Three mid-majors who should play in the NCAA Tournament no matter what

We are getting to the time of the year where quality mid-major programs are about to have a door slammed in their faces. While the known mid-majors like Wichita State, San Diego State and UMass are safely in the NCAA Tournament, others are not so lucky. These schools cannot count on an at-large bid from a selection committee that typically favors the 8th best team in the Big-10. As much fun as a Nebraska as an 11th seed might be (God help us) here are some mid-majors that should take their place instead. They are deserving of a spot even if they come up short for the automatic bid from their conference tournament.

Toledo: Record 23-4, 11-4 Mid-American Conference. RPI No. 30

The MAC is always on the border of achieving an at-large bid but the best team in the league rarely wins the tournament. The result is a one-bid league that sends multiple teams to the NIT and CBI.

Toledo should break this mold. The Rockets only loss one game out of conference and that was at Kansas. It won at Boston College who just beat Syracuse. Wins against Cleveland State and Robert Morris are quality victories as both hover around the RPI-Top 100.

Toledo is No. 1 in the MAC in offense, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and assists. The Rockets are also No. 2 in rebounding and free throw percentage.

The MAC should get respect too as it has had four teams in the RPI-Top 100. Losing games at Eastern Michigan, Ohio, and Western Michigan should not keep Toledo out.

Bottom line, Toledo is too good to not have in the big dance, even if loses in the MAC tournament.

Southern Mississippi: 23-5, 10-3 Conference USA. RPI No. 41

While Middle Tennessee State has been the darling of Conference USA, Southern Miss has a better RPI.

Sure, it was blown out at Louisville but that was the only egg the Golden Eagles have laid this season. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Wins over Georgia State, North Dakota State are huge as both are leading their conferences. Morehead State is great victory too.

Southern Mississippi is No. 1 in Conference USA in defense and is No. 2 in field-goal percentage, assists, rebounds, and steals. That is a complete team.

Their success is another excuse to show their game day video from last year. Bet you can’t make it passed the 10 minute mark of this.



Mercer: 22-7, 13-3 Atlantic Sun. RPI 68

 

The Atlantic Sun gave us Florida Gulf Coast last year and Mercer appears ready to carry on the Cinderella tradition. Mercer has yet to lose at home and defeated Seton Hall and Ole Miss. It darn near won at Texas in the season opener as it lost by three.

It is tough to win on the road in any league so you can’t hold a road loss at North Florida against them too much. The Bears were willing to play people on the road out of conference and that should be rewarded.

Mercer is No. 1 in the Atlantic Sun in offense, defense, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, rebounding, blocks, and assists. Translation: a bracket-buster waiting to happen.

Problem is Florida Gulf Coast is still a good basketball team and might win the conference tournament to steal the automatic bid. Will the committee let in an Atlantic Sun team in as an at-large? History says no, but Mercer should be an exception. Don’t blow it selection committee.

Honorable mentions: North Dakota State, Belmont, Stephen F. Austin, and Indiana State.

Taking in an Indianapolis Greyhound Shootaround

DSC_1150
On Thursday I was able to do some first person reporting attending a shootaround for the Indianapolis Greyhounds. No. 4 Indianapolis is aiming for a title run in division II and is on a 10-game winning streak.

UIndy has only achieved a Great Lakes Valley Conference championship once in basketball in 1997 when it shared the conference crown with two other schools. It is currently in first place of the East division.

I took some photos of the shoot around before it wrapped up and want to thank SID Ryan Thorpe for letting me talk to the players. I’ll have a story on the team in the Southsider Voice newspaper soon. Hopefully, by Wednesday.

DSC_1151

DSC_1152

DSC_1156

2014’s doormats of college basketball

We’ve reached the point of the year where some schools are gunning for top seeds. Others just want to reach the tournament or even the NIT. For these programs, however, they just want to win a game in their league.

Hey, it's a living.

Hey, it’s a living.

