Because of the interest and controversy that resulted from yesterday’s blog, today I am going to give my Top 10 of Non-Major Conference Teams (meaning teams from outside the ACC, Big East, Big XII, Big 10, SEC, and Pac-10).
1. Temple- Yes, sorry Cougar and Bulldog fans, but Temple at this point is the best team from outside the 6 major conferences. With a 17-3 record and impressive wins over Villanova, Virginia Tech, and Seton Hall, the Owls have steadily been returning to the prominence of the 1990s under head coach Fran Dunphy. Built around solid, suffocating defense and hitting timely shots, Temple is a team that no one wants to play. With a heartbreaking 1 point loss to Georgetown and a 6 point loss in the Philly Hoop Group Classic against St. Johns, Temple has fought hard in each of its games (except for against Kansas), while playing a difficult out of conference schedule as always. Temple looks to be an Elite 8 quality team at this point.
2. BYU- The Cougars are an impressive 20-1 on the season, with wins over Nebraska, UNLV, and upstart UTEP. Overall, the Cougars do not have great schedule strength, but are the best team in the Mountain West and are ranked 12th in my most recent poll (1/25/10). BYU looks to be a team that will escape the 1st round of the tournament, but will not advance far.
3. Gonzaga- This is the one team for which I never seem to understand the hype. The Bulldogs dominate the WCC, play a few decent out of conference games, and are ranked in the top 10 in the Coaches Poll. Not the way I see it. Gonzaga is certainly not as good of a team as Temple, and is very comparable to BYU, but is not a top 10 team in the country. The Bulldogs have a few decent wins, such as wins over Wisconsin and Cincinnati, and post a 16-3 record. The three losses were to Michigan State, Wake Forest, and Duke, by 33 points. Therefore, the Bulldogs belong on this list because of their decent resume and respectable losses, but do not deserve to be a top 10 team in the country.
4. Xavier- The Musketeers have been the premier Atlantic 10 throughout the past decade. This year, Sean Miller has moved on to coach at Arizona, and Chris Mack has taken over the program. Xavier has a 13-6 record, but with many impressive losses in a heavy out of conference schedule, including Baylor, Marquette, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Butler, and Temple. Impressive wins include Cincinnati, Dayton, and Rhode Island.
5. UNLV- The Runnin Rebels again look to surprise the country with an upstart and running style offense. With a 16-4 record, UNLV has had several impressive wins, including Louisville and New Mexico. Although the Rebs only have a 4-2 record in conference, their losses were to BYU and Utah, and their other 2 losses were to USC and Kansas State.
6. Cornell- The lone representative on this list from the Ivy League, the Big Red posts a 16-3 record, with respectable losses to Seton Hall, Syracuse, and Kansas. Cornell does not have many big wins, but the team’s ability to hang with good teams and consistently hit the 3 point shot will make this team difficult to handle come tournament time.
7. Rhode Island- The 3rd A-10 representative on this list, Rhode Island posts a 16-3 record with their only losses coming against VCU, Temple, and Xavier. URI has posted impressive wins over Oklahoma State, Boston College, and Providence, and is playing Dayton tonight.
8. UAB- The Blazers are the lone representative from Conference USA on this list, and looks to change the culture in the conference after Memphis has dominated for years. UAB is 17-2 and is ranked 25th in the AP Poll.
9. New Mexico- The Lobos post an 18-3 record, but really have no true impressive wins, and have lost some very unimpressive games this year.
10. Northern Iowa- Northern Iowa seems to be everyone’s cinderella this year, but for reasons I can’t really understand. Although UNI posts a 17-2 record, the team has no good wins and lost to 8-11 Depaul and Wichita State. Not that impressive, but nonetheless is ranked 25th in the Coaches Poll.
Some other teams that did not make the cut: