NCAA – Non-Conference Review – Mid-Majors Beginning League Play on Friday

Atlantic 10

48 – Rhode Island
51 – La Salle
95 – George Washington
97 – Dayton
98 – VCU
138 – Saint Joseph’s
140 – Richmond
176 – Fordham
179 – Duquesne
186 – Davidson
211 – UMass
214 – Saint Louis
245 – George Mason
247 – Saint Bonaventure

Who expected this league to have five teams in the RPI Top 100 at this point? Rhode Island might be a bit of an outlier, with their only loss right now being to a good Harvard team, with most of their wins not being against great clubs either. But the draw at Providence in the opener was an immediate sign this year wasn’t going to be like last year. Everyone expected La Salle to be here or thereabouts, but they also will fall short on any at-large bid hopes after striking out on their few chances at a trademark win. It could be worse: They could have gotten clubbed like Dayton did against Stanford. The Flyers also came up painfully short in their hopes of making a mark for an at-large bid. George Washington and VCU are also among the RPI Top 100 right now, with latter having beaten ACC side Pittsburgh. Fordham and Davidson have perhaps outperformed expectations among those of the middle of the RPI pack in the A10. UMass and Saint Louis both have to be massively disappointed to be out of the RPI Top 200 right now. Trailing the pack are George Mason, seemingly likely to decline in the RPI for the fifth straight season, and a Saint Bonaventure side blighted by a draw with Robert Morris and loss to UMass-Lowell.

Atlantic Sun

50 – Florida Gulf Coast
112 – Jacksonville
188 – Kennesaw State
201 – Lipscomb
269 – Northern Kentucky
276 – Stetson
303 – North Florida
322 – USC Upstate

The very top isn’t that bad. The bottom half is pretty bad. Really, there’s not much of a middle ground here. Florida Gulf Coast got a great (and controversial) win against Arizona and beat an ACC side in Miami (FL), but that’s probably not going to be enough for the club to get an at-large bid with nothing but downside in the league for their RPI. As expected, Jacksonville is also in a decent RPI spot despite a lack of truly overwhelming wins. Kennesaw State would appear to be better than their record after a trying non-conference slate, while Lipscomb drawing with Memphis is a fine indicator of progress in Nashville. The bottom half of the league hasn’t been pulling up any trees. It’ll likely be a fight to the finish for the final two spots in the A-Sun Tournament between the strugglers of the league.

Big Sky

80 – Portland State
103 – Northern Arizona
182 – Montana
203 – Northern Colorado
225 – Southern Utah
235 – Weber State
242 – Idaho State
298 – North Dakota
307 – Idaho
308 – Sacramento State
310 – Eastern Washington

Given how dreary it’s been in this conference for the longest time, it has to be uplifting to see one school in the RPI Top 80 and another almost in the Top 100. Portland State’s win over Oregon was one of the best in recent program history, and PSU should be big favorites in the league this year. Northern Arizona doesn’t have any bad losses, and a handful of wins have been good enough to put it in a nice RPI position. Through the middle reaches of the RPI table, Southern Utah has perhaps outperformed expectations on paper, while Idaho State has underwhelmed behind an awful defense. The bottom four is brutally bad. A conference move hasn’t really helped Idaho, who have gone from awful for a WAC side to awful for a Big Sky side. Sacramento State has also been surprisingly bad, even with a win over Fresno State…who themselves have been wretched. Though that’s a story for another paragraph.

Colonial

42 – Hofstra
65 – William & Mary
99 – UNC Wilmington
119 – Drexel
131 – Northeastern
134 – Towson
168 – James Madison
173 – Elon
200 – Delaware
238 – College of Charleston

Hofstra had plenty of chances to grab an at-large bid boosting win…and they actually took one, beating Duke. How much will that help though considering Duke themselves may be on the bubble? Title rivals William & Mary didn’t have as many shots and got blasted by Maryland in their biggest opportunity. A draw against La Salle and win over NC State probably won’t be close to good enough. UNC Wilmington beat Wake Forest…in perhaps one of the worst years to have beaten Wake Forest. They have a ghost of a chance if they go big in the CAA and Wake has a great league season. The middle part of the RPI table for the league is the typical live underdog grouping, with Northeastern having beaten Boston U and James Madison having also beaten Wake Forest but having slid backwards since. Delaware again is struggling, while College of Charleston’s acclimation to their latest league is still a work in progress, to say the least.

