Due to work commitments, me not feeling that great, and my desperate need to lead that Yankees back to glory in Out of the Park Baseball, it’s been a quiet week here at Mid-Major Madness World Headquarters. I’m going to make it up to you.
I took to our NOW VERIFIED Twitter account this morning to ask for YOUR questions and I will do my best to answer them below. Today’s mailbag explores Stetson, Belmont, Monmouth (shouts to Marc Gump), and everyone’s favorite topic: mid-major at-large chances.
Away we go...
Stetson have any chance to get through the ASUN?— Charles (@Abantopolis) February 5, 2021
ANY chance? Sure! But it’s not likely and you know that. The Hatters are 3-5 in conference play and staring up at five other teams. I’ll do my best to make the case for Stetson anyway:
- Only seven of the ASUN’s nine teams are eligible for the NCAA Tournament even though all will play in the conference tournament.
- The conference tournament will be played at a single site, so even if Stetson’s first-round game is against a higher seed, that team will not have a home-court advantage unless that team is Jacksonville (not first-place Liberty, another bonus).
- When sophomore Rob Perry is on, Stetson wins. The wing is averaging 19 points per game in Hatter victories and 11.5 in losses. Maybe Stetson rides him through a wild three-game stretch.
- Stetson has already beaten Liberty, the likely 1 seed.
- Stetson is the second-best three-point shooting team in the league and has multiple consistent threats from deep. You know what happens when a lower seed catches fire.
What's the best mid-major program in the country and why is it Belmont?— 'stacheVille (@615eternal) February 5, 2021
I really want Belmont to be the best mid-major program in the country, so instead of litigating what defines a mid-major, let’s just exclude teams in the A-10, Mountain West, and Spokane. Want to fight with me over why we cover those leagues? We’ll talk about it another time.
Of the remaining teams we cover, I don’t think Belmont is the best, but the Bruins are close. Right now I’m giving the edge to Loyola University Chicago. The Ramblers are beating opponents by so much that they seem to have broken KenPom — rising from 55 in the preseason all the way to 16 despite three losses and just one win against a top-100 team. They’re are one of the best defensive teams in the country and Cameron Krutwig has been the best player in the MVC by a decent margin. The seniors also have Final Four experience and have never won fewer than 20 games in a season.
Belmont isn’t far off, though. While Loyola is one of the best defensive units in college basketball, the Bruins are one of the best on offense, ranking third nationally in eFG%. They’re unbeaten in an albeit much weaker Ohio Valley and are also on a sustained run of program success. Belmont has had some close calls and an ugly loss to Samford, but there’s something to be said for finding ways to win and starting 19-1, no matter the competition.
What is the most likely number of teams the Mountain West gets into the tourney? Is 4 just wishful thinking or is there a path to that?— Jeremiah Sievers (@JEREIH) February 5, 2021
I want to believe in the #4BidMWC so badly. I’m rooting for it. The obvious candidates are San Diego State, Colorado State, Utah State, and Boise State. Bracket Matrix has each team but the Aggies in, with Utah State in the First Four Out, so yes there is a shot.
Colorado State is teetering near the cut line and doesn’t have any real resume-building opportunities left in the regular season. A 6-2 finish and a win in the Mountain West tournament is probably enough to keep the Rams in the conversation, but a tourney win over another top-three team might be necessary.
As for Utah State, oh god does it want that one game against UNLV back. Looking at its remaining schedule, those last four games against Boise State and Nevada are huge. Go 3-1 there and the Aggies will have a strong case.
The most likely scenario for now is probably three teams with four possible and OH WHAT IF EVERYTHING WORKS OUT PERFECTLY AND THOSE FOUR GET IN AS AT-LARGES THEN NEVADA WINS THE MWC TOURNAMENT AND THEY GET FIVE????
Hey, Duke, Kentucky, and Michigan State aren’t using those at-large spots. They gotta go somewhere!
Is this the year Monmouth can finally break through to the NCAA tournament under King Rice?— Marc Gump (@GumpHutch) February 5, 2021
Hello Marc! He’s one of our most loyal readers and generally rocks, so let’s talk about Monmouth for a minute.
The obvious threats are Siena and Iona, with St. Peter’s not far behind. Any of those three plus the Hawks could come out of what is annually one of the most enjoyable mid-major conference tournaments.
They’re also all vulnerable. Iona hasn’t played in six weeks. Siena beat Monmouth by just a point to open its season. St. Peter’s has been inconsistent overall and bad offensively.
So yes, I can see a scenario where the Hawks make the NCAA Tournament. They just might need some of that patented #GumpMagic.
How good of a coach is Todd Lichliter?— @WhatWouldDingoDo (@WhtWouldDingoDo) February 5, 2021
I’m always up for some Lickliter appreciation. The Evansville head coach inherited an impossible situation last year and went 0-13. Throw that out the window. He’s got the Aces at 8-8 this year with a winning record in the Missouri Valley (6-4). Going back to his days at Butler, Lickliter has always run a painfully slow offense. Slow, but effective. His Bulldog teams ranked in the top 20 in offensive efficiency three times, though he couldn’t get that to translate into a failed stint at Iowa. He brought Butler to two NCAA Tournaments and the Bulldogs went to the Sweet 16 each time. As a Horizon League team. Before Butler did that whole “go to the national championship game” thing twice. That’s awesome.
Evansville’s a young team and is punching above its weight in a very good Valley. Let’s see where the Aces are a year from now.
WKU at large?— Big Sports Fan (@eisner_ryan) February 5, 2021
No because Western Kentucky is going to win the CUSA Tournament.
BUT IF SOMETHING CRAZY HAPPENS... the Toppers have a great win over Alabama with additional victories over Rhode Island, Memphis, and two against Marshall. The Charlotte loss is bad, but there’s enough heft to WKU’s resume that they might still be in good shape. Heading back to Bracket Matrix, they have WKU as a 12 seed, so right in last four in/first four out territory. Split at North Texas and win the rest of your regular season games and you’re in good shape.
Irvine or UCSB?— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) February 5, 2021