The mid-major conference tournaments are the source of much of the early holiday season drama, as only the tourney champion will be able to put on their dancing shoes. While almost all mid-major NCAA teams have the chance to play Cinderella come Christmas Day (aka the first round of the NCAA tourney), it is particularly special when these teams have an inspiring sentimental storyline. Often times this involves a squad making its first trip to the Big Dance (see Northern Colorado in 2011). Other times there is a likable coach who warms the hearts of the nation (see Pete Carril in 1994, Andy Enfeld in 2012). Inevitably, when the second week of March comes around, these stories will come to fruition. In the meantime, it’s worth looking at the standings and checking out which mid-major conference leaders/contenders could inspire us during ESPN’s annual championship week. Only teams currently in first or second place of their respective conferences will be included in this column. They are listed in alphabetical order by conference.
SMU (AAC)- The Mustangs are projected as the first 8 seed in my inaugural edition of Brad-ketology in 2015. This squad is still looking to earn its first tourney bid since 1993 with the legendary Larry Brown at the helm.
North Florida (Atlantic Sun)- Basically, anyway the current Atlantic Sun ends up will produce a sentimental storyline. The reason being is that thanks to conference realignment only two teams in the current league have ever danced before and one of those squads (Jacksonville) hasn’t been in the field of 64 since 1986.
Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun)- See comment above.
Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)- We all remember what this squad did in the 2012 tournament and even though some of the personnel and head coach have changed, Lob City 2.0 would be a fun story come March.
Sacramento State (Big Sky)- The Hornets of Sacramento State currently sit atop the Big Sky standings in search of their first ever bid to the NCAA tournament.
High Point (Big South)- The Panthers are another Big Dance virgin sitting in first place of their current conference standings.
Charleston Southern (Big South)- The Buccaneers haven’t danced since 1997 but are tied with High Point and Coastal Carolina for first-place in the Big South standings.
UC Irvine (Big West)– Despite being a powerhouse in baseball, the Anteaters have never qualified for the NCAA basketball tournament. Now, they are deadlocked in a three-way tie atop the Big West Standings.
UC Davis (Big West)– See comment above.
Northeastern (Colonial)– The Huskies haven’t earned a Big Dance invite since the 1990’s but they currently are deadlocked in a three-way tie atop the CAA standings.
William & Mary (Colonial)- The Tribe are seeking their first dance invite in school history, as they are presently tied with both Northeastern and UNC-Wilmington for first place in the Colonial.
Louisiana Tech (C-USA)- The Bulldogs are just a game back of Western Kentucky for first place in Conference USA and haven’ been dancing since 1991.
Green Bay (Horizon)- Butler’s departure has opened the door for the Phoenix, who actually won a tourney game in 1994, to earn their first bid since ’96. This team is tied with perennial powerhouse Cleveland State for first place in the league. If this story/video doesn’t get you excited about this program, then nothing will: http://espn.go.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/post/_/id/35087/green-bay-guard-pranked-with-scholarship.
Yale (Ivy)- For the past 25 years, this league has been dominated by Princeton and Penn with an occasional run by Cornell or Harvard mixed in. Now, Yale is looking to finally breakthrough as they are alone atop the Ivy League standings and already possess a road non-conference win over the defending national champions. The last-time the Bulldogs went dancing JFK was president (1962).
Rider (MAAC)- The Broncos are just a game back of perennial power Iona for first place in the Metro Atlantic Conference and haven’ been dancing since 1994.
Bowling Green (MAC)- The Falcons’ NCAA tourney drought extends almost as far back as Yale’s (1968). However, right now this squad is only a game back of the lead in the MAC East.
Bryant (Northeast)- As you can probably see, conference realignment has really opened the door for a lot of Big Dance virgins to earn their first-ever tourney bid. The same can be said about the Bulldogs of Bryant University, as they are tied with St. Francis (NY) and Robert Morris for first-place in the NEC.
St. Francis (NY) (Northeast)- See comment above.
Colgate (Patriot)- The Raiders haven’t gone to the tourney since former NBA star, Adonal Foyle, played for them in 1996. However, they are currently tied with perennial powerhouse Bucknell for first place in the league standings.
George Southern (Sun Belt)- This conference used to be ruled by Western Kentucky, but now that the Hilltoppers have departed for C-USA, it has open the door for an unusual suspect to earn a tourney bid. See football power Georgia Southern who leads the conference standings at 6-2 and hasn’t gone dancing since 1992.
George State (Sun Belt)- Even though rival Georgia Southern currently leads the Sun Belt, the Panthers of Georgia State are only a half game back and possess a few of the top sentimental storylines of the season. Not only is Georgia State trying to end a 13-year tourney drought, but two of their star players are former major conference superstars seeking redemption at a smaller school. Starting point guard, Ryan Harrow, was a highly-touted high school recruit that failed to make things work at both NC State and Kentucky. Starting shooting guard, Kevin Ware, was a starter for Rick Pitino’s Louisville team before a horrifying leg injury in the Elite 8 sidelined him for over a year. Can you imagine if these two guys got another shot at the Big Dance?
UMKC (WAC)- Are you ready for the Kangaroos on to your bracket for the first-time in school history this March? Well it very well could happen as the ‘Roos are only a half game back of league leader New Mexico State in the WAC.