The Pi-Rate Ratings

January 18, 2008

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Through Games of Thursday, January 17, 2008

This is the first of a weekly look at the NCAA basketball conference races.  Each Friday, I will report on the races in each of the conferences, trying to determine how many NCAA Tournament bids will be given to each conference, and other pertinent information pertaining to the “horse races” leading up to the biped version of the Kentucky Derby-the Road to the Final Four.

So without further adieu, let’s get started.

America East

This is a one-bid league with no chance of sneaking a second team in the Big Dance.  So, the champion of the conference tournament is going to get the only bid regardless of whether they are the regular season champ or the ninth place team.

Maryland-Baltimore County (4-1/12-6) leads the league by one game over Hartford (2-1/8-10).  UMBC defeated Hartford Wednesday Night in a home game, and they must play at Hartford on March 2.  UMBC must play its next two games on the road in the league at Binghamton (3-2/7-10) and Boston U (1-3/4-12). 

Defending regular season champ Vermont (3-2/8-9) and conference tournament champ Albany (3-2/8-9) are weaker teams than last season, but both are just one game our of first place and in a virtual tie for second with Hartford.  This will be an interesting conference tournament this year.

Atlantic Coast Conference

We are back to the days of the Big Two in the ACC.  Number one North Carolina (3-0/18-0) survived a tough game against Georgia Tech to stay unbeaten Wednesday night.  Duke (2-0/14-1) is strong enough to beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, but UNC could also beat the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

There’s quite a drop off to Clemson (2-1/14-3), but the Tigers are in great shape to make it to the Dance.  Three or four teams are fighting it out as bubble teams at the moment.  Miami (1-1/14-2) is on the top of the bubble.  Florida State (1-2/12-6) and North Carolina State (0-2/11-5) need to get to 8-8 in the league, and they will be in good shape.  Boston College (3-0/12-4) is quickly working its way up the ladder.  The Eagles own a road win at Maryland and defeated Miami this week.  BC’s next six games should reveal if they have what it takes to make it to the NCAA Tourney.  If they split the six games (at Virginia, Va. Tech, at North Carolina, at Clemson, Maryland, at Duke), it would propel them well onto the good side of the bubble.

Virginia Tech (2-1/11-6) and Wake Forest (1-2/11-5) are beneath the bubble at the moment.  The Hokies have an excellent shot to play themselves into contention if they fare well over the next seven games.  The schedule sets up to give them a chance to make hay if they can pull off an upset at home.  The Demon Deacons had a rough week getting slaughtered against Boston College and losing to Maryland after knocking off Brigham Young.

As of today, this looks like a five or six-bid league, with UNC, Duke, Clemson, Miami, and one or two other teams emerging.

Atlantic Sun

This is a definite one-bid league going to the conference tournament champion.  With the change in scheduling this year, expect the final outcome to be quite close with four to six teams finishing within two games of first place.

Jacksonville (4-0/8-8) has shot out to an early lead over two-time defending conference champion Belmont (3-1/11-7), Mercer (3-1/8-9), and Stetson (3-1/7-10).  Four more teams are another game back at 2-2 (East Tennessee, Lipscomb, Gardner-Webb, and Campbell).  This is a league where home court advantage is weak, so don’t expect typical results when certain teams have more home or more road games left on their schedule.  Jacksonville plays Lipscomb and Belmont one time only and both of these games are in Nashville.  Belmont must play on the road against Mercer and Stetson with no return match at home.  The Bruins already own road wins at Cincinnati and Alabama, and they appear to be the favorite for making a third consecutive trip to the Big Dance.

Atlantic 10

This is a league back on the rise.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the teams in this league took a back seat to nobody.  Expect at least three and possibly more teams to receive a bid to the Dance. 

At the moment, Charlotte (2-0/11-5) leads the league, but the 89ers are not considered to be one of the top teams in the league, even though they won at Clemson.  Dayton (2-1/14-2) owns a road win against Louisville and blew out Pittsburgh by 25 points.  This looks like the strongest Flyer team since Don May led the 1967ers to the Championship Game against UCLA.

Xavier (2-1/14-4), Massachusetts (1-1/12-4), and Rhode Island (1-2/15-3) are all worthy of being in the NCAA Tournament.  The Musketeers own victories over Indiana, Creighton, Cincinnati, Kansas State, Virginia, and Auburn. 

UMass looks like a team that will be tough come conference tournament time.  Their style of play is hard to prepare for in 24 hours under tournament conditions.

