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Posted at 1:23 PM ET, 02/11/2011

NCAA tournament 2011: Sizing up the non-BCS leagues

By Eric Prisbell

[Note: If you are planning to run an NCAA tournament office pool or a pool among friends, please contact me via e-mail. I'd like to hear from you about your pool. I'm not quoting you or anything; I'm just interested in your thoughts about an idea I have. prisbelle@washpost.com.
Thanks.]

This is not a great season for mid-majors in general. I don't consider San Diego State or Brigham Young true mid-majors, but their success has helped the Mountain West rank as the nation's fourth-best league. The Colonial Athletic Association is also having a strong season.

Non-BCS leagues

Best conference tournament: Mountain West. You've got two teams, San Diego State and Brigham Young, in the mix for at least No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament. You have Nevada-Las Vegas in the hunt for a fairly high NCAA tournament seed. And you have Colorado State fighting for an at-large berth. I forgot to mention Jimmer Fredette.

Conference race to watch:
Keep an eye on the Ivy League. Princeton and Harvard are both formidable teams. Princeton got the best of Harvard in their first meeting. The rematch comes March 5 at Harvard.

NCAA tournament sleeper: George Mason. It's the type of wide-open season to make you think that it's not unthinkable that the Patriots could be partying like it's 2006 ... or at least they could win a game in the NCAA tournament. They are as hot as anyone right now, winners of 10 straight and clearly the best team in the CAA.

Fading: Northern Iowa. The Panthers have lost two straight and are now two games behind Wichita State and Missouri State in the MVC standings.

Best coaching job: A lot of candidates here. Randy Bennett of Saint Mary's has done a great job leading the Gaels to first in the WCC. But how about Cliff Ellis at Coastal Carolina? The Chanticleers have lost just twice this season - to Charleston and Georgetown - and are in the mix for a No. 13 or 14 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Most disappointing teams: Gonzaga and Butler were both ranked in the preseason AP poll. Neither may make the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga has reached the NCAAs every season since 1999.

Game to watch: Feb. 26, Brigham Young at San Diego State. The Cougars won the first meeting going away. The Aztecs are no slouch, though, and will be ready for the rematch. A sweep by BYU could help them land a No. 2 seed.

Players to watch: Jimmer Fredette is the best scorer in the country. He can shoot from 30 feet with relative ease. He is also particularly crafty and strong. The most notable player who may not have seen is Kenneth Faried of Morehead State. The 6-8 Faried leads the nation in rebounding, averaging 14.2 per game. Expect to see him in the NBA next season.

Slim at-large hopes: Utah State is 22-3 with losses to quality opponents like Georgetown and BYU. But the loss to Idaho this week really diminished the chances of Utah State getting into the NCAA tournament unless they win the WAC tourney title (which should happen).

Most compelling story line: San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher's return to prominence two decades after the Fab Five at Michigan.

By Eric Prisbell  | February 11, 2011; 1:23 PM ET
 
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Next: NCAA tournament 2011: Where the local teams stand today

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