The National: A Look at Mid-Major Autobids (part one)

TB's asked me to sort of take on the role of national correspondent, as it were, and take a look at what's going on outside the Big 12. (This doesn't mean I won't be providing any Cat-related content, and I won't be simply rehashing stuff you can find pretty much anywhere else; my goal will be to broaden the spectrum outside of our little shell, and continue to provide the occasional commentary I've provided previously.) It's getting close to the end of the regular season -- some conferences are down to one game left before their respective tournaments -- so what better way to start than by taking a look at what the field's going to look like?

I'm not going to go into the at-large discussion; I'm sure you're all perfectly keyed into it already, anyway. Instead, I'm going to go over the likely one-bid leagues and break down who we should expect to emerge, and offer some interesting data for you to start digesting ahead of bracket time. I'll go over the credible threats to win the title, and touch on what may be interesting about their resumes -- both good and bad.

Today's menu: the America East, the Atlantic Sun, the Big Sky, the Big South, and the Big West.

AMERICA EAST
Binghamton's upset win over Vermont did more than just break their losing streak: it handed Stony Brook the steering wheel, as the Seawolves stole a one-game lead in the conference standings from the Catamounts. Grabbing the #1 seed will be important here, as there's a huge gap between the 7 and 8 seeds in the conference. Should Maine upset Stony Brook this week while Vermont handles hapless UMBC (already locked into the 8 seed), Vermont would reclaim the top seed. Boston University is locked into the 3, and are a potential threat to sneak off with the tournament title, but despite being hot on the heels of the leaders in the conference standings, they are clearly a rung beneath Vermont and Stony Brook. The latter two have split their two meetings. BU did knock off Stony Brook at home, but the Seawolves held serve at home.

Vermont
19-11, 12-3
best win: 65-63 at Old Dominion
worst loss: 57-53 at Binghamton
interesting losses: 61-59 at bubble-inhabiting South Florida; 73-72 at home vs Iona

Stony Brook
19-8, 13-2
best win: well... 65-59 at home over Vermont, unfortunately
worst loss: 96-66 at Indiana (also handled cleanly, though not embarrassingly, by Boston College and Rutgers)
interesting loss: 63-58 at at Northwestern

Boston University
15-15, 11-4
best win: 61-55 at home over Stony Brook
worst loss: 82-46 at Texas
interesting loss: 63-62 over 20-9 Cleveland State at URI tournament

ATLANTIC SUN
Belmont isn't on the bubble, but might actually get a surprising seed should they get through the A-Sun tournament. The only real threat here is Mercer; don't let South Carolina-Upstate's record fool you. Although they are responsible for one of Belmont's two conference losses (the other being to crosstown Most Hated Rival Lipscomb, which, you know, is going to happen occasionally), that win was by a single point, at home, on a buzzer-beater. Mercer was tied for the conference lead a week ago, but a head-scratcher of a loss at Jacksonville followed by a nine-point loss at North Florida (KHAAAAN!) have dropped them two games off the pace, and signify a late-season fatigue. Mercer and Belmont close the regular season against one another on Saturday.

Belmont
22-7, 14-2
best win: Belmont, oddly, has played at bubbly Middle Tennessee State twice this year. They split those games, with their 87-84 2OT win on 11/20 being their best win of the year.
worst loss: 97-81 at Memphis
interesting losses: Belmont has lost three one-point games this year; the afore-mentioned loss to USC-Upstate, a loss at Marshall... and, oh, yeah, their season-opening 77-76 loss to DUKE.

Mercer
20-9, 12-4
best win: 65-59 at Georgia Tech
worst loss: 81-63 at Missouri
interesting losses: 80-77 in OT at Seton Hall; 68-62 at Tulsa

BIG SKY
There are only two decent teams here: Weber State and Montana have made mincemeat of the rest of the conference, and both have already secured byes to the conference semifinals. That should help ensure at least one of them is playing for the conference title. They finish the season at Montana on Tuesday, which should decide the regular season title. There's an outside shot that if Weber wins out, but loses the tournament final, they might get some at-large consideration... but I think they'd almost certainly fall short, despite being 25-5 in that instance. They have some interesting wins -- notably, they swept the season series against the other Utah public schools -- but in horrible years for Utah and Utah State, that doesn't do them any favors.

