Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What mid-majors need to prove themselves this week to belong in the Field of 65?

There are several mid-majors that sit squarely on the bubble, including three or four in the Atlantic 10 Conference alone. With the early exits of non-majors St. Mary's, South Alabama, and VCU, will that take bids away from the mid-majors? Will it take the Mountain West Conference from three bids to two? Conf. USA from two to one? The Atlantic 10 from three to two, or even just one? We already know that the WAC will get just one team in this year, as opposed two two bids that they have received every year from 1993-2007.
The A-10 has a lock in #10 Xavier, who was clearly the cream of the crop of a very balanced league, but half the league is trying to propose a case to get in. This includes Massachusetts, Dayton, St. Joseph's, Temple and Rhode Island.
UMass is 8-4 in their last 12 games, an indication that they are playing well to end the season, and have an RPI in the low 30s. The Minutemen are a safe bet to make the Big Dance, and are a guarantee if they win their semifinal game to which they have a bye.
Dayton has an RPI in the high 30s, but at just 8-8 in the conference, putting them at the #8 seed for the tourney, the Flyers need to at least reach the championship game to receive consideration.
St. Joe's is 18-10 with an RPI in the mid-to-low 50s. They looked like they might slip in after defeating Xavier a week ago, only to follow it with a loss to one of the worst teams in the A10 just two days later. Like the Flyers, St. Joe's may need to reach the tourney final to get consideration.
Temple sits at 18-12 with an RPI in the mid 50s. With no marquee victories, the Owls will need to win the tournament at this point.
The same goes for Rhode Island, a 19-12 team whose RPI sits in the low 60s. I nearly didn't put R.I. on this list.
In its nine-year existence, the Mountain West Conference has gotten two teams into the NCAA playoffs six times and three teams in three times. If New Mexico (24-7, 11-5, 51 RPI) manages to get past Utah in the first round, and then either beat or play tourney host UNLV tough in the semifinals, then they should get in. BYU (26-6, RPI 22) is a lock and in the hunt for a #6 or possibly a #5 seed, while UNLV (23-7, RPI 30) simply needs to win their first round game against TCU to guarantee their spot.
Conference USA has been dominated all year by #2 Memphis (29-1, 16-0), but could another team in the form of UAB or Houston slip in under the radar? UAB (22-9, RPI mid-50s) could if they reach the tourney final and at least give the second-ranked Tigers a great game, as opposed to how they played against Memphis last week when they lost by 30 to badly hurt their cause. Houston, with a 66 RPI, must win the tournament and get the automatic bid.
As a Utah State student, I must give mention to the WAC, a traditional solid mid-major conference. It's really too bad that as the 20th-ranked conference out of 32, there is no way the league will get more than one bid. The best RPIs in the conference belong to the Aggies (72) and Nevada (74).
That leaves it up to the Ags, who have won 23 games for the ninth straight year and have the #1 seed in the tourney, to win it all on a floor that is hosted by fellow co-champion and #3 seed New Mexico State, who has 13 losses due to a bad 7-9 record against a brutal non-conference schedule. Both schools, and also Nevada (20-10) and Boise State (22-8), finished 12-4 to create a massive share of the WAC crown.

My picks: the Moutain West gets three bids, the A10 two, and Conf. USA one, especially since a small conference as mentioned at the start of the article may get more than their traditional one bid.

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