Mid-majors smiling after nationwide weekend of carnage
Five years ago, Doug Elgin and Tom Yeager were the talk of college basketball.
Elgin, the Missouri Valley Conference commissioner, saw his league grab an astonishing four NCAA berths in a season where six MVC teams had a legitimate claim to dance. Yeager, his counterpart at the Colonial Athletic Association, only got two teams to the NCAAs after Hofstra's near miss, but one of those teams -- George Mason -- became the first mid-major Final Four participant in the 64/65-team era.
Since then, both leagues have settled back down into more standard mid-major lifestyles, scrapping hard to get even one at-large berth in any given year. As such, those two men may have been chief among those who enjoyed the weekend of carnage that went on in conferences all across the nation.
Both men's leagues are engaged in brutal multi-team tussles for the regular-season crown. As the bottoms of other leagues (Hi, Big East! Hello, SEC West! What's up, Big 12?) rise up and take bites out of their NCAA contenders, the openings for regular-season champs elsewhere become more pronounced. This week, Wichita State and Old Dominion
An extra team for these leagues is not just window dressing. There are real media and cash benefits. Plus, the softness of the current bracket after the 4- or 5-seeds means this year's tournament could be ripe for double-digit seeds to make runs. So if you see the Colonial or Valley champ still standing on the tournament's second weekend, recall this past one. The smiling commissioner will be a good reminder.
Records listed are Division I only, per NCAA Tournament selection guidelines. All RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and SOS (Strength of Schedule) data are from Sunday's collegerpi.com RPI report.
GW = good wins
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The sandblasting the Blue Devils took from St. John's on Sunday elevated some discussion points. In the bigger picture, with what Duke has done in the ACC, even without Kyrie Irving, does this result make the rest of the league look even softer? That's probably an overreaction, but for those relying on Duke as their marquee win (like Florida State), they probably feel a bit less comfortable now.
The Aggies remain fine even after a disappointing loss at scrappy Nebraska. Texas remains really good. Kansas took out some frustrations on K-State and put another dent into their in-state rival's hopes. Could the league get tapped out at four bids, though? The muddle in the middle will need to clear in positive fashion for one or two teams to bump that total up.
There are different gradients of this category across the board. In this conference, there's a huge drop-off at this point from Missouri to this group.
The league's top four have switched, with Notre Dame taking Syracuse's place after the Orange's four-game slide and the Irish's continued impressive form. If Villanova is a lock, ND has to be at this point with seven Top-50 wins. And the Irish can consolidate a really good seed profile over the next couple of weeks with a run of winnable games. Somewhat surprising losses for the others listed may dent their seeding a bit, but not overall safety by any means.
Ohio State played almost perfectly to thrash Purdue and far from it in escaping at Northwestern. That's the nature of this season across the nation. The bigger question: Will Michigan State's continued struggles put the Spartans in bubble trouble?
Wazzu's mild upset of Washington is good for the league, which has four NCAA candidates and a good race on its hands now.
The SEC West is rising like a zombie in
The two best teams in the league had solid weeks, but those chasing Temple and Xavier (and Duquesne!) continue to find potholes. If the Owls or Musketeers win the auto-bid, will this end up as a two-bid year for the A-10?
The Jimmers pulled away from San Diego State but then got bitten in The Pit. That drops them back into a tie atop the league with SDSU, which hosts the Cougars on Feb. 26.
Crazy upsets were not limited to the major conference. Five of the first six teams in this category last week lost.