Mid-Major Bubble Watch

By Kevin Sweeney

Northwestern University is closed for just the sixth time in the last 100 years thanks to Antarctica-level temperatures.

So how am I spending my record-cold day?

By reviewing mid-major resumes, of course! What else would I be doing?

Much has been made of this year’s “weak” bubble, but for the most part, mid-majors have struggled to take advantage and establish themselves as strong at-large candidates. Which clubs have the best chance to find their way into the field should they falter in the conference tournament?


Gonzaga (#2 in NET, #4 in KenPom, 3-2 vs Q1)

No doubt here. The Zags have an elite win on a neutral floor against Duke and their worst loss is on the road against a top-10 North Carolina team. Their average margin of victory in Q3 and Q4 games this seasons is 35.6 points. This team is a legit national title contender and has a strong case for a #1 seed if they don’t lose the rest of the way.

Nevada (#17 in NET, #16 in KenPom, 0-0 vs Q1, 7-0 vs Q2)

Save the stunning blowout defeat at New Mexico earlier this month, Nevada has been mostly flawless. The lack of Q1 wins may hurt the Pack when it comes to seeding, though their road win over current NET #76 USC has a good chance to sneak up into quadrant one, as should a road trip to Utah State later this season. The good news for Eric Musselman’s group is that they seem to have figured out some of the offensive woes that plagued them for much of January, with back-to-back dynamic offensive performances against Colorado State and UNLV. A top-4 seed is very attainable.

Buffalo (#18 in NET, #18 in KenPom, 2-1 vs Q1)

Nate Oats’ group jumped onto the national scene last season with their NCAA Tournament demolition of Arizona and further established itself in the non-conference season with wins at West Virginia and Syracuse. The win at West Virginia certainly hasn’t aged well, but the Bulls have done a nice job avoiding bad losses and grabbed a sneaky Q1 win in Ireland against an excellent San Francisco team. The Northern Illinois loss isn’t good, but remains a Q2 thanks to NIU’s 116 NET ranking. The Bulls should be fine regardless of conference tournament results as long as they don’t fall off a cliff.

Heavy Consideration:


lipscomb team sheet

What Lipscomb has going for it is that they have no no bad losses. Their worst loss is at home vs a top-75 team in Belmont. They also have great metrics (top-40 in NET and KenPom), and a high-level road win at TCU. They’ve done everything the committee asks mid-majors to do: schedule up in the non-conference, beat everyone you are supposed to beat, and steal a couple big ones.

That said, it’s still likely an uphill battle for the Bisons to get into the field if they lose in the conference tournament. No team from a conference ranked 20th or worse in KenPom’s conference rankings has received an at-large bid since Iona in 2012 from the MAAC. Every game left on the schedule except for a home game against Liberty would be a resume destroyer if Casey Alexander’s team were to lose.

If Lipscomb can win out before losing to Liberty in the conference championship game, they’ll have a fighting chance on Selection Sunday. Any other outcome likely rules out the at-large bid.



wofford team sheet

Wofford is one of the darlings of the NET, with their #30 ranking drawing plenty of attention among bracketologists. However, I’m less optimistic about their at-large chances than most.

Like Lipscomb, the Terriers have avoided bad losses like the plague. When your worst loss is at Oklahoma, you are obviously doing something right. The strength of the SoCon this year is also in their favor, as the league ranks 10th in KenPom and provides legit resume-building opportunities with UNCG, ETSU, and Furman all in the top 80 of the NET.

Still, I’m fairly skeptical that the committee will reward a team whose best win will be a road win at UNC-Greensboro. However, if the Terriers keep winning, they can make that choice a difficult one.

San Francisco:

san francisco team sheet

I have been a long-standing member of the Dons bandwagon, and the job that Kyle Smith has done with this group can’t be understated. Put on the tape when they took on Gonzaga or Buffalo this year and tell me this isn’t an NCAA Tournament team.

However, thanks to narrow defeats in both ballgames, San Francisco is left with a lot of ground to make up in the resume department. A home win vs Saint Mary’s is their only Q1/Q2 win as of now, though they will get two cracks at Q1 victories in the coming days with road trips to SMC and Gonzaga on the horizon. A trip to Provo to play BYU will also be a Q2 opportunity later in the year.