URI owns a win at Syracuse, but they stubbed their toe in their most recent loss at St. Louis.  Their schedule sets them up to win their next four games, and they will have to do just that to stay on the good side of the bubble.

St. Joseph’s (2-1/9-5) and Duquesne (1-1/11-4) are in position to put themselves into position if they can pick up some key wins at home over the teams just mentioned and take care of business against the weaker conference foes.  St. Joe’s win at UMass brought them up the ladder and into contention for a bid.  Duquesne hasn’t been a power for almost four decades, but their four losses this year have been to teams that should be in the NCAA Tournament.  They still need a signature win or two and must continue to beat the Fordhams and St. Bonaventures.

Big East

This is a 16-team league that could almost become a stand-alone entity.  15 of the 16 have been in the Final Four, and the 16th team (South Florida) hasn’t been around that long.  The teams in this league comprise a monster media market that includes three teams in the Greater Metropolitan New York area from Connecticut to New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa-St. Pete, Milwaukee, Louisville, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Providence.  If the league split into two, eight-team leagues, I’m confident that as many as 12 teams could make the NCAA Tournament.  As it is, eight teams could make it this year.

Four teams are currently tied for first with 3-1 league marks.  Pittsburgh (15-2), Georgetown (13-2), Notre Dame (13-3), and Louisville (13-4) lead a group of four other tough teams by just one half game.  In a logjam at 3-2 in the league are Marquette (13-3), West Virginia (13-4), Syracuse (13-5), and Providence (12-5).  These eight teams are in line for bids.

Villanova (2-2/12-3) is strongly on the bubble, and Connecticut (2-3/11-5) is close behind.  Two more teams are 3-2 in the league, but they have a lot of work to do to make up for lousy non-conference results.  DePaul (7-9) and Cincinnati (8-9) can still play their way onto the bubble.  The Blue Demons beat Villanova and Providence, while the Bearcats defeated Louisville, Syracuse, and Villanova, so both teams have the strength to move up.

Big Sky

This is a one-bid league going to the conference champion.  The usual suspects currently head the top of the conference.  Northern Arizona (4-1/12-6) leads last season’s NCAA participant Weber State (3-1/8-8) and Idaho State (3-1/6-11) by a half game with Portland State (3-2/10-8) close behind in fourth.  The top three have yet to face each other, so they all have four tough games to play. 

Portland State already owns a victory over Northern Arizona and a close road loss to Weber State.  Keep an eye on the Vikings, as they have their next four games at home.  They gave Washington State a good game last month.

Big South

This one-bid league deserves some of your attention because of a couple of its members, who just happened to be heading the league at the moment.

UNC-Asheville (2-0/13-4) has 7-7 Center Kenny George averaging nine rebounds and five blocks per game to go with nearly 75% shooting.  It allows sharpshooter Bryan Smithson to get a lot of open looks for threes.

VMI (2-0/10-6) runs an offense similar to but different from the one Paul Westhead used at Loyola-Marymount and other places.  The Keydets are currently scoring points at a rate of 97.7 points per game.

The dynasty may not be over for Winthrop (1-1/10-7).  It’s too early in the season to tell if the Eagles are going to miss out.  They own out-of-conference wins over Georgia Tech and Miami of Florida and took Ole Miss to the buzzer in Oxford.

Big 10

The overwhelming sentiment in the upper Midwest this year is that this league is down a notch or two.  There are three teams that appear to be ahead of the rest of the league, and the league is quite weak at its bottom.  That might make it difficult for more than four teams getting Dance invitations.

Wisconsin (4-0/14-2), Indiana (4-0/15-1), and Michigan State (3-1/15-2) appear to be near locks for making it to the NCAAs.  Since losing a tough game to Marquette, the Badgers have reeled off eight consecutive wins including a win at Texas.  Their four conference victories have come by an average of 71-55.  Indiana’s 4-0 start is more impressive when you realize that three of those wins were on the road.

Michigan State has a home win over Texas, but the Spartans lose their offensive intensity at times, especially on the road.  Their defense is top-notch as usual for a Tom Izzo-coached team.

Among those vying for the fourth position in the league are Purdue (3-1/12-5), Ohio State (3-2/12-5), and Minnesota (2-2/12-4).  The Buckeyes have the best shot at garnering bid number four, while the Boilermakers and Gophers must win 10 conference games to guarantee a shot. 