Conference USA

59 – Western Kentucky
63 – Rice
111 – Marshall
135 – Charlotte
136 – Louisiana Tech
141 – Florida Atlantic
162 – North Texas
164 – UTSA
172 – UAB
180 – UTEP
190 – Middle Tennessee State
197 – Florida International
202 – Old Dominion
252 – Southern Miss

Western Kentucky and Rice have basically taken the different paths to the same destination. WKU got there with a paucity of losses, while Rice got there with wins over Vanderbilt and LSU and draws against Arkansas and Dayton. Unfortunately, the two clubs don’t actually meet in the regular season, meaning a showdown will have to wait until the conference tournament. Of the upper half of the RPI table, Charlotte may have the best result of any club. Of any club in the league really, with their draw at Clemson enough to probably take them through if they get to the bubble, which still doesn’t look likely. North Texas could’ve had a much better chance had they held on against Oklahoma, but losses to Gonzaga and TCU all but wiped out their slim at-large hopes. The biggest shock is probably Florida International lagging far behind thanks to their wins being quite poor in terms of RPI. Otherwise, it’s largely as expected in the bottom half of the league RPI, with Old Dominion and Southern Miss bringing up the rear.

Ivy League

47 – Harvard
85 – Cornell
117 – Yale
132 – Columbia
144 – Dartmouth
153 – Princeton
185 – Brown
195 – Penn

The big question really was if Harvard was going to be able to get into a position of being able to challenge for an at-large bid. The Crimson lost to Boston College though in what was basically a must-win match and lost to Colgate for good measure, so that’s pretty much that, though they’re still favorites to win the league. Cornell’s shockingly in the RPI Top 100, with their lone loss being to Temple, and it looks like the Ithaca side is making rapid progress. Yale’s shown signs of promise with their win over Hofstra, while Tracey Bartholomew also looks to have Columbia going strongly in her first season with the club. Dartmouth beat Saint John’s (NY), but sadly, that’s not going to count for much it seems. Princeton has a nice draw with La Salle on the road and a win over Villanova, for what that’s worth. Penn, expected to be good for a finish in the upper echelon of the league, is instead on bottom of the RPI table with its wins all coming outside of the RPI Top 200. The biggest culprit is the draw with winless Saint Francis (PA). You’d still bet on them finishing pretty high in the league, though perhaps not as high as hoped in the RPI.

MAC

22 – Miami (OH)
72 – Ball State
77 – Buffalo
84 – Eastern Michigan
145 – Western Michigan
157 – Akron
187 – Toledo
199 – Kent State
237 – Central Michigan
244 – Ohio
293 – Bowling Green
313 – Northern Illinois

Another in the “leagues with a surprising upper tier” category. Miami (OH)’s grossly overrated in the RPI and doesn’t have a prayer of an at-large bid unless Purdue and Louisville improve markedly in the league, but they’ve proven that they could be a difficult out in the NCAA Tournament. I doubt many expected Ball State and Buffalo to be in such a lofty position, both ahead of league favorites Eastern Michigan, who still look well placed for a title challenge with a win over Indiana and draw against Oregon. There’s a big gap between them and the league’s other main tile challenger, Western Michigan, but the Broncos are paying the price for an uninspiring set of wins. Former league powerhouses Toledo and Central Michigan are in rather dismal shape, though the Rockets do have a shock defeat to Ohio State for their trouble. The very bottom of the league sees a familiar sight, Bowling Green and Northern Illinois spinning their wheels after poor non-conference campaigns.

Missouri Valley

58 – Illinois State
163 – Evansville
167 – Missouri State
226 – Drake
230 – Loyola (Ill.)
255 – Indiana State
268 – Northern Iowa

As you might expect, it’s a case of a giant and six ants, as it’s always been for the past half decade. Illinois State’s had numerous chances to make their case for an at-large bid but have suffered on the back of a defense that hasn’t been able to stop the attack of bigger clubs. The Redbirds did beat Baylor, but that’s not going to be enough for an at-large bid. Evansville and Missouri State are the best of the rest, at the moment, with the former buoyed by a win against Big East side Butler. There’s little separating the other four clubs, all out of the Top 200 of the RPI at the moment. With all but one club making the conference tournament, it’ll likely be a fight to the end to avoid the basement, though the title is already probably headed to Normal and ISU.

Mountain West

53 – San Diego State
92 – UNLV
125 – Colorado College
133 – Boise State
150 – Nevada
154 – Utah State
213 – Wyoming
217 – San Jose State
236 – Colorado State
265 – Air Force
271 – New Mexico
302 – Fresno State

I tipped the Mountain West to be one of the best mid-majors this season thanks to the addition of Colorado College, and the top half of the league seems to be fulfilling its part of the bargain. San Diego State has a decent shot at an at-large bid with wins over Michigan and Washington. Most probably predicted that Colorado College, Boise State, and Utah State would be in the top half of the RPI or thereabouts, though none of the three have made a serious run at an at-large bid. The two surprises thus far may be UNLV, who netted a shock draw with Utah, and Nevada, who had a draw with Denver and may be benefitting from a very difficult non-conference schedule. The bottom half of the RPI table bears few surprises, though Wyoming and San Jose State may have hoped for a little better. The same can’t be said for the bottom two. New Mexico doesn’t have a substantial win and also has a loss to unfancied Weber State, while Fresno State has been little more than a disaster at this point, going 1-8-0 and riding an eight match losing streak into the league with defeats to the likes of Drake and Sacramento State on the ledger.

