MidMajor Roll Call

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

MID MAJOR ROLL CALL

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

There are several mid-major teams in college basketball who are seen as legitimate threats to make news in March this season. We haven't had as much time as we'd like to outline those for you.

The TV networks have been emphasizing marquee matchups from the 'BCS' leagues. We know how much you love watching and winning the TV games! With Purdue/Ohio State and Syracuse/Georgetown coming up the next two days, we'll be jumping back into the marquee conferences in short order. That made TODAY the perfect time to discuss some mid-majors. The fact that 'Bracket Buster' weekend is coming up later in the week doesn't hurt either.

We spent a lot of time coming through our proprietary power ratings here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK, plus respected ratings from other public sources (real analysts, not newspaper polls!). That's allowed us to compile a list of about a dozen conferences who will be sending potential Cinderella's to the Big Dance.

Let's present them in their projected order of impact.

MOUNTAIN WEST
BYU
New Mexico
UNLV
San Diego State

BYU is currently VERY high up in some respected power rating systems. We don't have them in the top ten like some others. We would rank them in the 20-30 range in terms of REAL threats to go the distance. We see this a lot in football. Pollsters and computers put somebody in the top five or top ten who wouldn't be seen as remotely that good if they played in a top notch conference. Stick BYU in the Big 12, and they're not battling Kansas for first place. They would be in the mix of decent teams though. You should see them in that light.

New Mexico and UNLV are in the 30-40ish range for us depending on the day of the week. That's good enough to earn an at-large bid. We wouldn't be surprised if either of these teams scored an upset or two in March. Remember that UNLV had some nice tourney results not too long ago.

San Diego State is on the cusp right now for at-large consideration. Some sources have them higher rated than we do.

On the whole, the Mountain West is poised to have a good postseason. Their top teams seem better than the Pac 10's top teams (where only one school may get an invite!). Just be aware that BYU probably won't be as good as some systems rank them. Our approach will depend on their seeding. If the committee treats them like a top 10 team, we'll be going against them. If not, we'll look for value. BYU is either going to be one of those early Gonzaga teams that thrived after being snubbed, or one of the later Gonzaga teams that struggled to play to their seed.

ATLANTIC 10
Xavier
Dayton
Temple
Richmond

Respected power ratings groups currently have Xavier in the 15-20 range. To us, they're another BYU. Talented, dangerous, but not somebody you can absolutely count on in a big game. They sure played great at Florida this past Saturday though. Of course, Florida isn't a tournament caliber team this year in our minds.

Dayton and Temple are seem as very similar in computer analysis, with Richmond not too far off the pack. Other squads from the A10 might sneak in because there's so much bedlam near the bubble this year. This foursome is who we have our eye on. Either could sneak through into a high profile spot in the tourney. And, we think SOMEBODY will eventually do that depending on the breaks of the game (and the matchups).

There's just not that big a difference this year between the Mountain West and A10...and the lesser of the BCS conferences.

COLONIAL
Old Dominion

There are some other decent squads in the Colonial this year...but Old Dominion is really lighting up the computers. We've seen one place rank them as high as 20th. Traditionally the Colonial champ is a danger team in the Dance. Remember when George Mason made it all the way to the Final Four. Others have scored upsets as well. This is DEFINITELY a team to keep on your radar. Pollsters have been ignoring them, which is the kind of thing that really fires a team up.

Should another Colonial school sneak into the Dance too, we'll be looking at them as a first round underdog.

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HORIZON
Butler

You've heard a lot about Butler this year, and in recent seasons as well. They were in the preseason poll rankings...and play such a soft schedule that it's very hard to fall out. We've got nothing against Butler. They've already clinched top seed in their conference tourney! Just be aware that Butler is in the same class as Old Dominion and some of these other threats rather than being ahead of them. They're still at the mercy of poor shooting games. They're not somebody who should be a #3 or #4 seed regardless of where they end up in the brackets. This caliber of squad can 'play with anybody' for one game. They have trouble stringing together peak efforts vs. quality opposition.

WEST COAST
Gonzaga
St. Mary's?

Gonzaga has become one of our pet punching bags in recent years. They're often overseeded because of results they posted several years ago when opponents didn't take them seriously. As soon as opponents did take them seriously in March, the results stopped! Quality basketball is disappearing on the West Coast, making Gonzaga seem better than they really are. Remember they got annihilated by Duke at MSG earlier this season.

St. Mary's always seems to be on the verge of making a name for themselves. They've already been swept by Gonzaga though...and didn't do as much as projected in past seasons. They're a borderline call in our view as a potential Cinderella. We're skeptical for now. Just no big game moxie at St. Mary's.

WAC
Utah State

For several years now, Utah State has abused a soft schedule before turning out to be relative disappointments in March. We're ranking them here based on what respected ratings services are saying. In our mind, this is a team we trust more in the regular season than in March. Sure, a Cinderella run is possible. We've grown tired of waiting to see if this particular Cinderella is ever going to make it to the ball.

CUSA
Texas El-Paso

This has been a very nice unpublicized team this season. With the gradual demise of Memphis in the post-Calipari era, it's time for the Miners to take a step forward past the likes of Memphis or UAB. More and more people are starting to notice. A 9-game winning streak has them taking control of CUSA as we speak. Put these guys on your radar!

MISSOURI VALLEY
Northern Iowa

These guys were getting a lot of respect earlier in the season. They've managed to maintain a strong record in the Missouri Valley. But, computers we respect DON'T rank Northern Iowa up there with many of the teams we've mentioned already. They've got FOUR conference wins by three-points or less. That's too many coin flip games in a league that just isn't as strong as it used to be. You'll hear some pundits equating Northern Iowa with teams like Butler and Old Dominion on their darkhorse lists. We'd suggest you value them less than that.

METRO ATLANTIC
Siena

These guys upset Ohio State last year in the Big Dance, and look to be just as strong this season. They will be a handful for whoever they draw. Siena gets to play Butler this weekend in one of the most anticipated Bracket Buster games. We wish these guys ran into each other more often. Siena might be seen as the Gonzaga of the East if everyone got a better look at this caliber of team head-to-head. Remember that Gonzaga was only two-points better than Western Kentucky in the Dance last year (and the Sun Belt wasn't good enough to crack our list today). Make SURE you watch Butler/Siena this weekend!

IVY LEAGUE
Cornell

Tough call here. Cornell really did a lot of impressive things early in the season. They scared the heck out of Kansas in Lawrence. In fact, they opened the season with road wins against Alabama and UMASS. Compared to normal Ivy League standards, these guys are fantastic. But, the more you look through all the results (including a bad home loss to Seton Hall), they really don't measure up as well as the other mid-major threats. This past weekend was fairly dismal, with an inexplicable 15-point loss to Penn, then a 3-point win over Princeton. We'd love to take a flyer on the Cornell team we saw back in late 2009. They may have run out of gas too soon.

Let's remember that the Ivy winner doesn't have a tournament. Should Cornell stay on top of the conference...that will give them time to get their legs back. This is certainly a team that could take out a power that isn't respecting them. If you build a league out of all the teams we've mentioned so far today, Cornell would probably be a disappointment near the bottom.

That's the short list (though it got pretty long!) of mid-major teams who are capable of making headlines this March. We suggest you spend these next few weeks studying them as much as possible. Who knows, maybe one of them will match George Mason and make a run all the way to the Final Four. More likely, they'll derail somebody else's shot at greatness before eventually hitting a wall themselves.

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