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Top of the Arc - January 23, 2009

Jan. 23, 1:30 p.m.: The prevailing notion is that this is a down year for mid-major programs. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Let’s take a look at the top four true mid-major programs in the country this season. We can argue over the definition of a “mid-major” for hours – and it’s a worthy discussion later in the season – but for the purposes of this poll, let’s not consider any Atlantic 10 or Mountain West teams, and let’s not consider Gonzaga or Memphis because both recruit nationally. I only include four because there is a drop-off after the first four, largely because the Missouri Valley is fairly wide open and the Colonial Athletic Association is a three-team scramble.

1) Butler
The Bulldogs are one of the nation’s most underrated teams. They have three top 50 victories (Northwestern, Xavier, Alabama-Birmingham) and the only loss came in a three-point game at Ohio State. Freshman Gordon Hayward has been one of the nation’s best newcomers.

2) St. Mary’s
The Gaels are talented and capable of winning a game in the NCAA tournament. The problem is that they have not played anyone yet. A 243 strength of schedule rating won’t help their NCAA tournament resume. That will change Thursday when they visit Gonzaga, the first of perhaps three meetings with the Zags.

3) Davidson
Stephen Curry and Co. make up the most familiar mid-major team. Make no mistake, this year’s Davidson squad is not as strong as the team that reached the Elite Eight last season. The win over West Virginia is impressive, but the Mountaineers were not at full strength. Davidson dominates its Southern Conference foes once again and usually comes up just short against elite competition.

4) Siena
Most of the team is back after reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. Siena is much like Davidson (without the one star) in that it can dominate its Metro Atlantic schedule but fall short against top-tier non-conference opponents. It missed a prime opportunity to earn a quality win in Orlando’s Old Spice Classic. That said, Siena will be an 11-13 seed that no one wants to play.

By Eric Prisbell  |  January 23, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
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