With the basketball bender that it is March Madness slowly starting to take hold, several teams from smaller conferences have already earned their spot in the Big Dance. These teams will be kicked back with their feet up over the next week, watching some good conference tournaments and waiting for Greg Gumbel to tell them their destination. Here’s a quick look at the teams who already have a seat at the table.
Belmont Bruins (30-4): Atlantic Sun Champ
Located in Nashville, Belmont has always been known for its musical talent, but has lately also cranked out some good basketball. The Bruins had a three-year run of tournament appearances from ’06-’08, taking the Dukies to the wire in 2008 in a 2-versus-15 matchup. 11 players on Belmont’s roster play double figure minutes, which may be why the team hasn’t lost since January, and only dropped one conference game all year.
North Carolina-Asheville (19-13): Big South Champ
Appalachia will be representing in the Big Dance with the Bulldogs pulling in their third tourney appearance. Asheville opened their season with a win at Auburn, starting the Tigers season of misery and giving the Bulldogs their lone win over a power conference. In 2003, the Bulldogs won the tournament’s play-in game, a game they may appear in again this year.
Old Dominion (26-6): Colonial
The Colonial conference always seems to raise some hell in the tournament, and the Monarchs have a good shot to continue the trend in 2011. ODU was probably in the tournament even if they didn’t win the conference championship, as they took out Xavier, Clemson, Richmond, and Dayton early in the season. Last season the Monarchs, located on the water in Norfolk, VA, pulled a first-round upset over Notre Dame.
St. Peter’s (19-13): MAAC
St. Peter’s may be a prime candidate to get murdered in a first-round game, but they will be the only team in the tournament named the Peacocks. For the first time in 16 years, the ‘Cocks gets in to the dance, despite finishing third in the league. St. Peter’s represents the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and is just outside NYC in Jersey City.
Indiana State (20-13): Missouri Valley
It’s only the Sycamores second NCAA tourney appearance since Larry Bird’s undefeated team fell to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in 1979. Indiana State tripped up conference champ Missouri State in the league title game, giving Greg Lansing a winner in his first year at the helm. The Sycamores are one of the oldest teams in the NCAA, starting back in 1896.
Morehead State (24-9): Ohio Valley
The Eagles will be one of three Kentucky teams in the tournament, and whoever matches up against them will have to deal with Kenneth Faried. Faried is a beast inside with over 80 double-doubles in his career, and a big reason why the Eagles were also in the big dance two years ago. In an awesome side note, ‘Love Connection’s Chuck Woolery was an MSU student.