As I am sure most of you know, Division I college football is split into two subdivisions. You have the FBS, or the bowl subdivision with the larger programs. You also have the FCS, or the championship subdivision with the mid-major programs. All seven of the football playing MVC schools play at the FCS level. Football is the only sport in which Division I is split in this way. But what if it wasn’t? Imagine, for a moment, a world where Division I college hoops were split into two divisions. What would that world look like? Well, you don’t have to imagine anymore because I have the answer for you right here.
I have created the mid-major NCAA Tournament, complete with 68 teams and a First Four. To do it I first had to determine what constituted a mid-major. I had two ideas in my head but I couldn’t come to a definitive decision, so I actually made two tournaments. One included all the teams outside the P6 and American Conferences. The other omitted all the teams from those leagues as well as the other leagues that regularly get multiple bids (the Mountain West and Atlantic 10) and Gonzaga who I consider a college basketball blue blood at this point.
I put these brackets together using a combination of what the committee already gave us, NET, and a little bit of my own common sense. I didn’t do too much fiddling with seeding and let NET be my guide since I didn’t want to be spending hours debating the relative merits of the teams. But the committee’s picks were used first and foremost when I coul. I tried to avoid having two teams from the same league in any four-team pod and I think I succeeded, but I may have missed some. That said, here are my brackets.
First up I will reveal my “Mid Major NCAA Tournament, Non-Power 6 & American Edition”. In that bracket, here is how the first four looked:
Nothing real interesting there. Old Dominion, JMU, Duquesne and UMBC were the “last four in” and the other matchups are the same as the real NCAA Tournament since the last four automatic berths would be the same. You do have an all-Virginia matchup with ODU and JMU, which is kind of fun. The first real region is the West Region.
If you thought Gonzaga was the overwhelming favorite to win the real big dance, try removing all the power conference teams. They would be the HEAVY favorite in this region where the number 2 seed is Drake. No offense to the Bulldogs, who would be set up with a possible matchup with Dayton in round two, and a rematch with former coach Nico Medved and Colorado State in round three. I wouldn’t mind seeing that Gonzaga-Belmont matchup in round two either. As much as I’d like to say the Bulldogs could win this, Gonzaga would most likely make their way through this relatively easily. But there are several very interesting mids in this region, which is probably the most intriguing of them all beyond the obvious favorite. The next region includes the overall #2 seed, and that is the Midwest region.
BYU takes the top seed here, as they are the second highest seeded mid major (by this definition) in the real tournament. The Cougars would love to get another shot at Gonzaga in the championship game, as they gave the Bulldogs a run for their money in the WCC title game. Craig Smith’s Utah State Aggies and the Saint Louis Billikens are their top challengers, and each proved their strength during the regular season. Those are the favorites to come out of this region, although Western Kentucky might be a dark horse with some of the talent they have on their roster. I actually like the USU Aggies here. Indiana State sneaks in this region with a 13-seed and would be matched up against Saint Mary’s. The Sycamores are probably underseeded, and I wouldn’t be thrilled with the matchup if I were Saint Mary’s. I could see the Trees getting to the Sweet 16 if things fell their way. The winner of this region takes on the winner of the South region, as seen below.
San Diego State is the top dog in this region with the A-10’s VCU and fellow Mountain West foe Boise State as the top challengers. UCSB and North Texas are both considered possible spoilers in the real NCAA Tournament, and would probably meet in the second round here. This is also Missouri State’s region and they get put in an interesting 8/9 game with UAB out of the C-USA. I think that would be a fun game that the Bears could win and set up a throwdown with SDSU. MSU’s two studs against the Aztecs would be a great matchup for MVC fans and I think the Bears would have a shot. Overall, I like the VCU Rams here. The final region is the East region, which you can see below.
You know who I like to come out of this one. This is the Ramblers region, baby. In the real big dance, Loyola sits as an 8-seed looking at the possibility of facing a powerful #1 in the second round. In this reality, though, the Ramblers are the frightening matchup everyone wants to avoid. Both second round matchups present interesting situations for Loyola. If LMU wins, you have Loyola on Loyola action which you usually have to pay double for. If Colgate wins, you’d have two teams that finished in the top ten in NET in real life, defying the powers that be. Winthrop and Liberty both present fun Sweet 16 matchups for Loyola, too. Saint Bonaventure, Davidson, Greensboro and Abilene Christian are all solid challengers, and Loyola-SBU elite eight would be a hell of a matchup. This would probably be the most wide-open region of the four. But you know I’m going with Loyola.
If my picks held true, you’d have Gonzaga and Loyola in one Final Four game, while VCU would take on Utah State in the other. I’d have to go with Gonzaga over VCU in the finals. Sorry Valley fans, I can only extend my homerism so far.
