Catching Up with Mid-Majors

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

UPDATING MID MAJOR DATA
FOR BRACKET BUSTER WEEK

With a scarcity of true blockbuster TV matchups this week (nothing quite like Wisconsin-Ohio State or Kansas-Texas in the listings), and a plethora of Bracket Buster games in the mid-majors set for the weekend, this seemed like the ideal time to get caught up with the mid-majors.

There are six conferences from the main board who play in the Bracket Busters. We were going to split them up three and three for NOTEBOOK analysis. But, FOUR of the six actually have meaningful Tuesday action. So, we're going to look at the Colonial, Mid American, Missouri Valley, and Horizon conferences today. We'll come back Wednesday to talk about the WAC and Big West. This timing will give you arsenal for midweek conference games AND the Bracket Buster stuff over the weekend.

Because we want to catch up on all the mid majors (even those not in the Bracket Buster mix), we'll continue on with conference analysis through the week (making sure to touch on Ohio State at Purdue before they get together on Sunday).

There's a lot to get to today, so let's jump right in. We'll be looking at margin averages in league play (and the numbers are virtual Power Ratings now that everyone's deep into their schedules), and two-point defense, our favorite college indicator stat.

COLONIAL MARGIN AVERAGES
George Mason: +14.3
VCU: +5.9
Old Dominion: +5.1
James Madison: +3.7
Hofstra: +2.4
Drexel: +0.9
Georgia State: -4.1
William & Mary: -4.1
Northeastern: -4.3
NC Wilmington: -4.4
Delaware: -4.6
Towson: -10.4

This is seen as a competitive conference at the top, and many computer ratings we've seen don't show George Mason head and shoulders above the crowd. But, this particular stat has them off in another universe! Maybe that's why Mason is 19-5 ATS this year. The computers aren't accurately capturing what's happening on the court, and it's keeping expectations way too low. In league play, Mason has been significantly better than the field thus far. You'll note in a moment though that they play on the road against the second rated team in this stat this evening. George Mason at VCU is one of the most anticipated Colonial games of the season.

Mason just missed the Final Four a few years ago, and Colonial representatives in the Dance often spring upsets. Be sure you pay close attention to the teams in positive territory this weekend to see how they perform in a unique atmosphere.

Here's a look at the defenses...

COLONIAL TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Old Dominion: 43%
Drexel: 44%
Georgia State: 45%
George Mason: 46%
James Madison: 46%
Delaware: 46%
Hofstra: 47%
William & Mary: 49%
VCU: 49%
NC Wilmington: 49%
Northeastern: 51%
Towson: 52%

Both George Mason and VCU seem less impressive in this very important stat. So, right now, it's hard for us to recommend them as anything beyond one-game Cinderella's should they reach the Dance. Against the top competition, you have to guard the basket. You can get away with softness in a mid-major like this if you're strong in other areas. Come Dance time, it's very difficult to string together hot shooting games night after night.

We'll be paying attention to Old Dominion in the Colonial tournament in a few weeks because they have a great combination of margin average AND internal defense. Usually those are associated with the best team in the standings. In this case, they may be circling a darkhorse for us.

In terms of the Bracket Busters, the Colonial has wisely given itself a full Tuesday schedule, which means everyone will be well-rested for the weekend. All 12 teams play tonight.

Tuesday Schedule:
William & Mary at HOfstra
Delaware at Northeastern
James Madison at Towson
Drexel at NC Wilmington
George Mason at Virginia Commonwealth
Georgia State at Old Dominion

Note that George Mason at VCU will be nationally televised by ESPNU. Watching that game would be a great way to get yourself ready for the Bracket Buster atmosphere.

MID AMERICAN MARGIN AVERAGES
Buffalo: +7.9
Kent State: +7.3
Akron: +3.6
W. Michigan: +2.3
Miami-OH: +1.8
Ohio: +1.3
Ball State: -0.1
Bowling Green: -0.2
E. Michigan: -1.1
N. Illinois: -2.5
C. Michigan: -3.7
Toledo: -11.1

The East is better than the West this year by a good bit. Both Buffalo and Kent State are in the East. Vegas has mostly been in synch with this conference through the season. The biggest outlier right now is Central Michigan. They weren't supposed to be THAT bad, and are currently 5-16-2 for the year against the spread.

We've often said that it's tragic how far this conference has fallen in recent years. It used to be right up there with the Horizon and Missouri Valley in terms of legitimate Dance potential. What we see from Buffalo and Kent Stat this weekend will help us determine if the MAC will be meaningful this March.

MID AMERICAN TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Buffalo: 44%
E. Michigan: 45%
Kent State: 46%
Akron: 47%
W. Michigan: 47%
Ball State: 47%
Miami-OH: 49%
Ohio: 49%
C. Michigan: 49%
Bowling Green: 50%
N. Illinois: 51%
Toledo: 53%

Again, both Buffalo and Kent State are near the top. Good defense can really set you apart in a bad league. Note how almost half the teams are at 49% or worse. And, that's in a conference that isn't known for having a slew of good shooters. It's likely JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will be looking to go against a few MAC cellar dwellers this weekend if we see the numbers we're hoping for.

