While Gordon Hayward is gone, Butler should be back in the NCAA Tournament this season. Which teams from outside the Big Six conferences have the best chance at joining them? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
If you missed the first half of my look at the preseason bid landscape, click here to check out that post. After the jump, I'll take a look at how the non-Big Six conferences shake out.
A-10: Can Dayton Make It Four Bids? Someone Else Five?
Temple has a roster that, given a favorable matchup, could give Fran Dunphy his first NCAA tournament win since 1994. That makes the Owls the early favorite, but there are other contenders.
Sure, Xavier has to replace Jordan Crawford and Jason Love, but look at last season's expectations for the Musketeers (bubble) and their final result (epic regional semifinal loss to Kansas State). In other words, don't write Chris Mack's team off. Richmond should be a force, even without David Gonzalvez--Kevin Anderson, Dan Geriot, and Justin Harper are a formidable group to build a team around. And don't forget about Chris Wright, Chris Johnson, and their Dayton cohorts, who happened to win the NIT last time around.
St. Louis was on the fringe of the bubble conversation for much of last season, until the Billikens' youth (and lack of scoring) caught up to them. Rick Majerus' team should stick around longer with more experience. Charlotte has a new coach, Alan Major, but most of the talent that couldn't get over the hump for Bobby Lutz last season. Rhode Island, another of last season's near misses, could struggle without the graduated Delroy James and Keith Cothran.
As for the bottom half of the league, Duquesne and La Salle, both of whom flattered to impress in 2009-10, look to have the best chance to surprise.
Pencil 'Em In: Temple, Xavier, Richmond
Bubble: Dayton, St. Louis, Charlotte, Rhode Island
Outside Looking In: Duquesne, La Salle, George Washington, St. Joseph's, Massachusetts, Fordham, St. Bonaventure
C-USA: If Memphis Is Back, Will Anyone Join Them?
Last season, Conference USA took advantage of a down year for the Tigers and managed to do something they hadn't done since 2006, earn two NCAA bids. Granted, UTEP was one of the last two at-larges to get in and Houston only got in via the auto bid, but beggars can't be choosers, right?
Thanks to a highly-ranked recruiting class, Memphis is favored to reclaim their throne. However, don't bet on anyone joining them in the tournament after an offseason full of roster attrition and coaching changes. Tim Floyd's Miners look to be a good bet for second, especially with Randy Culpepper still around. Southern Miss could finally break through, thanks to an abundance of veteran leadership. On the other hand, Tulsa will have to find adequate replacements for Jerome Jordan and Ben Uzoh, not an easy task.
As for the rest of the conference, it won't be easy to break through. In other words, it looks to be like every other recent season for the remaining eight. (UAB falls down here as they're reloading.)
Pencil 'Em In: Memphis
Bubble: UTEP, Southern Mississippi, Tulsa
Outside Looking In: UAB, Marshall, Houston, UCF, East Carolina, Rice, Tulane
MWC: Is The Conference Due to Take a Step Back?
Not necessarily, because after earning four bids in 2010, five is a possibility for 2011. Of the quartet, San Diego State and BYU look to be the class of league, with UNLV not far behind thanks to the return of Tre'Von Willis to the roster (though Matt Shaw's failed drug test and subsequent dismissal is a major blow). New Mexico may take a step back with the departure of Roman Martinez and Darrington Hobson, but the Lobos still have Dairese Gary and gain the services of transfers Emmanuel Negedu (Tennessee) and Drew Gordon (UCLA).
That's four excellent opportunities, and Colorado State could be the fifth, as they've improved steadily in Tim Miles' three seasons. The Rams will have to take advantage of their schedule to make it. They'll have opportunites thanks to two games with each of the established league contenders, a game with Kansas in Kansas City, a road game at Colorado, and a potential of a semifinal matchup against another likely bubble team, Mississippi, at the Cancun Governor's Cup.
Utah will look to rebound after a down season, but shouldn't threaten in their final season before heading to the Pac-12. TCU, Wyoming, and Air Force look to be nothing more than an anchor on the league's (and the tourney hopefuls') RPI number.
Pencil 'Em In: San Diego State, BYU, UNLV
Bubble: New Mexico, Colorado State
Outside Looking In: Utah, TCU, Wyoming, Air Force
Horizon, MVC, WAC, and WCC: One Bid or Two?
I grouped these four conferences together because they all suffer from the same problem. They each enter the season with a prohibitive favorite who have varying chances of getting in as an at-large should things go awry in the conference tournament, and at least one team behind them who will be a scary 12 to 14 seed to face in the tourney as a surprise qualifier (as an auto bid or at-large).
