Before I go into the major part of this post, I just wanted to note a few things from NCAA mid major action yesterday.
But before I do that, I want to comment on something. As much as I am a fan of Kyle Whelliston, who writes for ESPN and is the author of the college basketball mid major web site MidMajority.Com (a terrific web site by the way but Kyle I used to be one of your links, what happened?!), he believes that the Atlantic 10 is a mid major conference, and lists several of its teams in his Mid Major Top 20. I disagree with that. The Atlantic 10 has a long history of multiple bid teams making the tournament. That alone, should not be reason enough to not be a mid major conference. However, if you add the fact that there are several members who have had long basketball traditions with major NCAA tournament resumes in that conference; Temple, Xavier, St Joseph's to list a few, then you have more reason not to listen them as a mid major.
But if those two reasons don't sway you, how about this article on Yahoo Sports called "Xavier Not a Fan of Mid Major Label". Here's the first three paragraphs from that article;
"Xavier turned down Rivals.com's Mid-Major Player of the Week Award this week intended for point guard Drew Lavender, saying the term "mid-major" was a black eye for its program.
"People who come here and see us and what we're about and know what we've accomplished in 25 years would struggle to put any 'mid' label on us," Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski said. "We've been to 17 NCAA Tournaments. We've had 20 20-plus win seasons. Our arena has been filled to 96 percent capacity. We've had 11 BCS conference home-and-homes in the last six years. That's not 'mid' anything."
Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno backed the Musketeers' stance. "I really am puzzled why anyone would consider us a mid-major," she said. "It's a term you really don't need. It got started because the media use football terms for basketball leagues. Give people credit for what they're good at. The term is derogatory."
Well there you go. If Xavier's AD doesn't think they are a mid major and the Atlantic 10 commissioner believes they are not a mid major conference, well that settles it for me. Sorry, Kyle, but the Atlantic 10 is not a mid major conference. Not quite on par with the ACC, but we'll give them the credit they are due as a major conference. Thus you will not see any Atlantic 10 in my Mid Major Baker's Dozen, nor will you see any Mountain West Team here (sorry, Utah and BYU have been major basketball powerhouses for ages) nor Conference USA (Louisville was a past member and Memphis is a current member). The WAC qualifies along with the other standard Mid Major conferences. And since when is Mid Major derogatory??
Finally, though the A-10 is not a mid major conference, I love their conference this year. I think Rhode Island, Xavier and Dayton are locks to make the tournament. And St Joe's, Duquesne, UMass and even Charlotte are solid teams. The A-10 is so much better than last year that last year's fourth place team, Fordham, will be lucky to finish eighth this year and that's with the basic core of the team back from last season.
In CAA action, how about those Fightin Blue Hens. Delaware needed double overtime, but they downed ODU 81-74 in a battle for first place in the CAA. Herb Courtney had a monster game with 27 points and 11 rebounds. The Blue Hens shot 26 of 34 from the line (76.5 percent) which was the difference in the game. VCU held off a valiant Hofstra team 59-49, in a game much closer than the final score indicated. I watched the game which was televised locally here on SNY. Jamal Shuler has to be one of the best defensive guards in the country as he hounded Hofstra star guard Antoine Agudio all game and held the country's fourth leading scorer to 14 points on 4 of 11 shooting. Agudio did not hit on any three point attempts which was the first time in 46 games that Agudio did not have a three pointer and it was the first time in 334 games that Hofstra did not have a three pointer. Northeastern again showed why the road is not their friend as they were hammered by George Mason 80-52. The Patriots shot 58 percent from the field. The Drexel Dragons continue to struggle as they lost to Towson 86-77. The Dragons are now tied for last in the CAA with Georgia State and Hofstra at 1-4. William and Mary won its third consecutive conference game coming from 16 points behind in the second half to beat Georgia State 60-58. Finally, JMU righted its ship and won its third conference game pounding UNCW at home, 93-74 as the Dukes shot 58 percent from the field.
Ok, its time for the Mid Major Baker's Dozen (ie My Top 13) No A-10 teams here. No computer program decides the Baker's Dozen here. Just the team's record, their non conference schedule and a little analysis.
1) Butler (16-1 overall, 5-1 Horizon League). Yeah, the win at Southern Illinois doesn't look as good now with the Salukis struggling but wins over MVC valley surprise Indiana State (by 26 no less), Virginia Tech (Holiday Festival winner), Texas Tech, Florida State and especially Ohio State make the Bulldogs the best team in the Mid Majors.
2) St Mary's (14-2, 1-0 WCC). Wins over Oregon, Seton Hall, Drake and an impressive road win at San Diego State (12-4) puts the Gaels in the #2 spot. The loss at Southern Illinois is not so bad and neither is a loss at Texas. Gaels have an excellent chance to knock off Gonzaga this year.
