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WHO COULD PLAY THE ROLE OF MID-MAJOR SPOILER?
February 28, 2008

SCS.comAs March Madness quickly approaches the teams unfortunate enough to be on the bubble have plenty to worry about. While from the superficial standpoint it would seem that all these teams need to do is win their remaining regular seasons games and perform well in their respective conference tournaments to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, there are some factors out of their control to consider. There isnít a specific name for these teams, but major conference teams on the bubble need to worry about mid-major spoilers.

While it may not be a big deal if the top seeds in the ACC or Big East lose their tournaments, it is a different story when favorites in smaller conferences lose their automatic bids. Say for example Georgetown was to lose in the second round of the Big East Tournament and the eventual champion was Connecticut. In the grand scheme of things for major bubble teams, this wouldnít be a big deal since both of these teams would have gotten bids to the Dance regardless if they won the Big East or not. In the case of a smaller conference though, like the Horizon League, if Butler were to lose at some point in their tournament, major bubble teams like Maryland or Syracuse would start to sweat a little. The reason behind this is because Butler, who has been ranked in the top 25 all season long, is going to get a bid regardless if they win or lose. However if they get an at-large bid as opposed to the automatic bid they are expected to win, suddenly the Horizon League is getting two bids, one of which could go to an additional major conference team.

With that long-winded explanation of what a mid-major spoiler is, here is a look at a few teams that are most likely to pull an upset in their conference tournaments and potentially wreak havoc on some bigger conferences.

Cleveland State Ė Horizon League

The Vikings opened up conference play with a torrid six-game win streak that included victories over Butler and Wright State. While that was immediately followed up by five straight losses, Cleveland State is back on track having won five of six. Why could this team potentially steal the automatic bid though? It comes down to defense and rebounds.

Cleveland State has held opponents to 41% shooting from the field this season, which may not sound great, but when you consider conference leader Butler has allowed opponents to shoot 44%, that number suddenly doesnít look so bad. The Vikings have been strong on the boards as well, hauling in over 35 per game. Donít overlook a 71% shooting percentage from the free throw line either, conference games often tend to come down to the wire.

The real key will be the play of juniors Cedric Jackson and JíNathan Bullock. Jackson has been a stat sheet stuffer this season, posting averages of 14.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists. He has only gotten strong as the season has progressed too, just missed out on a triple-double last week against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Bullock has provided a beast of an inside-outside presence and has proven he can explode on the offensive end, as he did earlier in the month with a 39-point performance against Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Creighton Ė Missouri Valley Conference

This was a tough call to make because Illinois State and Southern Illinois are both on the bubble, so they could just as easily play the spoiler role in another intriguing season in the MVC. With that said though Creightonís only option at this point is to win the MVC or itís probably off to the NIT, making them an ideal spoiler candidate.

The Blue Jays beat both the Salukis and the Sycamores handily earlier in the season, and played conference leader Drake tough both times the two teams met. This is a tough overall team that knows how to score. They are third in the MVC in scoring and second in shooting percentage and scoring margin. Of course being a solid defensive team doesnít hurt matters either; the Blue Jays are second in the conference in field goal percentage defense and rebounding, while leading the league in steals.

Creighton is a very balanced offensive team that likes to play a lot of bodies. Ten players this season have been averaging at least 13 minutes per game and all have played in at least 27 games. While no one player is necessarily a go-to type scorer, freshman guard PíAllen Stinnet has been explosive this season, and the trio of Dane Watts, Booker Woodfox and Nick Bahe are all outside shooting threats. This team can spread the floor and make life very difficult for opposing defenses.

Ohio Ė Mid American Conference

Kent State may be riding high after their Bracket Busters win over Saint Maryís, but they better keep an eye out for the Bobcats come the MAC Tournament. Ohio split their two games with the Golden Flashes, winning convincingly by 12 at home back in January. Also donít overlook that they have beaten Western Michigan as well, the conferences second place team. More impressive than any of their MAC wins though is their non-conference resume which includes wins on the road at Maryland and Saint Johnís, as well as a home drubbing of Ivy League leader Cornell.

While statistically the Bobcats donít jump off the page, they have some real impact players, and it all starts with the frontcourt. Leon Williams and Jerome Tillman have been making their presence felt inside all season long. Williams in particular has been one of the top players in the MAC this season, averaging a double-double of 15.6 points and 10 rebounds. His 15 and 15 performance against Maryland and subsequent 24 and 10 game against Saint Johnís shows that Williams isnít just a mid-major sensation either.

Ohio may not have a lot of perimeter shooting threats, but they are loaded with athletes that like to attack the basket and create. While they may not be a major scoring force (56 points per game), the Bobcats do a good job of forcing their style of play into opponents and slowing down the pace of the game. If the game stalls into a half court set, Ohio is more than equipped to make things happen offensively.

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