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2019 NCAA Tournament Sleepers: Mid-Majors That Can Make a Run, Offer Futures Value

Feb 21, 2019 10:55 PM EST
Credit:

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Aaron Korn and Rob Marberry

  • Most mid-majors capable of making a run in the NCAA Tournament have national title odds north of 300-1.
  • Eli Hershkovich explores whether there's any value in betting those futures and hedging as they get deeper in the tournament.

Loyola-Chicago made the run last season. Wichita State and VCU have done it in the last decade.

Mid-majors are always capable of making a Four Four push in the NCAA Tournament. Although there’s not a ton of value in betting on their national title futures from the outside looking in — besides Butler coming up inches short of one in the 2009-10 campaign — there are hedging opportunities to lock in a profit either way.

But before we get there, let’s dissect which mid-major teams could get hot in the NCAA Tournament, as well as whether or not it’s worth it to invest. For the sake of your sanity, these are the non-qualifying mid-majors:


  •  Power-five conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC
  •  Other conferences: Big East, American Athletic Conference (AAC)
  •  Elite mid-majors: Gonzaga and Nevada

Some of these teams won’t land as the top seed in their respective conference tourneys. But waiting could deliver a drop in their value if they make a run at an automatic bid.

On the flip side, the top dogs could fall in the league tournament and still earn a ticket into March Madness — via weaker high-major bubble teams than in past years. Believe it or not, we could end up seeing a two- or three-bid SoCon and a two-bid OVC.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the mid-major options:

Projected seeds via BracketMatrix.com.

Buffalo

  • National Title Odds: 50-1
  • Projected Seed: 7

The Bulls (15-9-1 against the spread) own a top-35 Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiency, respectively. And they returned three of five starters from a team that beat Arizona in the first round last season (sorry, Joffe).

The 6-foot-3 CJ Massinburg (18.3 points per game) is the spark plug, tallying the 43rd-highest true shooting clip (64.7%) in the country. Nevertheless, slow starts have plagued Buffalo twice in MAC play, and it nearly endured an upset at Western Michigan. With the value already diminished in double figures, I’d stay away.

Lipscomb

  • National Title Odds: 300-1
  • Projected Seed: 12

The Bison (14-11 ATS) proved themselves in their non-conference slate with wins at SMU, TCU and at home against Vermont, along with a pair of tight losses vs. Belmont and at Louisville. Guided by Kenny Cooper’s ball-hawking prowess, Lipscomb has totaled the 27th-ranked AdjD (93.9 opponents’ points per 100 possessions).

Paired with the 63rd-rated AdjO (109.7 points per 100 possessions) and a premier shot maker in Garrison Matthews (19.5 ppg), Lipscomb is screaming for a wager.

Hofstra

  • National Title Odds: 300-1
  • Projected Seed: 13

The Pride (19-7 ATS) once owned the longest winning streak at 16 games, and it’s a credit to their 16th-ranked AdjO (116.0 points per possessions). Within it sits the nation’s third-leading scorer in Justin Wright-Foreman (23.6 ppg), who has manufactured the 55th-highest true shooting clip (64.1%) in Division I.

The other end of the court is a concern for Hofstra, though, producing the No. 222 AdjD (106.6 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) in the nation. Even if it wins the CAA tournament, it’s difficult to see Joe Mihalich’s bunch making a run because of its defensive struggles. Balanced teams have fared much better in the NCAA Tournament.

Wofford

  • National Title Odds: 350-1
  • Projected Seed: 9

Bombs away. The Terriers (13-11 ATS) have the fourth-highest eFG% (57.4%) in DI, leading the way to their program-record 14-game winning streak. The country has been waiting to watch the 6-foot-4 Fletcher Magee (20.1 ppg) in March Madness for too long, and Wofford also has a true low-post option in Cameron Jackson (14.7 ppg).

Wofford coach Mike Young is one of the most underrated scheme artists in the sport, and his team is also one of the top gang rebounding teams around via its top-45 defensive (24.4%) and offensive rebounding rate (33.1%), respectively. Pull the trigger.

VCU

  • National Title Odds: 500-1
  • Projected Seed: 11

The Rams (17-8-1 ATS) likely won’t cut down the nets come April 8, but it’s the lone mid-major that fits of the profile of the last 11 national title winners — a top-20 AdjD. Mike Rhoades’ unit has delivered the fourth-rated AdjD (88.0 opponents’ points per possession) while reeling off seven straight outright wins.

