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SEVERAL MID-MAJORS HOLD AT-LARGE HOPES
February 19, 2008

SCS.comYear after year, several mid-major teams falter during their conference tournament and find themselves hoping the selection committee finds forgiveness in their heart to award them with a second chance. Generally there are a slew of teams that have little worry in regards to their tournament hopes no matter what happens in postseason play. This year is no different as teams such as Drake, Butler, Saint Maryís, and Gonzaga are more concerned about where they will be playing as opposed to when they will be playing. As previously mentioned, not all teams are afforded this luxury, letís take a look at the teams which look to have an outside chance of seeing their name on television come Selection Sunday, but surely will not be holding their breath.

Kent State

The Golden Flashes are no strangers to postseason play and have had success in the past. This season Kent State has a good chance of finishing the regular season at 26-5 with a 14-2 mark within the conference. Should this happen, this will be a team closing out the regular season with a nine game win streak and wins over Illinois State, Saint Louis, George Mason, Cleveland State, Saint Maryís, two over Akron, and a split with Ohio University. No, this is not the Big East, but that is eight wins over very competent teams. Obviously the upcoming game with Saint Maryís is huge, given that Kent State lacks a marquee win, and this would give them the something at least resembling one.

Now for the bad. The Golden Flashes have two very noticeable losses, the season opener versus Detroit and an early February loss at Toledo. The other three losses are not nearly as bad, Ohio University will not cripple their tournament hopes, and obviously the defeats to Xavier and North Carolina should be expected. That was the good and the bad, the outlook seems to be optimistic for Kent State currently. If they win out and make the MAC semifinals or finals, they should be in good shape thanks to a 43 RPI that would climb into the thirties. The picture gets a little foggier if they stumble in the regular season, but one loss on the remaining regular season slate and a run to the conference finals should slide Kent State into the field.

Davidson

Davidson entered the season with high hopes that were met with a large dose of reality in the form of a 4-6 start, including close losses to North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, as well as a respectable loss to UCLA. A lot of teams may have folded after the disappointment, but Davidson regrouped and has rattled off fifteen straight wins to bump their record to 19-6, with an unblemished 17-0 conference mark. Obviously the committee will respect the hot finish, but the Wildcats can not afford another regular season loss. They look to finish 23-6 and undefeated in the Southern Conference, while also have star power in Stephen Curry.

The Wildcatsí main problem is their lack of notable wins. Their top win is over Georgia Southern and they have a chance to knock off Winthrop this weekend, but the close losses to North Carolina and Duke may be their best hope. If Davidson could have grabbed one of those games, they would seem to be in very good shape. It looks to be an uphill climb coming out of the Southern Conference, but if they finish the regular season undefeated and reach the conference finals, they will have a chance. However, even that scenario does not seem like it will be quite enough. It would certainly be in their best interest to take care of business and receive the automatic berth.

Virginia Commonwealth

Also no stranger to tournament success is Virginia Commonwealth. Last yearís opening round story once again finds them in a position to be the trendy first round upset pick, but first they must qualify. Currently they lead the Colonial Athletic Association and have one of the best backcourts in the country headed by last seasonís hero Eric Maynor. The loss to Old Dominion over the weekend certainly left the Rams with little room for error. At 19-6 overall and 12-3 in Colonial play, VCU still has to contend with Akron and two of the top four teams in the CAA, which is both good and bad. The Rams need to go 3-1 at worst in the remainder of the regular season which is bad considering the opponents, however their current RPI of 66, could use a boost and facing Akron, William & Mary, and UNC-Wilmington will not hurt that number.

VCU did tackle a pretty decent conference schedule going 3-2 against Houston, Arkansas, Maryland, Richmond, and Miami (FL). But losses to Hampton and James Madison are still red marks on the profile. If VCU can get to 25 or 26 wins and stumble in the conference tournament, getting a bid will come down to other conference favorites winning their tournaments. Not many mid-majors can claim wins like Maryland and Houston which is a coup for the Rams. As long as they finish strong and stumble to a team like UNC-Wilmington or George Mason, they will still merit consideration.

Western Kentucky

Leading the Sun Belt Conference with a 21-5 record and 13-1 within the conference, while heading into its biggest game of the season is the position Western Kentucky currently finds itself. The Hilltoppers host South Alabama on Thursday night with a chance to sew up the outright league title. But more than the league title is at stake, with a victory, Western Kentucky gets another notable win for their portfolio, a loss will make an at-large bid very tough.

Despite a very good record, Western Kentucky only has one win of note, an overtime win against Nebraska; not exactly a landmark victory. They have a bad loss to Northern Arizona which may ultimately due them in, but their other losses are acceptable. Narrow defeats to Gonzaga, Tennessee, Southern Illinois, and South Alabama are the remaining setbacks. More than likely, an at-large bid is out of reach, but it would serve the Hilltoppers well to at least make the conference final to have a chance.

South Alabama

Another member of the Sun Belt Conference finds themselves right on the bubble should they not win their conference title is South Alabama. The Jaguars have the same record as Western Kentucky with an additional defeat in the loss column. Three bad setbacks to North Texas, Middle Tennessee State, and Miami (OH) may cost the Jaguars when push comes to shove, but their additional losses are to Vanderbilt and Mississippi, both by three points. Along with VCU and Kent State, South Alabama seems to have the most promise of this group.

But what will carry South Alabama could be victories over San Diego, Western Kentucky and Mississippi State that have propelled their RPI all the way to 34. Their lofty RPI should outweigh the bad losses, but another questionable defeat could quiet all at-large talk. Needless to say, the upcoming game Thursday between the Jaguars and Hilltoppers could very well be a bubble burst game for the loser.

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