Tuesday Schedule:
Akron at Bowling Green
Toledo at Ball State
Ohio at Buffalo
Western Michigan at Northern Illinois

Wednesday Schedule:
Kent State at Miami of Ohio
Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan

We probably won't discuss the MAC again until they have their postseason tournament. So, try to save today's numbers (ALL of today's numbers actually), to use as a tool from this point forward.

MISSOURI VALLEY MARGIN AVERAGES
Wichita State: +12.9
Missouri State: +5.3
Creighton: +3.0
Indiana State: +2.3
N. Iowa: +0.9
Evansville: -1.9
Drake: -3.5
Bradley: -5.9
S. Illinois: -6.5
Illinois State: -6.6

Wichita State is like the George Mason of the Missouri Valley. Their seen as the best by many computers...but the margin averages are off the charts. Note that Wichita will be hosting Virginia Commonwealth in their Bracket Buster game, so that will give us a great sense of the differences between those two conferences.

Remember Northern Iowa? They're the team that knocked off Kansas last year with that gutty three-pointer in the final moments. They're just middle of the pack in this stat, and 9-6 straight up in league play.

Indiana State has been the pleasant surprise of the season, posting a 16-9 ATS record. Southern Illinois, Illinois State, and Bradley have been major disappointments, posting 7-16-1, 8-16-1, and 9-15 records against the line respectively.

MISSOURI VALLEY TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Wichita State: 43%
Indiana State: 45%
Creighton: 46%
S. Illinois: 46%
Illinois State: 47%
Missouri State: 48%
N. Iowa: 48%
Drake: 50%
Bradley: 50%
Evansville: 51%

Many stories being told there. And, this isn't a day where we have time to chat! In short, you can see why Wichita State will be some a danger team in March, you can see why Indiana State has been such a pleasant surprice, you can see why Northern Iowa has been a disappointment, and you can also see why we're not as enthusiastic about Missouri State as some other places. The Bears will need to bring more defense to the court down the road if they're going to live up to their hype.

Tuesday Schedule:
Drake at Missouri State
Wichita State at Evansville
Northern Iowa at Bradley

Wednesday Schedule:
Illinois State at Creighton
Indiana State at Southern Illinois

This league has a good recent history in the Bracket Busters, so make sure you're giving them the respect they deserve.

HORIZON MARGIN AVERAGES
Cleveland State: +7.7
Valparaiso: +5.2
Butler: +5.0
Wright State: +2.3
W. Milwaukee: +1.2
Detroit: -0.6
W. Green Bay: -1.0
Loyola-Chicago: -2.0
Illinois-Chicago: -7.5
Youngstown State: -10.2

Whoa, Butler...where did you go?! Butler used to dominate this stat to an extreme degree. It wasn't quite Butler and the nine dwarfs. But, they usually had leads comparable to what you've seen today from George Mason and Wichita State.

Cleveland State likes to bully weak teams, which means they're quality might be overstated just a bit here. We don't expect the Horizon representative(s) to go as deep this year as Butler did last year obviously. That may never happen again. And, you get a sense of the flukishness of fate when you see how far Butler has fallen this season.

Though, you're about to see the part of that fall that wasn't a fluke...

HORIZON TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Cleveland State: 46%
Valparaiso: 47%
W. Milwaukee: 48%
Detroit: 48%
Loyola-Chicago: 48%
Butler: 49%
W. Green Bay: 49%
Illinois-Chicago: 49%
Youngstown State: 49%
Wright State: 54%

That's a stunning fall from grace for what's supposed to be a very well coached team that's mastered the fundamentals. If you're at 49% in a mid-major, then you're toast vs. quality in playoff style basketball. Last year the team was at 46%, and needed to shoot great to keep advancing.

Frankly, it's a disappointing slate for the whole league. You've seen enough of these two-point scoring charts to know by now that 46% is horrible as a 'best in class' number. This is setting the stage for another conference to ride Cinderella's coach next month. The media will be looking at 'Butler's conference' to do something. Tough to see very big news from this group right now.

Tuesday Schedule:
Butler at Wisconsin Green Bay

Wednesday's Schedule:
Cleveland State at Wright State
Youngstown State at Detroit
Valparaiso at Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Loyola-Chicago at Illinois-Chicago

That wraps up this look at four of the mid major regular board conferences you'll see in the Bracket Busters this weekend. We'll discuss the final two tomorrow with looks at the WAC (featuring Utah State) and the Big West (where Long Beach State is on top). We'll continue catching up with the mid majors Thursday by studying the Sun Belt (always a big Thursday schedule, and we'll probably touch on the Pac 10 too), Friday with our first look at the Ivy League, and Saturday with all remaining mid-majors left in the mix (four conferences who don't play the Bracket Busters).

Don't forget that BIG JUICY WINNERS are available every night from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. Log in a few hours before first tip. Or, sign up for the full season and enjoy big savings. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Be sure you spend BRACKET BUSTER WEEK with LAS VEGAS BOOKIE BUSTER JIM HURLEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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