Mid Major At-Large Bids

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Each and every year, I root for good mid-major teams to get at-large bids over the mediocre Power 5 teams. What college basketball fan wouldn't rather see a Colorado State or Belmont over a 6-10 Big Ten team?

Anyways, I've looked across the mid-major conferences most likely to get multiple bids (and some of the best mid-major teams in lesser conferences) to see what would need to happen in order to maximize mid-major teams in the tournaments.

In most cases, I'm focusing on conferences with teams that should/could get at-large bids even if they do not win their conference tournament. After that, I mention teams that have a chance to win their conference tournament, even if they would have never had a chance to get an at-large bid.

Enjoy!

WCC - 3 bids
At large candidate: Gonzaga, duh.

At large candidate: BYU (15-4, 37 KenPom):
They have 4 remaining games with one against Gonzaga and the other three against all top-150 teams. Going 3-1 would be helpful, but 2-2 with a decent WCC showing should be fine.

Other solid WCC teams who can win the tournament:

  • Saint Mary’s. 76 KenPom, star player: Tommy Kuhse, 6’2 185 senior point guard, 14.3p, 5.4a
  • San Francisco. 80 KenPom, star player: Jamaree Bouyea, 6’2 180 senior guard, 17.4p, 3.4r, 3.8a, 51.5 fg%
MVC - 3 bids
At large candidate: Loyola-Chicago (15-3, 13 KenPom):
They have 7 remaining games including two against Drake. If they win the 5 lesser games and win neither of the Drake games, they are still an at-large team.

At large candidate: Drake (17-0, 51 KenPom): 10 remaining games including two against Loyola-Chicago and two against KenPom 125 Bradley. Heck, even if they finish the season with four losses, they need to be in the dance.

Other solid MVC teams who can win the tournament.

  • Bradley. 125 KenPom, star player: Elijah Childs, 6’8 230 senior forward, 14.7p, 8.2r, 1.2b, 34.6 3p%
  • Indiana State. 130 KenPom, star player: Tyrese Key, 6’3 205 guard, 14.9p, 5.1r, 2.3a.

MWC - 3 bids
At large candidate: San Diego State (13-4, 24 KenPom):
They have 6 remaining games and they finish the regular season with a duo of games against 61 KenPom Boise State. They should get an at-large no matter what, but it will cement the fact if they go 5-1 in the regular reason no matter what happens in the tournament.

At large candidate: Utah State (14-5, 50 KenPom): They have 7 remaining games, including two against 61 KenPom Boise State and two against KenPom 97 Nevada. If they go 7-1 in that span, they are an easy at-large bid, but 6-2 requires a trip to the MWC finals for serious contention.

Other solid MWC teams who can win the tournament:

  • Boise State. 61 KenPom, star player: Derrick Alston, 6’9 190 senior wing, 16.9p, 3.8r, 2.5a, 40.4 3p%.
  • Colorado State. 70 KenPom, star player: David Roddy, 6’5 255 sophomore unicorn, 15.9p, 9.2r, 2.7a

C-USA - 2 Bids
At-large candidate: UAB (15-2, 89 KenPom):
The lowest KenPom on this list, the 15-2 Blazers have seven games remaining, five of which are against top-150 teams. Also, the way the C-USA schedules the rest of their season, they finish against the top-4 teams in the conference. If they lose the C-USA, but have just 5 wins, to me that’s a must bid team.

Other solid C-USA teams who can win the tournament:

  • Marshall, 79 KenPom, star player: Taevion Kinsey, 6’5 185 junior wing, 19.8p, 6.3r, 3.7a, 45.2 3p%
  • Western Kentucky, 84 KenPom, star player: Charles Bassey, 6’11 235 junior big, 17.8p, 12.2r, 3.4b
  • North Texas, 88 KenPom, star player: Javion Hamley, 6’4 193 senior lead guard, 12.9p, 4.4a
  • Louisiana Tech, 101 KenPom, star player: none. Six players average between 8.6-12.0 ppg.

A-10 - 2-3 bids: With the overall talent in the league and the lack of a true top-team, this is the hardest to prognosticate. Real chance that the A-10 is just a one bid league, despite being the 8th best conference in the nation.

At-large candidate: Saint Louis (8-3, 49 KenPom):
Entering the season as arguably the best mid-major in the nation, the Billikens have been just 1-2 since their one month covid break, however, their win Saturday against Saint Bonaventure was big. 7 games remain, including top-80 teams Richmond, VCU, URI and Dayton, so I think they need to go at least 5-2 for an at-large consideration.

At-large candidate: Saint Bonaventure (9-2, 52 KenPom): Yesterday’s loss to Saint Louis really hurt their chances at an at-large big. With just four games remaining, I think they need to win them all, especially since Dayton and UMass are both top-100 wins.

At-large candidate: Richmond (10-4, 54 KemPom): They have five remaining games, with VCU and Saint Louis being the highlights. 4-1 the rest of the way should put them in a good spot.

