March 4, 2008 8:28 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- M is for March, and madness, and mania, and magic; any etymologist knows they all came from the same source, Ma-, a Anglo-Saxon derivative meaning "super-awesome." M is also for Mid-major. It's our time, and this is our year. With so many struggling power-conference teams trying to figure out if they want to be on the bubble or not, we might have more 12-over-5 and 13-over-everybody games than you can count.
A is for ARRRGH, the feeling you get when your school's team storms through the regular season, then loses in the tourney semifinals and misses out on the NCAA's. A is also for ass, which is what you feel like after trash-talking to opposing fans about your big Tournament plans. The text messages are piling up, friend, better just shut your phone off. Turn it back on in April.
R is for referee, the man who's going to steal a game from your team in the final seconds and change your mood to raw rage. It's also the second letter in the word "bracket," which is a term that virtually nobody associated with March just three short decades ago. C is for center, which is something your team needs this month. You don't want to be outrebounded by 20. It's also for catatonic, which is what you'll be in three weeks after prolonged exposure to life in 40-minute timed increments.
And finally, H is for 'hell with this Sue Grafton garbage, let's look at some of the remaining multi-bid scenarios.
And just a reminder, we do this by feel. Bracketology is as much real science as pseudoarchaeology, so plan your bets accordingly. Plus, with the power conferences getting an extra week and all the TV exposure they want, any close call will go their way. Someone's going to be screwed, someone always does.
Colonial. We saw George Mason lose up at Northeastern to slump back to the No. 3 seed behind No. 2 UNC Wilmington, and the third straight two-bid CAA hangs on Virginia Commonwealth making it to the final game. With Mason's track record of converting Coach Larranaga's inspiration into March wins, a GMU-VCU final with a green-colored celebration afterwards isn't that far-fetched.
Horizon League. This one's pretty simple: Butler has a free pass to the semis by virtue of its regular-season championship, and the four teams playing a mini-bracket for the honor of facing them Saturday will be plenty tired. Unless they lose that game by 30 on their home floor, they're bulletproof. It's up to one of the others -- No. 2 Cleveland State or No. 3 Wright State, specifically -- to upset the Bulldogs in the final to force the two-bid issue for the second straight season.
Mid-American. We'll talk about Kent State a lot more later, but the Golden Flashes hold the key. If they make the final game and lose, there's still a great chance that this league could go two-bid for the first time in a decade. In order to keep that possibility alive, however, it'd be a good idea to take care of business in their final pair of regular-season games with Miami (home) and Akron (away). A loss last weekend at Bowling Green makes them less than invincible.
Missouri Valley. We've talked about Drake's shooting struggles on their second time through the Valley schedule, and the Reverse Curse that's claimed regular-season champions since 1998. Because the Bulldogs are what they are, and won't surprise anybody in St. Louis, it would be Drake's greatest miracle yet if the school emerges as double-champions. We're intrigued by the possibility of a Drake loss in the semis, then an Illinois State-Creighton (or Illinois State-Southern Illinois) final in which No. 2-seeded ISU (22-8, 13-5, RPI: 36) losses. This is, after all, the No. 8 conference in the RPI... what would the committee do then?
Southern. Davidson finished up its regular season 20-0 and are currently ranked in the national popularity contest, but it's that nonconference record (3-6) that's damaged their at-large consideration -- a loss should be viewed as a loss, whether it's to N.C. State, UNC, or N.C. Central. We'll say it again, a perfect 16-0 in the SoCon back in 2005 and a 4-7 noncon record didn't get them in after a semifinal loss. They make Sunday's finals and lose, they'd have to sit on their hands for a week until the eventual screw job. That wouldn't be fun for anyone.
Southland. I get a lot of Southland fans in the ESPN chats who want me to talk about potential SLC two-bid scenarios. The tough-love message from this camp is that there aren't any. Despite Stephen F. Austin's 23-4 record, 19 of those are against D-I competition and their strength of schedule is in the 240's. Lamar is 18-9, but they played four non-D1's too and may not have enough defense to make it through the tourney. So just sit back and enjoy the action in Katy, Tex. next week. We still have full confidence in longtime index favorite Sam Houston State to make it through the tournament as a projected No. 3 seed.
Sun Belt. With no real marquee nonconference wins, Western Kentucky needs to win the tourney title to force the issue and make the committee evaluate South Alabama. With a season sweep of WKU, as well as nonconference wins over San Diego and Mississippi State, Team USA's steady holding pattern in the 30's of the RPI table might be just enough. If the Jaguars don't make it to the title game, however, it's definitely one bid again.
West Coast. The WCC wrapped up its regular season last night, and despite 3-11 Portland's best efforts to slow down Saint Mary's (12-2), the Gaels won 64-50 and are protected all the way to the semis as the No. 2 seed in this weekend's funfest at San Diego (11-3). They're likely safe even if they lose that game. There's still an outside shot at an intriguing three-bid scenario: a Gonzaga semifinal loss, a San Diego-SMC title game, and a happy home crowd at the Slim Gym. That's a lot of cookies to crumble right, though.
Atlantic 14. Didn't want to leave our good friends from Le Quatorze Atlantique out of the conversation, but they don't call and don't write. We've had a lot fewer "stop following our conference, we're not mid-major" letters since the heady days of five-bid talk in December -- actually, we haven't got one of those in months. Three is still well within reach, and UMass and Saint Joe's seem to be the only (barely) worthy teams at the moment. Two is more likely, Xavier and/or the other finalist on Selection Eve in Atlantic City. But if Xavier destroys everybody and the other three semifinalists are among the throng of A-14 teams with triple-digit RPI's, this could be a single-bid conference. Seriously. If that happens, they should print "Mid-Major" on everybody's shorts next season.
Also, while you wait breathlessly for the first Tourney Central of the season to be posted...
How 'Bout™ a hand for our award winners? In the Big South, current MMBOW Arizona Reid repeated as Player of the Year, and Eddie Biedenbach of UNC Asheville won his third Coach of the Year for leading the Bulldogs to their first No. 1 seed in a decade. Navy's Greg Sprink and head coach Billy Lange swept the top line of the Patriot League awards. We'll try to keep up with the announcements as the tourneys get started, and we'll have our own selections for the First Annual conference Baller of the Year (MMBOY) and Bench Boss of the Year (MMBBOY) Awards on Selection Sunday. SID's, get your press machinery ready!
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