To me, USF is the clearest example of a team that passes the eye test but may not pass the resume test. What’s frustrating is that it’s not the Dons’ fault that their resume is lacking. They scheduled three Pac-12 teams: Cal, Stanford, and Arizona State. Unfortunately, Cal and Stanford wound up being bottomfeeders, and the matchup vs ASU was canceled due to poor air quality in the Bay Area after wildfires struck the region. What makes things worse is that a source close to the situation told me that USF offered to go to Tempe to play the game and Arizona State refused.

The Dons likely have to find a way to beat Gonzaga. But there’s no doubt in my mind this team deserves to be in.

Utah State:

utah state team sheet

The fact that we are even having this conversation speaks volumes about the job Craig Smith has done in his first year in Logan after inheriting a program that hadn’t finished over .500 in Mountain West play since the 2014-15 season.

Realistically, the Aggies have to win out in the regular season, including a win at home against Nevada in early March, to get in. Perhaps they can afford one more loss, as long as it is a Q2 (at Fresno State, for instance). Getting an elite win vs Nevada would certainly give them a shot, but the clearest path for the Aggies remains winning MWC Tournament in Las Vegas.

The Long Shots:


The owners of the nation’s longest winning streak, the Pride haven’t lost since a 2-point heartbreaker at VCU in late November. They have an NBA guard in Justin Wright-Foreman and plenty of other talented pieces on the roster. Their top-50 NET will help, but even if the Pride win out, an at-large bid is still very unlikely. The Pride won’t get another Q1 opportunity this season, and even accumulating Q2’s by winning on the road at Charleston and Northeastern probably won’t be enough in the resume department to get in. No one will want to see this team in March, though.

Murray State:

Despite having likely top-5 pick Ja Morant, the Racers likely won’t have enough good wins to entice the committee should they not win the OVC Tournament. Not getting a road crack at Belmont doesn’t help either, as that would have been one final chance at a Q1 win.


One of the few high-level mid-majors that haven’t been helped by the move from RPI to NET, the Bruins own a weird resume that includes a 4-1 record vs Q1 and Q2, but 3 Q3 losses and a NET of 69 (their RPI is 45). The good wins (3 of which have come on the road) should keep Rick Byrd’s club in the conversation, but my feeling now is that it’s a long shot that we get a #2BidOVC.

What Do We Do With the A10?

I couldn’t really figure out how to sort the three A10 teams that still have a chance at an at-large (Saint Louis, VCU, and Davidson) so I figured I’d just do a small section on them. Each resume has some appeal, but I don’t really like any of them as at-large teams.

Saint Louis got two good wins in the non-conference (at Seton Hall, home vs Butler), but the metrics hate them (88th in NET isn’t close to at-large territory) and they have 2 Q3 losses.

VCU has a great win at Texas and a good neutral win vs Temple. Their win over Hofstra is aging nicely, too. However, they only will get the chance for one more Q1 or Q2 win in regular season play, that coming in the form of a trip to Dayton. It’s hard for me to see them building a better resume than the high-majors they’ll be competing with.

Davidson has no Q1 wins and the NET likes them a lot less than the RPI. They also have 2 Q3 losses.

All three of these teams could go to the Sweet 16 with the right draw. None of them deserve at-large bids. Dayton, George Mason, and even Duquesne also wouldn’t be easy draws. But there isn’t a top-end team clearly in the at-large mix like we are accustomed to, and the league has largely cannibalized itself so far in conference play.


Podcast partner Brad Cavallaro and I talked preseason about our preseason at-large bid expectations for mid-majors. We set the over/under for non-Nevada/Gonzaga at-larges at 1.5, and that number looks about right. Buffalo should be set for an at-large, but there’s a good chance they get in anyway with the auto-bid. I’ll continue to push for Lipscomb and San Francisco in particular to get rewarded, but it will likely be an uphill battle.

All team sheets are courtesy of WarrenNolan.com. 

1/24 Mailbag

By Kevin Sweeney

With the season already deep into conference play, I figured it was time to bust out my first mailbag post of the year. It’s a great chance for me to talk about the stuff you guys want to hear about on the site and answer questions I wouldn’t even think to ask.

