With the NFL season now over and with one month until Selection Sunday, college basketball begins to become a primary focus of sports fans. There are many places you can watch and read about what’s happening with the national conferences. INSIDE SPORTS wants you to be fully in the know.
The Big East is having a season unlike any other maybe in college basketball history, with possibly 11 teams going to the NCAA Tournament next month. The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Pac-10 all have their usual pool of suspects claiming to be the best. Teams like Ohio State, Kansas, Texas, and Duke all claim they are the best in the land.
But what about the other conferences? The so-called mid-majors? Is there another Final Four team that will come from one of these other leagues like Butler did last year from the Horizon League, or George Mason from the Colonial Athletic? Is Jimmer Fredette and the BYU Cougars out of the Mountain West that team this year, or will it be another team altogether?
What we aim to do here is dial you in on some of the other conferences in the country and which teams to watch for, as well as if any of these leagues other than the ‘Big Six’ will put multiple teams into the tournament. Remember, there will be 68 teams going to the tournament this year, and that all but one (Great West) of the 32 conferences has an automatic qualifier. The other 37 bids are at-large.
For the purposes of this article, we will assume the following teams are in from the ‘Big Six’ leagues:
- Big East (11) –Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia
- Big Ten (6) – Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
- Big 12 (6) –Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
- SEC (5) – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
- ACC (4) –Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
- Pac-10 (3) – Arizona, UCLA, Washington
This leaves eight at-large bids available:
LEAGUES THAT WILL SEND MORE THAN ONE TEAM TO THE DANCE
- Atlantic 10 (3) – This will be one of the better conference tournaments when they tip it off next month in Atlantic City. A legitimate case can be made that three of these five teams will advance to the Big Dance: Xavier, Duquesne, Temple, Richmond, and Rhode Island. Figure Xavier and Temple are in due to their RPI numbers. The third team will come from the other three. The one of these three that either stays near or at the top of the league standings and/or does well in the conference tournament will be the third team. PROJECTIONS: Rhode Island, Temple, and Xavier.
- Mountain West (3) – Two of the three from this league will be among the top seeds in the tournament, and possibly the top seed in the West Region. BYU, led by Fredette, and San Diego State, are locks to make the tournament this season. It’ll come down to either UNLV or Colorado State, provided another team doesn’t steal the conference tournament. The Rebels and Rams are playing on Friday night in Fort Collins. The Rams won the first meeting between these teams back in January by 15 points. PROJECTIONS: BYU, Colorado State, and San Diego State.
- Colonial (2) – We mentioned George Mason earlier, and they appear poised to return to the dance again this season. The Patriots will likely be joined in the dance by Old Dominion. Both schools have RPI numbers in the twenties, which is very good for them. Virginia Commonwealth and Drexel will have something to say about that in the conference tournament. PROJECTIONS: George Mason and Old Dominion.
- Conference USA (2) – UTEP is currently in first place in the league. But there are three teams with better RPI numbers within C-USA in Memphis, Southern Miss, and UAB. So the focus will be on the league tournament to see which two of these four get in. The Miners can go a long way towards improving their pre-conference tourney RPI with key games against the Golden Eagles and Tigers. PROJECTIONS: Memphis and Southern Miss.
- Horizon (2) – This is always a competitive league, as Butler showed they could go all the way to the NCAA Championship Game and come within an eyelash of winning the whole thing last season. The Bulldogs are one of three teams fighting for what we think will be two spots on the dance from this league. The other clubs are Cleveland State and Valparaiso. Butler is 3-1 against them. Wright State and UW-Milwaukee will be factors in the conference tournament and could help determine which teams go from this league, but with RPI’s in the hundreds, the only shot for WSU or UW-M is to win the conference tournament outright. PROJECTIONS: Butler and Cleveland State.
- Missouri Valley (2) – Anyone that has followed this league over the years knows that as competitive as they can be in the regular season, you need to throw all of that out the window when the conference tournament starts. This is often the most topsy-turvy of tournaments each year. There are three teams that will enter the conference tournament with a legitimate chance for selection in Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Wichita State. PROJECTIONS: Missouri State and Wichita State.
LEAGUES SENDING JUST ONE TEAM (RPI in parentheses)
- America East – Vermont (78) is the likely team to go here. Boston and Maine are contenders.
- Atlantic Sun – Belmont (57) has been near perfect in league play. East Tennessee State and Jacksonville will be tough in the conference tournament.
- Big Sky – Montana (106) and Northern Colorado (131) could be an epic final in this league, although Weber State will not go quietly.
- Big South – Coastal Carolina (56) has been the best team in this league, going to this point without a conference loss. Liberty is the only other team with a legitimate shot.
- Big West – Long Beach State (98) is 10-2 in conference but has an RPI of 98. That will tell you why this will only be a one team bid league.
- Ivy League – This is the only league without a conference tournament, so the regular season champ goes to the Big Dance. Right now it’s down to Harvard (46) and Princeton (53). The Tigers won the first matchup last week – the re-match on March 5 will decide which team wins the league.
- MAAC – Fairfield (110) is at the top of the league standings, but a case can be made for St. Peter’s, Iona, and Rider to be the one that wins the conference bid.
- Mid-American – Kent State (88) is the only MAC team with an RPI under 100. This will be a very competitive conference tournament to watch.
- MEAC – Hampton (134) has had a solid season, but they know that Bethune-Cookman, Morgan State, and Coppin State are all lurking.
- Northeast – Long Island (107) has just two conference losses and is clearly the favorite in this league. Robert Morris handed them one of those losses.
- Ohio Valley – Three teams scrambling for this spot are Morehead State (116), Murray State, and Austin Peay. Tennessee Tech could also be a factor come conference post-season time.
- Patriot League – Bucknell (91) has just one conference loss and needs two wins for 20 on the season overall. American University could surprise them in the league title game.
- Southern – This twelve team league has two divisions, and the three best teams are in the South Division: Charleston (77) is going to win 20 games; Furman and Wofford will also be competitive.
- Southland – This one is still too close to call as no one has separated themselves from the pack. Gun to our head, we’d say McNeese State (167) will find a way to go.
- Summit League – Oakland (74) has had a solid season with a 13-1 conference record. IUPUI and Oral Roberts will also be factors.
- SWAC – Texas Southern (178) has just one conference loss so far but watch out for Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State.
- Sun Belt – Florida Atlantic (117) looks like the best team so far here, but watch for Middle Tennessee State and also Denver as a dark horse.
- West Coast – The last decade or so has seen two teams annually taken from this league. St. Mary’s (31) seems to be a lock to go even if they don’t win their conference tournament. This is a league that could send two teams; Gonzaga and Portland are also in the mix.
- WAC – Utah State (26) is undefeated in conference play and has been dominant in the league this season. New Mexico State and Nevada have two best chances to thwart Utah State. Even if they lose in the tournament, Utah State could gain a second bid for this league like the West Coast with St. Mary’s because of their RPI.
Jon Moncrief serves as the co-host and creative director of INSIDE SPORTS. Jon is the beat reporter covering both the Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Dodgers for Examiner.com, and also writes nationally for Examiner about the NHL. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.