At-large candidate: VCU (13-4, 58 KenPom): They have the toughest remaining schedule, with games against Richmond, Davidson (2x), Saint Louis and Dayton, all top-80 teams. Going 4-2 in that span should get them in.

Other teams who can win the tourney:

  • Davidson. 68 KenPom, star player: Kellan Grady, 6’5 205 senior lead guard, 17.4p, 5r, 2.1a
  • Dayton, 81 KenPom, star player: Jalen Crutcher, 6’1 175 senior guard, 19.4p, 4.6a, 41 3p%.
  • UMass, 99 KenPom, star player: Tre Mitchell, 6’9 240 sophomore big, 20.0p, 7.4r, 1.3b, 38 3p%.

MAC - 2 bids
At-large candidate: Toledo (16-4, 52 KenPom):
They have 8 remaining games, most against the underbelly of the MAC. If they go 7-1 in the regular season and lose in the semis or final of the MAC tourney, they’ll finish 25-6 or 24-6.

Other solid MAC teams who can win the tournament:

  • Akron. 93 KenPom, star player: Loren Christian Jackson, 5’8 150 senior guard, 21.3p, 6.6a
  • Kent State. 102 KenPom, star player: Danny Pippen, 6’9 222 senior big, 21.3p, 9r, 2.8a, 1.5b
  • Buffalo. 104 KenPom, star player: Jeenathan Williams, 6’5 206 junior wing, 19.2p, 7.9r, 3a
  • Ohio 112 KenPom, star player: Jason Preston, 6’4 187 junior point guard, 16.4p, 7.2r, 7.4a

OVC - 2 bids
At-large candidate: Belmont (20-1, 83 KenPom):
Belmont should be in the tournament, but they’re one of those teams that no one wanted to schedule in their OOC, as their SOS is weak with George Mason (149 KenPom) being their toughest OOC game and second toughest game of the season. They’ve already swept Murray State and Austin Peay and have six games remaining, the toughest being a duo against Eastern Kentucky. I really hope Belmont gets in: Casey Alexander has done an amazing job continuing the legacy of Rick Byrd’s 33 years at the helm. Belmont has FIVE players in double-digit scoring.

Other OVC teams who could win the tournament:

  • Morehead State. 147 KenPom, star player: Johni Broome, 6’10 235 freshman big, 12.4p, 7.7r, 1.9b
  • Murray State. 145 KenPom, star player: KJ Williams, 6’10 245 junior big, 15.4p, 8.4r, 45 3p%.
  • Austin Peay, 190 KenPom, star player: Terry Taylor, 6’5 230 senior wing, 21.7p, 10.8r
  • Eastern Kentucky, 177 KenPom, star player: Tre King, 6’9 225 junior big, 16.4p, 7.5r, 1.3b

Big South - 2 bids
At-large candidate: Winthrop (16-1, 122 KenPom):
Their conference stinks, but they have solid OOC wins against UNC-Greensboro, Furman and Little Rock. Still, their overall SOS is 330th so even if they finish out the regular season with just one loss and lose in the tournament final, I'm not certain Winthrop will get in.

However, they should. Such a unique team:

  • Their senior leader is Chandler Vaudrin, a 6'7 210 "point guard" averaging 12.6p, 6.6r, 7.1a and hits 38% of 3s.
  • They play 11 players, each average 12+ mpg and outside of Vaudrin, all 11 players play between 12.1-24.6 mpg. Just three of their players average over 20 mpg.
  • 8th in nation in tempo
  • 14th in nation in % of defensive possessions resulting in forcing a turnover
  • top-20th in both offensive and defensive rebounding
Other teams that can win the tournament:
Radford, 187 KenPom, star player: none, seven players average between 7.2-9.7 ppg.
UNC-Asheville, 218 KenPom (only team who beat Winthrop), star player: Taijon Jones, 6'5 190 junior wing: 16.0p, 3.7r, 42.9 3p%.
 
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Surprised of WKU’s struggles. They had a really good OOC showing. Wins over Memphis and Alabama. Tough loss to WVU by 6. But 2 losses in conference play really hurt.
 
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I think it’s a bad year for mid-majors. The safe choice is #7 in the Big or Duke with a .500 record rather than an unknown mid-major. The committee won’t be criticized for that kind of pick.
 
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Surprised of WKU’s struggles. They had a really good OOC showing. Wins over Memphis and Alabama. Tough loss to WVU by 6. But 2 losses in conference play really hurt.
I wouldn't say 13-4 is "struggling", but yes, their OOC is very good: wins over Alabama, Memphis, Northern Iowa (before the AJ Green injury), Rhode Island.

Also, no losses against bad teams either. Not a super deep team, but Bassey/Anderson/Hollingsworth is one of the best big/wing/lead guard trios in the nation and they have Davidson transfer Luke Frampton as a guy who can hit big shots. Can be a very dangerous team in March.

Also the C-USA is the best it's been in a few years. Five teams in the KenPom top-100 and the conference has their best KenPom rating since 2013 when Memphis was a 6 seed and 10 of their 12 teams were within the top-half nationally.
 

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