Who could make the Mid-Majority end in a win?
This is the tenth and final season of The Mid-Majority, which means that, come March, a small but passionate community of basketball nerds — many of them confusing their non-TMM Twitter followers with talk of “superhoops” and “omgdunx” and horchata and #BALLZ — will come together (#AOUEOU!) to fervently root for all the mid-majors in the NCAA Touranment field, dreaming the impossible dream that someone, anyone, from the ranks of the “Other 24” will be able to achieve the ultimate epic happy ending to the TMM Decade: ending it with a win.
“It always ends in a loss" has become a Mid-Majority mantra — much to the chagrin of site founder Kyle Whelliston, but I’m afraid that genie ain’t going back in the bottle — and, for the nine seasons of the site’s existence, it’s always been true. At some point, whether in the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8 or the Final Four or even the national title game, the last mid-major standing goes down to defeat, and it ends in a loss.
In recent years, though, members of the Mid-Majority community have dared to imagine that perhaps this immutable law isn’t so immutable. What if… perhaps… it doesn’t have to end in a loss? Ever since it almost went in for Gordon Hayward and Butler in 2010, we’ve wondered: could this be the year when it ends in a win? The year when a mid-major team wins the national championship?
Well, 2014 is our last chance. It’s now or never. Either the decade-long “Mid-Majority Era” will end without ever having a season “end in a win”… or else the Mid-Majority itself will end with a win. That, of course, would be such an unimaginably awesome poetic flourish, it would make my Twitter timeline explode with joy, make grown men cry, and make the entire thing feel like, well, #fate.
Anyway, while listening to a college basketball podcast talking about those undefeated, #5-ranked, defending national semifinalist Shockers — who would seem, on the surface, to be TMM’s last best hope — I got to wondering: who are the contenders, really, to make this happen? Which of “our teams” have a legitimate chance to end it with a win?
I wanted to answer this question with some objective data — Ken Pomeroy FTW! — and some historical perspective. So, I used the Internet Archive to look up where the previous five mid-major Final Four teams in the Mid-Majority Era were ranked by KenPom as of mid-January. I figured that would be a reasonable proxy for figuring out a realistic range of current contenders. The answer:
George Mason, 2006: #35 (January 16)
Butler, 2010: #32 (January 17)
Butler, 2011: #44 (January 15)
VCU, 2011: #89 (January 15)
Wichita State, 2013: #26 (January 20)
VCU, obviously, is an outlier. The Rams were barely on anyone’s radar, controversially sneaking into the Dance as one of the last four at-large teams (beating out “snubbed” Colorado, among others), then going “First Four to Final Four” in a run that nobody, except maybe @VCUPav, saw coming.
The others, though, were all ranked reasonably high as of mid-January. #44 or better, to be exact. So, on the assumption that past is prologue (and Pomeroy is Truth), let’s see which mid-majors are currently in the KenPom Top 44, and let’s anoint them as our primary contenders to make it “end in a win.” They are:
#14 Wichita State
#24 Saint Louis
#43 Louisiana Tech*
Nine companions. So be it. You shall be Fellowship of the Mids!
* = These teams have been “realigned” to conferences above the erstwhile Red Line, but they “count” under Mid-Majority Season X rules: “the red line is dead… [TMM] will be bringing you news about all the teams that have been covered here the previous nine years.”
** = These teams were Red Line “exceptions” in some previous TMM season, but they were covered by TMM in other seasons, so again, they “count” under Season X rules.
Admittedly, #44 feels like a somewhat arbitrary place to stop. If we want to expand the list to include the entire Top 50, that would add three more:
#45 Green Bay
#48 George Washington
So, in all, that’s a dozen teams who would seem to be the primary mid-major contenders to — knock on wood, dare to dream — cut down the nets on April 7, and end The Mid-Majority with a win.
(I should add that BYU is #50, but I don’t believe the Cougars “count,” even under Season X rules. Although they’re in the WCC, I don’t think BYU was covered in any prior TMM season, having been a Mountain West team for most of the decade, then an “exception” in later years. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong on that.)
If we want to expand the list further, to include teams ranked as low as VCU at this point in 2011 (#89), it gets a lot longer, obviously, expanding from 12 teams to 33 total:
#54 St. Mary’s
#57 New Mexico State (INCREDIBLY LARGE MAN!)
#58 Boise State*
#59 Southern Miss*
#61 Indiana State (a.k.a. #TreeFever)
#71 Stephen F. Austin
#73 Northern Iowa
#75 UC-Santa Barbara
#76 St. Joseph’s
#77 St. Bonaventure
#79 La Salle
#81 Cleveland State
#85 Utah State*
#86 Butler* (yup, despite being 0-5 in the Big East, they’re higher than VCU at this point in 2011)
#89 North Dakota State (Summit League Represent!)
* = Again, these teams “count” under Mid-Majority Season X rules despite being in conferences presently above the erstwhile Red Line.
I’m not really buying a lot of those teams as legit contenders to win six (or seven) games in the tournament… but then, I didn’t buy VCU in 2011 either, so you never know.
Anyway, there you have it. Those are your contenders. Let’s do this, people. #AOUEOU