Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Attack of the Mid-Majors

The only thing more certain than Mid-Majors ruining brackets all over America is the uncertainty of exactly which Mid-Majors are going to do the ruining. That’s why I can never bring myself to pick an “upset.” Sure, they’re going to happen but if you miss on your upset picks, you get beat twice. This year is harder than ever because of the sheer volume of Mid-Majors in the tournament. In many cases, you have to pick against the mid-major to qualify for the “upset.” More so than ever, parity has taken over college basketball. We knew this was coming when the NBA required players to be one year removed from high school to be eligible for the NBA Draft. While the rule meant more talented players would be playing college ball—and in the vast majority of cases they would be playing at powerhouses—it also meant that traditional powerhouses would suffer from a lack of continuity. This created a major contrast in program building. Mid-Majors looked to build veteran laden, mistake-free teams while major programs looked to fast track championships with “one and done” stars.

The “one year removed from high school” rule has given more teams more opportunities to advance in the NCAA Tournament than ever before. It’s eye-opening to count the number of mid-majors in the RPI 50. Mid-Majors consist of 20 of the RPI 50 and 52 of the RPI 100. The latter is a five-year high. Not surprisingly, the impressive RPI numbers have translated into impressive seeds in the NCAA Tournament. All told, 32 Mid-Majors* received bids in the 2010 NCAA Tournament which is the highest total ever. The average seed for the 32 Mid-Majors was 11.56 which is also the best total ever. It’s not just that there are more Mid-Majors than ever before; it’s that there are more “good” Mid-Majors than ever before. Keep in mind that Memphis significantly reduced the average Mid-Major seed with its run under John Calipari. Memphis didn’t even make the tournament this year and there wasn’t a Mid-Major anywhere near as dominant as Calipari’s crew. Yet, this crop still produced the best average seed on record. That mark was achieved by a litany of single seeds including #3 New Mexico, #5 Temple, #5 Butler, #6 Xavier, #7 BYU, #7 Richmond, #8 Gonzaga, #8 UNLV, and #9 N. Iowa. That group doesn’t even include some of the more “dangerous” Mid-Majors in the tournament like Siena, Cornell, San Diego St., Old Dominion, Houston, UTEP, Utah St., St. Mary’s, and New Mexico St.

Of course, your guess is as good as mine in determining who out of this group is going to be a national news story a week from now. I’m not even going to venture a guess. Just beware that there are more obstacles to a perfect bracket than ever before and those obstacles are more dangerous than ever before. Unless you’re in a 500 person pool, all that matters is picking the elite eight anyways and you can rest assured that I’m not brave enough to pick any of the above cats to make it that far.

* Conference status is not static. Before Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, and DePaul left for the Big East in 2006 and Charlotte and St. Louis left for the A-10 the same year, they were all members of Conference USA. C-USA received a total of 14 bids in 2003, 2004, and 2005 including six in 2004. Before the mass exodus, C-USA was hardly a Mid-Major conference. I did not count it as one until 2006. Likewise, the A-10 routinely received 3+ bids in the 90’s and was hardly the 14-team monstrosity of a Mid-Major conference that it is today.

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