Quick Takes: Middle Tennessee St leads early mid-major hopefuls
If you’re looking for a quality non-power conference team that could earn an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, Middle Tennessee State should be near the top of your list. If the name sounds familiar, think back to last year’s NCAA tournament. The then 15th-seeded Blue Raiders knocked off No. 2 seed Michigan State in St. Louis before losing to eventual Final Four participant Syracuse in the Round of 32. As we look ahead, Giddy Potts and MTSU are 19-3 with Top 100 RPI wins over UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Belmont. The Blue Raiders are 8-1 on the road and have some pretty solid metric numbers:
Middle Tennessee State … RPI: 37 | BPI: 52 | SOR: 31 | KP: 47
Unfortunately, Conference USA hasn’t provided MTSU with much support; the Blue Raiders are the only team in the RPI’s Top 100, and six of the schools are 300-plus. That’s a recipe for picking up a really bad loss. The good news, MTSU has avoided that issue. If that continues, the Blue Raiders should receive strong consideration were they to lose in the C-USA tournament final.
Here are a few other mid-major hopefuls as we head into February:
- Illinois State (Missouri Valley) … RPI 33 | BPI: 55 | SOR: 40 | KP: 39 – The Redbirds are 11-0 in the MVC and haven’t lost since December 23. They are 2-1 vs. the Top 100, with victories over New Mexico and Wichita State. ISU’s non-conference effort (7-4) left a little to be desired, however, as does the loss at Murray State (No. 222).
- Wichita State (Missouri Valley) … RPI 67 | BPI: 24 | SOR: 35 | KP: 21 – What the Shockers lack is a quality win (0-4 vs. Top 100 teams). If there’s a silver lining, all four of those losses were to Top 50 teams. Unfortunately for the Shockers, early wins over LSU and Oklahoma haven’t held up well. The MVC is still up for grabs and the metrics (other than the RPI) suggest the Shockers might be an NCAA team.
- Akron (Mid-American) … RPI: 43 | BPI: 76 | SOR: 34 | KP: 99 – As you can see, the metrics vary greatly on the Zips. At the end of the day, they are 0-2 vs. Top 100 RPI teams (losses to Gonzaga, Creighton). Akron needs to keep dominating the MAC and likely hope the bubble continues to boast a bunch of mediocre profiles.
- Valparaiso (Horizon) … RPI: 57 | BPI: 96 | SOR: 42 | KP: 81 – The notables are wins over Rhode Island, Alabama, and BYU. The rest is pretty average, but the Crusaders could make a case if they end up with 26 or 27 wins.
- UNC Wilmington (Colonial … RPI: 39 | BPI: 61 | SOR: 33 | KP: 59 – Back-to-back losses have stung a little for the Seahawks, who otherwise have a decent at-large profile (4-4 vs. Top 100 teams). Thus far, the Seahawks have avoided any troublesome losses, although the remaining schedule is littered with potential potholes. The other issue is that Wilmington’s best wins are Charleston and East Tennessee State, solid but maybe not NCAA worthy.
- New Mexico State (WAC) … RPI: 47 | BPI: 102 | SOR: 55 | KP: 86 – Despite a gaudy record, it could be tough for the Aggies, even if they run the table and lose in the WAC final. They’ve played just one Top 100 team (New Mexico twice) and split those meetings. Overall, 9 of 18 wins are against 200-plus teams. And the more advanced metrics aren’t very favorable.
- Nevada (Mountain West) … RPI: 41 | BPI: 48 | SOR: 58 | KP: 73 – Nevada missed its best chance for a marquee win early in the season at Saint Mary’s. They are 5-2 against Top 100 teams, but none look like tournament teams (Boise State, New Mexico, Iona). The Wolfpack’s only really bad loss is Utah State (No. 181). Can Nevada pull away and finish strong? If so, they can stay in the conversation. But like several others on this list, they’ll probably need some help.
As a quick finishing note … SOR stands for the Strength of Record metric (BPI) and KP for the Ken Pomeroy ranking as of this writing. Two other teams we’re still tracking for potential at-large consideration (with even more help) … Charleston and Monmouth.