Butler is still good despite its inability to beat any top-25 teams (1-3, if you count the win against an Evan Turner-less Ohio State).
Gonzaga has nice wins against Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Illinois, and despite a public 35-point beatdown by Duke at Madison Square Garden, the Bulldogs have done little wrong this season.
And then of course you have the Daytons, Xaviers, UABs and St. Mary’s of the world. But we’re going to take a closer look at some of the other Mid-Majors that are attracting the interest of bracket geeks far and wide. And lucky for you, we’ll tell you which ones we deem real or fake.
Fake: Northern Iowa (15-1), CBS RPI: 17. Supporters will point to the Panthers’ 6-0 record in pure road games and wins against schools from the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC. Unfortunately for UNI, none of those big conference schools are particularly any good (Iowa – last in Big Ten; Iowa State – whose biggest win is vs. Iowa; and Boston College – who lost to Harvard and Maine). When your best win is home against Siena, then I’m sorry, I’ll try not to get too excited Panthers fans. And UNI’s lone loss? That would be a 60-52 defeat to DePaul on a neutral court. The same DePaul who hasn’t won a Big East game in two years and just fired its coach. A strength of schedule of 90 won’t do UNI any favors, and the Missouri Valley Conference isn’t as strong as it has been in years past. The usual suspects (Creighton, Bradley, Drake and Southern Illinois) are unspectacularly mediocre this year. Wichita State is 15-2, but the Shockers haven’t played anyone either. A two-point home win against Texas Tech isn’t setting my loins aflame.
Real: William & Mary (11-3), CBS RPI: 24. Wins at Wake Forest and Maryland should be nothing to take lightly. Both schools figure to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble come March, and those could be two pretty decent feathers in The Tribe’s cap. Beating Atlantic 10 contender Richmond and and CAA power VCU should help too. The main blip came two days after losing by nine to UConn when the Tribe suffered a letdown against Harvard, losing by two to the Crimson. (Harvard isn’t as bad as you think they are this year.) William & Mary’s only other loss was a one-point defeat against the usually prickly UNC-Wilmington. William & Mary still has some work to do as the Colonial looks to be a tough league again this year. Old Dominion, George Mason and VCU should give the Tribe plenty of competition, and if they emerge from it relatively unscathed we could be looking at a definite sleeper pick come tourney time.
Fake: Marshall (14-2), CBS RPI: 42. Marshall is 2-0 in Conference USA and tied atop the league with UAB and Tulsa. But unlike their conference brethren, the Thundering Herd can’t boast anything that even resembles a signature non-conference win. UAB beat Arkansas, Cincinnati and Butler. Tulsa beat Oklahoma State and Colordao. Marshall? Its best win came on a neutral site against an Ohio team that comes in at 117th in CBS’s RPI. There’s no shame in losing by eight to CAA contender Old Dominion or by 37 to North Carolina. Well maybe a little shame. Marshall has one last shot at a big non-conference win when it heads to Morgantown to face West Virginia Jan. 20. However, don’t expect much of a game. What you can expect is Marshall to begin piling up losses once C-USA play gets thick and heavy and quickly drop off the NCAA Tournament radar.
Real: Louisiana Tech (16-2), CBS RPI: 66. The Bulldogs have won nine straight since losing by 16 at Arizona Dec. 9, a game in which they trailed by just four at halftime. During the streak, Karl Malone’s alma mater beat Ohio Valley Conference leader Murray State (14-3, 6-0 in OVC), won at Houston, beat perennial WAC contenders Nevada and Utah State, and picked up back-to-back conference road wins. Now I know a strength of schedule of 287 isn’t for the faint of heart, but the Bulldogs should skate through the rest of its conference schedule until mid-February with a road game at Utah State and then back-to-back road contests against Fresno State and Nevada to close out the regular season.
Still Deliberating: Rhode Island (12-2), CBS RPI: 10. What in the name of Lamar Odom and Cuttino Mobley? Now, a RPI of 10 is a bit high. OK, really high, but the Rams shouldn’t be overlooked. They’ll get plenty tested in the Atlantic 10, as evidenced by their four-point home defeat against Temple last weekend. But the Rams do boast wins against Oklahoma State, Providence, Boston College and a Northeastern team that figures to be in the CAA title mix. But really only Oklahoma State projects into a NCAA Tournament team. Rhode Island still has to convince me, but luckily the A-10 season will prove a good litmus test.
Still Deliberating: Richmond (12-5), CBS RPI: 26. Wins against Mississippi State, Missouri and Florida look good on paper, but the Spiders knocked off the Bulldogs and Tigers in back-to-back days at the South Padre Invitational Thanksgiving weekend. The Spiders only really have any bad losses, a five-point road defeat at St. Louis the closest the resume comes. Like Rhode Island, I’m waiting to see what Richmond does in the A-10.