If you’re looking for a Cinderella candidate for the NCAA Tournament, now is the time to start paying attention to those teams that fly under the radar – the mid-majors and low-majors. Let’s start by taking a look at the smaller conferences in the eastern portion of the country, including America East, Colonial, MAAC, Northeast and Patriot.
After starting the season 5-7, Albany has reeled off 13 straight wins to be able to control its destiny to win the American East regular season title. With 3 players averaging at least 12 points per game, this will be a hard team to slow down.
I don’t think any team in the conference is going to be tough enough to jump in front of the Albany train that is full speed ahead, but stranger things have happened. A team in a one-bid league can’t have any bad nights when it comes to the conference tourney. The Great Danes must close the regular season against 2nd place Vermont on Feb. 28. The Great Danes hope to win out to secure home court in the America East tourney.
- Key Wins: Vermont, at Stony Brook
- Key Losses: Holy Cross, Quinnipiac, at Bucknell
- Player to Watch: Sam Rowley (14.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
- Remaining Schedule: Stony Brook (Feb. 17), Hartford (Feb. 20), at UMBC (Feb. 25), Vermont (Feb. 28)
The Catamounts have dropped some very tough games, including a 1-point loss to Yale and a double overtime loss to Harvard. Vermont is just waiting for Albany to slip up once so that the final game of the season will be for a share of the conference title, which could be a key factor in hosting the conference tournament. The Catamounts are only allowing 57.2 points per game but boast just one player that is scoring more than 10 points per game game. Vermont should be favored in the rest of its games with the exception of the showdown with Albany on Feb. 28. The first game between these two teams on Jan. 28 came down to a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left.
- Key Wins: Stony Brook
- Key Losses: at Canisius, St. Louis, at UC Santa Barbara
- Player to Watch: Dre Willis (8.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.1 SPG)
- Remaining Schedule: at Binghamton (Feb. 18), New Hampshire (Feb. 25), at Albany (Feb. 28)
William & Mary
A team with one of the coolest nicknames in the country, The Tribe is tied for the conference lead. It has already swept UNC Wilmington and won its first meeting over Northeastern, but a second loss to Delaware last weekend has left The Tribe tied for first in the conference. Watch out for Terry Tarpey who is averaging close to a double-double with 10.9 PPG and 8.3 RPG. Despite the loss to Delaware, William & Mary is still in the best position to win the regular season title out of the four teams still in the hunt for it.
- Key Wins: Northeastern, UNC Wilmington
- Key Losses: Charleston, at Delaware, Elon
- Player to Watch: Omar Prewitt (13.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
- Remaining Schedule: at Northeastern (Feb. 18), at Hofstra (Feb. 22), Towson (Feb. 25), Drexel (Feb. 28)
UNC Wilmington will simply not back down from anyone. The Seahawks gave Louisville all it could handle back in December and it is 3-0 when it comes to overtime games. If not for a four-game skid at the end of December, the Seahawks overall record could be well ahead of anyone else in the Colonial. Wilmington has three players that are scoring in double figures, but the key for the team is Addison Spruill as he can light it up. The Seahawks, however, play three of its last four games on the road and has already been swept by the team it is currently tied for first place with, William & Mary.
- Key Wins: at Northeastern, at Hofstra
- Key Losses: William & Mary, at Drexel, at Campbell
- Player to Watch: Addison Spruill (14.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
- Remaining Schedule: at Delaware (Feb. 19), at Towson (Feb. 21), James Madison (Feb. 25), at Elon (Feb. 28)
The Huskies have 4 players scoring in double figures and are 32nd in the country in shooting percentage at 47.4 percent from the field. Northeastern is currently sitting tied for second in the conference, but was swept by UNC Wilmington and lost its first meeting to William & Mary. The Huskies are 0-2 in overtime so far this year. The biggest game remaining on its schedule is against William & Mary on Feb. 18. If Northeastern is not able to win that game, the team’s confidence will be shaken going into the conference tourney.
- Key Wins: at Florida State, Hofstra
- Key Losses: Detroit, at Drexel, Cal-Poly
- Player to Watch: Scott Eatherton (15.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG)
- Remaining Schedule: William & Mary (Feb. 18), Drexel (Feb. 21), at Elon (Feb. 26), at College of Charleston (Feb. 28)
One of the best offensive teams in the country, Iona has 4 players averaging at least 14 PPG with two players averaging around 20 per game. This creates very difficult matchups for teams that play the Gaels. Opposing coaches probably have very little sleep the night before they take the court against Iona. This is a team that should not be overlooked when it comes to the big dance. If you’re looking for a cinderella team to pull off a first-round NCAA Tournament upset, the Gaels are a very strong candidate.
