College Basketball Mid-Major Report: Breaking Down Wagner, Furman & Iona
Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Nelly Junior Joseph (Iona)
Conference play is now in full strength across the country and rankings are beginning to take form.
In this edition of the Mid-Major Report, we’re going to dive into three teams that will likely need to win their conference tournaments to get a ticket to the Big Dance.
If any of these teams earn that golden ticket, they’re more than capable of creating some madness within the bracket.
|Current Overall Record||12-2|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||14|
Wagner is in position to earn its second bid to the NCAA Tournament in program history. It’s been nearly two decades since the Seahawks went dancing, and as of now, they’re the favorites to win the Northeast Conference Tournament.
I was on Wagner at +600 to win the conference before the season, and the program has exceeded even my expectations at this point. Since the beginning of the season, the group has jumped 84 spots in KenPom — 192 to 108.
Wagner has won nine games in a row, including its first six conference games. The Seahawks’ only two losses on the season were to Seton Hall and Penn State.
According to KenPom, the Seahawks have an 82% chance or better in each of their next nine games. The one exception is a road game at Bryant to end the season, which is likely a conference championship preview.
Bashir Mason’s group has been winning by an average margin of 15 points per game. The program owns the top ranked offensive and defensive efficiency in the Northeast Conference.
The Seahawks are head and shoulders better than the rest of the league.
|Mount St. Mary’s||-8.63|
|St. Francis (PA)||-11.63|
|St. Francis (BKN)||-15.83|
Wagner has four players that average double digits in scoring, including three super seniors in Alex Morales, Elijah Ford and Will Martinez.
The Seahawks ended last year winning 12 of their final 13 conference games, and that success has translated into this season.
Don’t be surprised when you hear the Wagner Seahawks on Selection Sunday
|Current Overall Record||14-7|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||N/A|
Furman has a 51-18 conference record under Bob Richey over the last four seasons, but has failed to get over the hump. This looks to be their best chance yet.
The Paladins’ offensive system is a piece of art under Richey, who believes in 3s or layups, with no in-between. Furman takes over 51% of its shot attempts from behind the arc, where it connects on an astounding 39%.
Even more impressively, the group hits on 53% of its 2-point shot attempts. The Paladins are able to space the floor with a plethora of shooters, which opens driving lanes.
The offense has three players who are averaging 15 points per game in Mike Bothwell, Alex Hunter and Jalen Slawson. The experienced group has assisted on 63% of its made buckets this season, which ranks in the top 10 in the country.
Furman is 6-2 since starting conference play while outscoring opponents by 14 points per matchup. The Paladins are favored to win each of their remaining 10 games in Southern Conference play, according to KenPom.
Furman will need to get past Chattanooga if it wants to get Richey over the hump to the NCAA Tournament. The Paladins were bested by two points in the first matchup on the road in a game that the box score was nearly identical.
|Current Overall Record||17-3|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||12|
Losing two all-conference guards — Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist — in the offseason would mean a major rebuild for most programs. But not for Rick Pitino, who brought in a slew of talent through the transfer portal for this season.
Iona owns the most dominant offense in the MAAC by far. The Gaels are 81st in offensive efficiency ranking with the closest team behind them being Monmouth, which ranks 164th.
In terms of overall efficiency, it isn’t even close.
The best coach and the best talent have led Iona to a dominant 17-3 record this season. The Gaels defeated then 16th-ranked Alabama and hung tough in their three losses to Kansas, Belmont and Saint Louis.
The group is winners of its last six games and is favored to win its final 10 of the regular season.
It wouldn’t surprise me if this team doesn’t accrue another loss until we see its name called in the NCAA Tournament.