In college basketball, there are certain teams that are considered “mid-majors.” These teams are considered the best Division 1 teams that play outside of the NCAA’s power conferences. These teams are drawn from conferences such as the MVC, OVC, and the WCC. There are 21 of these conferences that get autobids into the NCAA tournament, and many have argued that these teams don’t deserve a bid into the NCAA tournament or that they deserve lesser seeds because they don’t play “real” teams throughout their regular season campaigns. This year, Gonzaga is an example of one of those teams who is likely to get a one-seed if they win out, but will likely draw a criticism due to a weak schedule. I’m here to defend those teams who have been slighted and disrespected by all of the critics. Here are a few reasons why midmajors deserve more credit:
Over the past few years, there have been a ton of teams who have made NCAA tournament runs and proved that they belong, despite having been overlooked by analysts and fans. Examples of this include Wichita State’s (9-seed from MVC) final four run, FGCU’s sweet 16 run, and Mercer and Lehigh’s upsets of Duke. Last year alone, three 12-seeded midmajors upset 5-seeds(Harvard, SF Austin, and North Dakota St). In fact, almost 50% of the time 12-seeds win in the first round of the tournament. You would expect statistically that 5-seeds would win more often than not. Instead, the best of the mid-major conference teams typically have a 50-50 shot of winning. This is completely inconsistent with the idea that mid-major schools are weaker than the major conference ones. In fact, the 5-seeds tend to be from major conferences such as the BIG12, B10, Big East, and ACC. These teams are vulnerable because they aren’t really as strong as people make them out to be, as they are typically teams that may have finished second, third or fourth in their respective conferences. If the tournament committee seeded correctly, then you would expect very few upsets, but that has not been the case. Because tournament upsets happen often, mid-majors are always relevant and they are perhaps even underrated, especially once they enter the tournament.
Weakness of Teams in Major Conferences
People like to smash teams like Gonzaga, Wichita St., and Northern Iowa for their weak non-conference and in-conference schedules, but tend to overlook when teams in bigger conferences play weak non-conference opponents. Teams like Ohio St. are ranked frequently despite playing in a weak Big Ten and beating “cupcake” teams while getting beaten by “real” teams such as UNC and Louisville. People also conveniently forget that teams like Ohio St. get to play Rutgers, Northwestern, and Penn St.– teams that are probably just as bad as the weakest half of a conference such as the MVC. The ACC is not exempt from these factors, with teams like Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Virginia Tech being terrible at the bottom of the conference. And it’s not like teams at the bottom can’t beat teams at the top. For example, Texas Tech, an awful team this year, managed to defeat Iowa State, the team in 2nd place in the best conference in the nation this year. In any of these conferences, anybody can beat anyone, which is why it’s so impressive when a team like SF Austin goes undefeated in their own conference. Winning games is difficult no matter what conference you are in, even if some of them are against weaker teams.
Parity in College Basketball
College basketball wasn’t always like this. UCLA used to own college basketball, winning 11 championships in a short period of time. It’s simply not possible anymore and repeats no longer happen. The last time it happened was when Florida repeated from 06-07, and I can’t remember a time before that. There have also been very few undefeated teams and the most recent one was Indiana in 1976. It’s becoming almost impossible to win every game because teams are so comparable in talent to each other and that’s why we obsess over a perfect season every year. Each team has the ability to beat any other on any particular afternoon, which is again why it’s impressive when a team goes on an undefeated in conference run or a regular season undefeated run. It’s important to recognize that every win is vital, and that some wins might be worth more than others, yet not as much as people tend to value them. For example, when Wichita St. beats Indiana State on the road, it’s seen as a routine, easy victory for Wichita St. while in reality it’s a tough in-conference road game. Now we see Kansas St. beat Kansas and consider it a huge win for Kansas St., while in reality it’s probably only a little better than that win Wichita St. picked up. My point is that mid-majors don’t often have the same opportunities to impress like Kansas St. and instead only have opportunities to trip up along the way.
In summary, mid-majors are undervalued college basketball schools that deserve more recognition and attention. When it is tournament time, we’ll get to hear about those schools that nobody has heard of upset the likes of Duke, Georgetown, and Oklahoma. Don’t be surprised if the critics end up eating their words when it comes to Gonzaga, a team that is both consistent and efficient that has lost only once to Arizona this year.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org user Rp0211