Ohio Valley

110 – Tennessee-Martin
181 – Morehead State
193 – Belmont
222 – Jacksonville State
224 – Southeast Missouri State
246 – Murray State
260 – Tennessee Tech
273 – SIU Edwardsville
284 – Eastern Kentucky
304 – Austin Peay
309 – Eastern Illinois

Really, there aren’t many shocks in this list. Tennessee-Martin have been fighting gamely and has three 1-0 defeats to RPI Top 70 teams, underlining their competitiveness against bigger clubs. They should be favorites as the league opens, with Morehead State, who shocked Louisville, 2-0, earlier in the season, as a very live #2. Belmont is the RPI surprise of the league thus far, though that may be a case of simply not being as underwhelming as everyone else. Jacksonville State and Murray State have shown signs of improvement, as have Tennessee Tech despite some gaudy scorelines against them. The league’s biggest disappointment might be SIU Edwardsville, sitting at 3-4-1 and a poor #273 in the RPI despite predictions of mid-table before the season. The bottom of the RPI table sees Austin Peay, who’ve reverted back to their pre-Ariza form at 1-7-0, with Eastern Illinois again flailing their way through non-conference play.

Southern

78 – Furman
105 – UNC Greensboro
108 – Samford
152 – Wofford
196 – East Tennessee State
208 – Mercer
218 – Western Carolina
306 – The Citadel
325 – VMI
328 – Chattanooga

Speaking of surprises, I’m not sure most expected the SoCon to have almost three teams in the RPI Top 100 at this point. Furman are topping the bunch thus far, but the Paladins haven’t shown enough muscle to be able to put themselves in position for an at-large bid. UNC Greensboro is just about where they’ve always been and has decent decent wins over Liberty and James Madison but few hopes of an at-large bid. Samford has the league’s best non-conference result with a win at Auburn, but they’re likely too far out to get onto the bubble. Wofford started quick but has lost four in a row, while an exciting East Tennessee State side has inflated their numbers with some dire competition. The bottom of the league is the very bottom of DI. The Citadel, VMI, and Chattanooga are all appallingly bad and could take some serious beatings from their SoCon brethren this season.

SWAC

257 – Alcorn State
270 – Jackson State
278 – Grambling
279 – Alabama State
280 – Southern
294 – Mississippi Valley State
301 – Texas Southern
316 – Arkansas-Pine Bluff
323 – Howard
324 – Alabama A&M
327 – Prairie View A&M

Oh, RPI. Alcorn State has played just three matches against DI clubs and lost all of them but is still highest rated right now in the RPI in the SWAC. Elsewhere, the league may take heart in some of its smaller victories. Jackson State took down Southland side McNeese State, while Alabama State managed to pick off three of DI’s low hanging fruit to match last season’s non-conference win total. Howard and Prairie View A&M also netted a non-conference win each. The SWAC is largely unpredictable as always, but preseason favorites Alabama State still look likely to walk away with the league title.

Sun Belt

101 – Georgia Southern
147 – Troy
156 – Arkansas-Little Rock
177 – Louisiana-Lafayette
194 – Texas State
207 – South Alabama
221 – Louisiana-Monroe
228 – Appalachian State
266 – Georgia State
300 – Arkansas State

Georgia Southern? *shrugs*. The Sun Belt looks as wide open as any league, and the Eagles, having topped Indiana and UNC Wilmington earlier in the season, may be as strong as any club in the league. Troy has impressed in Jason Hamilton’s first season in charge, with results like a win over Conference USA side UAB. Arkansas-Little Rock is one of the few perfect sides left in the nation, but the fact that they aren’t an RPI Top 150 side should tell you enough about how they got that record. There’s really little separating the RPI mid-table bunch from those above them. Or below for that matter. Georgia State has disappointed at 2-5-3, and Arkansas State has been little better with just one win against non-SWAC opposition, but you still get the sense that this could be one of the most volatile leagues in all the nation this season.

3 thoughts on “NCAA – Non-Conference Review – Mid-Majors Beginning League Play on Friday

  1. john

    How the mighty have fallen! Granted the NCAA woso landscape has changed dramatically since George Mason won the title, but to not even be able to contend in a weaker conference is shocking. As Chris points out there is a multiple year slide and yet no effort from the AD to arrest it. The opportunity to capatitalize on the bounce from the basketball Final Four appearance was squandered as well. Claims of Patriot pride are just marketing hollowness it appears.

    Reply

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