With the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC all having down years, mid-major conferences are in an unusually good position to claim a greater share of the 34 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. As of Sunday, 10 mid-major teams were in the RPI top 40, with three in the top 20 (including Darren Brooks, left, and Southern Illinois at No. 14). According to Jerry Palm, who runs collegerpi.com, only three mid-majors were in the top 40 at the same time last year. The RPI numbers will change by Selection Sunday, if only because they are unfairly weighted to help teams from the so-called power conferences, but if there ever was a year for the selection committee to break its habit of favoring marquee conferences when it comes to dispensing at-large bids, this is it.
UNDER THE RADAR
La Salle junior forward Steven Smith
A 6'8", 225-pound Philadelphia native, Smith has been one of the few bright spots for the Explorers, who ended a six-game losing streak on Sunday by beating Fordham 90--88 in overtime to improve to 6--14 (2--7 in the Atlantic 10). An athletic inside player with a soft shooting touch, Smith leads the A-10 in scoring (20.9 ppg, 11th in the nation) and is second in rebounding (8.9 rpg) and free throw shooting (81.9%). Smith did not play his first year on campus because he was an academic nonqualifier, but he is on pace to graduate in four years, which would earn him an additional season of eligibility. However, if Smith is projected to go high enough in the NBA draft--right now he's a second-round pick at best--he likely will opt to turn pro.
1 Minnesota is in good shape for the NCAA tournament. The Golden Gophers, who haven't made the Big Dance since 1999, notched their most impressive win of the season last Saturday, beating Wisconsin 60--50 to move into a tie for third place in the Big Ten. They are No. 34 in the RPI.
2 The coach-of-the-year race is over. Despite using players left off most national recruiting rankings, Al Skinner had guided Boston College to a 20--0 record at week's end. That accomplishment represents the best coaching job the college game has seen in years.
3 Siena's Rob Lanier is on his way out. The Saints' fourth-year coach acknowledged last week that he'll probably be fired after the season. Among those expected to be interviewed to replace him are Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins and Georgia Tech assistant Cliff Warren.
More Hoop Thoughts from Seth Davis every Tuesday at SI.com.