The annual debate that takes place in regards to the selection process for the NCAA Tournament is would it make a better tournament to have mediocre high major teams or mid major teams with decent resumes. This year we might actually get to find out as both could possibly end up in the bracket on Selection Sunday.
There are still over two weeks until the tournament field will be revealed so a lot can change, but in the latest version of multiple brackets, teams such as Clemson, Texas Tech, Seton Hall and Tennessee are either in the field or right on the cusp of being so. Taking a closer look at these teams shows how much mediocrity is filling up the at-large pool right now.
Clemson is currently 14-12 and just 4-10 in the ACC (13th out of 15 teams). The Tigers have just four top 50 RPI wins (Wake Forest twice, UNC-Wilmington and South Carolina) which is the same number of true road wins the Tigers have this season. The big saving grace for Clemson is their 18th best strength of schedule by virtue of playing in a conference that could get as many as ten teams into the tournament.
Texas Tech is in a similar position they are 15-10 and just 5-10 in the Big 12. The Red Raiders are probably in a more precarious position due to their two top 50 wins and one road win at Richmond. Much like Clemson, Texas Tech is hanging their hat on their two top 50 wins against Baylor and West Virginia and the fact that nine of the team’s 11 losses have been by single digits. The death knell for the Red Raiders however might be its 338th non-conference strength of schedule.
The Seton Hall Pirates are 16-10 (6-8 in the Big East) which is good for just 6th in the conference. They do have three top 50 wins but only one is in conference, at home against Creighton. Much like Texas Tech, the Pirates have just two road wins and like the other teams being discussed here, he team’s non-conference schedule has left something to be desired, ranked 159th.
Tennessee might have the best case to make, they are 15-12 and 7-7 in the SEC. They have just two top 50 wins over Kentucky and on the road at Vanderbilt. Unlike the other teams though, the Volunteers challenged themselves before SEC play, facing the likes of North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oregon and Wisconsin. That schedule has given them a top 10 strength of schedule. All four of the teams’ road wins have come against teams in the RPI top 100.
If these teams find their way into the NCAA Tournament they may find themselves up against a few mid to low major teams that have had solid seasons like Monmouth, Vermont, Belmont and UNC-Wilmington.
At 23-5 and 15-2 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference the Monmouth Hawks have clinched top seed in their conference tournament. A year after finishing the regular season 25-6 with wins over UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown but being left out of the Big Dance after falling to Iona in the conference tournament final the Hawks are looking to not only make the field but make some noise. They do have just one top 100 RPI win (Princeton), but they also only had four such chances.
The America East conference has grown in strength thanks to the sustained success of Stony Brook, Albany and Vermont over the last ten years. This year Vermont (24-5, 14-0) is again on the cusp of locking up the top seed for the conference tournament . Like Monmouth, the Catamounts had just four games against the RPI top 100 with 0 wins but they do have three true road wins on the season. Any team that potentially goes through their conference schedule undefeated is someone you don’t want to see in your bracket on Selection Sunday.
The Ohio Valley’s Belmont Bruins is a mid-major that seems to be on the Cinderella/bracket buster landscape every year and 2017 is no different. At 20-5 and 14-1 in the OVC the Bruins have clinched the top spot for the OVC tournament. Much like the other mid majors discussed here the Bruins have just four top 100 games with no wins but coach Rick Byrd will have the Bruins ready to make a run in the OVC tournament and into the NCAA Tournament.
The best of this bunch may be the Colonial Athletic Association’s UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. The Seahawks are 24-5 and 13-3 in conference. Unlike Monmouth, Vermont and Belmont, UNCW doesn’t have a stranglehold on the conference’s top spot. They have a one game lead over College of Charleston, a team they split the season series with, with two games left in the regular season. Also unlike the other teams the Seahawks have had seven top 100 RPI games with four wins and three of those are true road wins.
Less than three weeks from Selection Sunday and things are fluid daily but right now the at-large pool is very shallow and that may mean high major mediocrity may finally have to face the mid majors they avoid the first two months of the season.