March Madness: Best Mid-Major Teams of the Last 10 Years

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Andrew Doughty @DoughtyBetMGM Jul 28, 2022, 3:31 PM
VCU Butler Final Four Getty Imags
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

There’s no Mid-Major Committee or Board of Directors. Officially, there are no mid-majors. 

The NCAA doesn’t recognize the term mid-major, nor do they recognize any major within any level of college basketball. It’s an unofficial term first uttered by former Catholic University head coach Jack Kvancz more than 40 years ago. Some schools and conferences hate it–the Atlantic 10 launched a campaign in 2008 to shed the “derogatory,” though that went nowhere–some schools love it, and some are in the middle, calling the debate some variation of “silly” or “meaningless.” Love it or hate it, “mid-major” is a staple of March Madness. Mid-majors crush championship hopes, make improbable Final Four runs, and deliver buzzer-beaters. 

Who are the best mid-major March Madness teams over the last 10 years? Not the best mid-major teams that played in March Madness from 2010-19; the best mid-major teams from March Madness. Eliminate the regular-season and conference tournaments and focus exclusively on a team’s performances in the NCAA Tournament.

Without an official mid-major distinction, let’s keep it simple by adhering to Kvancz’s original proclamation: All teams in the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC (at the time of the respective tourney) are high-majors. Everyone else is a mid-major.

Is Gonzaga a mid-major? If not, when did they become a high-major? Before or after the 2017 Final Four run? Do you need a Final Four run to become a high-major? Or a national championship appearance? Was 2010 Butler a mid-major but 2011 Butler was a high-major? Was 2011 UConn a high-major in the Big East but 2014 UConn was a mid-major in the American? There are no rules, therefore, for this exercise, we’re using the original intention of a mid-major: All teams not in those six conferences.

Ranking the 10 best mid-majors in March Madness from 2010-19:

10. Wichita State - 2015

Two years after a Final Four run, and one year after an opening-weekend loss as a 1-seed, (7-seed) Wichita State returned to the Sweet 16. In the Second Round against (2) Kansas, the Shockers erased an early eight-point deficit and cruised to a 13-point win. They led Notre Dame early in the second half of their Sweet 16 game before falling apart.

9. Xavier - 2010

In one of the best tournament games of the decade, the most unappreciated mid-major of the decade, (7) Xavier, pushed (2) Kansas State to double overtime in an eventual Elite Eight loss. Jordan Crawford and Ty Holloway combined for 58 points in 93 minutes of the five-point loss.

Four days earlier, they held Pittsburgh to 39 percent shooting and shot 50 percent from deep in a win over the third-seeded Panthers.

8. Gonzaga - 2015

Gonzaga, a 7-seed, set the single-season program wins (34) record with a Second Round demolition over (2) Iowa and extended their record five days later with a 12-point win over 11-seed UCLA in the Sweet 16. A late collapse against (1) Duke–the Blue Devils ended the game on a 13-1 run–cost them a Final Four trip.

7. Loyola Chicago - 2018

Loyola Chicago allowed 62 points in three of their four wins in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, including in a one-point win over 3-seed Tennessee in the Second Round.

Clayton Custer #13 of the Loyola Ramblers is defended by Jaaron Simmons #5 of the Michigan Wolverines in the second half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at the Alamodome on March 31, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The (11) Ramblers built a 10-point second-half lead over Michigan in the national semifinal before a nearly five-minute scoring drought led to a 12-point loss. 

6. Gonzaga - 2019

Gonzaga lost to Saint Mary’s in the WCC Championship but still earned a 1-seed in the West Region, where they ran through their first three opponents by an average of more than 20 points. And if not for late-game shooting woes against Texas Tech’s defense, the Zags would’ve reached a second Final Four in three years.

5. Wichita State - 2013

Wichita State had a three-game losing streak in February and lost three of their final five games entering the NCAA Tournament. All signs pointed to a second straight opening-weekend exit. 

Instead, Cleanthony Early and the (9) Shockers reached their first Sweet 16 of the expanded era with a win over (1) Gonzaga. They hit 14 of 28 three-pointers and held the Bulldogs, the No. 3 KenPom offense, to 35 percent shooting in a six-point win.

After wins over La Salle and Ohio State, Wichita State’s championship bid ended with Louisville’s second-half surge in the national semifinal.

4. VCU - 2011

If Wichita State was cold entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament, (11) VCU was buried miles beneath the surface of the Arctic Circle.

The Rams, after starting 18-5, dropped five of their final eight regular-season games and lost to Old Dominion in the CAA Championship. Of their final 12 games entering the tourney, they won only one by at least 10 points in regulation. They won four tourney games by double digits, including a 10-point win over (1) Kansas to reach their first Final Four.

3. Butler - 2010

In his first season as a 31-year-old first-time head coach, Brad Stevens won 30 games, including a First Round win over South Alabama. Two years later, a 33-year-old Stevens led Butler within inches of a national championship.

Gordon Hayward #20 of the Butler Bulldogs drives against Kyle Singler #12 of the Duke Blue Devils during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duke won 61-59. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Butler lost their final non-conference game, their fourth loss in their last nine games, before winning 20 straight games to enter the 2010 NCAA Tournament as a program-record 5-seed. In reaching the national championship, the Bulldogs didn’t allow any of their five opponents to score 60 points.

2. Butler  - 2011

Gordon Hayward left for the NBA, and Willie Veasley graduated, but (9) Butler still became the first national runner-up to return to the national championship game one year later since Duke in 1991.

They weren’t as defensively dominant but defeated three top-4 seeds on their way to Houston, including a Second Round win over (1) Pittsburgh.

1. Gonzaga - 2017

Eighteen years after the unknown school from Spokane lost to UConn in the Elite Eight, (1) Gonzaga made their first Final Four with a loaded team that won 37 games and came within two minutes of a national championship.

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM

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Andrew Doughty

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM with a focus on college football, NFL, college basketball, and NASCAR. A graduate of the University of Kansas, he previously wrote for Sports Illustrated and HERO Sports.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM with a focus on college football, NFL, college basketball, and NASCAR. A graduate of the University of Kansas, he previously wrote for Sports Illustrated and HERO Sports.