Mid-Majors can now focus on the Final Four, but can the Pac-12 say the same?


Everyone remembers the run that the Butler Bulldogs have had for the last two years and the run that the VCU Rams had last year as well.  Right now everyone is looking to see if they can find the “next” Butler or VCU team that will make a run to the Final Four–or even better.  In an ongoing debate between ZonaZealot writers, Jeff Beran and I will take different angles on Pac-12 sports topics.  This week’s topic will be entitled “Po-tay –toe vs. Po-tah-toe”.  We will look at who will be wearing Cinderella’s glass slipper and whether the Pac-12 will make a run at the tourney.

Now, let’s get down to it!!  The Pac-12 is struggling right now, so looking forward to the NCAA tournament, it is hard to say what could happen with these teams.  I will still maintain that the Pac-12 will get four teams into the NCAA tournament.  It seems like everyone in the Pac-12 is passing around being the best team like a hot potato.  So who will the potato stop on at the end of the year? Cal may be the team to beat in the Pac-12, so I think they should get into the tournament pretty easily.  Arizona was ranked to begin the year and has a very young lineup that is learning to play with each other.  That should equate to an NCAA tournament bid.  The Stanford Cardinal are actually playing well as a team and may have given themselves enough wins out of conference to play into the tournament.  The last team that I think will get in is UCLA, because in the end, talent trumps everything.  Do I honestly believe that any of these teams will make a run past the Sweet 16 in this year’s tournament?  No!!  That potato will be passed around all year and unfortunately end up on the ground.

So who are the contenders for the mid-majors?  I’m going to place a few teams that I think have an above average chance to make a serious run at the NCAA tournament this year and whittle them down to one remaining team.

Where does the potato start?  I am going to place Xavier, Murray State, UNLV, and Harvard into the same category. I will call this category the “they are lacking something but I can’t put my finger on it” category.  Xavier has been ranked really high all year so that alone spells disaster for any mid-major team, plus they just don’t score well enough for me to love them.  Murray State may actually go undefeated and we know how much pressure that can put on a team going into the tournament (think St. Joes with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West).  UNLV is an interesting team to watch;they have played and beaten really good teams this year,but I am pulling the Xavier card on them as well (ranked all year).  That leaves Harvard,who will be too smart for their own good this postseason.

There are many other teams to look at but I am going to focus on three I think have a legitimate chance to have the potato (NCAA championship) in hand after all is said and done.

#3.  The Saint Joseph Hawk’s:this team has really good guard play and a force in the middle.  That force would be CJ Aiken, who is the leading shot blocker in the nation.  Aiken along with Carl Jones and Langston Galloway form a nice 1. 2. 3. punch to throw at any team they will face.  They also have something else in common with my top two teams: all three of these teams have played each other.  St. Joe’s defeated the #2 team on my list and lost to the #1 team on my list in 2 OT’s.  These three teams can play ball so keep reading.

#2.  The Creighton Blue Jays are a team that can score and pass the ball well.  They have a scoring machine in the coach’s son Doug McDermott and are #1 in the nation in assists per game.  The team shoots really well, being in the top 10 in team field goal percentage and actually rebound very well as a team.  My biggest concern with this team is that they are ranked and will most likely end up with a very good seed for the tournament.  This will most likely leave them with an unfavorable matchup early on which may bounce them from the tournament earlier than expected.

#1.  This leaves my favorite to make this years successful run at the NCAA title. Drum Roll Please…… The Iona Gaels will end up with the potato.   Right now the Gaels are 7-2 outside of New Rochelle, N.Y., they are in the top six in scoring offense in the nation, and they boast the number one guard in the nation in assists per game (the team is ranked #2 right behind Creighton).  Those three stats right there let me know that this team can play.   Unlike Creighton, this team is flying more under the radar right now, which may equate to a better (low) seed in the tournament. The biggest issue with the team is that they don’t rebound well and they don’t have a lot of inside scoring or defending.  I think they make up for the rebounding with excellent shooting and getting to the foul line. The two things this team can do well are shooting and passing and that means success in the post season.  They have the guard play that you need to make a serious run at the NCAA tournament right now.  Will it necessarily equate to NCAA tourney wins? That remains to be seen but this team has all the makings of this year’s VCU.

That’s all I have Jeff, I say Po-tay-toe but you will definitely say Po-tah-toe so don’t bring anything weak to this battle.  I’m sure at least 10-20 people out there will choose these teams to go far in a bracket based on what we say, so bring it.