In the Horizon, Butler will be again be the favorite, even if they won't be a top five team thanks to Gordon Hayward's decision to head to the NBA. It won't be easy, especially as Detroit could challenge the Bulldogs, thanks to the arrival of freshman guard Ray McCallum, son of head coach Ray McCallum, one of the rare McDonald's All-Americans to decide to play at a mid-major school.
Wichita State looks set to break through in the Missouri Valley with a veteran roster led by Toure' Murry and JT Durley, but they'll be pressed by the defending CollegeInsider.com Tournament champion, Missouri State, who returns their top seven scorers from a season ago. The runner up in that tournament, Creighton, will also contend, thanks to one of the most imposing frontcourts in the league, as Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique joins stalwart Kenny Lawson, Jr. The Blue Jays new coach is former Northern Iowa and Iowa State head man Greg McDermott. Speaking of the defending Valley champs, the Panthers are almost an afterthought, but that's because they must replace a lot of firepower (Jordan Eglseder, Adam Koch, Ali Farokhmanesh) to get back to the top.
Gonzaga is, unsurprisingly, the runaway favorite in the West Coast Conference, but Loyola Marymount could surpass St. Mary's and move into second place. The Lions have a formidable roster led by All-WCC performer Drew Viney, and while the Gaels will continue to be a force thanks to their guards, they'll miss Omar Samhan inside. The thing that works against LMU is their schedule, particularly their place in a slightly devalued Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. The Lions will have to travel to Bradley and face Rider and D-2 Dowling in Springfield. A home game with Florida State is LMU's' best shot to make national noise, barring a win over the Zags of course. (A home and home with South Dakota most assuredly will not, but that's the trouble with scheduling at this level, unless you're Gonzaga or St. Mary's.)
Utah State is the obvious favorite in the WAC, as Stew Morrill brings back most of the team that won the conference's regular season crown. Replacing Jared Quayle at the point is the biggest issue for the Aggies. Tournament champion New Mexico State loses a lot of scoring, thanks to the departure of Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson, who combined to average more than 37 points per game in 2009-10, but Marvin Menzies still returns three double figure scorers! In short, don't count the Red Aggies out. Nevada is the automatic choice as a third contender, but thanks to the departures of the Wolf Pack's four leading scorers, led by Luke Babbitt, that's not likely.
Pencil 'Em In: Butler, Gonzaga, Wichita State
Bubble (in order of likelihood of an at-large): Utah State (WAC), Missouri State, St. Mary's, Creighton, Northern Iowa, New Mexico State, Loyola Marymount, Detroit
Everyone Else: Is There Any Hope for a Surprise At-Large?
The best hope for the other 18 conferences is another exciting contest in the Colonial, a conference I didn't list in the previous group because of the presence of a wide open race. Old Dominion, VCU, George Mason, and William & Mary should all be factors and will have the opportunity to build a good resume during the course of the season, but none of them are remotely in the lock category in mid-October.
Otherwise, there is one potential at-large candidate from the low-major ranks, Murray State. However, A LOT will have to break right for the Racers for this to happen, especially with regular season games against lower division Reinhardt and Bethel on their schedule.
- A win at Mississippi on November 17 would be a major boost.
- A good run through the 76 Classic in Anaheim over Thanksgiving weekend is vital. The Racers play Stanford in the quarters and will face either Tulsa or UNLV on day 2. As for day 3, a game against Virginia Tech or Oklahoma State is preferable to one against DePaul or Cal State Northridge.
- Beat Western Kentucky and East Tennessee at home and Chattanooga away.
- Draw a marquee Bracketbuster game and win it (at home).
- Get through the OVC slate unblemished.
As you can tell, Murray State will almost have to go unbeaten to earn an at-large bid, even with four extra places up for grabs.
Of course, a team like Western Kentucky could also turn into an at-large threat, if things break right both in its conference and nationally.
Pencil 'Em In: None
Bubble (in order of likelihood of an at-large): Murray State (Ohio Valley), CAA contenders--George Mason, Old Dominion, VCU, William & Mary
Coming next, a two-part look at some of the most intriguing teams from a bid perspective.
Which non-major conference will earn the most bids to the 2011 NCAA Tournament?
Atlantic 10 (110 votes)
CAA (13 votes)
Conference USA (23 votes)
Horizon (11 votes)
Missouri Valley (37 votes)
Mountain West (133 votes)
West Coast (24 votes)
WAC (14 votes)
Other (5 votes)
370 total votes