As always, thanks for your questions. If I didn’t get to yours, sorry, I’ll try to address it in shorter form on Twitter.

We open things up with a few questions from @MaceoBaller16. For a mid-major freshman starting lineup, I’d go with:

  • PG: Jalen Pickett (Siena– 14.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 7.3 apg, .440/.362/.673)
  • SG: Antoine Davis (Detroit– 27.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, .420/.410/.857)
  • SF: Kevin Easley (Chattanooga– 15.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.1 apg, .464/.442/.636)
  • PF: Lamine Diane (CSUN– 23.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.2 apg, .481/.273/.514)
  • C: Charles Bassey (WKU– 14.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 0.8 apg, .627/.571/.741)

Plenty of good names to choose from here, but I feel pretty good about having the perhaps best Pick-and-roll point guard in the country in Pickett being paired with a stud secondary ballhandler who can shoot it in Davis and a roll man in Bassey who can’t be stopped down low.

As for a transfer lineup at the mid-major level (I’ll try not to make it all Nevada guys):

  • PG: Daishon Smith (ULM– 21.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, .478/.446/885)
  • SG: Caleb Martin (Nevada– 17.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, .394/.320/.750)
  • SF: Marques Townes (Loyola– 14.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.6 apg, .469/.333/.765)
  • PF: Jordan Caroline (Nevada– 18.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, .480/.406.649)
  • C: Josh Cunningham (Dayton– 15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, .658/.500/.582)

This is a random chance to plug Daishon Smith, perhaps the best college basketball player you’ve never heard of. A sit one, play one transfer, Smith came in from Wichita State and has been a revelation for ULM.

Final Four pick as of now is Duke, Michigan State, Virginia, and Purdue (always have to have one “upset”).

The bubble team that can make a run is always an interesting question. Florida comes to mind with their guard depth and their gaudy predictive metrics, but I’ll take another SEC club: Alabama. The Tide are likely to hover around the bubble, but I love their upside and they’ve shown they can beat anyone. John Petty is starting to get it going after a disappointing start to his Alabama career last season and Kira Lewis is a stud at point guard. Plus, this is a battle-tested team that played a tough non-conference and is playing well in the night-in, night-out rigors of the SEC.

As I wrote in December, it was hard to fathom Monmouth being 0-12 after winning 55 games in 2 years from 2015-2017. Combine a tough non-conference schedule, a young roster, and some recruiting mistakes by head coach King Rice, and the 0-12 start happened. Credit Rice for not letting the wheels fully come off, and ever since the Hawks found a way to win at the Palestra against Penn, there has been a different energy about this team. Rice is getting all-conference-level play from sophomore guard Ray Salnave (over 17 ppg in his last five games), and it certainly helps that the MAAC is down this year.

It’s hard to see them challenging Rider for the league regular season crown, but the Hawks should avoid playing on Thursday at the MAAC Tournament and will be a threat in Albany.

I certainly wouldn’t bet on it, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. Wofford is probably the league’s best chance, boasting a gaudy NET (26 at last release) and a resume that includes no bad losses (worst loss is at Mississippi State). Here’s their team sheet (Per WarrenNolan.com):

wofford team sheet

If Wofford can get through conference play without a true bad loss (road losses at Furman and ETSU and home vs UNCG are the only excusable ones), they’ve got a shot. It would be huge if ETSU could crack the top 75 in NET, as it would give Wofford a chance for a 3rd Q1 win (@ UNCG, @ Furman). That resume, with 2-3 Q1 wins and no bad losses along with the great metrics would be appealing in a year with a weak bubble. But the margin for error is THIN.

I’m very here for a #2BidSoCon, but I’m not counting my chickens.

I know Joe is pushing for Ja Morant for NPOY here, but it has to be Zion. He’s as transcendent a player as I’ve seen in CBB.

As for the OVC’s seeding, I think Murray State might be able to sneak onto the 11 line, Belmont would be a low 12 or a high 13, and everyone else would be a 14 or 15 seed.

