There is no official statistic that indicates a break out team. For our purposes here, basketball analyst Cain Currie and myself have defined it as a program that reached an unprecedented height in 2017-2018. Teams that were great before and showed signs of returning to the big time this year don’t fit into the “break out” concept, which is about freshness.
Division I break out teams of the season:
Nebraska – Under second-year coach Amy Williams, the Huskers were 21-10 overall and 11-5 in conference for third in the Big Ten – an improvement over last year’s 7-22 campaign. They play with high energy and are fun to watch. Nebraska lost to Maryland in the conference tournament semifinals.
South Dakota – The team that Williams left for Nebraska is doing quite well. They were a perfect 14-0 in conference this year, 26-6 overall, and lost a heart breaker in the tournament title game to South Dakota State. The future is bright for this team, as is the newly-equalized rivalry with the Jackrabbits.
Northern Colorado – The Bears won the Big Sky Tournament and are on their way to the Big Dance for the first time in program history under coach Kamie Ethridge. They were 26-6 this season, which included early preconference wins over DePaul and LSU.
Mercer – First time Southern Conference Tournament champions? Check. First time going to the NCAA tourney? Check. A 30-2 overall and 14-0 conference record? Check. Their last loss was the day after Thanksgiving. Check them out.
Nicholls State – The Colonels started truly hitting their stride in late January, and they peaked at exactly the right time. In the Southland Tournament championship game, they shook off a slow start and rallied to take down big dogs Stephen F. Austin for their first auto-bid. Right now, momentum is in their favor.
Grambling State – The Tigers are the perennial “never give up” team, as they started poorly this year and continued to work, finished 13-5 in SWAC play. Their unlikely conference tournament title game win this weekend put them in the field of 64.
UAB – The Blazers rocked opponent’s socks all season long, and finished 26-6 overall and 13-3 in Conference-USA play with cohesion and fast-paced play. They fell in the title game of the tournament, but their future is blazingly bright.
Jacksonville – Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, now in her fifth year, has the Dolphins rocking. They finished second in Atlantic-Sun play and lost the tournament championship game to FGCU, but they are growing game by game and are now contenders.
Maine – The Black Bears have had a rough few seasons, and interim coach Amy Vachon was only formally given the title of permanent head coach two weeks ago. But they are back in the NCAA Tournament after a 14-year absence after winning the America East Tournament last week. They seem re-energized.
Drake – The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament winners and NCAA tourney ticket-punchers went 18-0 in league this season with some dominant performances. They appear confident and ready to take on any opponent.