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We ask ourselves the same question every year before March Madness begins: Can a mid-major finally win it all?
It's been 30 years since a mid-major won the NCAA Tournament, and only four even reached the title game since 1979. But in what's been a down season for college basketball, it feels as likely as ever we see new blood cut down the nets.
Here are five mid-major teams that can win the NCAA Tournament (for real!), with odds from theScore Bet in New Jersey:
Gonzaga is likely overqualified to be a "mid-major," as Mark Few's squad has been a top-four seed in four of the last seven years and reached the Elite Eight three times in that span. But some bettors are still skeptical of the Bulldogs, citing their easy schedule and tendency to fall apart against swarming defenses in the tournament.
This year could be different, though. Gonzaga shoots the three more efficiently this year (39%) than any of Few's previous teams did, relative to the national average, and its defense is better at preventing the deep ball, too. The Bulldogs may have corrected one of the main issues for their past tournament flameouts.
We detailed last week the reason why Dayton likely won't win it all: its defense is ranked outside the top 50, which has been a harbinger for March disappointment. But that isn't to say the Flyers can't win the title, and their second-ranked offense is sure to cause fits for teams in the tournament.
Obi Toppin, the favorite for various player of the year honors, will be a matchup nightmare, and Dayton's superb offensive efficiency and grinding tempo on the other end leaves little margin for error for opposing teams needing to play catch-up (think Virginia). I'm skeptical the defense can rise to a top-20 level, but if it can, this is a title contender.
We've been on San Diego State's bandwagon for weeks, and a loss to UNLV doesn't throw us off the scent. The Aztecs are still one of just three teams with a top-11 offense and defense, according to KenPom, which has long been a "magic number" for tournament success.
SDSU is also built wonderfully for March, with a stable of shooters and an aggressive defense that doesn't take possessions off. Malachi Flynn isn't the "star" you'd expect to lead the way, but advanced metrics love him and this Aztecs team as a whole.
There's been a clear top three among the mid-majors for the past couple of months, but BYU is trying to make a case it should be included in that group by upsetting Gonzaga during a nine-game win streak. Bettors are buying the team's chances, too, forcing books to shorten their price on the WCC sleeper.
The Cougars are especially dangerous because of their offensive style. They're the best 3-point shooting team in the country (42%), and they rarely turn the ball over, meaning opposing teams essentially have to go shot for shot to survive. If the shots dry up, BYU is toast. But if they don't? Watch out.
As the lowest-ranked mid-major, Houston's inclusion on this list may come as a surprise to some. But oddsmakers aren't sleeping on Kelvin Sampson's group, which was just seconds away from the Elite Eight last year as KenPom's 12th-ranked team.
The Cougars are again a top-12 squad this season with a patient offense and stellar interior defense, which ranks fifth in opponent effective field-goal percentage. Houston has played a tougher schedule than any team on this list and, outside of SDSU, is arguably the most complete mid-major. If it can muster enough juice on offense, this defense is playing well enough to support a deep run.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.