OK, mid-major fans, don't get carried away

Updated: January 26, 2007, 5:47 PM ET
By Charlie Creme | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Charlie Creme will project the 2007 NCAA Tournament bracket right up to Selection Monday in March. Click here for his most recent Women's Bracketology and Charlie's team-by-team analysis. The following questions were submitted after his Jan. 24 field of 64.

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Charlie, great article on the "mid-majors." I think you left out a school, though, one that beat Ball State and is dominating the Missouri Valley Conference: Illinois State University. ISU is 7-0 in conference play and has decimated its competition. The Redbirds are 12-2 in their last 14 games and 16-4 overall, all four losses coming on the road. With a team led by freshmen and sophomores, I think you will see them in the NCAAs quite often in the future. What are your thoughts about the Redbirds now? Any shot at an at-large? Word around campus is they can only afford to lose one more game. Thanks!

Tim
Normal, Ill.

Thanks for the love, Tim, but let us not get carried away. Remember, the best predictor of future tournaments are past tournaments, and that means we likely will not see an abundance of mid-majors as at-large selections. Perhaps we'll see more than normal -- which means one or two -- because it's shaping up to be that kind of season. I also didn't dive deeply into schools that were already in the projection as automatic bids. Specifically, Illinois State is very unlikely to get an at-large bid. The schedule strength is not good and, if last year is any indication, the committee looks at that hard with the mid-majors. Also, when March rolls around, that SOS is going to be even worse. The win over Ball State helps, but only really if the Redbirds and Cardinals are being directly compared.


I don't see how you can leave Western Kentucky out of your Bracketology. The games that the Lady Toppers have lost have been to Vanderbilt, Arizona State, Louisville, MTSU and a crazy loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. By the end of the regular season, those first four teams that I mentioned will all probably be in the top 15. Two of those games (Vanderbilt, Arizona State) were very close and should have been wins for WKU. That shows the Lady Toppers can play with anyone. Also, Crystal Kelly is second in the nation in scoring. I would figure that most people would want something like that in the tourney. Other than that everything looks good.

Bucky
Bowling Green, Ky.

Close losses are nice, but -- and this especially holds true for teams without the overall schedule strength -- eventually you need to win one. Western Kentucky has exactly zero good wins (I'm sorry, South Dakota State is not going to end up qualifying). The committee made it pretty clear last year that teams need some quality victories. The Lady 'Toppers should be commended for getting Arizona State and Louisville on the schedule and playing them tough, but again, no wins. How crazy could losing to UL-Lafayette have been when WKU lost by 13 at home? Finally, as great as Kelly might be, her scoring totals are not a criterion the committee considers.


The thing that always gets me is that the big schools never play the little schools. They avoid the good little schools like the plague because they have a chance to actually lose. So the good little schools end up with these great records and no chance to prove themselves, while the middle of the pack big schools never survive the first round, let alone the second one of the Big Dance. I'm a firm believer in both Big Dances giving each conference two automatic bids for them to use as they see fit -- season champion and tourney champion. Too many times a Sweet 16 quality team will lose in its conference tourney final by one or two baskets and then get snubbed by the Big School Committee. (Let's face it, the committee is always overloaded with big schools. You can't tell me after all these years of watching them they haven't shown their bias. And I'm the type of person who's the last person in the world to blame a ref for a call.) Just give the little guys a chance to prove themselves against the schools which repeatedly refuse to play them.

Al
Chicago

Although I see what you are saying, I have to largely disagree. Tennessee has routinely played Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion -- all dangerous clubs from mid-major conferences. Michigan State took on (and lost to) Hofstra. Ohio State invited Montana to its November tournament. DePaul was willing to go to Wisconsin-Green Bay. Louisville met Western Kentucky. More examples exist, but you get the idea. Could there be more? Maybe. But there is only so much room on a nonconference schedule, and every BCS conference school is going to play some "automatics." I actually think the big schools in the women's game do a decent job of giving the "little guys" a chance.


How can you have seven SEC schools in the tournament, but skip over the No. 7 team in the SEC, Kentucky, in favor of the league's No. 8 team, Auburn. Kentucky is currently 3-2 in the SEC while Auburn is 2-3, and Kentucky just beat Auburn, at Auburn. I looked at Auburn's schedule and it isn't any better than Kentucky's schedule. So what is the justification for leaving Kentucky out, and to make matters worse, you don't even act like they are all that close as you have them in the second four out. Color me confused …

Bert
Miles City, Mont.

You came close to answering your own question, Bert. However, you apparently didn't look closely enough at the schedules. Auburn's is rated about 50 spots higher than Kentucky's. The Wildcats just have far too many dogs on the schedule and no good nonconference wins. And, let's clarify, being in the "next four out" is close. The difference between the last eight in and the last eight out of the at-large choices is Calista Flockhart thin. Going forward, though, Kentucky needs to do more.


What are the differences in rules in making the brackets from the women's selection committee to the men's selection committee? Specifically, what are the rules about playing teams you have already faced? I notice you have Rutgers as an eighth seed in Duke's bracket despite Gail Goestenkors' group having already played C. Vivian Stringer's group (I am always wary of rematches, especially when one team blows out the other). Northwestern State also played Duke in the first round in 2004 despite Duke playing them in the regular season.

Matthew
Tiffin, Ohio

The "rules" in this instance are the same for the men and the women. The committee tries (as do I) to avoid rematches of regular-season meetings, if possible. However, sometimes it still happens because other bracket procedures also must be followed. Getting schools in the best possible geographies, avoiding having conference foes meet too early, keeping seeding integrity and balancing the bracket all factor into the equation. Sometimes, not every one of these ideas can be accommodated in every instance. Just last season, Ohio State and Boston College met in the second round after facing each other in the regular season. That game might have been an example of your wariness. After beating the Eagles in December, the No. 1-seeded Buckeyes were upset by BC in the tournament.


I'm a high school coach and I get to watch the Mountain West conference a lot. This conference is as good as many and should receive more than two bids. Wyoming is playing strong and has lost two games to half-court shots. I did see that Montana is on the bubble and did beat the Cowgirls twice at home. Give the MWC a good look before you set your bracket.

Bruce Schmidt
Laramie, Wyo.

I give everyone a look, a long, hard look. Remember, schools get bids, not conferences. Each team is evaluated individually by the committee. The members don't sit there on selection weekend and say, "We've got to get another Mountain West team in the there." The teams in the Mountain West got combed over, but only TCU and Wyoming got consideration (other than Utah and BYU, which were in easily). Frankly, neither compared well to the clubs that did make it. There isn't a top-50 win between them, and they each have lost games to opponents outside the top 100. Losing to Montana twice, as you point out, is not going to help, especially if the Lady Griz end up in the at-large pool.


Why do you have Valpo as a 16-seed? I would think a 14- or 15-seed might be in order for a team that has been to the dance two previous times in the past four years.

Gary
South Bend, Ind.

This is a good opportunity to make a point that generally has to be made every year: Past NCAA performance is not a factor or consideration when selecting or seeding teams in the current field. Valparaiso was a 16-seed because the Crusaders are 9-8 (only Division I wins count) and have an RPI in the 170s. That's a 16-seed if I've ever seen one.

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Women's College Basketball
Charlie Creme projects the women's NCAA Tournament bracket for ESPN.com.