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5 Mid-Major College Basketball Teams to Watch During Conference Tournaments


It's college basketball conference tournament time and that means the search begins for this year's Cinderella. Every season the smaller conferences take center stage giving fan bases the one chance to chant "We want Duke" and not look foolish doing so.

I've probably said this the past few seasons, but it was hard to limit myself to just five potential teams who could be the squad that surprises us all. With that, let's take a look at some good mid-major teams that could win a game or two if they make the NCAA Tournament.

Vermont (24-6)

Conference: America East

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Conference Tournament: Campus sites March 3, 6, 10

Non-Conference Results of Note: Lost by 4 at Kentucky, lost by 2 to St. Bonaventure.

Leading Scorers: Anthony Lamb (16.8 ppg) and Trae Bell-Haynes (14.9 ppg)

Reasons for Worry: The Catamounts were on this list last year and they gave Purdue a battle before falling 80-70. Once again, there's incredible balance for Vermont with five double-digit scorers and close losses to St. Bonaventure and Kentucky. They can play at various tempos and won't be intimidated by a bigger conference opponent.

Western Kentucky (22-7)

Conference: Conference USA

College Football Rankings: WKU

Conference Tournament: at the Ford Center (Frisco, Texas) March 7-10

Non-Conference Results of Note: Beat Purdue by 4 and SMU by 2. Lost to Villanova by 8

Leading Scorers: Justin Johnson and Darius Thompson (14.8 ppg)

Reasons for Worry: The Hilltoppers are finally whole after the NCAA cleared two players in the middle of the season. They've got high-level transfers in Thompson and Dwight Coleby, who played for Virginia and Kansas, respectively. WKU has five double-digit scorers who are tested and won't be afraid of the spotlight. Middle Tennessee will have something to say about this one though in the conference tournament.

College of Charleston (23-7)

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)

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Conference Tournament: at North Charleston Coliseum (North Charleston, S.C.) March 3-6

Non-Conference Results of Note: Lost by 18 at Wichita State and by 6 at Rhode Island

Leading Scorer: Grant Riller (18.4 ppg) and Joe Chealey (18.0 ppg)

Reasons for Worry: Charleston is pretty solid on defense. The Cougars have held nine opponents to 60 points or less. They've got an established trio with Jarrell Brantley joining Riller and Chealey as well as some depth off the bench. They have the ingredients for an upset although the offense has gotten stagnant at times. If Northeastern or William & Mary win the CAA Tournament, they could pull off an upset too.

Penn (21-7)

Conference: Ivy League

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Conference Tournament: at the Palestra (Philadelphia) March 10-11

Non-Conference Results of Note: Won at Dayton by 8. Lost by 28 to Villanova

Leading Scorer: Ryan Betley (14.5 ppg) and AJ Brodeur (12.5 ppg)

Reasons for Worry: The Quakers used to be a staple in the NCAA Tournament, but there are reasons for optimism once again. The team gets to be home for the Ivy League Tournament and they've been tested out of conference. Not a lot of squads win at UD Arena or play close games with some of the Philly Big 5. Brodeur is a big man with a lot of moves. He's one of six Quakers that average at least eight points per game.

Northern Kentucky (22-8)

Conference: Horizon League

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Conference Tournament: at Little Caesars Arena (Detroit) March 2-6

Non-Conference Results of Note: Lost by 6 at Texas A&M

Leading Scorer: Drew McDonald (16.8 ppg) and Lavone Holland II (13.6 ppg)

Reasons for Worry: The Norse have six single-digit losses this season with four of those coming out of conference. Head coach John Brannen has done great things with this team and they've got veterans who can beat you inside and from long range. Carson Williams is shooting better than 60 percent from the field.

Other teams that were considered: UCSB (Big West), Buffalo (MAC), Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Bucknell (Patriot), South Dakota State (Summit)

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.