Everybody loves a Cinderella, and several mid-majors would be more than happy to fill the role in 2011. Here are the three top candidates
Gordon Hayward came within three inches of sinking his 46-footer at the buzzer of last year's title game, a heave that almost gave Butler the upset of a lifetime over Duke. This year, look to Belmont to carry the mid-major torch. The Bruins (30--4, 19--1), led by shooting guard and top scorer Ian Clark (12.4 ppg), punched their ticket with an 87--46 beatdown of North Florida in the Atlantic Sun title game and will face No. 4 seed Wisconsin in Tucson. The nation's second-most-prolific three-point-shooting team (9.4 per game), Belmont can wear down opponents with its depth; 11 players averaged between 10 and 25 minutes. Two of their losses came against Tennessee; after the second, a 66--65 thriller in December, Vols coach Bruce Pearl vowed he would do "everything I can not to schedule them again."
Other mid-majors to watch:
• Old Dominion (27--6, 14--4) won a second straight CAA tournament crown. The Monarchs opened the season with a near win against Georgetown and went on to beat Xavier and George Mason. They'll take on Butler in an 8/9 game in Washington, D.C.
• Utah State (30--3, 15--1) won the WAC regular-season and tournament titles. The No. 12 seed Aggies' tough D (they rank sixth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency) just might be enough to get them past No. 5 seed Kansas State in Tucson.
GRAY QUETTI/CAL SPORT MEDIA
FAIR SHARE Clark (21) leads the Bruins in playing time and scoring, though he averages just 24.6 minutes and 12.4 points.