DePaul! DePaul is 111 in KenPom, but I’ve been saying all year that I don’t think they are actually that bad! They have 3 really good guards in Devin Gage, Max Strus, and Eli Cain, and that frontcourt is really coming along with NC A&T grad transfer Femi Olujobi and athletic 4-man Paul Reed starting to put it together. Until about two weeks ago, this team would look great for 30 minutes, then find a way to lose (see: 25-0 run by Northwestern to go from down 15 to up 10). Now, they seem to be putting it together. We’ll see if DePaul can put it together long-term with Strus, Cain, and Olujobi graduate this year but Markese Jacobs, Darious Hall, Romeo Weems, and Carte’are Gordon coming in.

I’d also love to see a 2-bid MAC, and the path to that is Buffalo losing in the conference tournament. With two really good road wins at WVU and Syracuse along with a neutral-court Q1 over San Francisco, the Bulls are fairly safely in the NCAA field as long as they avoid multiple bad losses. The league is so deep this year that several teams could make a run, but my bet is Kent State. Bowling Green is off to a roaring start to conference play, but I really like this Golden Flashes team. It’s a veteran group with an elite scoring guard in Jaylin Walker and plenty of other guards who can make plays.

The “heaviest” question of the mailbag without a doubt.

There’s really no feasible answer to this problem, in my opinion. The biggest programs have the most money and the most influence, so it’s difficult to truly make change that removes the balance of power from the biggest programs. Mid-majors are virtually on their own here.

A few things mid-majors can do:

For one, the move from the RPI to the NET is critical. Because the NET is more of a power rating based on efficiency than a resume measuring stick based on who you play, it gives the opportunity for mid-major teams to get strong NET numbers even if playing bad teams. The quadrant system also helps to a degree by allowing mid-majors to get more credit for road wins.

Mid-majors have to get creative with scheduling. If you are good, be willing to play anyone, anywhere, anytime. If the big boys won’t play you, go play home and homes against other mid-majors. Those can turn into Q1 and Q2 games especially in the NET era. The “pod” system being deployed by the CUSA is interesting.

What a way to wrap up the mailbag.

For the most swag, you just have to go with Kevin Keatts at NC State. What other coach has this much shoe game?

Enough said.

As for the least swaggy coach in America, Tim Miles. Dude just seems a little geeky!

Podcast: Top 25 Reset

Brad and Kevin take the opportunity to do a big reset on the nation’s top 25 teams given all the craziness of the last week. This gives them the opportunity to talk all the biggest games of the week, plus rant on Indiana’s potential bottom-out, the NET, Maryland, Auburn, NC State, and much more. Plus, the guys talk Jaylen Fisher’s shocking transfer from TCU and potential landing spots for the star PG.

To Foul Up Three or To Not Foul Up Three

Today on the show, Brad and Kevin dissect a wild week in college basketball. First, Brad rants about Providence electing not to foul up 3 and their loss to Georgetown. Then, plenty of analysis of Ole Miss’s great week, Duke’s comeback win, rough weeks for several top-25 clubs, and San Francisco’s tilt with Gonzaga. All that and so much more right here on the CBB Central Podcast.

Loyola Survives Illinois State, Moves to 3-1 in Valley Play

By Kevin Sweeney

There are a million ways to win a game.

A comment often made by Loyola head coach Porter Moser was turned around on him postgame by senior Marques Townes, who greeted him in the locker room with those nine words.

It’s not often you’ll win a college basketball game against a conference rival when you don’t make a field goal in the game’s final 6:16, but that’s exactly what Loyola did Saturday at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers held on for a 67-64 victory, sending a sellout crowd that fought the elements to make the trip home happy.

“You would have been looking at a quarantine game four or five years ago,” Moser said postgame, noting the snowstorm hitting Chicago and Loyola students not yet back on campus for the spring semester.

Unable to score down the stretch, the Ramblers turned to their defense to win them the game.

Moser said postgame that to win close games in such a competitive conference, you have to do three things down the stretch: take care of the ball, make your free throws, and get defensive stops.

That’s exactly what they did, getting several key stops late in the ballgame including one on the final possession of the game. They also made all four free throws in the final minute.

On that fateful possession, Loyola locked in, taking ISU out of their rhythm and forcing a deep, contested three by Zach Copeland that didn’t fall. Notably, Redbird star wing Milik Yarbrough wasn’t in the game for that final possession after he committed a turnover on a critical possession with under a minute to play.