Here are the five schools (No. 1 being the worse) that have yet to win a conference game this season. Congratulations to Grambling State for just avoiding this list by getting its first SWAC win last week. Now if only you could get a football team that didn’t mutiny.

No. 5 Texas Christian: 9-15, 0-12 Big 12

What’s ironic is TCU had a 9-3 record in non-conference action, but is now associated with the poorest in the nation thanks to its Big-12 neighbors.

The lesson here is if you want to move up a conference for your football team then be prepared to ignore the hardwood if your program has no pedigree. Otherwise, you might end up with the nastiest promotion this season.

Fried pickles? FRIED PICKLES? TCU even followed up on the promotion.

I can’t believe three TCU students agreed to have their photo taken for free fried pickles. Baylor and Texas Tech fans should have this as their wallpaper image.

Can TCU win a Big-12 game? Doubtful

All of the other conference schools have a winning record. Oklahoma State at home on February 24 is probably its best bet.

No. 4 San Jose Stat: 0-13, 6-19 Mountain West

There are rebuilding efforts and then there is San Jose State. The Spartans have 13 players with six of them freshmen. Throw in a first-year head coach and the season can’t end fast enough.

When the school is boasting about having a halftime lead for the first time in a month it’s time to go home. San Jose State only scored nine points in the second half and lost to Wyoming 46-38.

Can San Jose State win a Mountain West game? Yes

Its last three conference games are against teams with losing conference records. Fresno State at home on March 8 looks promising.

No. 3 Illinois-Chicago: 5-21, 0-12 Horizon League

How bad are the UIC Flames? Just take a look at its Twitter account.

These people are on to me. If they don't tweet I can't make fun of them.

These people are on to me. If they don’t tweet I can’t make fun of them.

What’s worse? A division I program being inactive in social media or the fact that 26 people are following said inactive account.

The Flames have come close, losing in the final seconds at Oakland 76-75. UIC has also been blown out by basketball juggernauts Northwestern and Valparaiso at home. So baby steps.

Can UIC win a Horizon League game? Yes

UIC plays three of its final four games at home with two teams with losing records still on the schedule. Look for the first win to come against Oakland or Detroit.

No. 2 Citadel: 4-23, 0-12 Southern

Three of Citadel’s four wins have come against non-division I teams meaning it really is a 1-23 team. Things are so bad for the Bulldogs that it is an achievement to just be remotely competitive in a game.

That’s right, striking distance. Where else is being within striking distance against 8-17 Furman a good thing?

Can the Citadel win a Southern game? Yes

The Bulldogs have taken two teams into overtime so they can do it. At the very least Citadel should stay in “striking distance” of Samford and Georgia Southern.

No. 1 Southern Utah: 1-22, 0-14 Big Sky

Meet the worse team in college basketball, the Thunderbirds. Southern Utah is dead last in the nation in points per game at a measly 56.2, over two points less than the next team. The Thunderbirds are also in the bottom four rebounding. Just look at how exciting they get when they actually score.

When you forget the fact that Southern Utah is down by eight that three-pointer is almost a big deal. Southern Utah has yet to defeat a single division I team and has been blown out by the likes of Northern Arizona.

Can Southern Utah win a Big Sky game? Nope

Sorry, the Thunderbirds can’t score. Portland State at home this Thursday is a long shot and that might be generous.

The RPI Case for Wichita State

With a pinwheel like this how can the Shockers not get a No. 1 seed.

With a pinwheel like this how can the Shockers not get a No. 1 seed.

We are over a month away from Selection Sunday and that means the mid-majors are under attack. But this year the mid-majors have a lightning rod to take all the heat, and that lightning rod is Wichita State.

Media personalities, big and small, are trying to find every reason they can as to why the undefeated Shockers should be denied a No. 1 seed. Even if the Shockers earn a 1 seed five weeks from now I can just see the “experts” picking them to lose in the second round. The talking head vultures are circling.