The rest of the league is weak this year, and that will keep the conference’s ratings below normal.

Big 12

It’s no surprise to see Kansas (2-0/16-0 & 25.4 ppg margin of victory) at the top of the standings.  The surprise here is that the rest of the league is so balanced that the Jayhawks could go 16-0 and win the league by six or more games, while teams two through nine finish within a couple of games of each other.  While I don’t see that happening, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Baylor (2-0/14-2) has yet to prove they are worthy of being mentioned among the elite, but their showing to date means they must be monitored closely over the next couple of weeks.  The Bears play five of their next seven on the road including at Texas A&M, Texas, and Kansas.  If they own a 5-4 league mark after that, they could be ready to compete for an at-large bid.

Kansas State (1-0/11-4) has won six of seven games averaging close to 90 points per game in that streak.  All-World freshman Michael Beasley may be the best Wildcat since Bob Boozer played for Tex Winter back in the late 1950’s.  Beasley currently averages 25 points and13 rebounds, and he shoots at a better than 57% accuracy rate.

Among the remaining teams, Texas (0-1/13-3) and Texas A&M (1-1/15-2) appear to be the best of the bunch, but that could change quickly.  General Robert Montgomery Knight’s Texas Tech Red Raiders (1-1/10-6) and Missouri (1-1/11-6) could be ready to make a move north into the upper third of the standings.  Mizzou hosts Kansas in a big game Saturday.   

Big West

Here is a conference with the remotest of chances of getting a second team in the NCAA Tournament.  Cal. State-Northridge (5-0/13-3) could run the table in the league.  If the Matadors were to be upset in the tournament final, there is a slim chance they could pick up an at-large bid, but I wouldn’t expect it.

Pacific (3-1/12-5), Cal St.-Fullerton (3-2/10-6), and UC Santa Barbara (2-2/13-4) are the nearest competitors to Northridge.

Colonial Athletic

In recent years, this conference was near the top of the mid-majors.  This year, the CAA is dropping back a few notches.  In fact, there is a chance just one representative will garner a bid.

Regardless of the post-season, seven teams should vie for the regular season title in a close race that will probably go down to the final weekend.

Virginia Commonwealth (5-1/12-4) and Delaware (5-1/8-8) lead the race (VCU clobbered Delaware 60-39 Wednesday) with five other teams within two games.  In a three-way tie for third at 4-2 in the league are George Mason (12-5), Old Dominion (9-9), and William & Mary (8-8).  James Madison (3-3/10-6) and UNC-Wilmington (3-3/10-8) are one game further back, but both are capable of winning the league.  JMU pegged the loss on VCU.

Conference USA

This league will likely see just two teams go to the NCAA Tournament, but the chances are strong that one team will make it to the Final Four.

Memphis (3-0/16-0) has three teams standing in its way of running the table in the regular season.  If the Tigers can beat Tennessee at home in February and knock off UAB and Houston on the road, they should finish the regular season without a loss and be ranked number one in the nation heading into the conference tournament.  I don’t buy into the theory that it’s better to lose a game.  Sure, UNLV–1990, San Francisco–1977, Rutgers-1976, and Indiana–1975 entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss and all four lost in the Big Dance, but Indiana, UCLA, North Carolina, and San Francisco also entered the NCAA Tournament a combined total of seven times and won the title.  There have been many one-loss teams that lost in the NCAAs.  A loss can create doubt just as much as no losses can create a false sense of security.

Memphis’s challengers are UTEP (2-0/11-4), UAB (2-0/12-5), Central Florida (2-0/9-7), and Houston (1-0/12-3).  There is a chance that if the rest of the league stays balanced and nobody else can win 11 conference games that Memphis will get the lone C-USA bid.

Horizon

This is a league that us a wildcard.  It could receive one, two, or three bids depending on the results.  Butler (5-2/16-2) is not leading the Horizon, but their RPI has them high enough to receive an at-large bid.  The Bulldogs have defeated Michigan, Virginia Tech, Texas Tech, Ohio State, and Florida State, so they look to be comfortably in control of their own destiny.

Cleveland State (6-0/13-5) just upset Butler; the Vikings are in first place and own road wins against South Florida and Florida State.  They host Valparaiso (4-2/13-5) Saturday, and a win in that game would start to get them noticed in bubbleville.

Independents

Not only will no independent earn a bid to the NCAAs, none will earn an NIT bid this year.  Only Texas-Pan American at 11-10 has a record over .500.