Postgame, ISU head coach Dan Muller said that leaving Yarbrough on the bench for the final possession was strategic, attempting to put more shooters on the floor needing a three to tie.

After a putrid offensive showing Tuesday night against Evansville, the Ramblers came out firing on all cylinders in the first half. Loyola posted 40 first-half points after scoring just 48 the entire game against Evansville, shooting 59% from the field and not committing a single turnover.

“After the game [against Evansville] we were all pretty disappointed and the locker room was pretty intense,” sophomore big man Cameron Krutwig said. “We responded really well with some great days of practice.”

Despite the dynamic offensive half, Loyola couldn’t put away the Redbirds in the first, with a few costly mistakes complimented by a few big buckets by Yarbrough and senior guard Keyshawn Evans kept the Redbirds within six at the break.

The Loyola lead ballooned out to as many as 12 in the second half, as the Ramblers took a 50-38 lead on a 3-point play by Townes with 15:06 to go in the game. Townes finished with 21 points on 9-18 shooting to lead all scorers, continuing a strong senior campaign.

Asked postgame whether Townes is an underappreciated player in the conference, Moster said “He’s surely not underappreciated with us.” Townes ranks in the top ten in the conference in points produced, minutes, assists, and field goal percentage. He also leads the league in defensive win shares, per Sports Reference.

The Redbirds didn’t fold, immediately going on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to just 3. They also locked in defensively, holding Loyola to just 39% from the field in the second after the 59% performance in the first.

But when it came to winning time, Illinois State just couldn’t quite get over the hump, failing to execute on several key late-game offensive possessions that could have gave them the lead.

Beyond Townes’ 21, Loyola also got 13 points each from Krutwig and senior point guard Clayton Custer. However, Moser emphasized that he’s still looking for more bench production beyond freshman Cooper Kaifes, who gave the Ramblers eight points in 24 minutes.

The Redbirds fall to 9-8 and 2-2 in MVC play, a disappointing mark for a team that came into the season as one of the favorites in the conference. They were led by Milik Yarbrough’s 19 points and 10 rebounds along with Keyshawn Evans’ 16 points.



Dixie State to Move Up to D1, Join WAC

By Kevin Sweeney

The Division 1 basketball ranks continue to grow.

Dixie State University will be the latest program to make the jump to D1, as they announced in a joint release that the University will join the WAC beginning July 1, 2020. They will be the 355th Division 1 team, with Savannah State dropping down to Division 2 following the 2018-19 season, Merrimack joining the NEC in 2019, and UC San Diego joining the Big West in 2020.

For the WAC, it’s the latest program they’ve helped make the move up as the league attempts to remain viable. The addition of Grand Canyon has certainly earned the conference significant notoriety given the ‘Lopes’ early D1 success. More recently, the league added Cal Baptist, which sits at 9-7 in its first season of D1.

Like GCU and CBU, Dixie State has the potential to have immediate success in the WAC. DSU has an on-campus arena that seats over 4,700 and has been a consistently competitive D2 program. The Trailblazers haven’t won fewer than 18 games in a season since 2008, including a 23-7 mark last season. DSU also beat UNLV in an exhibition in 2013 and lost by 2 to Wyoming this season.

The men’s basketball program is coached by Jon Judkins, who has been their coach for their entire D2 era.

burns arena

Burns Arena, home of Dixie State basketball. Photo Credit: St. George Sports Commission

“Dixie State University is located in the fastest growing city in America and in a state that is supporting higher education at unprecedented levels,” Brian Mueller, Chairman of the WAC’s Board of Directors said per a release. “The university has a growing student body and is investing in excellence in their academic and athletic programs. They have some outstanding athletic facilities, including a Division I level basketball arena. Like Grand Canyon and California Baptist, Dixie State will be competitive immediately and will be a strong contributor to the continued growth of the Western Athletic Conference.”

Dixie State will have to go through a four-year Division 1 transition process where they will be ineligible for postseason play before becoming full members of Division 1 beginning in the 2024-25 academic year.

The WAC will now have nine programs as of 2020. As of now, Dixie State will be an FCS Football independent as the WAC does not offer football, though rumors have swirled of possible further WAC expansion that would eventually create a WAC FCS football conference.