College basketball is in the midst of its Champ Week. There have been 13 teams that clinched an NCAA Tournament berth.
Colgate and Texas A&M Corpus Christ locked up NCAA Tournaments berths on Wednesday night, winning the Patriot League and Southland, respectively. I will look at the seven low-to-mid-major programs that punched their ticket to Tournament earlier in the week. Gonzaga and Drake are the other teams that already have assured themselves of a spot in the tourney.
Kennesaw State Owls
Kennesaw State is enjoying a historic season. The Owls are in the NCAA Tournament season for the first time after defeating Liberty in the Atlantic Sun conference finals and setting a school DI record with 26 wins and 15 conference victories. The Owls, who have been a DI member since 2005-06, had previous high win totals of 14 and seven, respectively.
Kennesaw State has come a long way under head coach Amir Abdul-Rahim. The Owls won just one game in Abdul-Rahim’s first campaign season in 2019-20, including going winless during conference play. They earned five wins in 2020-21, posted 13 victories a year ago, and now are ASun’s regular and tournament champions.
Kennesaw is a guard-oriented team that goes nine players deep. The Owls are above average on both ends of the floor, ranking 82nd in offensive efficiency and 124th in defensive efficiency.
The Owls are an outstanding shooting team, particularly from beyond the arc. They share the ball well and get to free throw line often. Defensively, the Owls play hard and cause a good amount of turnovers.
Kennesaw State projects a 13-seed. Their best wins are their two victories over Liberty during conference play.
UNC Asheville Bulldogs
UNC-Asheville is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, as they earned the Big South’s automatic bid. The Bulldogs are 2-4 lifetime in the tourney, although they have been one and down in their last two trips.
Like Kennesaw State, UNC Asheville has made tremendous strides under fifth-year coach Mike Morrell. The Bulldogs won five games in Morrell’s first season during the 2018-19 campaign, and they have improved their win total every year, not counting the Covid shortened 2020-21 season. The Bulldogs’ 27 victories this year is a school record.
The 2023 Big South regular season champs are an excellent shooting team, especially from beyond the arc. 6-10 forward Drew Pember, the conference’s POY, and 6-5 guard Tajion Jones are a formidable 1-2 scoring punch for the Bulldogs, who also do a great job getting to the free throw line.
As strong as Asheville is offensive, the Bulldogs are arguably better on the defensive end. The Bulldogs defend the 3-point line and protect the rim exceptionally well, although they allow many offensive rebounds and commit plenty of fouls.
UNC Asheville projects as a 15th seed. The Bulldogs’ best victory is over UCF.
College of Charleston Cougars
The College of Charleston, one of the best mid-major programs since joining DI in the early ‘90s, also set a school record with 31 victories this year. Charleston is 1-5 in their previous five tourney appearances, their last being in 2018.
COC likes to push the tempo offensively and is highly efficient on both ends of the floor. The Cougars go 10 players deep and are well-balanced, shoot the ball exceptionally well, guard the 3-point line, and hit the boards on both ends hard. Six Cougs average at least nine points, including five who score 10+ points a contest.
Charleston projects a No. 12 seed. The Cougars are 3-1 in Quad I and II contests, with their best victories against Virginia Tech and Kent State.
Northern Kentucky Norse
Northern Kentucky is dancing for the third time after defeating Cleveland State in the Horizon League finals. The Norse, the fourth seed in the conference tournament, has posted 20 wins in six of the last seven campaigns.
NKU is a quick guard-oriented team that uses its press to force turnovers. Offensively, the Norse love to jack up 3-pointers. Marques Warrick leads the way with 19 points a game.
Northern Kentucky projects as a 16th seed. Their best win is over Cincinnati.
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Fairleigh Dickinson is in the NCAA Tournament despite not winning the Northeast Conference Tournament. FDU fell to Merrimack in the NEC final, but the Knights advanced because Merrimack was ineligible to play in the NCAA Tournament. The projected Play-in game participant is dancing for the third time since 2016 and seventh overall.
Southeast Missouri State Redhawks
Southeast Missouri State has experienced little success since jumping up to DI. The Redhawks posted their first winning record in nine seasons; their 19 wins are the most this century. SEMO, projected to participate in the Play-in game, is making its second NCAA Tournament appearance.
Furman has posted its sixth 20-win season in seven years. The Paladins, who rank fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency and 11th in scoring, set a program record with 27 wins this season. They lead the country in shooting percentage inside the arc, connecting on 60.1% of their two-point attempts.
While Furman is strong offensively, the Paladins struggle on the defensive end. Seniors Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson lead the way offensively, combining for nearly 34 points, ten caroms, and six assists. Furman, projected to be a 14 seed, is in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time and first since 1980.
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
Oral Roberts is another team that has set a school record for wins, reaching the 30-victory plateau for the first time. ORU, which got to the Sweet 16 two years, has an explosive offense led by seniors Max Abmas and Connor Vanover. The Golden Eagles are projected to be a 12th seed.
Lousiana Ragin Cajuns
Louisiana’s 26 victories are a program record. The Ragin Cajuns, led by talented 6-11 forward Jordan Brown, have a high-powered offense that shoots the ball very well. Louisiana, which finished second in the Sun Belt, projects as a 13 seed.