Ivy

This league is just starting conference play, so it’s hard to make any calls here.  In the past, you just penciled in a “P” in the automatic bid slot because either Penn or Princeton won the league.  Now, it’s not so cut and dry.  Brown (0-0/8-6) has played the best ball so far, but the closest thing to signature wins are victories over Northwestern and Hartford.  Penn (0-0/5-10) and Princeton (0-0/2-12) could actually be the weakest two teams in the league. 

This looks like a year where the Ivy Champion could be forced to the play-in game in Dayton.

Metro Atlantic

This should be an exciting race all season long for the regular season title, but only the conference champ is going dancing from the MAAC this year.  Siena (6-1/11-6) is ½-game ahead of defending conference tournament champ Niagara (5-1/11-4). 

Just behind the Purple Eagles are Marist (5-2/11-7), Rider (4-2/11-6), and Loyola (Md.) (4-3/8-10).  When you look at their record and stats, Fairfield (3-3/5-11) should be picked to finish near the bottom, but the Stags have won at Siena and Loyola.

Mid-American

After placing just one team in the tournament last year, I am figuring a doubling of that amount in 2008.  Kent State (3-0/14-3) and Akron (3-0/13-3) are tied for first in the Eastern Division.  Ohio U (1-2/10-6) has an out-of-conference win at Maryland.  The Bobcats could get into bubble contention with a nice run in league play.  Miami of Ohio may have scheduled too many tough teams in the non-conference season, and the Red Hawks could be running out of gas.  They defeated Xavier and Mississippi State and scared the pants off Southern Cal, Dayton, Louisville, and Cincinnati.  Even their loss to Kansas was by less points than most expected.  If they can recover and finish with 10 conference wins, they could be bubble-worthy.

The Western Division has no worthy teams.  In a three-way tie for first at 2-1 are Toledo (5-10), Western Michigan (8-8), and Eastern Michigan (6-9), while the other three teams are 1-2 (Central Michigan 6-9, Northern Illinois 4-11, and Ball State 2-13).  The winner on this side could still sport a losing record when conference tournament play begins.

MEAC

There’s reason to believe that the MEAC representative will not be forced to begin NCAA Tournament action in the Play-in game.  That won’t happen this year if Hampton (3-0/8-6) wins the lone league bid.  The Pirates have defeated Tulsa and VCU and appear to be safely ahead of the best teams from multiple conferences.

Should Hampton fall, Norfolk State (3-0/6-8) and Delaware State (2-0/5-9) are ready to take command in the regular season race.  Last year’s tournament champ Florida A&M (1-2/5-10) is mired back in the pack.

Missouri Valley

Back in the 1950’s, there was a move afoot to make the Pacific Coast League the third Major League in baseball.  With teams in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Hollywood, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the PCL had teams that were actually a little better than some of the Major League counterparts like the Philadelphia Athletics, Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Browns. 

The MVC is the PCL of college basketball.  This league is too strong to be considered a regular mid-major.  This year, the league is strong enough to be considered an outright major conference.

A minimum of three teams should make the field of 65 unless the NCAA selection committee allows Diebold to count their votes.  Drake (6-0/15-1), Illinois State (6-0/14-3), and Creighton (4-2/13-3) are all capable of making it to the Sweet 16. 

Indiana State (4-2/9-7) has a win over Creighton, and the Sycamores have the talent to compete for a bid.  Southern Illinois (3-3/8-9) has defeated Mississippi State, St. Mary’s, and Western Kentucky out-of-conference.  The Salukis are due for a major run, as they have been forced to play four tough road games in the league.  The other good teams have to come to Carbondale yet.  SIU could be right there come tournament time.

Mountain West

This is a league of haves and have nots.  If not for the fact that there are two weak teams and two more that have played lousy schedules, the MWC would be in the same position as the MVC.  I look for just two teams to gain bids to the Big Dance.

San Diego State (3-0/13-4) is a sleeping giant.   There is no reason why the Aztecs cannot become the next Gonzaga, but right now, they still need to win the regular season title or automatic bid to get into the NCAA tourney.  They won’t make it as a runner-up in both the regular season and conference tournament.

