In recent weeks, the Rise & Fall series has chronicled the progress (or regress) of college basketball's major conference teams. But if I equated each team to a civilization, I was mistaken. It is really the NCAA conference that equates to a burgeoning civilization or nation, each with its sometimes stable and sometimes rotating member states. Like civilizations, the prestige and power of conferences wax and wane..
Today, I'll continue with the status of the high-major conferences before moving up to the big boys. (Check out the Rise & Fall: Data article to see how the league groupings were made).
ATLANTIC 10 - RISING (VERY SLOWLY)
The A10 is coming off its best season since the mid-90's, finishing 7th in the RPI, and it was arguably better than the Big Ten (the A10's non-conference RPI and median member ranking trumped the Big Ten.) This was a major turnaround considering 05-06-07 were actually subpar for A10 standards. While a decline is almost certain this time around (the top teams all lose major contributors), a more usual RPI of 9-10 seems about right.
CONFERENCE USA - RISING (SLOWLY)
Judging the CUSA is a bit more challenging than the other leagues. After all, its completely changed since 2005 when Louisville, Cincy, Charlotte, etc, left. Plus, even moreso than Gonzaga in the WCC, no team dominates a league like Memphis does. Since the realignment, the CUSA's RPI has gone up each year from 13th to 11th to 10th. This is mainly due to the strengthening of the conference's mid-level teams like UCF, USM, and Tulsa. Memphis will fall back from last year, but the 2nd tier should once again remain solid.. and bottom of the barrel Rice (3-27) has to improve.. right?
MVC - STATUS QUO
Despite reverting back to a one-bid league last year, the numbers weren't bad at all in the MVC. In fact, the leagues's non-conference RPI of 6th was better than the Big Ten & A10, and was just as good as '06 when Bradley & SIU made tournament noise. So why the sudden lack of respect? I guess there wasn't that one big BCS win to garner some positive PR like in season's past (and the struggles of flagship SIU didn't help either). Regardless, the MVC should be right there (I'm guessing next to the MWC) fighting for the title of best non-BCS league in 2009.
MWC - STATUS QUO
Going by avg. yearly RPI (8.2), this has been the strongest non-BCS league since its inception in 2000. The only thing troubling is how the league's non-conference SOS seems to get worse each year. Thus while it seemed like last year was a banner year with three potential NCAA Tourney teams (BYU & UNLV making it, UNM on the fringe), the big win totals were mostly rung up against bad teams. Due to the decline of Utah (and the departure of Rick Majerus), the league isn't as strong as it was in 02-03-04 but the rejuvenation of UNLV under Lon Kruger has helped the MWC remain strong.
WAC - DECLINING
Last year was as bad as it gets in the WAC.. or as as bad as it gets for any league that considers itself a high or mid-major. With an RPI of 20, and a non-conference RPI of 22, the league trailed such powerhouses as the Southland, Summit, and Patriot League. Not only did the top teams struggle, but the bottom teams were some of the worst in the country. Louisiana Tech, Idaho, even Hawaii at times were absolutely brutal. The positive thing to note is that it can only get better in 2009. Nevada should improve, as will New Mexico State, both of which should fight for an NCAA Tournament bid. The bad news is that the bottom of the league should struggle once again, and even if the RPI improves to 14th or 15th, it would still be considered a down year for this once proud league.
- Note that league power isn't quite as fluid as team power, so seemingly small baby steps end up counting more..
- Up Next: Mid-Majors