ow that we've passed the mid-way point in the 2009-10 college basketball season and are well into conference play, we will be releasing a bi-weekly ranking of the top 10 Mid-Major teams. Why did we wait so long? Because just like in college football, its rather pointless to rank teams without knowing how they preformed legitimate number of games. Furthermore, its important to realize that unlike most polls, these are not projections. It is simply an aggregate ranking of the Top 10 teams, as they are playing today, and not how they are projected to finish at the end of the season.
The Northern Iowa Panthers land at the #1 spot for two reasons. Firstly, they are owners of the best record in Mid-Major college basketball at 15-1, including rattling off 14 straight wins. Secondly, the Missouri Valley has in the past, and certainly is today, the strongest Mid-Major conference in college basketball. So the 6-0 league start definitely adds credibility to the resume, but they will be tested next week with their game at Missouri State.
The poster child of the successful mid-major, the Gonzaga Bulldogs has not disappointed in the 2009-10 season, currently holding 13-3 record and #14 national record. With wins over Oklahoma, Illinois, Wisconsin and Cinnci, the Zags have one of the best non-conference resumes in all of college basketball.
Not surprisingly, the second most tradition rich mid-major program of the last decade, Butler University, follows Gonzaga at the #3 spot. With a record of 12-4, including 6-0 in conference, the Bulldogs are ranked #22 in the national polls. Admittedly, their only solid non-conference wins are against Ohio State and Northwestern, but the Butler Bulldogs should have no problem steam rolling their way through the Horizon League once again.
Representing the smart kids, the Cornell Big Red takes the #4 spot in our rankings. After taking #1 Kansas down to the wire last week, any quibbling that Cornell couldn't hang with the big boys was silenced. With a 14-3 overall record, including wins against St. Johns and Alabama, Cornell should capture the Ivy League title if it can take care of Harvard. Even if they fall, expect no less than an NIT bid (if not a possible NCAA at large) for the Big Red.
5. Wichita State
The team with the coolest nickname in all of college basketball, Wichita St. Shockers has already matched its win total from last year, boasting a gaudy 16-2 record and a chance to take over the #1 spot in the league with a win against UNI this week. Although Wichita State's non-conference schedule has been lack luster their win against Texas Tech provides the Shockers with a solid point on their resume.
6. Old Dominion
Winners of last year's inaugural CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, the Old Dominion Monarchs has gotten off to a 13-5 start with solid non-conference wins over Georgetown, Marshall and Charlotte. The Monarchs have as good a team as anybody in the CAA and should be in the title hunt till the very end.
7. Saint Mary's
After cruising to a 15-2 record, the Saint Mary's Gaels fell to perennial league champion Gonzaga in its toughest test on the season. Regardless, since losing to Gonzaga seems to be the status quo around the WCC, Saint Mary's should still contend for the league title if the Zag's slip up against the way. A win against Portland should solidify their chances at capturing at least a share of the league title this year.
8. William and Mary
After putting together 4 wins in 7 days to open up Colonial play, including going 2-1 in 3 games decided by a single point, the William & Mary Tribe has solidified itself as a conference contender in the CAA. With strong non-conference wins against Wake Forest and Maryland, the Tribe should be able to challenge league favorite Old Dominion for the leagues coveted auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. Even if the conference championship eludes them, they should be all but locked for a NIT or CIT bid.
The mid-major darlings of the last two seasons, in which they progressed to the second round of the 2008 and 2009 NCAA tournaments, the Siena Saints are in good shape to capture their 3rd league title and 3rd NCAA tournament bid in as many years. Admittedly, at 13-4, the team lost every non-conference test they faced so a loss in the league tournament would lead the Saints on the outside of the NCAA bubble looking in.
10. Western Carolina
The surprise mid-major team of the season, the Western Carolina Catamounts have gotten off to a fast 13-3 start, including a victory at Louisville. Western should have no trouble putting away the rest of the Big South and should challenge Charleston and Chattanooga for the league and tournament title and an NCAA bid. Regardless, you can pencil in the Catamounts for a CIT bid at the very least.