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Bracket Bits: An at-large outlook for mid-majors

Dave2015Will any mid-majors earn an at-large bid?
It’s been a rare occurrence in recent years, that’s for sure.  If you look outside the power conferences and their cousins in leagues like the Atlantic 10, American Athletic, and Mountain West, at-large berths to the NCAA tournament have been hard to find.  Look no further than last year’s Saint Mary’s squad that presented a 28-5 profile on Selection Sunday, only to be turned away by a Team Sheet that revealed only one Group 1 wins to go along with 16 wins against Group 4. (RPI was the NCAA’s sorting tool last year).

Given that backdrop, let’s provide an outlook for some mid-majors who hope to be under at-large consideration come Selection Sunday …

Buffalo (10-1) … If the so-called “eye test” matters, the Bulls look like an NCAA team.  Their non-conference profile includes four true road wins (4-1 overall on the road) – two of which are West Virginia and Syracuse from power conferences.  They also own a neutral-court win over San Francisco, which the new NET likes, at least to this point.  The Bulls lone loss is at Marquette – and a few Big East teams will lose similar trips.
Moving forward:  The Bulls will benefit if Mid-American (MAC) teams such as Toledo and Kent State continue to play well.  As of this posting, the MAC ranks 9th in NET ratings.  Buffalo will also be rooting for Syracuse and West Virginia.
Outlook: Favorable.

Kent State (8-2) … In the resume department, the Golden Flashes are in better shape than some might think thanks to wins at Vanderbilt and Oregon State.  Whether either of those teams is tournament quality remains to be seen.  KSU’s losses are to Liberty and Louisville.
Moving forward:  The Flashes need an upper-echelon to develop in the MAC, and they need to fare well against that group.  Their non-conference profile is pretty good, considering, but also includes a couple of NET-draggers.
Outlook: Marginal.

San Francisco (11-1) … The Dons are a good basketball team; their only loss is by four points to Buffalo in Belfast, Ireland.  The new NET rating system also likes them (No. 25 this morning).  But there is a notable disparity on their team sheet; the Dons have played only one Group 1/Group 2 opponent – Buffalo.  Their wins over Stanford, Cal, and Harvard may not help much down the road.
Moving forward:  As we’ve seen in the past with Saint Mary’s, the road to an-large berth in the West Coast Conference (WCC) goes through Gonzaga.  It will help, too, if BYU rallies, or San Diego makes a run.  The Don’s NC SOS is hovering in the 290s.
Outlook: Marginal.

Furman (9-1) … After the Paladins posted November wins over Loyola-Chicago and Villanova (both on the road), an early Cinderella was crowned.  AP voters ranked them, at least until last Friday’s loss at LSU.  That’s the good news.  The troubling news is an NC-SOS above 300 and three games against non-D1 opponents (even if those aren’t supposed to count). Plus, Loyola-Chicago is finding last year’s March success tough to replicate.
Moving forward:  Wofford and UNC-Greensboro are worthy opponents in the Southern Conference; that’s both a help and a potential hinderance.  They need to continue a strong run and would love for Villanova to regain more of its championship mojo.
Outlook: Marginal.

Old Dominion (10-3) … The Monarchs won eight straight to close their non-conference season (they next play Marshall and Western Kentucky in C-USA action).  That eight-game streak included quality wins over VCU and Syracuse (the latter on the road).  Will those be enough to offset early losses to Saint Joseph’s, Oregon State, and Northern Iowa? The answer likely depends on how Conference USA pans out and how VCU and Syracuse fare in their own leagues.
Moving forward:  Neither preseason C-USA favorite Marshall nor Western Kentucky has created much cache thus far; WKU has been especially up and down.  When you factor in North Texas, the league isn’t bad, per se, but how many losses can ODU absorb and remain viable?  That’s the NCAA-dollar question.
Outlook: Marginal.

Belmont (8-1) … The Bruins most notable win is against the Bruins from Westwood (UCLA). They’ve also beaten a good Lipscomb team twice to go along with victories over Western Kentucky and Illinois State.  The reality, though, is that none of those teams – UCLA included at the moment – are necessarily needle-movers.  This Saturday, they get a shot at Purdue in West Lafayette.  It would be their best NET win to date.
Moving forward:  Other than Purdue and conference foe Murray State from the Ohio Valley, there isn’t much chance to make a splash over the next two months – and the league will likely be a drag on their NET rating.  The Bruins need to stockpile wins and hope the bubble has a few weak spots.
Outlook: Marginal to Shaky.

