Mid-Major Team Rankings for March Madness
March is here, let the Madness begin. A week left in the regular season, then numerous conference tourneys to breakdown and then the all mighty Big Dance, the March Madness Tourney itself. While arguments galore approach about who is in, who is out, bubble teams, the RPI ratings and etc., the only thing I am worried about is not the office pool bracket, or the survivor pool I will be in, but the Las Vegas Line aspect is where my career path takes me. Last year I did it better than most anyone banking a 72% ATS record out of 46 selections in conference tourneys (almost unheard of in this day and age and my best effort ever) in March Madness including the NIT, which I love to handicap every year as well. That ranked me #1 at Sportswatch, a respected monitoring service, so again the homework for this year’s effort has begun in earnest.
One thing I do is look at mid-major teams and rank them out, and of course watch them through their conference tourneys and check out their seeding in the big dance as well as the NIT. I use various power rating systems including my own database numbers, Kenpom and a few others. Here is how I see the Top 8 Mid Major teams, and threw in a couple of others as well, and I also give out some teams to look deeper at in the NIT Tourney. Of course this year may be anti-climactic overall as it is Kentucky and then everyone else right now for the national title, but at days end the Wildcats will face the best teams down the stretch and we will see if the talent depleted SEC was in fact a good test for them, as the second best team Arkansas looked like a high school against them this past weekend in a blowout loss.
You can find value in some smaller schools every year to get some nice point spread winners in the right spots, especially in the NIT Tourney. There are some mid major smaller schools this year with excellent teams which will make navigating the NIT Tourney a puzzle of sorts if you do not research teams well. One thing to consider, many mid-major teams appear in the NIT and play teams from the ACC- SEC- Big 12 – Big East etc. who have brand names who did not make the big dance and had down years. Do not be fooled, the NIT is a dangerous tourney to handicap and win games ATS if you look at all major conference teams playing mid-majors and you start laying big points all over the place.
Now someone in one of these smaller conferences like the Horizon, Big West, American East (Stony Brook could beat Albany as an example and get an automatic bid, and they already have beaten Albany once) or others may in fact pull the huge upset and get in the dance, which is what at days end makes March the best month as a sports fan to sit back and watch David take on Goliath, but someone from a mid-major not on this list will get in and upset someone in the conference final, happens every year. Just some food for thought.
As the Benchmark Kentucky’s Power rating in my book is 109
1. Gonzaga Power Rating 103 – Of course the big news is BYU beat them, but have no illusions I have this team in the Top 5 in the nation and they have every bit of moxy to play with anyone, although their strength of schedule and non-conference schedule is weak, they can only play who will play them and who is in their conference. A wake up call loss may in fact make them more dangerous now. One of the better overall teams the Zags have had in recent memory.
2. Wichita State – Power Rating 102 – They won the Mo Valley again and were the team who gave Kentucky all they wanted last year and they have a pair of guards that when hot, keep them in games and they play great fundamental basketball and are very well coached and they have experience.
3. Northern Iowa Power Rating 101 – Off a loss to end the regular season at Wichita State, where both teams beat each other at home by double digits this year, the grudge match appears to be in St Louis this weekend in Arch Madness for the Mo Valley Tourney. That said this team slows the pace, has a defense that is ranked 4th in college hoops and again is fundamentally sound. Scoring can be an issue but when you can stuff every opponent you do not need to score that much.
4. Butler - Power Rating 98 (OPT IN) - Big East Opponent this year but a smaller school so I am including them, because I am old school!. Biggest issue is offensive efficiency in my book, but mighty Butler always makes noise this time of year, but their downside is strength of schedule. Depending on a seed and how they fare in the post season, my value on them will be based on the points oddsmakers will give them. They are a difficult team to play, that is well documented.
