Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 11:20 AM
We continue our series on college basketball's mid major conferences today with a look at the West Coast and Western Athletic conferences. Those leagues include Gonzaga, St. Mary's, and BYU (West Coast, with BYU moving over this year after a long history in the Mountain West; as well as Nevada, New Mexico State, and Utah State (with the latter falling on hard times this year after dominating this conference for quite some time). We'll take a look at the Ivy League on Friday since Harvard's making a big splash this season. Saturday we'll touch on a few of the leagues we haven't been able to get to yet as we wrap up this week's study of the mid major's.
The West Coast Conference is traditionally an important story in the Big Dance, if not a really BIG story any more. Nobody's reached the Final Four from this league, even though Gonzaga made a few nice runs. Remember that the Colonial Conference has TWO different trips in recent memory, and Butler of the Horizon League has two trips by themselves the last two years! Based on recent history, and projected seedings, we're likely to see at least a couple of important games involving Gonzaga and St. Mary's this year. And, BYU has a good chance to crash the party too.
WEST COAST NOTES
We've been kicking off each day with Joe Lunardi's Bracketology from ESPN's website. Let's see how the West Coast stacks up:
#6 St. Mary's
BYU just misses, currently listed among the first four out. This is clearly a good showing for a mid major. That's two upper half seeds who are projected to be first round favorites...and a third team sitting square on the bubble. You'll recall that the Atlantic 10 had four teams in the mix yesterday, but nobody as high as #6 just yet.
We want to note here that the respected computers we've been using for supplemental coverage this week are much higher on BYU than Lunardi is. Ken Pomeroy currently has BYU as his 32nd ranked team, which would qualify for about an 8th seed. Jeff Sagarin at USA Today has them at 30th, in the same general range. So, if the selection committee pays attention to the same stuff the computers are...then we're looking at THREE teams solidly in the Dance rather than just two.
Is there anyone else lurking as a possibility? Not really. Loyola Marymount has a decent record in the conference. But that's because everyone below them is so horrible! Marymount isn't in the top 100 right now with either computer...and you generally need to be top 50 to have a shot at an at-large, top 40 to have any sort of confidence. Loyola just doesn't measure up...but some conference standings will create the illusion that they do because the bottom half of the West Coast Conference is so ugly.
It's just the big three who are going to matter, so let's dig a bit deeper with them.
Offensive/Defensive Profiles (Adjusted Efficiency at Pomeroy's website)
St. Mary's: 18th on offense, 54th on defense
Gonzaga: 47th on offense, 39th on defense
BYU: 49th on offense, 40th on defense
Decent balance here, particularly with the latter two sides. St. Mary's grades out very well nationally on offense even after you adjust for strength of schedule, but gives back a bit too much on defense for out taste. That won't matter in conference play...but surely will if they're able to advance to meaningful games in the Dance. In fact, that might prevent them from getting past the first round if they draw a major conference team that has a few weapons.
Solid group. We're not going to suggest that they measure up with the big three of the best majors. And, you longtimers know we're generally down on this conference in the Dance just because the media had gone overboard with Gonzaga in the extreme...and then St. Mary's to a lesser extent when they looked like they'd be the new Gonzaga. West Coast basketball lagged the rest of the country in terms of true quality for quite some time (and it's arguably still happening given the fadeout of the Pac 12 this year). ESPN and CBS weren't particularly keen on letting their West Coast audiences know that. That's why we're here! These are possible Cinderella's come March. And, history often smiles on programs the year AFTER they lose a super-duper star (like the overhyped Jimmer Fredette at BYU).
Definitely a threesome to monitor. Let's see when they're going to play each other...
BIG THREE'S REMAINING HEAD-TO-HEAD GAMES
Saturday: St. Mary's at BYU
February 2: Gonzaga at BYU
February 9: St. Mary's at Gonzaga
February 23: BYU at Gonzaga
St. Mary's has impressive home wins over the other two, but now must visit both. Gonzaga and BYU have yet to play each other, but will square off on a pair of February Thursdays in games that will both be televised by ESPN2
The only two teams that matter right now in the Western Athletic Conference are Nevada and New Mexico State. What's great about that is that they play each other for the first time TONIGHT! Check in on that one this evening and you'll pretty much be on top of what you need to know for the March prospects in this league.
14th seed: Nevada
New Mexico State is on the far side of the bubble according to Lunardi, falling in the "next four out" category...which means they're about 5-8 teams away from sneaking in. The computers we pay the most attention to are far less optimistic about an at-large bid:
New Mexico State: 75th in Sagarin, 84th in Pomeroy
Nevada: 97th in Sagarin, 101st in Pomeroy
The eventual runner-up isn't going to be in the top 50 in the computers, and may not even be in the top 70. So, it's extremely unlikely right now that the WAC will get two bids even if Lunardi thinks it's possible. Both teams have to really pick up their level of play if they're going to get any respect in March.
That certainly could happen tonight for one of both teams. They'll have a rematch on March 1st...and possibly again in the conference tournament championship game. Frankly, if one of these teams doesn't win the league tourney, we just don't see them getting in otherwise.
JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK has a huge Thursday planned for you. In addition to TV games like NC State-North Carolina, Florida-Ole Miss, and Indiana-Wisconsin, we're also looking at the big Nevada-New Mexico State game we just referenced, and several other interesting spots on the Western schedule.
The NBA schedule has just two games...but it's the TNT doubleheader. We know you LOVE winning TV games! So, we're covering all the bases in the Boston/Orlando revenge rematch and Memphis/LA Clippers
Tonight will set up a huge sports weekend that will help you build your bankrolls for next week's Super Bowl. Among the NBA highlights the next few days: New York at Miami on Friday, Chicago at Miami on Sunday, and San Antonio at Dallas late Sunday. In the colleges Saturday: St. John's at Duke, West Virginia at Syracuse, Texas at Baylor, and countless conference rivalry showdowns.
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