Mid-major teams to watch

One great aspect of college basketball is the presence of Cinderella stories.

The NCAA tournament is so attractive to fans because the underdog can make some noise in the Big Dance. Just look at Wichita State making the Final Four last season. Florida Gulf Coast was the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16. La Salle had a great run in the tournament.

A few years back, Butler made it to consecutive title games. Now the Bulldogs are going into the Big East, so they don't really have a mid-major label anymore.

My friends, the term mid-major really describes schools that do not have the same budgets as some of the big boys in the sport. Many schools get the term mid-major attached, but we have seen time and time again that these schools can contend for a national title and are often ranked among the elites.

That said, I sat down and came up with a list of schools to keep an eye on this season. I do not believe saying mid-majors is insulting, and the bottom line is that these schools will be heard from this season.

Topping my list is Gonzaga. Mark Few has built a special program over the years, and the Zags always play an incredible nonconference schedule to prepare for bigger and better things. Gonzaga has great backcourt depth, and even without Kelly Olynyk, this program will be in the national spotlight again. I believe Few laughs at the term mid-major, and his success shows how special this job is.

New Mexico is transitioning from Steve Alford (now at UCLA) to former Georgia Tech guard Craig Neal. Fans in Albuquerque will have plenty to cheer about at The Pit. Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk will lead the way as the Lobos contend in the Mountain West.

Wichita State made an incredible run to the Final Four last season, and Gregg Marshall showed his magic touch. He has a talented nucleus returning, including Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker. The Shockers will be in the hunt again in 2014.

Massachusetts is going to be a dangerous team in the A-10. Remember the name Chaz Williams. The 5-foot-9 guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., can flat-out play.

BYU is going to be tough, as coach Dave Rose, who is recovering from recent surgery in his battle against cancer, welcomes back Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino.

La Salle lost Ramon Galloway, but the Explorers have a solid core returning. Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland, Jerrell Wright and Sam Mills will lead the way to big things.

Boise State has its top scorers returning as Leon Rice's squad should be back in the Big Dance. The Broncos lost to La Salle last season in the opening round.

There you have it, some teams to keep an eye on as the season progresses.