Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
There exists in college basketball a certain romanticism that distinguishes it from every other sport. It shines through in March, when the sport’s preeminent end-of-season tournament provides a glimmer of hope for Division one teams, no matter how small, unknown or minimally-funded, to break through on a national stage. For the mid-majors, this is prime time. Unlike their high-major counterparts, the little guys’ path to the field of 68 is restricted. Most smaller leagues only receive one Tournament bid, which is normally decided through conference tournaments. It’s what makes championship weekend – when one-bid leagues fight tooth and nail for that coveted Tournament bid – such a compelling series of high-stakes contests. It’s also why predicting each smaller league’s participant(s) is inherently difficult. In a do-or-die knockout setting, anything can happen. So when I look back on my five mid-major Tournament breakout picks (the subject of the following list) five months from now, I’ll probably be kicking myself over a lack of informed judgment and insight. The hope is that at least one of my designated team breaks the field and makes some noise once there. If not, well, that’s why the NCAA Tournament is such a spectacle – because you just never know.
A word of caution: you’ll notice the list fails to include teams from the A-10, Missouri Valley, C-USA, West Coast Conference or Mountain West. I chose to exclude those leagues not because I don’t think any of their teams are capable of making NCAA Tournament runs; it’s quite the opposite actually. All three will likely send multiple teams to the Big Dance, so I’ve decided to leave them out for the sake of novelty. With that out of the way, we March on (pun totally intended).
A future lottery pick, Mitchell leads a strong North Texas squad (Photo credit: US Presswire).
If this is the first time you’re hearing the name Tony Mitchell, it will not be the last. Mitchell (6’ 8’’, 235 pounds) almost certainly would have been a first round pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Instead, he’s back for his sophomore season after missing out on an NCAA bid last season when North Texas fell to Sun Belt upstart Western Kentucky in the conference tournament final. It’s a shame, too – no offense to Western Kentucky, but there is not a single person who wouldn’t have enjoyed watching Mitchell in a potential #1-#16 matchup with Anthony Davis and Kentucky. We aren’t always that lucky. Anyway, with Mitchell back in the fold, the Mean Green are more than capable of broaching the field this season, and the talented forward isn’t the only reason why. Point guard Chris Jones and swingman Jordan Williams, both double-digit scorers who were declared ineligible in January due to academic issues, are cleared to take the court again this fall. Oklahoma State transfer Roger Franklin returns for another season. Off-guard Alzee Williams, who averaged 15.8 points per game over his final 10 games, will stabilize the backcourt. The deep guard rotation will prevent teams from keying in on Mitchell, who should only improve in his second collegiate season. We will get an early taste of North Texas’s Tournament bona fides on November 9, when the Mean Green take on Creighton in Omaha. Mitchell vs Doug McDermott to kick off the 2012-13 college basketball calendar? Yes, please.
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