- Key Wins: Rider, FGCU
- Key Losses: UMass, Canisius
- Player to Watch: David Laury (20.5 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
- Remaining Schedule: at Murray St. (Feb. 20), Monmouth (Feb. 22), Manhattan (Feb. 27), at St. Peter’s (Mar. 1)
Rider is sitting in second behind Iona in the conference. However, after dropping both of its games to Iona, it is nearly out of the picture to win the regular season title. The Broncs will need to put together a run in the MAAC tournament in Albany for its shot at the postseason. The Broncs have shown toughness down the stretch of games winning both of their overtime games. The Broncs have three players averaging double figures.
- Key Wins: Manhattan, Quinnipiac
- Key Losses: at Princeton, Santa Clara, at Siena
- Player to Watch: Matt Lopez (12.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG)
- Remaining Schedule: Quinnipiac (Feb. 19), Niagara (Feb. 21), at Monmouth (Feb. 26), Murray St. (Mar. 1)
St. Francis (NY)
After starting the season 0-5, St. Francis is the conference’s strongest NCAA Tournament candidate, winning 15 of its last 17. Jalen Cannon is averaging nearly a double-double and the team will rely on the 6-6 forward to keep playing at a high level.
- Key Wins: Bryant, at St. Francis (PA)
- Key Losses: Army, Delaware St., at Mount St. Mary’s, Robert Morris
- Player to Watch: Jalen Cannon (16.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG)
- Remaining Schedule: Fairleigh Dickinson (Feb. 19), St. Francis PA (Feb. 21), at Long Island (Feb. 26), at Bryant (Feb. 28)
Bryant is a team that has had its moments, but has not been able to put it all together. The Bulldogs are 0-4 against the Ivy League, which does not help their cause. The Bulldogs looked like they were trending up winning 4 in a row, but have been streaky since, going just 4-6. The big question is whether Bryant will be able to put it together for the three-game stretch of the conference tournament?
- Key Wins: New Hampshire, St. Francis (PA)
- Key Losses: Sacred Heart, Dartmouth, at Brown
- Player to Watch: Dyami Starks (18.0 PPG)
- Remaining Schedule: at Wagner (Feb. 19), Robert Morris (Feb. 21), Central Connecticut St. (Feb. 26), St. Francis NY (Feb. 28)
After putting together a nice winning streak in January to climb back up the conference standings, the Colonials have been trending downward, losing three of its last five and needing a last-second tip-in on Saturday to beat a lowly Central Connecticut State team in search of just its fourth win of the season. Freshman guard Marcquise Reed has turned into a leader on this team, stepping up to lead the team in scoring in the absence of senior Lucky Jones who has been in and out of the lineup, battling multiple injuries this season.
- Key Wins: Louisiana-Monroe, Duquesne, Delaware, at St. Francis NY
- Key Losses: LaFayette, Youngstown State, at Long Island
- Player to Watch: Marcquise Reed (15.0 PPG)
- Remaining Schedule: at Sacred Heart (Feb. 19), at Bryant (Feb. 21), Wagner (Feb. 26), St. Francis PA (Feb. 28)
After not having the start of the season that may have been hoped for, the Bison were able to start out conference play 7-2 to claim first in the league. After dropping two in a row, Bucknell has rattled off three-straight wins to hold onto the top spot. Their overall record, along with the conference they play in, will not be good enough to get an at large bid so carrying momentum through the conference tournament will be key.
- Key Wins: American, Lafayette
- Key Losses: at Holy Cross, Colgate, Mount St. Mary’s
- Player to Watch: Chris Hass (16.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG)
- Remaining Schedule: Loyola MD (Feb. 18), Boston (Feb. 22), at Lehigh (Feb. 25), at American (Feb. 28)
Despite a season of ups and downs, the Raiders find themselves sitting in second place in the conference heading down the home stretch, thanks to two key wins over conference-leading Bucknell. The biggest question with this team is this: Will it be able to put it together when it counts in the conference tournament?
- Key Wins: at Bucknell, Bucknell
- Key Losses: at Army, Navy, at Holy Cross, at Columbia
- Player to Watch: Ethan Jacobs (12.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG)
- Remaining Schedule: Army (Feb. 18), at Loyola MD (Feb. 22), at LaFayette (Feb. 25), Lehigh (Feb. 28)