John's guest-hosting this week while Kyle's in Vancouver.
I occasionally receive email like this:
I have a question regarding the comparison of players from different conferences. How can one compare, say, Freshman A from Conference USA to Freshman B from the Big 12 in terms of production, given that there's supposedly a difference in the talent level of their respective opponents?
Good question, Rick! One deserving a literal answer before I move on quickly and self-servingly to the Larger Point that your question hints at. So, speaking literally: One can compare those two freshmen with common sense and a precise understanding of the imprecision inherent to player evaluation and, particularly, player stats.
Thank goodness for free throws. At the line a 90 percent shooter is a 90 percent shooter, in the Big East or A-Sun. But for everything else you need to get their numbers and your eyes to have a sit-down. For instance, last year at Santa Clara John Bryant put up numbers on the glass
that rivaled those posted by Blake Griffin at Oklahoma. Does that mean they were equivalent players? No. Does it mean the difference Bryant made for the Broncos on the boards was Griffin-like? Yes.
Then there's the larger point. College basketball is fairly obsessed with the potential for differences between conferences. With good reason. There are indeed huge differences between conferences, though not between the elite leagues that occasion the most side-by-side comparisons.
Among American team sports that interest enough fans to generate serious TV dollars, college basketball is unique in having literally hundreds
of teams that will be out of the running for a championship when the regular season comes to a close. Your professional sports leagues only have two- to three-dozen also-rans, and even college football has just 120 entrants in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But college hoops is different. Even very small colleges and universities can put a D-I team on the court.
Of course, putting a team on the court isn't the same thing as getting noticed by fans or, more crucially, by the NCAA tournament selection committee. Up until 1975, all conferences were one-bid leagues, which is astonishing in retrospect. Once the tournament was opened up to multiple teams from a given conference, we had a national championship game between league rivals almost instantly. (Michigan vs. Indiana, 1976.)
The most salient and durable difference between conferences, then, is whether they're subject to pre- or post-1975 treatment at the hands of the selection committee. After all, many conferences are still one-bid leagues in 2010. The line between multiple-bid and one-bid conferences is a jagged and shifting ridge that runs roughly in the neighborhood of the CAA, Missouri Valley, Horizon, and their ilk.
Conferences above this strata, including the Mountain West and A-10, pretty much always get more than one NCAA bid. (Yes, the Pac-10 this year might make some history here. Duly noted.) On the other hand leagues below this level pretty much never receive multiple bids, though, again, there are exceptions. A big going-against-the-stream shout-out goes to the Sun Belt, which put both Western Kentucky and South Alabama in the field of 65 in 2008.
Which brings us to this here site. For six seasons The Mid-Majority has lavished its attention upon precisely those conferences where in any given season it can quite possibly be 1974 again in terms of tournament selection. The name of the site speaks for itself. These conferences are a clear majority in number.
So when Kyle asked me to watch the place this week, I realized it was owing more to the fact that we've known each other since the Early Days and less to anything I've actually written about or done for mid-majors. Because in truth I haven't written much about or done much for mid-majors. But since I now find myself with the keys to this incredible site dedicated to mid-major hoops, I think it's high time I walked that particular walk for a change.
So here's my offer:
Good for one free tournament's worth of opponent scouting