play, generating 56.1% of their total points. Loyola Chicago has won 11 games in a row and just notched a dominant 81-54 victory at Drake. Even without overly impressive wins, the Ramblers played at Wisconsin and lost on a neutral court to Richmond by two points. In that magical 2018 run, their only big win was 65-59 at Florida. Loyola Chicago has proved it doesn’t need to play a litany of tough opponents to prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
With a great coach in Porter Moser, Krutwig’s dominance, and six players shooting over 36% from deep, this Loyola Chicago team is the quintessential dangerous mid-major primed for another magical Final Four run.