Less than a month remains until the start of college basketball conference tournaments across the country. There are no clear-cut favorites this year nationally, as in season's pass, with more than a handful of schools possibly ending the year in San Antonio holding the national championship.
In Mid-Major conferences, however, there is a clear distinction between the top four and everyone else. Gonzaga, Saint Mary's, Nevada and Rhode Island–barring an epic collapse–are all locks for the NCAA Tournament. All four could easily make a deep run into the tournament.
As for the rest of the Top 10…
Like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, the Catamounts have put themselves in a position for another NCAA Tournament bid. Vermont has won 28 straight games in the America East and hold a three-game advantage over second-place Maryland-Baltimore County–a team Vermont just beat 81-53.
The Ramblers started off the season winners of 10 of their first 11 games, including a win on the road against then fifth-ranked Florida. Then the proverbial wheels fell off. Loyola-Chicago lost three of its next four before getting it turned back around to win seven in a row. They currently own a game lead in the Missouri Valley Conference thanks to the 14th best defense in the country, allowing 63.3 points per game.
Conference games through Feb 3 @RaginCajunsMBB ranks 1st in the following defense categories: Scoring Def (60.3 pts), 3-pt FG PCT Def (.278%), Rebounding Def (29.8 avg/G), Steals (7.5 avg/G), Def Reb (28.6 Avg/G), Def Reb Pct. (.768%). @thefrankyb_24 @SunBelt #GeauxCajuns #ALLIN pic.twitter.com/agn0M1eBi7
— Ragin' Cajuns MBB (@RaginCajunsMBB) February 6, 2018
The Ragin' Cajuns are off to their best start in school history, currently undefeated (10-0) in the Sun Belt and featuring one of the best defenses in the nation. Louisiana faces Georgia State and Georgia Southern this week. It's first real test since losing to Clemson by 29.
7. Boise State
The Broncos are firmly on the bubble in HERO Sports’ latest Bracketology, as one of the last four. Boise will have a chance to solidify its position with a trip to Reno next week against Mountain West-leading Nevada. The Broncos have arguably the best player in the conference in Chandler Hutchison and follow his lead. Hutchison leads the conference with 19.8 points per game while also grabbing 7.5 rebounds and dishing out 3.6 assists.
6. New Mexico State
New Mexico State is one of the highest movers in KenPom’s ranking, currently sitting at 36, with a 20-3 record. The Aggies are undefeated in WAC play and have a win against Miami on their resume. While Zach Lofton is one of the best offensive players to ever to play in Las Cruces, it is NMSU’s defense leading its race to the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico State ranks ninth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency.
2H 9:15 | Tyrik is on the money with the pass and Big B slams it home for ✌️! pic.twitter.com/eARNa5vWyZ
— MT Basketball (@MT_MBB) February 4, 2018
Middle Tennessee has played with national relevancy all season long. Two straight years, the Blue Raiders have upset higher-seeded Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. This season, an upset would not be that surprising. Alabama transfer Nick King is averaging 21.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and the Blue Raiders are 18-5, 10-1 in Conference USA.
The Rams have one of the longest winning streaks in all of college basketball, having not lost since December 6. E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell are a lethal backcourt combo averaging 32 points and 7.6 rebounds combined. The Rams are undefeated in the Atlantic 10 and have a three-game lead on second-place Davidson.
Nationally, they rank 18 in the AP Top 25, six in RPI and 31 in KenPom. During the Rams 14-game winning streak, only five results have been within single digits. They could be ranked higher, but earlier in the year they lost a head-to-head to Nevada.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) February 1, 2018
The Wolf Pack's style of play is one of the reasons they are 20-4 and in the driver's seat in the Mountain West. Head Coach Eric Musselman has fully embraced position-less basketball and his Wolf Pack have become a matchup nightmare. They rank ninth nationally in offensive efficiency, 17th in the nation in three-point percentage, and 12th in defending against the three.
Caleb Martin will battle Hutchison for Conference Player of the Year honors. He is shooting a ridiculous 46.9 percent from three–good enough for 11th best in the country.
— SWXRightNow (@SWXRightNow) February 2, 2018
The preeminent program in mid-major basketball, the Zags are right back where they have grown accustomed to over the last two decades. Only two schools have won 20 games in 21 straight years, Gonzaga is one of those schools. Bulldogs are 12th in the AP poll and owns the most impressive resume of any mid-major school. Wins against Ohio State, Texas, Creighton and Washington–all projected tournament teams–show how good this team can play.
The only real issue is who does Gonzaga go to down the stretch. Not one person on this Bulldog team averages over 15 points per game. Yet they have six players who average in double figures. That blessing and curse were on full display when they lost their lone conference game to Saint Mary's.
1. Saint Mary's
— SWXRightNow (@SWXRightNow) February 2, 2018
The Gaels are atop because they only have two losses on the season, beat Gonzaga on their home court and have the best big man in college basketball–no disrespect to Isaac Haas. Jock Landale is averaging 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game while shooting 65.8 percent from the floor. When you look at analytics, no one in America has a better win share than Landale's 6.4. To make those numbers even more impressive, he saves his best games for St. Mary's toughest opponents.
Fun factoid that supports the write-in votes for Jock Landale: Dude is averaging 29.7 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.3 BPG in seven Tier A / Tier B games, per KenPom. He is saving his most dominant performances for Saint Mary's toughest opponents. https://t.co/s0WOf0nEnL
— Kerry Miller (@kerrancejames) February 5, 2018
It's really hard to figure out this team, however, because the only team its played in the RPI Top 50 is Gonzaga and New Mexico State. The Gaels non-conference schedule was in the lower-third of the country. They also have a so-so loss (Georgia) and a terrible loss (Washington State).
We won't truly know what Saint Mary's is capable of until the NCAA Tournament. Based on what Landale has done with upper tier competition in the past, it might be a nice March.