UNLV (2-1/13-4) manhandled BYU (1-1/12-5) Tuesday night to place themselves in the bubble mix.  TCU and Air Force (both 2-1/10-6) don’t have the resumes to earn at-large bids.  Utah (1-1/10-5) cannot be forgotten, but the Utes are not the same team they used to be in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Northeast

This is a one-bid league, and there are four or five teams with the talent to win the automatic bid by taking the conference tournament title.  The winner will most assuredly receive a #16 seed and could be forced into the play-in game.

Wagner (5-1/12-5) won’t have to begin in the play-in game if they win the bid.  The Seahawks have a win against Brown, and that’s enough to keep them away from Dayton on the Tuesday night after Selection Sunday.

Quinnipiac (5-1/9-8) is famous for political polling and not basketball, but the Bobcats are tied for the NEC lead.  They do not play Wagner until mid-February, so by the time the two co-leaders face off, they could be far ahead of the rest of the field.

Ohio Valley

Austin Peay (8-1/12-7) is better than the rest of the league, but they still must win the conference tournament to get a bid this year.  Only one OVC team will be in the Field of 65.

APSU’s chief competitors this year are: SE Missouri (6-3/11-8), Murray State (5-3/9-7), Eastern Kentucky (5-4/8-9), Morehead State (5-4/7-9), Tennessee Tech (5-4/8-11), and Tennessee State (4-4/7-10). 

Pac-10

In my opinion, this is the best conference this season.  Take away Oregon State, and there is no argument that the other nine teams are the strongest 90% of any league.

UCLA (4-0/16-1) is tied with surprising Arizona State (4-0/14-2).  The Bruins and Sun Devils are both headed to the Big Dance.  Ditto Washington State (3-1/15-1); the Cougars are going to be a tough match-up for any NCAA tournament team.

Stanford (3-2/14-03) and Oregon (3-2/12-5) are both in good shape.  Both the Cardinal and Ducks could win the Big 10 this year if they were in that conference.

In the sixth through ninth positions are teams that could all be in the upper half of most of the other conferences.  California (2-3/11-5) has some work to do if they are going dancing.  The Bears don’t have a signature win and blew a golden chance last night against Arizona State.  Arizona (1-3/11-6) is a tired team with an interim coach in Kevin O’Neill who doesn’t know when to lighten his team’s practice intensity.  The Wildcats took Kansas to overtime in Lawrence, but they also are the victim of a home loss to Oregon, and they have already played their “gimme” win over Oregon State at home.

Southern Cal (1-3/10-6) and Washington (1-3/10-7) have some work to do in order to get in the mix.  They could both make it to the Final Four of the NIT if they were forced to play in it.  The Trojans are good enough to move into the upper half of the standings and win the conference tournament.  USC lost back-to-back four-point games against Kansas and Memphis.  They play at UCLA Saturday.

Patriot

This league has recently been a two-team race between Bucknell and Holy Cross.  This year, it is shaping up to be a different affair.  Bucknell (2-0/7-9) is considerably weaker this season, but the Bison find themselves tied for first with Lafayette (2-0/11-6).  While this is a one-bid league, the conference championship is played on the home floor of the regular season champ, so winning the race is very important.

Southeastern

The SEC is a bit down this year, but not at the top.  Tennessee (3-0/15-1) is the class of the league, and the Volunteers have to be considered a strong Final Four candidate.  I took a lot of flak on another forum when Bruce Pearl took the job, and I predicted in print that he would lead the then mediocre Vols immediately into the NCAA tournament and have them competing for a Final Four spot within five years.  This is just year three for Pearl in Knoxville.  With Duke Crews being cleared to play and Chris Lofton eventually breaking out of his slump, the orange and white could give the SEC a chance to bring home its third consecutive national championship.

This is not a one-team league.  There are four or five additional teams worthy of receiving bids to the Field of 65.  Ole Miss (2-1/15-1) took Tennessee to the buzzer in Knoxville.  The Rebels play more like a Big East team, and they are a tough match-up for all the other SEC teams.  Their arch-rival, Mississippi State (3-0/12-5) has run off a seven-game winning streak.  The Bulldogs are the best shot-blocking team I have seen since Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo were swatting shots for Georgetown almost two decades past.

Even though they lost the great foursome that brought them back-to-back national titles, Florida (2-1/15-3) has reloaded with new stars.  The Gators gave Ole Miss quite a scare at Tad Smith Coliseum.  By March, they could be back in the top 20.

Arkansas (2-1/13-4) should challenge the two Magnolia State teams for supremacy in the West Division.  The Razorbacks won at Baylor and own a win over Missouri.

