It is almost a law at this point that some college basketball analyst out there will take the time in November to predict that this is the year of the mid-major.
Since we are nothing without rules, I figured I would do my part to comply for the 2012-13 season. For the purpose of this exercise, I will assume any team not in a BCS conference is mid-major (sorry Zags).
To start with, let’s take a look at the first official AP poll. Mid-major programs constitute 20 percent of the rankings with five of the 25 spots (Creighton, Memphis, UNLV, San Diego State and Gonzaga).
What’s more, four of the top seven teams in the others receiving votes category are not in power conferences. That means within a week or two of the season actually starting we could see as many as nine mid-major programs ranked.
The primary reason why these teams are on the precipice of formulating better than one-third of the rankings is that the individual talent level is higher than ever among the non-power conference players.
They may as well rename the preseason All-American team the mid-major and Big Ten squad, because those are the only hoopsters that made the cut. Creighton's Doug McDermott, Murray State's Isaiah Canaan and Lehigh's C.J. McCollum joined the trio of Cody Zeller, Trey Burke and Deshaun Thomas.
But it’s not just the three All-Americans that are bringing major talent to mid-major arenas. Stars like St. Joseph’s Carl Jones, UNLV’s Mike Moser and San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin (to name a few) are better than the vast majority of players in BCS conferences.
Who is the best mid-major team this year?
This increase in talent level leads directly to stronger conferences as a whole. Better conferences mean more impressive strength of schedule numbers, which leads to higher seeds in the tournament and better prepared squads for those March games.
In Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracketology (which is admittedly ridiculous since the season hasn’t even started yet), the Atlantic 10 has five teams making the Big Dance, while the mountain West and WCC each have three.
For comparison’s sake, that means if Lunardi’s predictions hold true, the A-10 will have more teams in the tournament than the Pac-12 and the same number as the SEC and once-mighty ACC.
With the addition of VCU and Butler, along with mainstays Temple, Xavier and St. Joseph’s, it is safe to say the A-10 is the best mid-major conference right now.
However, UNLV and San Diego State make a potent one-two punch in the Mountain West, and the combination of Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU is nothing to sneeze at in the WCC.
After an entire season of grueling games in these now difficult conferences, many of these teams will be ready for almost anyone come March. Throw in the fact that there is precedent set by squads such as VCU and Butler, and self efficacy won’t be an issue, either.
Even if there isn’t a magical run to the Final Four by one particular non-power conference team, the 2012-13 season will be the year that the top-to-bottom strength of these mid-major conferences begins to mirror that of the traditional leagues.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.