Commentary

Picking the right mid-major underdog

Updated: March 9, 2012, 4:13 PM ET
By DJ Gallo | Page 2

Page 2 Davidson DGBCGetty ImagesDavidson's Mr. Cat has been waving the NCAA tournament underdog flag for a while.

We're less than a week away from the NCAA tournament. Many mid-major teams have already secured their spots in the field.

It's time to scout out the mid-major underdogs so you can decide which bandwagon you want to hop aboard when filling out your tournament brackets.

To pick an NCAA tournament sleeper, there are five important categories every true analyst considers: team name, team colors, team mascot, entertaining player names and how ridiculous the team's head coach looks or behaves.

Good news: Your research is already done for every mid-major that has earned an NCAA trip so far.

Belmont (Atlantic Sun Conference)

Team Name: Bruins

Colors: Red and blue

Mascot: Bruiser the Bruin, who is of suspiciously high quality for a mid-major mascot.

[+] EnlargeRick Byrd
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images"Maybe I should've started Rex Grossman."

Entertaining Player Names: None -- and in the conference championship, they beat Florida Gulf Coast, which has a player named Filip Cvjeticanin. For shame.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. Rick Byrd kind of looks like Mike Shanahan without the membership to Hollywood Tans.

Underdog-ity: Low. Belmont has made the NCAA tournament five of the past seven seasons, or the same as defending national champion and NBA factory UConn. Sellouts.

Montana (Big Sky Conference)

Team Name: Grizzlies

Colors: Silver and maroon

Mascot: Monte, who always wears a red, white and blue bandana and is … oh, no: Tragedy. Win for Monte, Grizzlies!

Entertaining Player Names: Will Cherry, Jordan Wood, Kareem Jamar, Billy Reader.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Very low. Wayne Tinkle is well put together. On the bright side, he looks a little like Sam the Eagle from "The Muppets." On the even brighter side, his name is Wayne Tinkle.

Underdog-ity: Low. Montana has made two of the past three NCAA tournaments and nine overall. Although their mascot was brutally decapitated and their coach is a Muppet. So let's change their Underdog-ity to high.

UNC-Asheville (Big South Conference)

Team Name: Bulldogs

Colors: White and blue

Mascot: Rocky, a live mascot (bonus points!) who is quite popular with the ladies.

Entertaining Player Names: Matt Dickey, J.P. Primm, Madison Davis, Chudier Pal, Corey Littlejohn, Quinard Jackson, Jon Nwannunu, Jaleel Roberts. So pretty much the whole team.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. He looks like your average guy in his late 60s. Too bad he doesn't still dress like he did in the late '60s.

Underdog-ity: Low. The Bulldogs have now made back-to-back NCAA tournaments, proving my theory that the more entertaining names a basketball team has, the better it will be.

VCU (Colonial Athletic Association)

Underdog-ity: No reason to do the other categories. VCU's Underdog-ity rating is 0. They made the Final Four last year. If you consider them an underdog, wait until you hear about this small private school in North Carolina called Duke.

Detroit (Horizon League)

Team Name: Titans

Colors: Red, white, blue

Mascot: Tommy the Titan, who has a unique look of intimidation and concern.

Entertaining Player Names: P.J. Boutte

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. In fact, head coach Ray McCallum keeps it all together so well that he was able to land a recruit who was also offered by Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and UCLA -- a player by the name of Ray McCallum Jr.

Underdog-ity: Very high. The Titans went only 22-13 and this is their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1999. They also have the Detroit and father-son storylines that the media will love. If that's not enough to sell you on their underdog bona fides, consider this: Detroit comes from the Horizon League, a conference so poor it obviously created its conference logo in five minutes using clip art.

[+] EnlargeHarvard
AP Photo/Fred BeckhamUnderdog? This guy's school? Please.

Harvard (Ivy League)

Underdog-ity: Zero. Like VCU, there's no need to think this one through. Harvard produced NBA superstar Jeremy Lin and even won the Ivy League football championship this year. Imagine if Kentucky basketball and Alabama football combined under one roof -- does that sound like an underdog to you? If it does, consider yourself both too dumb and too unathletic to get into Harvard.

Loyola, Md. (Metro Atlantic)

Team Name: Greyhounds

Colors: Grey and green

Mascot: The muscular Iggy, a huge improvement over their previous mascot, who appeared to have been hit by a car, resulting in brain damage.

Entertaining Player Names: Anthony Winbush, Dylon Cormier, J'hared Hall, Chido Onyiuke.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Very, very, very, disheveled.

Underdog-ity: Loyola hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1994. The Greyhounds also identify with underdogs. From the Associated Press game wrap of the MAAC title game:

"With his Loyola-Maryland team trailing by four points at halftime of the MAAC title game, coach Jimmy Patsos decided to give his players a history lesson with a halftime speech about Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party.