“Oh my God they play in the Missouri Valley. That’s like Division II basketball.” Now say that with the voice of Digger Phelps. Phelps trashed the notion of Wichita State obtaining a No. 1 seed Saturday suggesting it would get knocked out in the second round like Gonzaga was a year ago. Problem is Gonzaga was knocked out by … Wichita State.

Wichita State fans can either ignore all the negativity or start preparing their own defense. For those picking the latter here is a nerdy RPI argument to get things started.

While the experts focus on the strength of schedule of WSU’s Missouri Valley slate, they can’t attack its non-conference play. When compared to the other undefeated team, Syracuse, you might be shocked on how the Shockers stack up. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Both schools played 13 games out of conference and here is a list of those teams in chronological order. The only hitch is Wichita State opened against a Division II team in Emporia State. That school is not a part of the RPI, but it did win at Division I Missouri-Kansas City. For that achievement, I think we should at least give Emporia State the same RPI as UMKC. The RPI rankings below are as of February 3.

RPI compare

Out of the 26 schools on this non-conference list, Syracuse played four out the five worst teams. Even though Wichita State had the tougher task of getting quality teams to play in its gym, it lured sneaky mid-majors Western Kentucky and North Carolina Central. Both could end up in the tournament. Consecutive wins over two SEC teams, plus BYU and at Saint Louis should make up for the Missouri Valley schedule.

Syracuse only played one non-conference game on the road in St. John’s. Binghamton and Cornell are in the bottom 10 of Division I. If Wichita State is going to be penalized for playing in the Missouri Valley then shouldn’t Syracuse be penalized for playing cupcakes at home?

The point is trashing Wichita State’s strength of schedule is hypocritical. Every contender is going to play some bad teams. Syracuse can be judged by ESPN’s cookie-cutter formula, but mid-majors like Wichita State cannot. Do you think Villanova is going to travel to Wichita State? It’s amazing that Tennessee did.

Buckle up mid-majors of the world. The rhetoric is only going to get worse from here on out.

T.G.I.F. and No More National Signing Day Talk

Cool graphic Wyoming, and nice job of pointing out how you brainwashed a guy in Florida to come  play in Big Sky country.

Cool graphic Wyoming, and nice job of pointing out how you brainwashed a guy in Florida to come play in Big Sky country.

Wednesday was National Signing Day, a day that some college football fans obsess over.

I’m just happy it’s over.

Sorry, but watching some high school kid submit a fax is not that exciting. Watching some high school kid choose one hat out of five is silly. Worst of all, is watching fans brag about their school’s catch like they just won the national title.

No matter how much time people put into it, it is impossible to judge the quality of a recruiting class before the season. Just look at last year’s recruiting rankings some publications had out.

National champion Florida State was ranked No. 11 in Athlon. SEC champion Auburn was slightly better at No. 10 with as many as five other SEC schools ahead of it. Whoops.

Big 12 champion Baylor came in at No. 26. Michigan State somehow won the Big Ten Title despite a No. 36 recruiting class. That was behind four other Big Ten teams. Missouri won the SEC East yet the experts gave the Tigers a No. 35 ranking. That was behind conference doormat Kentucky.

Stanford won the PAC-12 and had an argument to play in the title game while having a No. 49 recruiting class. I’m sorry, the system is flawed.

This year, according to ESPN.com, 13 of the 14 SEC recruiting classes are in the top 40. I’m poking my eye out with my pen as I type.

Instead of ranking these classes we should just celebrate national signing day for what it is. A day of hope.

It is classic hope springs eternal. A day where bad teams can say, “Look, as poor as our team was we still got 20 kids to sign with us.” Who cares how many stars they have. High school players are willing to play at your Alma-mater when they could have gone elsewhere.

If you do have to boast do so on an individual basis. Cincinnati does it the right way by showcasing each commitment with the other schools that player considered. The Bearcats are telling Crimson Tide, we got a guy you wanted. Nothing wrong with that.

Alabama lost a recruit? Oh the humanity.

Alabama lost a recruit? Oh the humanity.

