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Friday, December 2, 2011

Mid-Major Watch: Ranking Potential At-Large Teams

I don't know how much basketball everyone is watching and it's way too early to start talking about bubble teams for March Madness, but the talking heads over at ESPN keep saying it's going to be a "chalk year" in the NCAA Tournament.  What they mean is they expect the top seeded teams to move along without many upsets occurring along the way.  After watching several games the last few weeks, I've come up with the opinion that the major conferences are not that deep this season.  It may be a chalk year but I believe we can expect several mid major conferences to have multiple schools qualify for the Big Dance and this is something I like.
Below I've ranked a baker's dozen schools who could earn an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Creighton may rely upon Doug McDermott too much.
Then again, he's so good why not use him as much as possible?
  1. UNLV - When you beat the best team in the country your NCAA Tournament profile looks good.  They'll look for an encore in a bout with Wichita St. this weekend.
  2. Gonzaga - Play Illinois this weekend in a game that will say a lot about where the Zags are right now.  I believe they're the best team in the West Coast Conference and new addition BYU will only add to the conference resume.  Other non-conference games include Michigan St., Arizona, Butler, and Xavier.
  3. Memphis - The Tigers have played a challenging schedule thus far which is a good thing when you're in Conference USA.  Their two losses were to Michigan and in OT to Georgetown.  They'll take on Louisville in a couple of weeks in their toughest game of the season.
  4. Wichita St. - At 4-2 they don't seem to pass the eye test on paper but dig a little deeper and you see this team is no slouch.  They pasted a UAB team that gave Creighton trouble and beat Colorado handily.  Their two losses came in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off to a top 12 Alabama team (70-60) and in overtime to Temple - another school who will likely be an at-large team.  The Shockers play UNLV - the only team to beat North Carolina so far - in what looks to be a key resume building game.
  5. Creighton - The Jays play host to Nebraska this weekend in what will surely be a close game.  Creighton is 6-0 but the only decent victory was the road win over San Diego St. Wednesday though playing in an improved MVC means they will be tested this season.  One thing that worries me is they seem to rely too much upon Doug McDermott.  What happens when he has a bad night?
  6. Harvard - The Crimson are 7-0 and have won an early season tournament.  They've done a great job controlling tempo and even beat Florida St.  Next week they'll travel to Storrs, CT to take on UConn.  Win there and everyone will notice.
  7. BYU - Maybe I've ranked them too low but they don't have any impressive victories and their opening game loss to Utah St. isn't something you can just brush aside.  Oregon comes knocking this weekend and a win should be expected. 
  8. Iona - This is an exciting team to watch as they're averaging 96 points per game after five games including a 91-90 loss to Purdue in Puerto Rico.  The concern here is defense. How good is it and can it limit opponents enough when the offense is having a rough night?
  9. Belmont - Last year Belmont was the darling upset pick in the NCAA Tournament - only it didn't happen.  This year they're back on everyone's radar and even Ken Pomeroy has him at #15 in his ratings.  They lost to Duke by a single point and also Memphis.  Unfortunately the time for quality wins may be over unless they're included in Bracket Busters in February.
  10. San Diego St. - I understand it's hard for some of these teams to schedule more than a few quality opponents each year.  That makes it imperative for them to win in the opportunities they're given.  SDSU is currently 1-2 in those games with their win against Arizona.  They need to do more.
  11. New Mexico - I'm going on a hunch here. So far New Mexico has not looked impressive and even lost to in-state rival NM St.  A loss to Missouri St. this weekend in may jeopardize their NCAA Tournament aspirations but this is a team with talent and I suspect they'll turn it around.
  12. Northern Iowa -UNI have looked very good early with the one exception being their loss at St. Mary's.  It's still early and that may prove to be an aberration but right now I'm still taking it into consideration.  They play an improved Colorado St. team this weekend followed by an in-state rivalry game at home vs. Iowa. 
  13. St. Mary's - Lost to Denver in their only real game so far. They have a three game stretch in late December that has them playing Baylor, Missouri St., and BYU.  Until then I don't think we'll know much about them.
Honorable mention: Missouri St., Denver, Murray St., Cleveland St., Butler

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