Mid-Major Madness: How does the committee view smaller schools?

By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut

Connecticut (CBS) – Currently, there is a lot of concern around mid-major fan bases about whether or not their team will get in to the tournament on Selection Sunday. First it was Wichita State who I thought did not have a good enough resume to get in to the field. Since they won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and received the automatic bid, the debate ended up being moot. Since Illinois State is the team that lost that championship game, it is now their fan base that is sweating it out, trying to make a case for their team.

If it was entirely up to me (spoiler alert, it is not), Illinois State would be in the tournament. If Wichita State had lost the championship game, in my opinion they should have been included. All the advanced metrics and the massive win total lets people know that. But all of my projections are based off of what I think the committee will do.

Last year Monmouth and St. Bonaventure were deserving of a spot. Again, in my opinion, they should have been included. But they were not. Teams like Syracuse, Michigan and Tulsa were included instead. Unless the committee is changing their approach this season, they set the precedent last year by including the teams they did, and by excluding the teams that they did. So to summarize, I just don’t see how Illinois State, Monmouth or Belmont get in the tournament this season regardless of the fact that they all were the regular season champion in their respective conferences. Again, it cannot be stressed enough how much I disagree with this approach.

Monmouth has 27 wins and won 17 in a row at one point before losing in the MAAC tournament semifinal to Siena on Siena’s home court in Albany. Not exactly a fair scenario. If the committee includes Monmouth this year it will basically be to make up for last season and be an admission of fault. I just don’t see that happening.

Illinois State also won 27 games and went 17-1 in conference, the only loss coming to Wichita State on the road. It seems ridiculous to think that the committee would even think about including Vanderbilt and their 17 total wins while excluding Illinois State and their 27 wins. Wins should count for something right? But the committee has set the standard for big wins being more important than total wins. It’s just the way it has always been. I’d love to see the Redbirds get the invite to Dayton to duke it out with a power conference at-large like USC or Syracuse but I just don’t see it happening. Unless they totally scrapped what they believed to be true last year, the bar has been set.

Belmont went 15-1 in conference play and lost their conference tournament game to Jacksonville State, who eventually won the conference tournament. The problem is that when Belmont had the chance to play tournament caliber teams (Florida, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island and Middle Tennessee) they lost them all. Aside from that their other two losses are one conference slip up on the road to Tennessee Tech and the tournament loss mentioned earlier. None of their 22 wins came against significant opponents. That will hurt the Bruins during the selection process.

There are other mid major teams that are currently playing in their conference tournaments that are in the same boat as the three schools mentioned above.

Middle Tennesse would probably have the best case out of all of these teams to be included in the tournament if they don’t get the automatic bid. They are currently 27-4 and 17-1 in conference play. They also have pretty big wins over Vanderbilt, UNC Wilmington (who won the CAA and is probably a 12 seed), at Belmont and at Ole Miss and lost at VCU by three points. If they were unable to win their conference tournament would they be the exception that the committee would make like they have in the past with Wichita State, Iona and VCU and send the Blue Raiders to Dayton? It is entirely possible. Then again I thought Monmouth would be that exception last year after they beat UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown out of conference and that wasn’t the case. Middle Tennessee being the team that was a 15 seed and knocked off Michigan State in the first round last year definitely doesn’t hurt though.

Vermont went 16-0 in conference play and has 28 wins total. They will have to beat Albany on Saturday to get to 29 wins to get into the tournament. Why? Because their best win of the season was at home against Harvard. They lost their chances against Providence, Houston, South Carolina and Butler. They also have a bad loss to Northeastern by two points at home.

If this was last season, Princeton would already be in the tournament. But this year the Ivy league finally gave in and decided to go with a 4 team playoff in Philadelphia. Princeton’s first opponent? Penn. At the Palestra. Princeton beat Penn there by 15 earlier in the season but we’ve clearly seen that this means absolutely nothing now. Great reward huh?

UT Arlington went 24-7 and won at Texas (understood that Texas is not a good team this year but still a signature win for the program), won at St. Mary’s (a top 20 team), beat Texas Southern (the #1 seed in the SWAC tournament) and Mt. St. Mary’s (just won the Northeast conference tournament). They also have 4 conference losses, so their chances at getting an at-large are little more slim.

Again, to clarify, most if not all of these teams should be rewarded for their dominant play at times in the regular season. They should be favored over the mediocre major conference teams who finish 8-10 in their conferences with 18 total wins. But unfortunately that’s not how the committee sees things. Syracuse’s questionable inclusion and eventual run to the final four last year doesn’t help this year’s contestants either. I wish things were different. I wish I could throw all of these teams into my next projection tomorrow, but the committee has set the standard and I will follow with the criteria that I believe is the most relevant in determining tournament level teams.

Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter @MikeBachini

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