Precedent Set? The Case For Mid-Major Inclusion

In my job, I constantly am looking for the case or piece of medical literature that perfectly fits the arguments that I want to make for my clients.  Bracketology is no different, especially when looking at the potential additions of quality mid-majors that get knocked out of their conference tournament.  After Murray St. lost on Saturday, college hoops personalities including Seth Davis, Doug Gottlieb and Dan Dakich were debating on Twitter whether or not Murray St. deserves a bid.  This prompted me to take a second look at Murray St.’s resume, as well as some other teams that may find themselves unexpectedly dancing.

As far as precedent, the committee has included surprise mid-majors 3 of the last 4 years VCU (2011), Iona (2012), Middle Tennessee St. (2013).  Certainly, each committee is different, as 2014 did not have such an inclusion (as the post-bracket wrath revolved around the omission of SMU).  Let’s take a look at the last four years:

2011 – VCU

Record: 21-9; RPI: 53; Top 50: 3-4; Top 100: 6-6; SOS: 114

VCU had quality wins (at Wake, UCLA on a neutral court, and the CAA was solid), a pretty good strength of schedule for a mid-major, and a middle of the road RPI.  The backlash against VCU’s inclusion in the tournament was borderline insulting (especially since I had them in!)  Of course, the committee came out smelling like roses when VCU advanced to the Final Four.

2012 – Iona

Record: 25-7; RPI: 42; Top 50: 0-2; Top 100: 5-3; SOS: 163

Iona had a slightly different resume than VCU, with a better record, no Top 50 wins, and a slightly worse strength of schedule.  I truly believe this was an “eye test” selection.  The committee was smiling again in the first half of their First Four game against BYU as they raced to a 25 point lead and 55 points in the first half.  Then they ran out of gas and scored 17 points in the second.  I think they proved they were a quality selection (that I did not have in my projections).

2013 – Middle Tenn St.

Record: 28-5; RPI: 28; Top 50: 1-3; Top 100: 1-3; SOS: 135

Jerry Palm apparently thinks MTSU’s 2013 performance in the First Four hurts potential mid-major bids (and maybe he was only referencing Murray State’s chances).  I partially agree with him that the committee may look down on teams that really just haven’t played anyone.  MTSU played 4 games against the Top 100 and won once (yet somehow managed an RPI of 28).  However, I definitely don’t agree that mid-majors in general are hurt by MTSU’s flame-out.  It all depends on the resume.

2014 – None

While there was no mid-major surprise inclusion in 2014, let’s look at some of last year’s options:

Southern Miss – Record: 25-6; RPI: 32; Top 50: 1-1; Top 100: 5-4; SOS: 127.  Their losses included 31, 24, 17 and 18 (in the conference tournament) point losses. The Top 50 win was against N. Dakota St.

Toledo – Record: 26-6; RPI: 38; Top 50: 0-1; Top 100: 6-5; SOS: 166.  Losses to E. Michigan by 21 and W. Michigan by 21 in the conference championship probably sealed its fate.  Also, they didn’t beat anyone with name value in the non-conference (I don’t count Boston College).

Louisiana Tech – Record: 26-7; RPI: 59; Top 50: 2-2; Top 100: 5-6; SOS: 211.  I’d venture to guess that the 211 SOS really hurt them. They did win at Oklahoma, which is more than some contenders this year can say.

The committee probably got this one right.

Possible 2015 Mid-Major Options

Murray State – Record: 27-5; RPI: 70; Top 50: 0-1; Top 100: 1-2; SOS: 256

The lack of wins and the horrid SOS are what immediately jump out when looking at the Racers’ resume.  Yeah, Cam Payne is awesome, and they won 25 straight before the heartbreaking loss to Belmont.  Digging deeper, they lost to Houston at home.  They lost to Xavier by 27 and Valpo by 35.  The Illinois St. win only looks better because they just beat Wichita St.  I just don’t see how this team gets in based on the mid-major teams the committee has included in the past.  Eye test (like 2012 Iona) is the only chance.

Buffalo – Record: 21-9; RPI: 32; Top 50: 0-2; Top 100: 5-5; SOS: 67

They seem to have a 2011 VCU/2013 MTSU resume with 9 losses and an amazingly high RPI.  The difference, VCU had 3 Top 50 wins and MTSU had 4 less losses.  Plus, Buffalo’s 5 Top 100 wins?  Two against Kent State (85), two against Bowling Green (98), and S. Dakota St. (95).  Not a chance.

Old Dominion – Record: 24-6; RPI: 36; Top 50: 2-0; Top 100: 6-2; SOS: 142

The numbers all fit the 2011-2013 categories, in fact, ODU has qualities of the best of each of the three teams previously included:  only 6 losses, a solid RPI, 6 Top 100 wins, and a similar SOS.  Also, they beat LSU on a neutral floor, as well as VCU (with Weber) and Richmond in the non-conference.  They certainly have some bad losses (3 to teams 175 and higher), but this resume as solid as they come for a mid-major.  Impressive turnaround from 2 years ago when they won 5 games.

Iona – Record: 26-7; RPI: 51: Top 50: 0-2; Top 100: 0-3; SOS: 230

Best win is at Wake (124 in RPI). Moving on.

Wofford – Record: 27-6; RPI: 50; Top 50: 1-2; Top 100: 3-4; SOS: 206

As I write this Wofford is down two to Furman with 5 to go.  To quote Gus, THIS is March Madness.  Quality wins at NC State and over Iona.  They may actually be ahead of Murray State too, should Furman finish them off.

“Stone Cold” SF Austin – Record: 27-4; RPI: 46; Top 50: 0-3; Top 100: 3-3; SOS: 222

While Stone Cold has a very poor strength of schedule, it does have last years 12/5 upset over VCU.  The committee says that they only focus on this year’s resume, but that win, with many of the same players back, is going to weigh heavily in the minds of the committee members should they lose in the Southland.  The RPI is fine, but the best win is at Memphis (82).  Seems to me they would be behind ODU, but ahead of Murray St. in the mid-major line, should they lose.

Conclusion

If Old Dominion fails to win the Conference USA tournament, its resume matches up most favorably when compared to the 2011-2013 inclusions.  Their chances also certainly hinge on the performance of the other bubble teams in their respective tournaments.  So Racer fans, I would be rooting hard for Old Dominion and Stone Cold, as they are ahead of you in the mid-major pecking order for a potential at-large bid.

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