For some leagues, the NCAA Tournament is the only chance it has to build a reputation. That means the pressure is on these mid-major conferences.
5. Missouri Valley
Northern Iowa is a Final Four sleeper and Wichita State is also getting plenty of love in bracket pools. But what if they falter? Wyoming has potential to beat Northern Iowa in a classic 12/5 upset. Wichita State has traditional powers in Indiana and Kansas in the first weekend. Indiana is a top 10 3-point shooting team and can beat anyone because of that. Playing Kansas in the round of 32 is a dream for Shockers fans but with that dream comes pressure. This is a huge week for the Missouri Valley.
4. West Coast Conference
With BYU going out to Ole Miss in the first four it’s down to Gonzaga to carry the league, but the Bulldogs are use to that. The program has been criticized for not having the deep tourney runs to mirror its regular season success. The road is not easy with Davidson and Iowa State lurking, but this might be the best team Mark Few has had. It’s put up or shut up time for Gonzaga and the WCC.
3. Atlantic 10
Dayton was a lightning rod for criticism for hosting a First Four game against Boise State. The fact that the committee felt the Flyers were the last team in the field screams disrespect. Especially with Davidson and VCU listed as 10 and 7 seeds.
The Atlantic 10’s “Who Wants Next Campaign” is in its second year and hopes to improve the perception of the league. The public relations firm in charge, 160over90, created the video above.
“Telling the story of the grittiness and uncompromising work ethic of the A-10, we’ve taken the ‘Next’ brand narrative to another level,” said Brendan Quinn, Creative Director at 160over90. “Highlighting the conference’s relentless commitment to advancing, this spot puts the spotlight directly on the hard work of the players. The hard work that starts in driveways, playgrounds, and gyms, and pays off in late March. The A-10 teams in the tournament are ready to make some noise. They know Next is now.”
Next may also be next year instead. VCU and Davidson will have a tough time getting to the Sweet 16 with Arizona and Gonzaga in the way. Dayton, the team who carried the A-10 in the tourney last year, may be the league’s best bet for a deep run yet again.
2. Mountain West
The Mountain West was trashed in an article on Grantland as a league to avoid in making picks.
“Until they can prove there’s any substance behind the hype, avoid MWC teams. This year, that means San Diego State (again), Boise State (somehow playing on the road against Dayton in the First Four), and Wyoming (playing a superior version of itself in Northern Iowa).”
That’s harsh, and it’s also all the ammunition the MWC needs to know this is a big tournament for its reputation. With Boise State losing to Dayton, the pressure is even higher on the remaining teams.
1. American Athletic Conference
The AAC had two bubble teams miss the field in Temple and Tulsa with the conference champion listed at a 6 seed. This is after the year UConn won the title. Damage control falls to Cincinnati and SMU in the tournament. Both teams are in tough positions for a round of 32 matchup in Kentucky and Iowa State. While proving the committee wrong is important, I doubt the AAC will be able to make much noise this time around.
Listening to Larry Brown and his disappointment about Temple and Tulsa shows just how real the situation is for the AAC.