Here we are in the second week of December and we’re going to talk about NCAA tournament scenarios for a mid-major conference. We’re doing it because the Missouri Valley, without the assistance of Wichita St, is having a helluva pre-conference season.
Northern Iowa currently sits with a RPI of 20. The Panthers also have the 12th rated strength of schedule (SOS) in the country and a projected non-conference SOS of 6. They made it to the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis where they beat SMU and NC State while losing to Villanova. After that, they beat UNLV and UT-Arlington. They’re in really good shape barring a meltdown.
Valparaiso just took it’s first loss last night to Purdue. The Crusaders’ RPI is 52, but their SOS is 183 and their projected non-conference SOS is 247. They have games left at Ball St, Northwestern, Santa Clara and UC Riverside before conference play starts. They’ll probably have to win all those games and finish in at least second to have a chance.
Missouri St’s current RPI is 60. The Bears’ best win by the numbers thus far was over South Dakota St. They’re current SOS is 119 and their projected non-conference SOS is 199. There are really no other opportunities left for the Bears to make any headway before conference play.
Loyola-Chicago. This is the most intriguing one. The Ramblers are coming off a huge win at No. 5 Florida on Wednesday. Their lone loss came at Boise St by 34. Their current RPI is 70 with a SOS of a horrible 270 and a projected non-conference SOS of 263. Those numbers are ugly but they beat Florida and are 4-1 in road/neutral games.
Overall, the league is the 7th in RPI with the 10th best SOS. That’s ahead of the American, Mountain West and Atlantic-10.
I’m not sure any of the teams have an at-large profile outside of Northern Iowa right now. It’s certainly possible that more than one of these clubs will go dancing, but they’re going to have to go on major win streaks during conference play.
This is still an impressive run by a league that has lost it’s two best programs to realignment in the past 5 years.