5. SMU – Power Rating 96.5 - SMU dropped in my book by a huge loss to U Conn who had not beaten a ranked team all year till last week. Been back and forth with Tulsa in their conference. Larry Brown has the pedigree to lead and his team had been beating up bad teams and beating high RPI ranked teams as well, but live by the 3 and die by it. This team has to be hot from the floor to play well, their defense better than average. Top 25 defense.
6. Boise State Power Rating 95 – I have the Bronco’s and SDSU neck and neck but they own the tie breaker in the Mountain West because they have SDSU’s number after beating them up twice this season, they are a better road team and cover team than SDSU as well. This is a dangerous team and they spread it around nicely.
7. San Diego State – Power Rating 94.5 – Out of the Mountain West which has some good teams, led by a great head coach, who is in a dog fight with Boise State in this conference but BSU is better but one cannot ignore an overall #3 ranking in defense and points allowed.
8. Stephen F Austin – Power Ranking 92.5 – A 24-4 team who no one knows about outside of some Vegas types but a great basketball team. They rank 7th in the nation in FG% on offense and both Parker and Walkup are solid players and they get a ton of bench support. A nice well rounded basketball team that can score and hit the defensive glass well. A very weak conference but this team will give someone fits if they do not defend them.
FOUR OTHERS - For the Big Dance
UC Davis - Big West - If this team is hot and hitting 3 pointers, trust me, no one outside of the Top 8 in coaches poll wants to play them. Keep an eye on them in the tourney. This is a dangerous team, especially for any matchup where the opponent does not play good perimeter defense.
VCU - A-10- Has flat out pissed down the bed in February and they need some lightning in the bottle so to speak. The Atlantic 10 conference is no joke folks, trust me on that. They are in a dog fight just to win their conference and are a game behind Dayton, Rhode Island, and Davidson and they just lost to Richmond last week, and to Dayton as a 6.5 point favorite over the weekend. I still think they are a good team but managed just a .500 record last month and have lost back to back conference games. This is my FADE TEAM right now and if they do not fare well this week they have a real chance at looking at the NIT.
Dayton - A-10 – At 22-6 and off a huge win against VCU, you have to like Dayton to win the A-10 with an automatic bid. What’s not to like? They Play good defense and find ways to win games. Biggest downside is no depth, unfortunately they lost 2 players who contributed greatly to season ending suspensions a few weeks ago. No more than 2 get in from the A-10 I fear so this is a bubble team for sure.
Davidson A-10 - If you look at the A-10 conference in general, say at Kenpom ratings you have 4 teams in the Top 56 power ratings and Davidson is one of them. They are a cover machine which adds to my power ratings, covering 20 out of 24 lined games (10-2 ATS on the road) this year and sit at 21-6 on the year and they could win the A-10. 8th in points scored per game in the NCAA and they can light up from 3 point range.
My Wild Card – Big Dance Surprise team – there is one every year – Remember Florida Gulf Coast!!
Murray State – While their non-conference and Ohio Valley schedule is very low rated, and the Ohio Valley Conference is not a high powered mid-major, the Racers are a damn good team at 26-4 YTD and under the radar by many accounts. They are 16-0 in the OVC, and they have one of the Top 5 guards in all of college basketball in Cameron Payne. This is an NBA guard folks that can KILL you, and Jarvis Williams is a force in the paint on this team, when they get going and Payne is left unattended, they can be a very tough out in the Big Dance for anyone. The second best team in Kentucky!
NIT Lookout Alert
These are teams that if not in the March Madness Tourney you need to research in advance when and if they appear in the NIT Tourney, but these teams will give anyone fits.
St Mary’s, Rhode Island, Tulsa (possible Big Dance team) , Richmond, Buffalo, Bowling Green (may in fact win the MAC and be in the big dance), Iona, North Carolina Central, South Dakota State, Albany, Stony Brook, Wyoming, Eastern Washington, Chattanooga, Hofstra, William and Mary, Florida Gulf Coast, ODU, High Point, Green Bay Wisc., Sam Houston St and Georgia St.