The cream has risen to the crop. Of the four remaining teams in the 32-team 2016 NIT field, there are zero teams from Power Conferences. There is some subjectivity on which conferences are “Power” ones, and which are mid-majors. I currently consider there to be seven college basketball Power Conferences. They are the ACC, American Athletic Conference, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12, and SEC. The Atlantic 10, Mountain West, and Conference USA are not part of the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll, which is a great season-long poll to help distinguish who the best mid-major teams are. But for the sake of simplicity, and fact that they are not Power Conferences, I consider those three conferences mid-majors for this article.
The mid-major dominance over the so-called Power Conferences really began in Round 2 with Valparaiso and St. Mary’s. It was highway robbery that these two teams were left out of the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68. But they simply let their play on the court do the talking. Valpo controlled the game over a young and talented Florida State team, from the ACC. The Crusaders won 81-69. The West Coast Conference’s St. Mary’s defeated their foe from the SEC, Georgia, also by 12 points. San Diego State used a dominating first half to defeat one of the higher-scoring PAC-12 teams, Washington, 93-78. BYU beat the seventh-place team from the ACC, Virginia Tech, in a close game.
In games in which tickets to New York City were punched, the quarterfinals featured mid-majors continuing to beat teams from Power Conferences. BYU took down the Big East’s Creighton, George Washington beat the SEC’s Florida, and San Diego State delivered a beat-down to Georgia Tech from the ACC. So in the second and third rounds combined, mid-majors had seven wins and just one loss versus power conference teams. The lone loss for the underdogs came in the second round when Creighton destroyed the Northeast Conference’s Wagner.
To be fair, Power Conference teams were 7-0 in the first round versus mid-majors. But keep in mind the Power Conference teams were the higher seeds in all of these games, and six of these seven games were played in their home arenas. In other words, they were heavily favored and expected to win those games… and did. But when the stakes were raised in the second and third rounds with all of the chips in the middle of the table, the mid-majors took care of business and practically cleaned house.
So the NIT Final Four is set. Valparaiso (29-6) is considered the favorite, as they are the only #1 seed remaining. They were clearly the best team from a very good Horizon League. The #2 seed BYU Cougars (26-10) finished third in the top-heavy West Coast Conference. #2 seed San Diego State (28-9) was the best team during the regular season from the Mountain West. This conference had a down year by its standards, as it got only one team in both the NIT and NCAA Tournament. #4 seed George Washington (26-10) is the only of three Atlantic 10 teams left standing in the NIT.
Tournament organizers should not worry that none of the “major” schools made it to New York City. These four schools will send plenty of fans to the arena, and these will be can’t miss games for basketball aficionados to watch on television. Expect Valpo and San Diego State to meet for the championship, with the Crusaders taking the title over the Aztecs. Even more could be said about mid-majors being better than Power Conferences teams. But let’s just let the play on the court do the talking for now.