Toledo (10-1) … While the Rockets are off to a fast start, their resume is rather hollow.  They have not played a power conference team and will have to rely on early wins over UC-Irvine and Marshall as non-conference assets.
Moving forward:  The Rockets need Kent State and/or others to be relevant in conference play and also need Buffalo to remain a viable at-large candidate.  With a non-conference SOS (strength of schedule) hovering above 300, the writing is on the wall.
Outlook: Shaky.

UNC-Greensboro (10-2) … The good news for Spartans fans is this: their team has won five true road games and navigated the non-conference season to date without an unsightly blemish.  The less good news is an 0-2 mark against their SEC “up” games (Kentucky, LSU).
Moving forward:  With Furman and Wofford as quality league opponents, additional Top 100 NET wins could be there for the taking.  Whether those in-league victories would be enough to counter an NC SOS in the 290s and no high-profile wins is another matter.
Outlook: Shaky.

Lipscomb (7-3) … The Bison present an interesting profile that will be even more interesting if they find a way to beat Clemson on Sunday.  To this point, they have a victory at TCU to go along with close losses to Louisville and Belmont (twice).
Moving forward:  The Atlantic Sun can be a graveyard where at-large hopes wither away; this year’s league isn’t set up with great challengers, either.  The Bison’s best hope is to beat Clemson, amass an eye-turning won-loss margin in league play, and hope that both TCU and Clemson earn solid seeds come March.
Outlook: Shaky.

Drake (9-2) … It hasn’t exactly been a great non-conference season for Missouri Valley teams.  Southern Illinois, Illinois State, and Loyola-Chicago haven’t been knocking down doors.  Which brings us to the Bulldogs.  What they offer are current Top 100 NET wins over San Diego, New Mexico State, and Texas State.  Exactly.  The Bulldogs also went O-fer against power conference teams, losing to Iowa State and Colorado.
Moving forward:  The Valley may not provide enough substance this season, but a dominant run could keep them in the picture. Whether that picture would be clear enough for an actual at-large berth, however, is rather foggy at the moment.
Outlook: Shaky.

Charleston (10-2) … The Cougars have won eight straight, including a road win at VCU.  That’s gotten them to this point. Their other wins of note are Rhode Island and Memphis. Neither loss is bad (Oklahoma State, LSU) but certainly qualify as missed opportunities against power schools.
Moving forward:  With no other Colonial teams currently ranked in the Top 100 of the NET, it will be an uphill climb for the Cougars.  It would help if VCU closes strong and either Rhode Island or Memphis makes noise, too.
Outlook: Shaky.

Penn (9-2) … With victories over Miami-FL and Villanova, the Quakers have earned a spot on this list.  It’s sort of a give and take approach with the losses to Kansas State and Oregon State in the Virgin Islands.  Somewhat less notable are wins at New Mexico and George Mason.
Moving forward:  It’s always going to be tough for an Ivy League team to have enough conference help for serious at-large consideration.  Which brings us to remaining non-conference games against Toledo, Temple, and Saint Joseph’s.  They Quakers likely have to have at least two of those and probably all three if they were to miss an auto bid.  But hey, they at least have a shot, right?
Outlook: Shaky.

North Texas (9-1) … The Mean Green have a win over Indiana State and a loss at Oklahoma as highlights on their non-conference resume. The rest is rather blah – and includes two non-D1 games.  While additional wins at Hawaii and New Mexico are notable, neither really makes anyone take notice.
Moving forward:  It’s fair to say that an NC SOS in the upper 200s isn’t ideal, especially given the “up” game loss to the Sooners.  It’s also fair to say that without a dominant run through Conference USA, the odds for an at-large bid are likely pretty low.
Outlook: Shaky to Poor.

Murray State (7-2) … The Racers have lost two competitive road games against Alabama and Auburn. But those near misses are a problem when you consider that Belmont is the only opponent left on their schedule with any type of NET clout.
Moving forward:  The Racers need to pile up a gaudy record and hope the Selection Committee values close losses to power teams.  It would also help if Southern Illinois dominates the Missouri Valley and improves its profile.
Outlook: Poor.


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