Wednesday, February 17, 2010

With Mid Major Conference Strength Ranks, It's All Relative

So this morning I was perusing the ESPN Insider RPI and I was looking at the conference ranks. And I noticed some mid major conferences rank higher than others. Obviously that's due to the supposed "overall" strength of the conference, where some conferences bottom teams are stronger than others.

But I think those ratings are skewered. The bottom teams aren't going anywhere as far as postseason play. Plus a few crappy teams should not affect the value of good teams in the same conference. That is, unless, the good teams lose to the crappy teams - see W&M vs. UNCW or JMU and Wichita State's loss to Evansville, the Purple Aces only MVC win of the season so far. But those are few and far between (example in the CAA, the top six teams have lost to the bottom six teams only five times this season)

So I think a better indication of the mid major conferences is the top four teams in each conference. And usually, the top four teams in conferences like the Missouri Valley, WAC, Conference USA and CAA have a good chance of playing in the postseason - whether it's the NCAA, NIT, CBI or CIT.

Thus let's take a look at the four top teams in four conferences based on RPI.

Missouri Valley (Conference Rank 9)

Northern Iowa23-325
Wichita State21-647
Missouri State17-983
Indiana State16-1189

WAC (Conference Rank 10)

Utah State20-6 44
Nevada15-9 67
Louisiana Tech20-575
New Mexico State16-9 76

Conference USA (Conference Rank 11)

Team Record RPI
Tulsa19-6 66
(Marshall 18-7, RPI 68)

CAA (Conference Rank 12)

Old Dominion21-734
William and Mary19-751
Northeastern 18-961

When you take a look at the top four teams in each of these four conferences, Conference USA and the CAA arguably overall have the better top four teams in their conferences than the higher ranked conferences the Missouri Valley and the WAC. Yes Northern Iowa is the best team overall of any of the sixteen teams listed here. But the drop off in the Valley after Wichita State is stunning and shows the drop off of the Valley as a whole over the past three seasons (remember the Valley has not been more than a one bid conference since 2007).

The listings here reinforce ESPN's televised Bracketbuster games. The CAA has the most televised teams with five, which includes the above listed four and George Mason (which has a RPI of 100). The WAC follow with all four teams listed. The Missouri Valley only has three with Indiana State left out in the cold.

The most telling statistic here is Conference USA's conference strength rank of 11th. This tells you how far that conference has fallen as a basketball power. The annual budget of a Conference USA school for men's basketball is $2.7 million, which is a million more on average than schools in the CAA spend on their basketball teams ($1.7 million). Based on this, several Conference USA school presidents might start talking to their athletic directors on how the basketball budget money is being spent.

And if you also take a look at the conference strength rankings, one of the most stunning conference rankings is the Sun Belt being the 22nd ranked conference. This is a conference that had multiple bids in 2008 and Sun Belt member Western Kentucky has won three games in the past two NCAA Tournaments. The Sun Belt conference rank is for example lower than the Big West (21), Ivy (20), Big South (19), Big Sky (18) and Southern (17).

So based on getting your money's worth (aka budget), I think the CAA is the strongest conference of the four. And the walk backs the talk. Other than Northern Iowa, who is leading the Valley, only ODU and UAB are otherwise considered serious at large bid teams, with Wichita State and William and Mary on the fringes. The upcoming Bracketbuster games will either reinforce that or perhaps change my opinion. That's the beauty of College Basketball. Unlike college football, it's not left to the polls or the computer rankings to decide. It's decided on the court.

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