Rick Pitino and Iona among Dick Vitale's mid-major teams to watch

Rick Pitino and Iona are currently the team to beat in the MAAC. Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

While I've been sidelined from calling games due to my cancer diagnosis and inability to speak, I have been watching plenty of games. Every year, a number of mid-major teams show up on the radar and compete for a national ranking. They will become some of the Cinderella stories during March Madness. I have come up with a super seven of mid-majors that have impressed me this season. I know you can make a case for about a dozen!

Murray State Racers (16-2)

The Racers have a six-game win streak after taking down Eastern Illinois on Thursday. Murray State's only losses came against highly ranked Auburn and in a neutral site loss to East Tennessee State. One of the most impressive wins came at Memphis. Tevin Brown has had a special career, becoming the school's all-time three-point field goal leader.

Davidson Wildcats (15-2)

Bob McKillop has enjoyed a storied career, one which included coaching Steph Curry. McKillop's Wildcats have become a favorite in the Atlantic 10, winning 14 straight games. The only losses are against San Francisco and New Mexico State. Davidson had a huge win over Alabama in a game played in Birmingham. Three of the last four wins have been close calls, however, decided by four points or fewer. The Wildcats have been a solid shooting team, hitting over 42 percent of their three-pointers.

Iona Gaels (15-3)

Rick Pitino's team has been plagued by COVID issues but is still a favorite in the MAAC and recently got a big win at Monmouth. The Gaels lost to Kansas, Belmont and Saint Louis (by one point). No shame in those setbacks. Iona scored a big win over Alabama in Orlando. Tyson Jolly leads a balanced attack at 14.7 PPG.

Loyola Chicago Ramblers (14-2)

When Oklahoma hired Porter Moser away from Loyola, some may have wondered if the program would drop off. Drew Valentine's first season with the Ramblers has answered that question with a resounding no. Loyola is ranked in the AP Top 25 this week behind Valentine, who started the season as the youngest Division I head coach (age 30). The only losses for Valentine and Co. came to currently ranked Auburn and Michigan State in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Loyola currently has a 10-game win streak, and a résumé that includes wins over San Francisco, Arizona State, DePaul and Vanderbilt. Loyola is a very efficient offensive team, shooting over 50% from the field.

Ohio Bobcats (14-2)

The Bobcats' only losses came to a pair of ranked SEC teams -- Kentucky and LSU. Ohio sports a nine-game win streak and a 5-0 record in the MAC. The average margin in league victories is 11 PPG, and wins have come against quality teams such as Cleveland State, Belmont and Marshall. The Bobcats rely on the trifecta, making 8.7 per game.

San Francisco Dons (15-4)

I have been impressed with Todd Golden's program ever since I called a WCC tournament game involving them. The Dons have wins over Davidson, UAB, UNLV, Fresno State and Arizona State. The losses came against Gonzaga, Loyola Chicago, BYU and Grand Canyon. Jamaree Bouyea is the team's top scorer at 18.3 PPG.

Belmont Bruins (14-5)

I was thrilled to call the final of the 2021 ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando between Belmont and Dayton. The Flyers won a nail-biter, but Belmont showed it belonged -- Casey Alexander's team beat Iona in the semifinal. Belmont has won nine of its last 11 games, including a tough loss at Morehead State on Thursday night.

The 17th annual Dick Vitale Gala, benefiting the V Foundation, will be held May 6, 2022, at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. For more information visit dickvitaleonline.com.