The world of college basketball was supposed to be getting kinder to Mid-majors. Every year a team makes a run in the NCAA tournament, often beating what are assumed to be the nation’s toughest teams. Yet in 2012, Big Conference schools continue to have their tournament résumés bolstered by so called “quality wins” in their conferences. All teams like Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams can do now is hope great play in lackluster conferences can beat mediocre play in the country’s renowned leagues. Nonetheless, mid-majors continue to attempt the impossible: make sports fans forget about tradition.
If you’re a power conference team and you travel to the Final Four, it doesn’t take a 25-6 record to be noticed and put on the bubble. This is the problem for mid-major teams. I’d like to introduce you to bubble team Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams stroked their way to the Final Four last year via three-point shot. This year, they have sauntered through a less than stellar schedule when you look at it on the surface. VCU had three chances to make a splash outside of conference play against Seton Hall, Alabama, and South Florida. The Rams were 1-2 in those games, which is unfortunate. Last year, VCU made the tourney as an at-large with a 23-11 record. Its best win was against UCLA at home. Now, how does it add up that the same team can be better this year and still be considered out of the tournament? Well, I guess it may be because of a stronger field? But this year the rumor is the bubble is “soft” or relatively uncompetitive. Teams are supposed to be having an easier time getting in this year compared to last year. Then why does a VCU team with a better résumé than last year not make the tournament? The reason is the Power Conference teams have been more jumbled in terms of record and credentials. The usual suspects have not been pounding teams like Iowa State, South Florida, California, Alabama, Mississippi State and others into the ground. However, the biggest problem for mid-majors, is how good mid-major play has been this year. Teams which had no real business making runs into the tournament now look like locks including New Mexico and Colorado State from the Mountain West; Murray State from the Ohio Valley (they won their tournament, thank the basketball Gods); St. Louis, Temple, and Xavier from the Atlantic 10; Drexel from the Colonial; Creighton and Wichita State from the Missouri Valley; and Long Beach State from the Big West. All in all, the mid-majors have kinda blown apart their owns chances fro bids by taking so many. Still, extremely talented mid-major teams remain bid-less at this point; however, conference hierarchy continues to steamroll across in-season performance. VCU, George Mason, Iona, Central Florida, Southern Mississippi, and Denver all may not win their conference tournaments (some already haven’t). Teams such as Texas, Northwestern, Seton Hall, Connecticut, Washington, and Mississippi State have somewhat of lackluster seasons. Sure UConn has the number 1 strength of schedule and the RPI numbers are all pretty, but when it comes down to it, RPI is a flawed system and S.O.S. is based upon conjecture of what teams are the best. With the runs of Butler, George Mason, Davidson, and VCU through the years, mid-majors are getting higher seeds and more bids than ever (it would seem). Still, it seems worthy mid-majors are being left in the cold. I’ll never argue against the Big East and Big Ten being the best conferences and having the best teams in the country, but the point of March is to show that any team can make a splash if they get hot (ask our boy Shaka Smart). With the RPI system currently being used as Gospel, mid-major teams will not garner the necessary opportunities to prove their worthiness. It’s a sad story, but true. No one likes seeing 19-12 (9-9) Texas in the field over a 27-6 (15-3) Virginia Commonwealth team…but Conference strength still rules and RPI is still the Bible for bracket picking. So 18-12 (8-10) Northwestern can start thanking their lucky stars and 25-7 (15-3) Iona can start cursing theirs.