The College Basketball Notebook

February 17, 2010 10:39 AM

Midmajor Muscle

The mid-major conferences, those outside the Big Six (Big East, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 or Pac-10), usually get 4-6 at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Based on a review of the power ratings, and confirmed by a check of Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology projections over at, it can be fairly said that the midmajors could double that number this year.

If you look at the Top 50 of the Pomeroy Rankings (I used to use RPI, but I got a very good recommendation for Pomeroy this week as the one that will most closely approximate the values the Selection Committee will use), you find 17 spots held by midmajors. Even after you take out the spots for automatic qualifiers, that still leaves nine more to fill up the field of 34 at-large selections if these were the lone criteria. The midmajor landscape is dominated by the Mountain West and the Atlantic 10, whom Lunardi projects to scoop up a combined nine NCAA bids. Let’s take a brief look at them…

Richmond thumped Temple last week and moved a half-game into the lead. This conference has six contenders for spots. Along with the Spiders & Owls, Xavier and Dayton are strong in the power ratings. But this is the conference that will get most interesting in trying to guess what the committee values. Because the Musketeers and Flyers, the pride of western Ohio, are outpaced in record by Charlotte & Rhode Island. Or the committee could take all six of them.

The A-10 has done well in non-conference play and can certainly argue for a substantial showing based on that. Consider some of their quality wins...

*Richmond beat Mississippi State, Missouri and Florida.
*Temple beat Virginia Tech and Villanova
*Xavier knocked off Cincinnati
*Dayton also beat Cincy, and tacked on a win over Georgia Tech.
*Charlotte blew out Louisville in Freedom Hall.
*Rhode Island beat Oklahoma State.

This will be an exciting finish in the conference and the league tourney in Atlantic City will have high impact. It’s only a 2-3 hour drive for me and I’ll admit to finding the prospect of blackjack and basketball for a weekend to be appealing.

New Mexico and BYU are each 23-3 and rolling into the tournament. The Lobos have wins over Pac-10 leader Cal, Texas Tech and Dayton. BYU’s resume isn’t quite as strong, but the record is so good that the wins over Arizona and Arizona State will surely be enough. The interesting test is going to be whether San Diego State and UNLV can join them. They are 19-6 and 19-7 respectively. But S.D. State doesn’t have the eye-popping wins, while Vegas does. They have beaten Pitt, Louisville and Arizona and my guess is that right now they would make it, while the Aztecs would be left home. Either way, four more bids could come from here.

The rest of the mid-majors are in the 2-3 contenders category. Gonzaga is a lock regardless of the WCC Tournament results and Lunardi projects them as a #4 seed. St. Mary’s is the close call. They narrowly missed last year, and may suffer the same fate this year. The record is 21-4, but there are no big wins to impress the committee. Right now, Lunardi has them in the field, but not by much. Over in Conference USA, UTEP and Memphis are the contenders. While both have a good shot, the lack of marquee wins suggest that either both need to surge down the stretch and play each other in the tournament final, or they will be only one bid for this league. We also can’t rule out the Colonial league, where Northeastern leads the standings, but Old Dominion looks good in the power ratings. And Virginia Commonwealth is still squarely in the mix.

And finally there’s the annual watch of conferences that have one team who may qualify as an at-large if they fail to win the league tournament. Siena, Northern Iowa and Butler lead up this list and there’s an outside shot Murray State could make it as well. We’ll talk more about these teams when conference tournament time approaches. For now, the bottom line for the power conferences is simple—don’t put yourself on the bubble, because it might not be as roomy as in year’s past.

See you tomorrow to recap some of the early week’s action.

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