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Rothstein Files: Ten Mid-Majors To Keep An Eye On

Iona mascot (credit: Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

Iona mascot (credit: Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

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By Jon Rothstein
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1. IONA

Coach: Coach: Tim Cluess

Top Player: Scott Machado

Secondary Force: Mike Glover

X-Factor: Sean Armand

The Skinny: The Gaels have looked like the class of the MAAC for the entire season and have had several impressive non-conference to prove they can match up with a plethora of opponents above their level. Still, if this team is going to live up to their billing as a group that could potentially win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament, Iona will have to display a renewed killer instinct and not allow leads to dissipate as they have recently in disappointing losses to Manhattan and Siena.

2. SAINT MARY’S

Coach: Randy Bennett

Top Player: Matthew Dellavedova

Secondary Force: Rob Jones

X-Factor: Stephen Holt

The Skinny: Dellavedova might be the best player in America that no one talks about and more importantly, he has NCAA experience from two years ago when he and Mickey McConnell led the Gaels to a berth in the Sweet 16. Bennett is one of the game’s more underrated tacticians and could have a group capable of making another run if Brad Waldow continues to be a capable low post defender and Clint Steindl emerges as another perimeter scoring threat.

3. CREIGHTON

Coach: Greg McDermott

Top Player: Doug McDermott

Secondary Force: Antoine Young

X-Factor: Gregory Echenique

The Skinny: The Blue Jays have a National Player of the Year candidate in McDermott and have been on the radar all season long thanks to impressive victories outside the Missouri Valley Conference against Tulsa, San Diego State, and Northwestern. Creighton will be best served against a team that can’t overwhelm them with athleticism and speed. This is a methodical team that can grind teams thanks to having one star and multiple pieces that understand their roles. Don’t be
surprised if the Blue Jays win a couple in the field of 68.

4. WICHITA STATE

Coach: Gregg Marshall

Top Player: Toure’ Murry

Secondary Force: Joe Ragland

X-Factor: Carl Hall

The Skinny: The Shockers might be more tested than any other mid-major school in the country after early season tilts with UNLV, Alabama, Colorado, and Temple and have been able to absorb some of the defections they had after last season thanks to the emergence of 7-foot big man Garrett Stutz.The key for Wichita State will be if David Kyles maintains his ability as a secondary scorer next to Murry on the wing and the combination of Hall and forward Ben Smith can help enough on the boards.

5. MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

Coach: Kermit Davis

Top Player: LaRon Dendy

Secondary Force: Marcos Knight

X-Factor: Raymond Cintron

The Skinny: Multiple people in the Sun Belt Conference have told me that Dendy will play for ten seasons in Europe while Knight is a capable guard that can finish at the rim. The key for this team will be getting Cintron back to the offensive rhythm he was at in the middle of the season when he looked like a full fledged mid-major sniper.

6. MURRAY STATE

Coach: Steve Prohm

Top Player: Isiah Canaan

Secondary Force: Donte Poole

X-Factor: Ed Daniel

The Skinny: The only undefeated team left in college basketball has the guard play to run the table and enter the postseason without a blemish — but just how good are the Racers? Murray State has beaten both Memphis and Dayton but other than that, they’ve yet to deal with a team that looks bound for the field of 68. We’re going to wait to watch more of this team with starting forward Ivan Aska back in the fold before we make a final evaluation.

7. DREXEL

Coach: Bruiser Flint

Top Player: Frantz Massenat

Secondary Force: Samme Givens

X-Factor: Damion Lee

The Skinny: This could finally be the year that Flint leads the Dragons to the field of 68. Drexel has one of the top three players in the CAA in Massenat and a group of veterans that know how to win close games. The big difference in this year’s Drexel team versus ones in previous years — their ability to shoot the basketball. Both Lee and Derrick Thomas have made big shots down the stretch in wins over VCU and George Mason and if it continues over the next month, this team
should hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

8. GEORGE MASON

Coach: Paul Hewitt

Top Player: Ryan Pearson

Secondary Force: Mike Morrison

X-Factor: Erik Copes

The Skinny: The Patriots have looked every bit the part of a dangerous mid-major team since they got senior guard Andre Cornelius back in late December. Paul Hewitt has a seasoned group with a slew of capable scorers on the perimeter in Sherrod Wright, Vertrail Vaughns, and Bryon Allen. If Copes can emerge as a shot blocking presence off the bench, this team will have the necessary size to match up with most teams in a one game scenario.

9. CLEVELAND STATE

Coach: Gary Waters

Top Player: D’Aundray Brown

Secondary Force: Trevon Harmon

X-Factor: Aaron Pogue

The Skinny: No matter where Gary Waters has been he’s always churned out a winner and this group of Vikings is no different. While many expected this group to struggle after they lost Norris Cole, Cleveland State hasn’t missed a beat and could be capable of pulling an upset if Pogue can stay on the floor to defend the opponent’s best interior player.

10. LONG BEACH STATE

Coach: Dan Monson

Top Player: Casper Ware

Secondary Force: T.J. Robinson

X-Factor: Larry Anderson

The Skinny: Any team that sees the 49ers next to their name when the brackets are released in early March should immediately cringe. Dan Monson has taken a team to the Elite Eight when he was at Gonzaga in 1999 and Long Beach State also has three seniors in Ware, Robinson, and Anderson that have already played some of the best programs in college basketball. This team won’t be intimidated by anyone and it’ll be obvious from the opening tip.

Which mid-major has a chance to make the most noise? Sound off below…