Despite his offensive regression, the 6-foot-2 Marcus Evans (13.4 ppg) is one of the top two-way players no one has even heard of. He’s helped retain Shaka Smart’s once-trademarked ball-hawking style in Richmond, forcing the 12th-highest turnover (24.3%). Get out your penny jar.

Murray State

  • National Title Odds: 500-1
  • Projected Seed: 12/Out

The Rams (15-8 ATS) have accrued the 40th-rated AjdO (112.3 points per 100 possessions) while holding their opponents to the 24th-lowest eFG% (46.4%) in the country. But the most impressive chunk of Matt McMahon’s team is the 6-foot-3 Ja Morant (24.3 ppg), who could expose teams in the big dance with an extremely athletic frame.

Murray State’s concerns lie from behind the arc, shooting just a 34.8 percent (34.8%), as it could get exposed if an elite defense collapses on Morant.

Furman

  • National Title Odds: 750-1
  • Projected Seed: Next Four Out

The Paladins (16-8 ATS) already have non-conference victories over No. 17 Villanova and Loyola-Chicago, respectively, and are amidst a six-game winning streak. They’re guided by the 30th-rated AdjD (94.6 opponents’ points per 100 possessions), turning opponents over at the 72nd-highest rate (20.7%).

The 6-foot-8 Matt Raftery (17.1 ppg) has developed into a sound presence from the block, too. But Furman struggles to avoid miscues itself, and its lack of size in the rebounding department inhibits its ability to rule the tempo.

New Mexico State

  • National Title Odds: 900-1
  • Projected Seed: 13

The Aggies (13-11-1 ATS) have won 12 straight games, presenting a 10-man rotation to carry their 51st- and 82nd-ranked AdjO and AdjD, respectively. Led by mostly upperclassmen, who have experience in the big dance, Chris Jans’ squad is paced by its efficiency inside the arc and on the glass.

New Mexico State struggles from 3-point territory (32.7%) while getting shot happy at times, but its 11th-ranked defensive rebounding rate (23.5%) gives opponents fits — en route to controlling the pace. The 6-foot-7 Eli Chuha aids that department via the ninth-highest individual defensive rebounding percentage (29.8%) in college basketball.

Davidson

  • National Title Odds: 1,000-1
  • Projected Seed: First Four Out

No, Steph Curry isn’t walking through the door. The Wildcats (13-12 ATS) operate with the 41st-lowest Adjusted Tempo (65.0 possessions per 40 minutes), but they’re effective via the 43rd-lowest turnover rate — paired with an above average perimeter shooting clip (35.1%).

Kellan Grady (16.7 ppg) is a do-it-all scorer, and he could lead them on a run if they’re able to sustain their 25th-ranked defensive rebounding rate (24.5%) to control the pace. Remember, five of these players were a part of a 78-73 loss to Kentucky in the first round last season, as well as pulling off a push (+5).

Belmont

  • National Title Odds: 1,000-1
  • Projected Seed: 12

The Bruins (14-9-1 ATS) are a run-and-gun offensive under coaching wizard Rick Byrd, bolstering the 25th-rated AdjO (114.4 points per 100 possessions). The 6-foot-8 Dylan Windler 31 points per game over their last three affairs, and he paves the way to the seventh-highest eFG% (56.6%) overall in college hoops.

Belmont’s flaw consists at the other end, as its 148th-ranked AdjD (103.2 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) gets exposed when its perimeter offense isn’t clicking.

San Diego State

  • National Title Odds: 2,000-1
  • Projected Seed: Out

The Aztecs won nine of their final 10 games last season, including their 2018 Mountain West Conference Tournament title en route to an automatic March Madness bid. They’ve come up victorious in seven of their past eight affairs this time around — capped off by an eight-point win over No. 6 Nevada on Thursday.

Brian Dutcher’s crew (14-11 ATS) would likely need another league tournament championship to earn consecutive trips to the big dance. But the conference’s second-rated AdjD (97.3 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) is surging at the perfect time, and the 6-foot-10 Jalen McDaniels (17.2 ppg) would have the potential to create havoc in the NCAA tournament via his two-way prowess.

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