College basketball conference tournament time is upon us, which means almost every team gets a chance to make it to the Big Dance. Regardless of their record going into the conference tournament, we have seen plenty of teams make some crazy runs to get into the NCAA Tournament courtesy of that coveted automatic bid.
But March Madness also is the time when mid-majors and the smaller conferences get their chance in the spotlight, especially those that go on to upset a higher-seeded, power conference team in the NCAA Tournament. Every year there’s usually some team that takes a spin as Cinderella, but there also are those mid-major or lesser known teams that are legitimate threats in their own right and ones that the higher seeds don’t want to see when the brackets are revealed.
Here are five such teams that unless they lose in their respective conference tournament could play the role of bracket buster and contribute to the latest round of March Madness.
Conference: America East
Conference Tournament: Campus sites March 1, 6, 11
Power Five Wins: 0 (lost by 22 at Providence, by 1 to Houston, by 18 at South Carolina)
Leading Scorers: Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes, 11.6 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Catamounts have five players who average at least eight points per game. The majority of their rotation is filled with juniors and seniors. They also most likely won't leave their home gym for the conference tourney so they are the odds-on favorite to win the America East. They last made the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and have one victory in the school's history.
Florida Gulf Coast (23-7)
Conference: Atlantic Sun
Conference Tournament: Campus sites Feb. 27, March 2, 5
Best win: at Louisiana Tech 79-78 (lost by single digits to Baylor and Michigan State)
Leading Scorer: Brandon Goodwin, 18.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: Dunk City could ruin your bracket once again with four double-digit scorers and a veteran-laden team. Many of the same players on this year’s team helped FGCU win its First Four matchup in last year’s tournament before losing to North Carolina 83-67. This is a group that won't be afraid of anyone and much like Vermont, won't have to leave home in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
UNC Wilmington (25-5)
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
Conference Tournament: at North Charleston Coliseum (North Charleston, S.C.) March 3-6
Best Win: at St. Bonaventure 81-80 (lost by 5 to Middle Tennessee)
Leading Scorer: C.J. Bryce, 17.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Seahawks play a frenetic style and have four double-digit scorers. They can beat you in a track meet and also can hold you down and play a game in the 60s. UNCW, as a No. 13 seed, lost a tough one to Duke last year in the first round 93-85. The Seahawks have just one tournament win in program history, but don’t underestimate this team.
East Tennessee State (23-6)
Conference: Southern (SoCon)
Conference Tournament: at U.S. Cellular Center (Asheville, N.C.) March 3-6
Best Win: at Mississippi State 67-65 (lost by four to Tennessee)
Leading Scorer:T.J. Cromer, 19.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Buccaneers have a ton of balance with seven players that at least seven points per game. Hanner Mosquera-Perea is one of those guys and he brings a winning pedigree having started his collegiate career at Indiana. There are six seniors on this squad and they've tested themselves so far in 2016. Much like UNC Wilmington, ETSU plays an interesting style and can win both high- and low-scoring games.
Conference: Patriot League
Conference Tournament: Campus sites, Feb. 28, March 2, 5, 8
Best Win: at Vanderbilt 75-72
Leading Scorer: Zach Thomas, 16.0 ppg
Reasons for Worry: The Bison tested themselves out of conference and will not leave home during their conference tournament. If you notice the teams that I've identified for this exercise, they each have a winning pedigree and Power Five-caliber talent. The Bison are a little undersized, but they are scrappy. Nathan Davis was a highly successful head coach at Division III power Randolph-Macon, so he’s no stranger to getting the job come tournament time.
Others that were considered: Middle Tennessee (Conference USA), Belmont (OVC), Illinois State (MVC), Monmouth (MAAC)
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.