3) Drake (14-1, 5-0 MVC). Only loss is at St Mary's, nothing to be ashamed of. Nice win vs underrated Duquesne, plus wins over Iowa State, Iowa (looking better after the Hawkeyes upset of Michigan State) and excellent conference start which includes win at always tough Wichita State has these Bulldogs right up there in my rankings. A strong MVC record plus a big win when they play their ESPN bracket buster game will only strengthen their NCAA resume.
4) Gonzaga (12-4,1-0 WCC). Strong non conference schedule includes impressive wins at St Joe's and UConn along with wins over Virginia Tech, Utah and Western Kentucky. Nothing to be ashamed of in their losses to Wash State (by four points), Tennessee (by 10). at Oklahoma (by four) and Texas Tech.
As long as they have a strong WCC record and make the finals of their tournament say against St Mary's, the Zags should be dancing again come March.
5) Illinois State (13-3, 5-0 MVC). Their non conference schedule is a little weak, with losses at Indiana and Kent State, but neither game was a bad loss. Win at Cincinatti not as good as it would be given the Bearcats not a very good team but a win at a Big East school is still decent. Better yet is their MVC road wins at Creighton and Wichita State. January 19 game at Drake should show where the Redbirds are at.
6) VCU (11-4, 4-1 CAA). Not as good a team as last year, don't have much scoring options besides star guard Eric Maynor and defensive whiz Jamal Shuler. However, they play great D and they do have wins over Houston, Bradley and Maryland, though none of those are looking quite as good now as they did. Tough losses to Miami Florida and Arkansas though help their at large cause. Need to have a really good CAA conference record plus must win bracket buster game to get the NCAA committee to look at them as a serious at large team.
7) South Alabama (13-3, 5-0 Sunbelt). You don't hear much about the Jaguars but they should be gettin lots of love. Their 3 losses at Mississippi by only 3, at Vanderbilt by only 3 and the only clunker a 5 point loss to a decent Miami Ohio team. They have wins over Chattanooga (12-5 and 7-0 in the Southern conference ..they are a good team see below), Mississippi State by four and Western Kentucky. The Jags need to have a big time conference record plus get a good Bracketbuster game and win that. This is a team you'll hear about again shortly..
8) Sam Houston State (13-2,1-1 Southland). We'll forgive them for the loss at home to Southeast Louisiana. They do have wins over Texas Tech, Fresno State, at Saint Louis and at Wisconsin Milwaukee. Their only other loss is a one point loss at San Diego State. Still the Bearkats have to win the Southland outright to make the NCAA tournament.
9) Kent State (13-3, 2-0 MAC). They have wins over Illinois State and George Mason, albeit at home. They played Xavier respectively for 29 minutes before the Musketeers pulled away. They did lose badly to #1 NC, but NC State played the Tarheels much worse. Loss to Detroit was a clunker, but that can be excused. A very good MAC record, plus a bracketbuster win would help. Akron is an honorable mention on my list.
10) Siena (10-6,5-1 MAAC). No, they have no chance at an at large bid, but the Saints have played a tough non conference schedule. They have a big win over a good Stanford team (ranked #20 at the time) and losses at JMU, at Syracuse, at Memphis and at St Joe's. The clunkers are losses to Cornell and Fairfield, but the Saints came back with a big win at Niagara. The Saints are the best team in the MAAC.
11) Creighton (12-3, 3-2 MVC). The Bluejays have righted themselves after an 0-2 start in the Missouri Valley, winning their last three games in conference, including a nice win at Wichita State. The Bluejays also have wins over St Joe's, Nebraska, and DePaul. The loss to Xavier wasn't bad. Thus, their at large resume looks good, probably better than Illinois State's. Look for the Bluejays to move up this list.
12) George Mason (10-5, 3-2 CAA). Here is the enigma of this list. They have the big wins over Dayton and Kansas State (look for the Wildcats to improve as the season goes on, making the Patriots win even better). However, they have clunkers in conference to Georgia State and non conference to East Carolina (also lost to Delaware, which doesn't look so bad, Villanova, and Kent State). The Patriots need to make a serious run in the CAA, plus win their bracket buster to improve their at large chances.
13) Chattanooga (12-5, 7-0 Southern). I think Davidson is still the best team in the Southern Conference and the 6-0 conference record does nothing to discount that, but with an 8-6 record overall, I can't in good conscience put them ahead of the 12-5 Moccasins and their 7-0 conference record. The Mocs have also had a tough non conference record like their more well known conference brethren, with losses to Southern Illinois, Indiana, South Alabama and Tennessee (along with a loss to Brad Brownell's Wright State). The game at Appalachian State on January 17 will show if the Mocs are in the elite of the Southern conference.
Honorable Mentions - Davidson (look for them in my top 13 soon), Delaware (have to give the CAA leading Blue Hens some love), Akron (would be in top 13 if they had beaten Dayton..good team are the Zips), Ohio (tough non conference record), JMU (lots of talent..shooting can go awry at times), Western Kentucky (second best Sun Belt team), Boise State (win over BYU) and IUPUI (Summit conference leader with win over UMass)