It’s that time of the year. Really, already.
Among the 345 D-I teams: 2,183 games have been played, 279,128 points have been scored, 436,600 player-minutes have been logged and selection Sunday is less than 11 weeks away.
For most teams the end of the calendar year marks the beginning of conference play. For mid-major teams this means an especially important part of the season is already over (although some teams still have remaining non-con games to play). For mids the non-conference slate is the chance for dream upsets, big headlines and resume-building wins before conference play gives the presses back to the high-majors.
This conference-by-conference examination of the 10 top-performing conferences below the ‘Red Line‘ offers a simple guide to which leagues and teams to watch while conference play shrouds the lower-budget bracket-breakers in silent secrecy until selection Sunday brings everyone back into the fold.
1. A-10 (100-64 combined non-conference record)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 6-18 (Dayton 2-1, Xavier 2-1, Temple 1-2, St. Joseph’s 1-1)
Versus top-25: 1-7 (St. Joseph’s 1-0)
If three’s a crowd, what’s seven? That’s how many teams the A-10 has in the Pomeroy top-100 (No. 15 St. Louis, No. 37 Temple, No. 51 Xavier, No. 66 St. Joseph’s, No. 59 LaSalle, No. 82 Dayton and No. 87 St. Bonaventure).
Rick Marjerus’ prodigiously slow Billikens (11-1), who are averaging 58 possessions in their last four D-I games, have taken Xavier’s spotlight after the Musketeers (9-3) lost three in a row (including a troubling overtime loss to Hawaii) following the infamous Cincinnati throw-down. But how deep is the A-10 really? Of the 12 teams with positive efficiency margins, 12th-ranking George Washington’s (4-7) worst loss was a one-point decision to 190-ranked Bradley.
2. MVC (73-39)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 1-14 (Wichita State 1-2)
Versus top-25: 1-7 (Wichita State 1-0)
The schedulers at the MVC’s member schools clearly aren’t big on risks. While Wichita State (21), Creighton (36) and Northern Iowa (46) all rank in the Pomeroy top-50, only Wichita State and UNI have actually faced top-50 competition (the Shockers even beat UNLV at home).
While Creighton (10-1) gets all the buzz for their McDermott-powered offense that generates a MVC-best 1.17 ppp, Wichita State’s (9-2) only losses have come against Alabama and Temple (both of the Pomeroy top-50), and the Shockers feature a more balanced defense that allows an MVC-best 0.91 ppp. The Jays’ only loss? To No. 66 St. Joseph’s.
The MVC includes seven teams with positive efficiency margins.
3. WCC (66-43)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 4-9 (St. Mary’s 1-0, Santa Clara 1-0, Gonzaga 1-1, Loyola Marymount 1-2)
Versus top-25: 0-7
It’s been a season of signature wins in the West Coast Conference. Loyola Marymount pulled an upset over St. Louis and Santa Clara bested New Mexico — those aren’t even the WCC’s three most efficient teams. Newcomer BYU seems right at home alongside St. Mary’s and Gonzaga at the top of the WCC pile.
It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the WCC handles the high-tempo theatrics of BYU who run the 13th fastest tempo in D-I hoops. None of the rest of the conference even comes close.
4. WAC (55-45)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 2-8 (New Mexico St. 1-1, Utah St. 1-1)
Versus top-25: 1-1 (Hawaii 1-0)
The WAC features three teams (Utah St., New Mexico St. and Idaho) that are scoring better than 1.06 ppp), while Nevada is getting work done on the defensive end, allowing a WAC-best 0.95 ppp. Those four teams represent the positive efficiency squads in the WAC.
All four have their share of troubling losses, but Nevada’s may be the least troublesome (their worst coming against No. 73 Missouri State).
5. Horizon League (58-52)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 2-15 (Butler 2-2)
Versus top-25: 0-14
It’s unclear who’s on top of the Horizon. Butler (6-7) has made a late charge with attention-grabbing wins over Stanford and Purdue following head-scratching losses to Ball State and Evansville. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s losses are all against top-50 teams, and Cleveland State (11-2) runs the most efficient defense in the conference, at 0.92 ppp.
No offense is ranked higher than 100th among the teams in the Horizon (at 1.04 ppp, Valparaiso is ranked 100 by Pomeroy).
6. Ivy League (49-44)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 1-4 (Harvard 1-1)
Versus top-25: 0-4
Don’t let Yale’s 8-2 record fool you, the Bulldogs’ best win is over 156th-ranked Vermont. With an efficiency margin of +0.17, high above the rest of the conference, Harvard is the team to beat, but Princeton’s defense, at 0.95 ppp, is giving teams fits.
7. MAC (69-66)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 5-16 (Ohio 2-1, Kent State 1-0, Bowling Green 1-0, Miami OH 1-1)
Versus top-25: 1-5 (Akron 1-0)
Ohio (11-1) is garnering votes in both polls with good reason. The Bobcats have legitimized expectations with wins over Marshall and Northern Iowa, and their only loss was at Louisville.
Every team in the MAC’s East Division (except Buffalo) has a win over a top-50 opponent. It’s that lowly West Division (hey, 0-11 Northern Illinois) that’s holding the conference back.
8. Colonial (56-65)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 0-7
Versus top-25: 0-6
VCU (9-3) just isn’t going away yet. Shaka Smart’s squad leads the CAA in efficiency margin, but has yet to log a quality win — their best was against 109th-ranked Richmond.
Georgia State (9-3) leads the CAA in defense, at 0.91 ppp, and has won nine in a row against equally disappointing competition. In fact, Delaware’s win over 69th-ranked LaSalle is probably the best win the CAA has mustered.
9. Summit League (61-43)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 0-15
Versus top-25: 1-7 (Oral Roberts 1-0)
It must be a sign that Western Illinois (5-4), the team (as in the only team) that lost to last season’s infamous Centenary squad last season, is actually doing some winning.
Four teams (South Dakota State, Oakland, Oral Roberts and North Dakota State) feature positive efficiency margins. Among those, Oral Roberts’ wins over Xavier and Missouri State show the most promise. Oakland (8-6) gets credit for incredible up-tempo play (74.1 poss/game), but has failed to convert that into solid wins, with their most recent loss coming at home against 147th-ranked Western Michigan.
10. Atlantic Sun (45-58)
Versus Pomeroy top-50: 0-23
Versus top-25: 0-13
Only Belmont (8-5) and Mercer (8-5) feature positive efficiency margins in the A-Sun. Belmont, of course, also has the 19th most efficient offense in the nation, at 1.13 ppp.