Vanderbilt (1-2/16-2) won all 15 of its non-conference games, but the schedule was closer in strength to Air Force and TCU than Arizona and Tennessee.  The Commodores may be in trouble in the East soon, as they have to play at Florida and at Ole Miss next week and could easily be 2-4 in the league after that and looking up at the rest of the division.

Kentucky (1-1/7-8) is the wildcard.  The Wildcats have enough talent to finish above .500 in the league, but this is a program where if someone belches, it’s on the local radio stations and Internet forums before the sound echoes off the gym walls.

I look for four or five SEC teams to get bids, so one of these teams will be left out.

Southern

Davidson (7-0/9-6) breezed through conference play last year, and the Wildcats are almost halfway through the SoCon race this year without a conference loss and leading the South Division by 1 ½ game over Georgia Southern (5-2/12-5).  Unfortunately, this was supposed to be the season where Davidson broke through with some big out-of-conference wins to return them to the glory years they enjoyed under Lefty Driesell four decades ago.  Instead, they lost by four to North Carolina, six to Duke, 12 to UCLA, and one to North Carolina State.  Hence, there will be only one bid awarded to this conference this season.

Davidson’s top competitor is the leader of the North Division, Chattanooga (7-1/12-6).  The Mocs play at Davidson Saturday.  Next in line in the North is Appalachian State (5-2/10-6).

Southland

This is a league where it is possible two teams could be selected on Selection Sunday, but the chances are remote.  Sam Houston (2-1/14-2) began the season 10-0 including a win over Texas Tech.  Stephen F. Austin (2-1/14-2) isn’t far behind the Bearkats.  The Lumberjacks won at Oklahoma last month.  These two teams are tied for first in the West Division.

In the East, Northwestern State (3-0/7-10) leads a weaker division with Southeast Louisiana (2-1/10-6 with win over Sam Houston) close behind. 

SWAC

This league is not only the weakest in Division I basketball, it is weaker than the collection of independents!  Nobody belongs in the NIT much less the NCAA Tournament.  There’s not much difference between 1st and 6th place in this league this year, and the winner of the conference tournament is almost guaranteed to be forced into the play-in game.  The current standings show Texas Southern (3-0/4-12) in the lead.  Prior to starting conference play, the Tigers had lost 12 consecutive games.

In a three-way tie for 2nd at 3-1 are Alabama State (7-7), Southern (5-10), and Jackson St. (5-12). 

Summit

The former Mid-Continent Conference added Indiana-Purdue Ft. Wayne, North Dakota State and South Dakota State, lost Valparaiso, and now calls itself, “The Summit League.”  The remaining three top teams from last year are still the top three teams this season.

Oral Roberts (6-0/11-5) could give the Summit two teams in the NCAAs if they finish strong but lose in the Summit Conference Tournament Championship Game. 

The teams most likely to upset ORU are IUPUI (5-1/13-4) and Oakland (4-2/9-8).  ORU has already defeated both of them, with the win against Oakland coming on the Golden Grizzlies’ home floor.

Sunbelt

This has a good chance to be a two-bid league this year.  South Alabama (6-0/14-3) will get an at-large bid if they don’t earn an automatic bid.  The Jaguars lost at both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt by three points.  They beat second best Sunbelt team Western Kentucky (5-1/13-5).  If these two teams continue to play great ball, both could end up in the Big Dance.

West Coast

No longer is this the Gonzaga League.  St. Mary’s (1-0/14-2) has now made this a great two team race.  The Gaels pegged the only loss on Drake and posted wins over Oregon and Seton Hall in the pre-conference schedule.  They have an exceptional inside-out punch with forward Diamon Simpson and Center Omar Samhan banging in the paint and sharp-shooting guard Patrick Mills shooting the jumper.

Gonzaga (2-0/13-4) will join the Gaels in the Field of 65.  The Bulldogs won consecutive road games against Virginia Tech, St. Joe’s, and Connecticut to show they are capable of getting to the Sweet 16.

The two teams don’t face each other until February 5, and by then the rest of the league could already be four or more games out.

WAC

This former top mid-major conference is going through a rebuilding phase.  It is only going to see one bid awarded this year.  Utah State (3-0/13-5) leads the league, but the closest thing to a big win for the Cowboys is against Oral Roberts. 

New Mexico State (3-1/9-10) and Nevada (2-1/10-6) are next in line. NMSU beat New Mexico, while Nevada hasn’t beaten a team with a double digit RPI rating.

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