Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Benefits of being a powerhouse in a Mid-Major Conference

Do you remember when conferences such as the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA used to produce several quality basketball teams year in and year out? Now both these conferences usually have one dominant team and is lucky to even get two teams from their respective conference in the big dance.

Days are long past when you see players like Marcus Camby, Lamar Odom, the tandem of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West in the A-10. C-USA took a huge hit with the departure of Marquette, Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big East. Two teams, Xavier and Memphis, have stood strong through the years and in the past couple years have dominated all "competitors" from their conference.

These two teams and others like Gonzaga have managed to bring in the big name recruits while still playing in mid-major conferences. Knowing that their conferences don't stack up to the Big East's of the world teams like Xavier, Memphis and Gonzaga will create hard non-conference schedules in order to show the voters they're worthy of being a Top 25 team. All these teams need to do is beat two or three quality teams during this time and they'll more than likely be in the tourney.

For instance, Xavier was 11-2 going into A-10 play and will probably end up winning the conference by a landslide, the same can be said for Gonzaga and Memphis. All of these teams will be shooting for close to 25 wins and a nice seed come tournament time, but the question is will they be tested by anyone before playing top-notch teams in March?
Past records show that playing in a weak conference hasn't hurt these three teams come tournament time. Memphis is coming off a year where they were playing for the national title, Xavier has two Elite 8 appearances in the past five years and Gonzaga is a team that you consistently see in the Sweet 16.

This brings me to the following question, is it better to be a top-notch team in a weak mid-major conference or are you better suited being a middle of the road team in a big name conference? From the voters perspective, it seems being from a small conference doesn't matter when it comes to polling for the top 25 as Gonzaga was a preseason Top 10 team and all three of the teams I've mentioned have been in the top 25 throughout the year.

If Memphis was in the Big East would they be a team that is on the bubble come tournament time? If Cincinnati was still in the Conference USA would they be fighting for a conference championship instead of fighting to be in the Big East tournament? Could teams like Xavier and Gonzaga compete in these tough conferences, probably….. but how would being in these big conferences affect their record, ranking and seeding come tournament time?

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