Weber State
22-4, 13-1
best win: 80-64 at home over Montana
worst loss: all three of Weber's non-conference losses were horrible blowouts: Brigham Young, Saint Mary's, and California.
interesting losses: Well, their only other loss was a two-point setback at Idaho State. Is that interesting?

Montana
20-6, 12-1
best win: 73-71 at home over bubble-bound Long Beach State
worst loss: 71-46 wrecking at Oregon State
interesting loss: 64-58 at Colorado State, who's close to getting off the bubble

BIG SOUTH
So far, UNC-Asheville has retained control of the conference race, and have in fact clinched the #1 seed. With perennial threat Winthrop submerged under .500, the Bulldogs have taken advantage, but there are three other teams with 10 conference wins in a wild tussle. Can they get through the tournament? The Big South doesn't ease the road like some other mid-majors do, so they're going to have to win three tournament games to seal the deal, and there are teams that can derail them.

UNC-Asheville
19-9, 14-2
best win: Ah... well. Probably 88-81 at home over USC-Upstate.
worst loss: 91-75 at home to North Carolina
interesting losses: 84-75 at NC State; 73-63 to UConn and 68-66 to College of Charleston at the Battle for Atlantis in Nassau; 72-68 at Tennessee.

Coastal Carolina
18-9, 11-5
best win: good question. 71-63 at home over LSU, or 60-59 at Clemson? Take your pick.
worst loss: 76-51 at East Carolina
interesting loss: only other non-conference loss was 77-70 at home to College of Charleston

Campbell
17-13, 11-6
best win: I think a 77-61 thrashing of Iowa AT Carver-Hawkeye Arena qualifies here.
worst loss: by the numbers, 98-60 at High Point last night. By perception, 100-86 at Northwestern State just last week. The Camels are reeling.
interesting losses: 87-81 at NC State

Charleston Southern
17-10, 10-6
best win: ai-yi-yi. Well, last week they took down dark horse SoCon contender Wofford, 77-59 at home. Other than that, they haven't beaten anyone relevant outside the conference. They are responsible for one of UNC-Asheville's losses, though.
worst loss: 85-57 at Wichita State
interesting loss: 72-67 at Kansas State, of course. They also lost two straight 80-77 OT games back in January, at home to Coastal Carolina and then at Gardner-Webb three days later, which is certainly curious.

BIG WEST

Long Beach State has thus far run the table and secured the top seed, and only appear to have one more test before the conference tournament. (Worth noting: the Big West has done away with the double-bye; LBSU will have to play a quarterfinal game against the 8 seed now.) That test is their season-ending game on March 3 against Cal State-Fullerton, their closest pursuer. Of course, this may not be a one-bid league. I think that if LBSU finishes 16-0 and at loses the Big West final, they're in as an at-large... which makes their competition very, very relevant all of a sudden.

Long Beach State
20-7, 13-0
best win: their 86-76 win at Pitt in November appeared to be important, but turned out to be... less so. Their actual best win, then, is their 68-58 win over Xavier at Diamond Head.
worst loss: 77-60 to Kansas State at Diamond Head.
interesting losses: Oh, so, so many. They lost by four in OT at San Diego State. By two at Montana. By 13 at Louisville. By 8 at Kansas. By 6 at North Carolina. By 2 at Creighton in Bracketbusters. You may note that we have just mentioned ALL their losses. Let's face it, these guys almost deserve an at-large just for ballsy scheduling.

Cal State-Fullerton
18-7, 9-3
best win: Okay, Utah's not good this year. Still, beating them 81-50 IN SALT LAKE?
worst loss: 75-60 at Wichita State... which barely edges their 75-61 loss at Long Beach State, which sort of sums up the Big West in a nutshell.
interesting losses: none.

Tomorrow, we'll pick up with the CAA, and should get through at least the MAC.

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