The Usual Suspects: 3 Mid-Majors Equipped to Bust Brackets
In recent years, there has been a consistent run of non-power conference teams making their way to the Round of 32, or even further.
Last year, it was both Wichita State and Gonzaga. The year before, it was Dayton making a run to the Elite Eight. In 2013, Wichita State and LaSalle met in the Sweet 16 in the same year that Florida Gulf Coast was dubbed "Dunk City." And it goes on and on.
This trend has gotten to the point where it's not so much a trend any longer.
So, since it's almost expected that at least one mid-major will break your bracket at some point this season, why not be prepared?
Here are the three main names to be aware of when filling out your bracket before things get underway.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs (11)
Gonzaga's pretty much a household name nowadays, and maybe we shouldn't even count them as a mid-major at this point, but people are more than likely sleeping on the Bulldogs this year. Although they sent St. Mary's home packing in the West Coast Conference title game, Gonzaga experienced their share of valleys throughout this season, ending with a 26-7 record against the nation's 89th strongest schedule, according to our rankings.
Sure, the Bulldogs had a couple bad losses, but in the Mark Few era, Gonzaga has made it past the Round of 64 all but three of those 17 years, having reached the Sweet 16 on five separate occasions, including an appearance in the Elite Eight a year ago.
And, despite a couple of key departures, they still managed to complete the season as the ninth most efficient offense and 27th most efficient defense in the land, per our numbers.
In their first game, Gonzaga matches up with the scorching hot Seton Hall Pirates, who need to be careful that their emotions aren't running too high or the Bulldogs might just take advantage. In fact, Gonzaga is likely to overcome their 11 seed status, and could even make a run past Utah in the Round of 32 -- one scenario most will not see coming.
2. Virginia Commonwealth Rams (10)
These days, VCU isn't exactly a mid-major, either. No one's really sleeping on them after half a dozen great seasons under Shaka Smart. In those six seasons, the Rams made the tournament on five occasions, including two trips to the Round of 32 and one to the Final Four in 2010-11, where they ultimately lost to Butler.
They might even have a little extra motivation to make a run through the tournament this year -- well, at least to the Sweet 16, where they would have the opportunity, if things shake out right, to play their former coach and his new team.
No matter the motivation, opponent, or even coach for that matter, we know that VCU is going to be ready to play. They ended this season as the 29th best defense in terms of efficiency and the 34th best team in the nation, according to nERD. They're more than likely to pull the 10/7 upset over Oregon State in the first round and have a chance, albeit a slim one, should they meet the Oklahoma Sooners in the Round of 32, to advance a step further.
3. Wichita State Shockers (11)
I could make any number of play on words here in regards to Wichita State's convenient nickname, but I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to tell you that the Shockers have made the last five NCAA Tournaments (including this one), and have a record of 8-4 across those appearances.
Star seniors Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker have been a part of all but one of those teams, including one that went to the Sweet 16 and another to the Final Four. They have more than enough experience to lead their team above and beyond expectations.
If they're going to do so, they would have to take down the 6-seeded Arizona Wildcats, quite possibly the 3-seeded Miami Hurricanes and, even further down the road, the 2-seeded Villanova Wildcats. The chances of the Shockers getting through this trio of teams aren't very high, but if there's one thing we've learned, it's not to underestimate the Shockers in March. And, hey, with the number-one ranked defense in the tournament, according to our numbers, anything can happen.