Watch Out for These Bracket Busters from Smaller Conferences

Doug Upstone

Friday, February 23, 2018 12:22 PM UTC

Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 12:22 PM UTC

This next week, many smaller conferences will be holding their postseason tournaments. For most of the top teams in these leagues, the pressure is really on to reach the Big Dance. 

As opposed to the Power conferences that will take three to eight bids, with many of those teams are possibly only affected by seeding and not reaching the Big Dance. Winners of the smaller conferences are guaranteed nothing. That hardly seems fair to current one-loss conference teams like Vermont, Middle Tennessee, South Dakota State and Louisiana, but nobody ever said life was fair to the little guy.

However, if any of these or others like them have their ticket punched for the NCAA tournament, they could be Giant Killers after the First Four games. Here are teams to keep an eye should they earn their way in.

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns

Some of you might not know who this team actually is as some websites still have the university listed as Louisiana-Lafayette, which was changed to Louisiana a few years ago. No matter, the Ragin' Cajuns are for real. In the latest RPI ratings, Louisiana is 44th. Its strength is offensive efficiency, and they rank 24th in the category, which is partly why they average 84.8 PPG. This is also a team that shares the ball, is ranked 7th nationally in assists per game (18) and eighth in offensive rebound production. This team sets up to be useful for NCAA basketball picks.

Belmont Bruins or Murray State Racers

It's too bad both teams will not be in the field, but that's how it goes. Murray State ranks 70th in RPI and Belmont is 80th, and chances are one of these clubs will be a 13th or 14th seed.

Murray State defeated possible Horizon League champ Wright State and lost by five or fewer points to presumed other conference champions Middle Tennessee and Auburn. The Racers are a perennial favorite in the Ohio Valley, and you can tell when they have a more dangerous team as they are a better defensive club. Murray State is still scoring over 80 PPG, but the Racers are only allowing 41.2 percent shooting accuracy.

Belmont is a very difficult team to guard. The Bruins spread the floor and are either shooting three-pointers or driving to the basket for layups. That is why they rank 25th in offensive efficiency and can be no fun to play against. Ask quality teams like Providence, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, having covered against all three on the road, beating the last two. (Lost at Providence 66-65)

South Dakota State Jackrabbits

We will be honest: South Dakota State is only going to win or cover against the right opponent. If the Jackrabbits face a team with great quickness and defensive prowess, that becomes a problem. However, because they score 85.2 PPG and have a number of sharp-shooters, if they face a below average defense and a foe lacking motivation they could engineer the upset. The Jackrabbits are 23rd in offensive efficiency and have a solid 69 RPI.

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