But to say that your school’s class is ten spots better than “insert rival school name here” is nothing more than propaganda. Nerds like us can’t buy into that noise.

Mid-Major Identity Crisis

I take it tickets are still available.

I take it tickets are still available.

I did something Saturday that I probably shouldn’t have. I returned to my alma-mater, Ball State, to watch a basketball game.

That may not sound like much of a regret but it is when your basketball program is finding every way it can to hinder itself. Just like Michael Bay when he makes a Transformers movie.

I detailed how I became a Ball State fan when I guest wrote for Over the Pylon, a Ball State sports blog. No need to rehash how I my relationship with Ball State athletics began, the issue now is maintaining it.

Ball State’s problem is more than the 4-15 record of its mens basketball team. It’s more than the fact the football team lays an egg in seemingly every big game. It’s more than the poor finances of the Olympic sports like field hockey, swimming, volleyball and tennis. It’s the fact the athletic department has no identity.

This is a common problem for schools in the MAC, Sun-Belt, Conference USA and Mountain West. They can’t figure who they are.

My sports editor at the Ball State Daily News explained it perfectly to me when I covered the school’s mens volleyball team. Mid-majors like Ball State can’t focus on every sport. They simply don’t have the resources. It leaves schools in Ball State’s situation a tough to choice to make.

  1. Focus on football at the expense at every other sport you have. Count on the football team to increase boosters and hope the other sports can do more with less.
  2. Just view football as another sport and pool more resources to others. Don’t worry if the football team struggles because other programs should emerge to satisfy fans and boosters.

There are good examples for each here right in the Mid-American Conference. Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan take option No. 1. Football is what drives them as all three have predominantly been among the conference elite in that sport. TCU, when it was in the Mountain West, had a football focus allowing it to get promoted to the Big 12. The same can be said for Marshall in the 90s and early 2000s when it was in the MAC.

Option No. 2 has worked MAC examples Kent State, Akron, and Miami University. Kent State has been a force in basketball and its baseball team has crashed the party at the College World Series. Akron has had great success in basketball and men’s soccer. Miami can even fund a hockey team that reached the Frozen Four.

This is where I come back to Ball State. In the 1990s the school had an identity. Rick Majerus had the basketball team running as a MAC powerhouse. The mens volleyball team was competing for national championships, and is still the only sport the school has with any hope of achieving a national ranking on a yearly basis.

Then the school had an athletic director change and the focus shifted to football. Having an awful football team was no longer an option. For a time it seemed to work as Coach Brady Hoke was a genius, leading the Cardinals to an undefeated regular season in 2008. Then Ball State struggled to find a replacement as bigger schools stole Hoke and he is now at Michigan.

While the football team has improved, the lack of local recruits will always hold the program back. Coach Pete Lembo has to go into other states far from Indiana to sell the school. The basketball and volleyball teams do not have that problem. Recruits can be found just a short drive away and the facilities in those sports are excellent for a mid-major. Ball State could have been as good as Butler in basketball or as good as UCLA in mens volleyball. It can still happen. This should be its identity. But in football the best it can hope for is to win the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

That is why it was so sad watching the basketball team play Northern Illinois at home Saturday. The roster is composed of seniors who were too old to transfer for just one year, and freshmen who would have needed to redshirt if they went anywhere else. Even against NIU, a school that focuses on football, Ball State couldn’t get it done.

The Cardinals broke out to 30-15 lead late in the first half only to let Huskies cut it to 30-22 at halftime. Ball State’s starters got into foul trouble and Northern hit a huge three to force overtime. The result was a 67-65 NIU win. Ball State’s talent scarcity showed as it went a horrendous 14-28 from the line. Hitting just one more free throw in regulation would have won the game.

Ball State had blown a game to a conference rival with a losing record at home. To make it worse, no one cared. The fans have bought into the notion that Ball State is a football school because of a few winning seasons, so why does it matter if the other sports struggle?

I wish I could share in their ignorance.