State Your Case: Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 9th, 2016

It’s an all-too-familiar story: Several of college basketball’s most promising mid-majors – potential bracket-busters that made mincemeat of their conferences during the regular season – bulldoze their way into March, only to see their dreams of an NCAA Tournament appearance crushed during Championship Week. Nice to know ya; enjoy the NIT; better luck next year. In fact, of the 11 conference tournaments completed so far in 2016, only one top seed (Chattanooga) has managed to clinch its league’s automatic bid. Luckily, for a few of the unfortunate champions, this season may offer new hope. An exceptionally weak bubble, combined with some strong Other 26 resumes, has enabled several teams from non-power conferences to remain in the at-large conversation. In the spirit of election season, let’s allow these candidates to state their cases leading up to Selection Sunday.

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (

Wichita State

  • The At-Large Argument. Advanced metrics love the Shockers more than any other team on the bubble, and it’s not close. KenPom currently ranks Wichita State #11 in the country – ahead of Miami (FL), Arizona and Xavier, among others – thanks in large part to its second-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency. Sagarin is not quite as high on Gregg Marshall’s group, but he still ranks the Shockers among the top 25. For the sake of comparison, fellow bubble comrades Syracuse and Ohio State do not fall within the top 40 of either ranking. On top of that, the Shockers are a classic example of a team the NCAA Selection Committee might – and perhaps should – judge differently now that they are at full strength. Three of Wichita State’s eight losses came without All-American Fred VanVleet, who missed four games in late November with an ankle injury. In two of those losses, the Missouri Valley champs didn’t have starting center Anton Grady either, who suffered a nearly career-ending injury against Alabama – a game they lost by just four points. There were other injuries, too. Now healthy, Wichita State seems to be a genuinely better basketball team. Oh, and did we mention that non-conference victory over Utah?

  • The Bubble Rebuttal. As others have pointed out, the debate over Wichita State is going to be intense, not least because the Shockers hold just one victory over a team within the RPI top 50 (Utah). What’s more, they lost three games to teams outside of the top 50, including a sub-100 defeat to Illinois State. Call the RPI antiquated, but the committee (to our knowledge) still uses the metric. As long as that’s the case, Wichita State’s resume is lacking.


  • The At-Large Argument. You want quality wins? Monmouth has quality wins. Well, perhaps not quite as quality as they seemed earlier in the season, but victories over brand names like Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Georgetown – all away from home – still have to count for something, right? Two of those triumphs came against RPI top 50 clubs (the Irish and Trojans), and the Hawks led the entire country in true road victories with 13. If the committee wants to reward teams that challenge themselves during non-conference play, teams able to consistently win away from their home gymnasiums, it’s hard to argue against King Rice’s high-energy bunch. And if that or Monmouth’s sparkling 27-7 record doesn’t do it for you, then what about its legendary bench? Those guys are made for “One Shining Moment.”
  • The Bubble Rebuttal. For as good as Monmouth’s wins appear, the MAAC champions have several losses that are equally as bad – including three against sub-200 RPI opponents. Those defeats – on the road at Canisius, Army and Manhattan – constitute the one glaring eyesore on the Hawks’ otherwise solid resume, and may ultimately be their downfall on Selection Sunday. Had Rice’s club not also stumbled at home to Iona back on February 19, those three ugly losses might be forgivable. Throw in the fact that Monmouth’s own computer numbers don’t stack up against the majority of its bubble contemporaries – the Hawks are ranked 56th in the RPI and 66th in KenPom – and suddenly an at-large bid seems questionable.


Valparaiso will be sweating it out this weekend. (Jonathan Miano, NWI Times)

Valparaiso will be sweating it out this weekend. (Jonathan Miano, The NWI Times)

  • The At-Large Argument. Like Wichita State, the Crusaders are advanced metric studs. While not quite at the Shockers’ rarefied level, Valparaiso ranks 37th in KenPom with a top-15 defense to boot, numbers that seem even more legitimate when you glance at its wins and losses. Bryce Drew’s unit owns road victories over Oregon State and Rhode Island along with home wins over conference champions Iona, Belmont and IPFW. Unlike Monmouth, none of the Crusaders’ losses were against sub-200 RPI foes, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if they had finished what they started in Eugene back on November 22 – Valparaiso led Pac-12 champion Oregon midway through the second half, only to fall by six. Finally, 26 wins is really darn good, no matter how you slice it.
  • The Bubble Rebuttal. Unfortunately, only one of those victories – Oregon State – was against an opponent ranked in the RPI top 50, and four of Valparaiso’s six losses were to sub-100 clubs. Its overall strength of schedule (#178) is better than that of Monmouth (#199) and Saint Mary’s (#188), but still doesn’t hold up against most fellow at-large hopefuls – take Florida (#11), for example. The Crusaders’ RPI ranking of 53rd keeps it in the discussion as far as “traditional” numbers go, but not by much.

Saint Mary’s

  • The At-Large Argument. Saint Mary’s joined the misery on Tuesday night after coming up short against Gonzaga in Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean the WCC co-champions should already hang their heads. The Gaels finished the year 27-5 (again… that’s an eye-popping record) with two regular season victories over the Bulldogs, no sub-200 losses, and a #34 and #30 ranking in KenPom and Sagarin, respectively. But forget the advanced metrics altogether for a moment – unlike Wichita State, Monmouth and Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s RPI number (#35) is solid enough on its own to keep it in the “traditional” debate, regardless of anything else. Plus, if the “eye test” is your cup of tea, the Gaels’ blistering offense helps it pass with flying colors.
  • The Bubble Rebuttal. Boy does that schedule look empty when you really dig deeply into it. Incredibly, the Gaels did not win a single game outside of the state of California until February 18, when they snuck by Portland, 74-72. If Monmouth is the model for challenging itself in the non-conference, then Saint Mary’s is the anti-exemplar and perhaps a cautionary tale. Only once during non-conference play did Bennett’s group leave McKeon Pavilion, and even then (at California), it remained in the Bay Area. Combine that with zero top-50 RPI victories, and it’s hard to envision the committee looking very kindly on the Gaels this weekend.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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One response to “State Your Case: Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s”

  1. Eric E says:

    Great article! I can’t wait to see what you have to write during the tournament! Keep up the great work!

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