No. 13: These Guys Will Be Dancing By Themselves
We’ve already broken down all of the multiple bid leagues, so it’s about time we give a little love to the little guys – the leagues who will only be sending one team to the dance. Some of these leagues are perennial one-bid leagues; others are mid-majors who won’t have two bid-worthy teams this season.
Our Bold Prediction No. 13 is that the following 21 conferences earn one NCAA tournament bid this season. We’ve broken down these one-bid leagues into the best and the rest.
The Best of the One-Bid Leagues
It was incredible to see how many people picked Winthrop over Notre Dame when last year’s brackets were announced, and the Eagles rewarded everyone with a thrilling upset of the Irish. The 2007-2008 version of Winthrop isn’t as strong as last year’s team (they’ll actually lose a conference game or two this season), but the Eagles are still head and shoulders above the rest of the league and should be no lower than a 13 seed when the final brackets are announced.
The Tigers have lost a grand total of one (yes, one) conference game over the last three years, and it’s fairly safe to say that number will stay at one through this season. Houston is probably the league’s second best team, and has the OOC schedule (Arizona, Kentucky) to build a potentially good resume. But the Cougars aren’t that much better than UAB, which underperformed in Mike Davis’ rookie season, or Southern Miss, which even coach Larry Eustachy admits is a year away from contending. Maybe C-USA can crack the two-bid league list next season. For now, they are left to root for Memphis to bring home a national title.
After a phenomenal start to the year, Butler struggled late in the season and had us scratching our heads when they were still rewarded with a five seed in the NCAA tournament. The committee must have known something – the Bulldogs made the Sweet 16 and busted up more than a few brackets along the way. Coach Todd Lickliter left in the off-season for Iowa, but stud guards A.J. Graves and Mike Green are back and are primed to return Butler to the dance. The Bulldogs shouldn’t have as tough a time as they did at the end of last season – bid-stealing Wright State is down and no one else is close to Butler in terms of talent – and they should be able to earn themselves another single-digit seed on Selection Sunday.
The MWC is a mediocre mess that’s nearly impossible to predict at this point in the pre-season, but at least one thing is clear – the league is only getting one bid this season. UNLV still has Lon Kruger, but they don’t have Kevin Kruger, which means they’ll take a step back, and San Diego State, the MWC’s third best team last season, lost everyone and will fall back to the middle of the pack. BYU and New Mexico are the two best teams on paper heading into the year, and although it’s tempting to pick the now-Steve Alford-led Lobos to win the conference title, it’s hard to ignore New Mexico’s 4-12 conference mark a year ago. BYU lost MWC MVP Keena Young, but are still very strong up front and should be the league’s top rebounding team. The MWC race will be tight all year, but expect the Cougars to be dancing in the end.
All aboard the Davidson bandwagon, folks. Seats are filling up fast. The Wildcats have more pre-season pub than any other small conference team, and that’s thanks in large part to their 29-win season a year ago and the fact that they managed to put together one of the best OOC schedules in the country. The Wildcats play at North Carolina, at Duke, at UCLA, and at North Carolina State. Remember Butler last season? That’s what Davidson’s shooting for this season – win a couple of huge road games early and then ride those wins to a single-digit seed in the NCAA tourney. The Wildcats’ schedule may be brutal, but it’s too full of opportunities, and this team is too good talent-wise (it’s top 10 scorers, led by Stephen Curry, are back) to bet against them. We’re on board with Davidson. Who’s with us? Or better yet, who’s not?
With Josh Heytvelt back (insert mushroom joke here), Gonzaga should have no problems running away with the WCC and returning to national prominence this season. Matt Bouldin showed to have a little Adam Morrison in him last season (not just hair-wise) and guard Jeremy Pargo got better as the year went on. Mark Few also welcomes the best recruiting class in school history, led by juco transfer Ira Brown. The Zags will be a top-15 team to start the year, and won’t move much from that spot all season. Expect a top-5 seed in the NCAA tourney.
The Rest of the One-Bid Leagues
America East – Vermont
Atlantic Sun – East Tennessee State
Big Sky – Montana
Big West – UC-Santa Barbara
Ivy – Cornell
MAAC – Siena
MAC – Akron
MEAC – Delaware State
Northeast – Sacred Heart
Ohio Valley – Austin Peay
Patriot – Holy Cross
Southland – Texas A&M-CC
Summit – IUPUI
Sun Belt – Western Kentucky
SWAC – Arkansas-Pine Bluff