With the non-conference coming to a close, here are some observations from the mid-major basketball conferences based on preseason expectations.
1. Will the Mountain West get multiple basketball bids this season?
For mid-majors, the non-conference portion of the schedule is the most important, especially for small leagues trying to get multiple teams. Right now, three teams (Nevada, UNLV and Boise State) from the Mountain West have done enough to at least warrant consideration for at-large bids. San Diego State has a chance to join the discussion if the team can win at home against Gonzaga.
2. Is the Atlantic 10 a one-bid league?
If Rhode Island wins the automatic bid, then yes. Everyone else is down and has suffered way too many losses. Only the Rams have done enough to get at-large consideration, and even they aren’t immune. Teams like UMass, St. Bonaventure, and St. Joes aren’t tournament teams but have the talent to win games. Rhode Island must be careful to not lose too many in conference play.
3. Will Saint Mary’s finally dethrone Gonzaga?
Technically, the answer is still yes, mainly due to the structure of the WCC. If the Gaels can split with the Zags, beat everyone else, and hope BYU can get another win in Spokane, then they’ll win the title.
But, outside of that scenario, nothing in the non-conference has shown that Saint Mary’s can beat the Zags. The team lost their toughest two games, Washington State and Georgia, who happened to also be the two most athletic teams the Gaels faced. How will they deal with Gonzaga’s athletic wings?
4. Outside of the Zags and Gaels, who else can make a run in the NCAA tournament?
Saint Mary’s is actually in danger of missing out on the tournament altogether, but can still make a run if able to get in. The clear answer, though, is Nevada, whose positionless style of basketball makes them a difficult matchup for teams in March.
If, and that is a pretty big if, UNLV gets in, Brandon McCoy is a throwback center good enough to carry the team to the Sweet 16 by himself. One team to keep an eye on is UT-Arlington, with two potential pros on their roster. They have to get through a difficult Sun Belt league first.
5. How many mid-majors will get an at-large bid?
By headcount, there are a few leagues who have a shot at multiple bids. The WCC, Mountain West, A-10, and Missouri Valley have a shot at sending more than one. But there’s no Monmouth (a great team from a guaranteed one-bid league) around, so more than five is a stretch.
This makes the conference tournaments all the more exciting, with the stakes incredibly high. Leagues like the Sun Belt and the Ivy have quality teams that’ll duke it out for positioning for the next couple of months.