Each year come March, ESPN and other media outlets try to justify why this Mid-Major is a likely upset special or why that mid major got screwed by not making the tournament. Today I'm going to make a list of the Mid-Majors (the Atlantic 10 is not a Mid-Major conference) that have a legitimate shot at not only qualifying for the NCAA Tournament but also winning a game. Since we already know about Butler and Gonzaga I'll skip them and move on to less talked about programs. Here we go:
note: I am doing this now so I can say, "I told you so" in three months
1. New Mexico (14-1): The Lobos are off to a scorching start and have some solid wins to back up this ranking (Cal, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Dayton). I have them ranked 12th in my Power 16 which equates to a 3 seed and Joe Lunardi gives them a 4 seed in his latest Bracketology. The Mountain West is a solid conference and if New Mexico can go 12-4 or better they'll maintain this projected seeding making them favored in their first tournament game.
2. BYU (14-1): Two schools from the MWC almost makes me want to reconsider this conferece as a Mid-Major. BYU is an offensive machine. They have legitimate size and can shoot the lights out from beyond the arc. They've scored at least 88 points in each of their last five games and have broken the century mark twice this season. Even if they don't win their first round match-up they'll be fun to watch.
3. Old Dominion (9-5): Yes, they've been up and down so far in the non-conference but their schedule has been difficult. Losing at Dayton and to Missouri on a neutral floor is nothing to be ashamed of. Defeating Georgetown and destroying Charlotte should get people's attention.
4. Harvard (10-3): The Crimson look to make their first ever tournament appearance in 2010 and to prepare they've played some quality opponents. Two of their losses were to Big East foes UConn and Georgetown. Basketball Prospectus just wrote a nifty little piece on this team. According to Ken Pomeroy's stats, Harvard currently ranks third in both free throw percentage and two-point percentage. Don't sleep on the Ivy League!
5. Northern Iowa (10-4): I'm as surprised as you are that it's not Creighton in this spot. Already 3-0 in conference play, give the Panthers credit for winning the ones they should. Drubbing Boston College and Iowa makes UNI is nearly a lock to get an at large bid.
6. William & Mary (10-2): Although the Tribe hasn't yet beaten anyone of consequence, they are off to a great start. If they can split with Old Dominion and make it to their conference championship game they'll have made a solid case for two teams from the Colonial to go dancing.
7. UNLV (12-2): Playing in the MWC may actually be advantageous this season. UNLV plays relentless defense, leading the nation in steal percentage.
8. Cornell (12-2): Very similar resume as Harvard in that their only two losses are to Big East opponents (Seton Hall, Syracuse). Also, they are one of the tallest teams in the nation with 7'0" Jeff Foote.
9. Utah St. (10-5): One of the winningest programs over the last decade, the Aggies always give someone a scare in March..
10. VCU (9-2): VCU's offense is nothing special but they do a great job guarding the perimeter and do a good job protecting the ball. If they face off against a team that is 3-point happy there could be an upset.