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Bracket Bits: Early look at mid-major bubble

Dave2015February is right around the corner, which means “bubble” talk isn’t far behind.  How are some potential mid-major candidates stacking up?  Let’s take an early look.

Monmouth forged an early profile that vaulted the Hawks – and their bench celebrations – into the national spotlight.  In the first two months of the season, they posted wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown.  With a Top 25 non-conference schedule, the Hawks put themselves in prime position to be an at-large candidate should something happen in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament.  The question now becomes, who do three stumbles against sub-200 RPI teams (Canisius, Army, Manhattan – all on the road) effect how the Selection Committee views the Hawks?  That will be an interesting question, if necessary, on Selection Sunday. At this point, I think the Committee would still approve of Monmouth’s non-conference efforts and their 15 games away from home (road + neutral).  Think about this for a moment, of the Hawks 19 games (as of this writing), only four have been at home.  The challenge, of course, is that Monmouth has only one remaining game against a Top 100 opponent (barely).  It would certainly behoove the Hawks to win the MAAC regular-season title by multiple games.  How many more “bad” losses can they absorb?  It probably depends on what the bubble looks like on Selection Sunday.

Here are a few other candidates:

  • Chattanooga – The Mocs currently own nine victories away from home, including wins at Dayton and Georgia, and Illinois on a neutral court.  A late push by Georgia would help.  The potential pitfalls include a non-conference SOS ranked about 230 and two sub-200 losses.  There aren’t any Top 100 wins left on the schedule, so an outright league title, that includes a gaudy league record, will be important.
  • Valparaiso – The Crusaders have the power numbers (much like Monmouth) thanks to a solid NC schedule that included wins at Oregon State and Rhode Island.  URI’s injuries and subsequent struggles haven’t helped.  Missing out on a chance to upset Oregon could prove huge.  Much like Chattanooga, Valpo needs to start running away with the Horizon League, and that took a hit with Friday night’s loss at Wright State.
  • UC-Irvine – First the good news: the Anteaters have avoided “bad losses.”  The not-so-good news: the Anteaters haven’t beaten a Top 100 team and have only one, league foe Hawaii, left on the schedule.
  • Hawaii – Speaking of the Rainbows, their only two losses are Texas Tech and Oklahoma.  Their best win? Auburn (in the Diamond Head Classic, their home tournament).  Unfortunately, the win over Northern Iowa isn’t helping much now and the Rainbows have to overcome a non-conference schedule ranked above 250.  Of their 13 Division I wins, only four have come against Top 150 opponents.
  • UT-Arlington – When the Mavericks won at Ohio State and Memphis in November, we all took notice.  It’s too bad that the Buckeyes have been inconsistent and Memphis has somewhat underachieved.  Late runs by both would help Arlington’s case.
  • Arkansas Little Rock – The Trojans also caught our attention with early wins at San Diego State and Tulsa.  And their only losses thus far are at Texas Tech and Arkansas State.  The one “bad” loss happens.  Can UALR win a large number of Sun Belt games and sweep Arlington (above)?  It will likely take something like that considering an overall NC SOS that sits above 280.
  • Evansville – Despite a strong record, the Aces missed out on their best non-conference opportunities (Providence and Arkansas).  When you’re NC SOS sits above 260, that could be an issue.  The Aces need to beat Wichita State at home (they lost at WSU in a close game) and continue piling up wins in the Valley.  Talent isn’t the question; its the Aces’ overall profile.

This isn’t a complete list, necessarily, but it paints a decent picture of the mid-major at-large landscape this morning.   Enjoy another great weekend of hoops!

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