"'I said there are levels; there's Martin Luther King; there's Malcolm X; and I saved Bobby Seale for the end,' Patsos said. 'Sometimes you have to get militant, and we're getting militant young men.'"

Creighton (Missouri Valley)

Team Name: Bluejays

Colors: Blue and white

Mascot: Billie the Bluejay. Apparently blue jays are chubby, neckless and flightless birds.

Entertaining Player Names: Gregory Echenique, Jahenns Manigat, Matthew Dorwart, Mogboluwaga Oginni

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Greg McDermott is moderately disheveled. But he could do better.

Underdog-ity: Doug McDermott, Greg's son, is one of the best players in the country. Way to blow your team's underdog status, kid.

LIU Brooklyn (Northeast Conference)

Team Name: Blackbirds

Colors: Black and white

Mascot: Blackbird. That's its name. Clever.

Entertaining Player Names: Booker Hucks, Robinson Odoch Opong

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Very clean. That probably doesn't play well in Brooklyn. Maybe it's an ironic clean-cut.

Underdog-ity: LIU Brooklyn has now made back-to-back NCAA tournaments. And if everyone jumps on their bandwagon, they'll lose all credibility with the local bearded hipsters.

Murray State (Ohio Valley)

Underdog-ity: Murray State is 30-1, is ranked 11th and has a rap anthem with more than 100,000 YouTube views. Next.

Lehigh (Patriot League)

Team Name: Mountain Hawks

Colors: White and brown

Mascot: Clutch: Yes, he looks a little odd, but you can't deny that he is … wait for it … Clutch.

Entertaining Player Names: John Adams, B.J. Bailey, Conroy Baltimore, Stefan Cvrkalj, Mackey McKnight, Tyrone Staggers.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Dr. Brett Reed, who dresses well and has his Ph.D. It's unclear how he got into this line of work.

Underdog-ity: Lehigh has been to five NCAA tournaments, last doing it in 2010, and has a Ph.D head coach. On the other hand, one of their players is named Mackey McKnight, perhaps the scrappiest name in college basketball history. That's enough to give them a high underdog rating.

[+] EnlargeBob McKillop
Chuck Liddy/Getty Images"I am serious about our chances. And don't call me Shirley."

Davidson (Southern Conference)

Team Name: Wildcats

Colors: Red and black

Mascot: Mr. Cat, who is awesome. Why do flippers come out of the side of his face? Why not?

Entertaining Player Names: Youssef Mejri, Mason Archie II, JP Kuhlman, Frank Ben-Eze, Chris Czerapowicz.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Low. But Bob McKillop will bring back many memories of Lute Olsen and Leslie Nielsen.

Underdog-ity: Davidson was last in the NCAA tournament in 2008 when they had Stephen Curry. They have a good program. They also have a cat mascot that has flippers that come out of the side of its face. You have to root for them.

South Dakota State (Summit League)

Team Name: Jackrabbits

Colors: Yellow and blue

Mascot: Jackrabbit. He has a great look and SDSU gets bonus points for not calling him Jack Rabbit.

Entertaining Player Names: Taevaunn Prince

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Scott Nagy is so disheveled he coaches shoeless (for charity).

Underdog-ity: Maximum. They've never been to the NCAA tournament before. And I heard their coach doesn't even have shoes!

[+] EnlargeWestern Kentucky
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesWestern Kentucky really flipped its season around.

Western Kentucky (Sun Belt)

Team Name: Hilltoppers

Colors: Red and white

Mascot: You should be ashamed of yourself if you even have to ask.

Entertaining Player Names: Kene Anyigbo, Kevin Kaspar, Spence Sheldon, Jamal Crook, O'Karo Akamune, Teeng Akol, Vinny Zollo, George Fant.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Ray Harper is mildly disheveled, but not even in the same league as the Hilltoppers mascot, which is a red, shapeless blob. The Rick Majerus of mascots, if you will.

Underdog-ity: Western Kentucky is 15-18. That's how you become an underdog. Well done, boys.

Saint Mary's (West Coast Conference)

Team Name: Gaels

Colors: Red and blue

Mascot: Gael Force One. No, you shut up. That is its name.

Entertaining Player Names: Matthew Dellavedova, Beau Levesque, Eividas Petrulis.

Disheveled-ness of Head Coach: Randy Bennett will offer you several entertaining facial expressions each game.

Underdog-ity: Very low. Saint Mary's is ranked 18th in the coaches' poll and made the Sweet 16 in 2010. So yes, there is good college basketball on the West Coast. It's just that none of it is in the Pac-12.


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