In my other version of this reality, the Atlantic 10, Mountain West and Gonzaga all went with the big boys to form their own subdivision leaving the other 22 conferences (and a Gonzaga-less WCC) in the left in the other division. This drastically changes things as the Mountain West and A-10 littered the previous field and Gonzaga was the overall #1 seed. The MVC is probably the best remaining league in this reality, although there would still be just four teams in the field this season. You could regularly expect six, seven or eight in most years, though, if this actually happened. Here is how the field breaks down, starting with the First Four.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you all this, but in case you didn’t know, UTSA and Texas State are huge rivals. They are located just an hour apart from each other and their rivalry is legit. I know because I experienced it firsthand. So, you have a little intrigue with your First Four games. In case any eagle-eyed readers are wondering, no those seeds are not a mistake. When you get this far down the list, the lowest at-large and automatic bids start running into each other on the seeding lines. So, the worst four of each group are both at the bottom of the list making all the First Four games 16-seed games. With that said, let’s see this tournament’s version of the West Region.
With Gonzaga out of the picture, BYU slides into the #1 seed slot, and they look to be the heavy favorites in this region. Wright State was very good this season and squads like North Texas, Ohio and Abilene Christian are tricky. But I think this one is the Cougars’ to lose. Overall, this region is pretty boring, if I am being honest. It is the only one of the eight in this article that does not feature an MVC team. Boring. The next region, the Midwest, is below.
Loyola becomes the #2 overall seed in this reality and one of the top contenders for the National Championship. A tricky matchup with either Wofford or Weber State awaits the Ramblers in round two, and one of the more intriguing games of the Sweet 16 awaits if Loyola were to take on Western Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Charles Bassey vs. Cameron Krutwig might be a big enough deal to get this one on actual ESPN instead of ESPN3. Missouri State lives on the bottom half of this bracket as a 6-seed and if they could get past Southern Utah they’d have a real fun matchup with Liberty coming their way. A trip to the elite eight would not be out of the question for the Bears if they play their best ball. However, I think the winner of this region would likely be decided in the Sweet 16 between Loyola and Western Kentucky. Of course, I have the Ramblers winning. Onto the South region.
Our Bulldogs get bumped up to a #1 seed in this reality and even though they are banged up they have to like their chances in the first weekend. Saint Mary’s and Greensboro are solid mid major clubs who hail from two of the best leagues this reality has to offer outside the MVC. Either would be candidates to win this region against a banged-up Drake (that is, if they can get past South Dakota State and Navy respectively). Buffalo and UAB are also very good programs, and either would give DU a ride in the Sweet 16. I think a Drake/Saint Mary’s regional final would be must-see TV. I know I would watch. I have the Bulldogs finding a way to defend their seed. Chalk so far! Onto the fourth and final region, the East.
Winthrop might be the biggest beneficiaries of this format (other than everyone for not having to face Gonzaga) as they move from a 4-seed to a 1-seed. They did only lose one game this year, so they probably deserve it. But they are also the most vulnerable one-seed in the field. UC Santa Barbara, Louisiana Tech and Belmont (among others) are licking their chops at the idea of advancing out of this region. Grand Canyon in round two could give the Eagles a run for their money. But hey, who is that over in the 10-spot? That is Indiana State, coming from the best league in the country! They’ll beat Eastern Washington, knock off the 2-seed UCSB, see their way through Belmont and meet a surprising Grand Canyon in the regional final. Tyreke Key scores 37 points in the game and sees ISU into the Final Four where two of their MVC brethren await. See, I know who my audience is.
With my picks in hand your Final Four is BYU vs. Indiana State and Loyola vs. Drake. Unfortunately for the Trees, their magical run ends here against the top overall seed in BYU. Meanwhile, the Ramblers and Bulldogs battle it out for the fourth time this year in the other contest. Here is where my alternate reality splits into yet two more branches. In one, the Ramblers handle Drake and play a classic battle with BYU in the title game. It comes down to the final possession where a tip-in by Cameron Krutwig gives the Ramblers the 61-60 win for the National Title. In the other, Drake finds a way to get past Loyola using just six players. A weary Bulldog lineup goes up against a relatively well rested BYU. But Joseph Yesufu scores 42 points and Tremell Murphy adds 22. Darnell Brodie gets 16 rebounds and Tank Hemphill puts the game away with a fastbreak dunk in the waning moments. You can take your pick as to which reality you want to go with as cannon in the MCU (MVCBeat Cinematic Universe).
And there you have it. With the way the business of NCAA hoops is going these days, this might not be too far from a reality at some point in the future. It would suck, but it is a possibility. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my alternate version of this season. Enjoy the big dance Valley fans.