Whether you want to admit it or not, mid-majors are the real reason you watch March Madness. There’s something undeniably exciting about seeing a top-seeded team crapping the bed after getting threed to death by a Heartland school whose facilities are roughly the size of your high-school gym. So in honor of the March Madness teams that make our hearts stop during billable work hours, here are just a few mid-major teams taking part in the Big Dance.
EAST Region (Brooklyn)
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
With wins over regular-season opponents like Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, and Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin’s strength of schedule reads more like that of an intramural church basketball team than a Division I conference champ. And judging by the point spreads in those games, Jesus was not in the starting five for SFA’s opponents–and hopefully Judas wasn’t, either, because he obviously wasn’t going to pull his weight. So it’s no surprise that Stephen F. Austin rolled through the Southland tourney for a championship win, their third in a row.
Will they beat West Virginia? Are lumberjacks and mountaineers the same thing? Because these teams are pretty evenly matched when it comes to forcing turnovers. West Virginia has the strength of the Big 12 behind it–they faced Kansas in the Big 12 tourney final–but Stephen F. Austin is no stranger to the upset, having pulled it off against VCU in 2014. My vote goes to whichever squad smells more strongly of musk, or has killed an animal to survive in the wilderness.
SOUTH (Des Moines)
Austin Peay Governors
Ohio Valley Conference
Matched up against 1-seed Kansas is Austin Peay, a Tennessee school so small that head coach Dave Loos was the the men’s basketball coach AND the athletic director for 23 years. Even my high school had two different people for that. The Governors haven’t been to the Big Dance since 2008. Their star is junior center/forward Chris Horton, and if you can’t be bothered to watch his highlight reel, just picture Kyle Barker of “Living Single,” except now he lifts weights and averages nearly 19 points and 12 rebounds per game.
Will they beat Kansas? Hell no. Not if senior forward Perry Ellis has anything to say about it. Or junior guard Wayne Selden Jr., or junior guard Frank Mason III, or freshman center Wisdom LeChambliss IV. Okay, maybe I made that last guy up, but this is a team with a 30-win season and a Big 12 championship under its belt. But Austin Peay could be a three-point threat, as they’ve been on a 6-0 run that culminated with a win over Tennessee-Martin to win the Ohio Valley Conference championship, in which they hit 16 threes.
Colonial Athletic Association
No, that’s NOT a misprint in your bracket; there are two UNCs in this year’s tournament. They both matter, too. Kevin Keatts coached his Seahawks to a 25-7 record and a CAA championship, making this year’s UNCW team the first to make the tournament since 2005.
Will they beat Duke? It isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility that we’ll witness Grayson Allen crying twice on national television—and he’ll almost assuredly try to do this. Fourth-seeded Duke has lost four of their last seven games. And don’t forget: this season, the Blue Devils fell from the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2007. But with opponents like Coker College—where I assume you get course credit for rolling dollar bills—UNC-Wilmington has had zero experience against Duke-level adversaries this season.
MIDWEST (St. Louis)
Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders
Truth be told, I thought Conference USA was the name of a telecom app. But if you like mid-major guards whose names sound like independently-owned home-and-garden centers in Portland, then MTSU’s Giddy Potts is your man. Averaging 15 points per game, the Blue Raiders sophomore is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. And considering the vast history of injustices thrust upon middle children, I expect the school repping the midsection of Tennessee to play with a chip on its shoulder.
Will they beat Michigan State? I ALMOST laughed when I typed “Will they beat Michigan State?” My only hope is that they can get out of the way fast enough before the bullet train fueled by Tom Izzo’s coaching prowess steamrolls them, and senior guard Denzel Valentine dances on their freshly dug graves. Only a complete failure to defend the three-point line could allow MTSU a glimmer of hope.
Natalie McGill is a University of Maryland graduate who thinks South Dakota State is the worst mid-major ever. You should follow her on Twitter.