Central Michigan and Buffalo are the first two Mid-American Conference teams to make the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in the same year since 1996.
Both were 11 seeds.
So far, each team has beaten a No. 6 seed and a No. 3 seed.
Their average margin of victory has been 17.5 points. Closest game was nine points. Buffalo, which finished second to Central Michigan in the MAC, has won by 23 and 21.
The numbers are beyond upsets. They’re really beyond the term “Cinderella team.”
Central finished the regular season 28-4, Buffalo 27-5 (with two losses to Central). Those of us in the MAC knew how good they were.
So how did the tournament selection committee get the seedings so wrong?
HISTORY: The conference has no record of success in the NCAA tournament. Before this season, it was 8-43. Only Bowling Green in 2007 had ever made it to the Sweet 16. Other MAC teams have had records as good as this year’s top teams — Ohio 27-5 in 2014-15, Bowling Green 30-5 in 2013-14 and 31-4 in 2006-07. But none have made any noise in the tournament.
QUALITY WINS: The RPI got it right this season on the MAC. Before tournament selections were announced, Central’s was 15th in the RPI, Buffalo 22nd. By themselves, those numbers should have meant substantially higher seeds.
But the RPI is somewhat out of favor these days. It is based 25 percent on a team’s record, 25 percent on its opponents’ record and 50 percent on its opponents’ opponents’ record. Road wins get a significant bonus; home losses are penalized.
So RPI rewards a tough schedule. But it doesn’t emphasize how well a team actually did against difficult competition.
And here’s where the MAC fell down. In the regular season, no Mid-American team beat an outside school with an RPI in the top 25. Buffalo’s best win was over No. 64 Nebraska, Central’s against No. 109 Iowa State. The conference best was Toledo’s win over No. 31 Dayton.
Even Buffalo and Central Michigan’s losses weren’t to schools in the top 10. Other MAC schools played tougher teams — Toledo vs. Louisville, Ohio vs. Virginia, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois vs. Iowa, Kent State vs. Stanford. But they all lost. (Here are the conference RPIs from WarrenNolan.com, the site I use before it breaks things down by conference and team.
Buffalo and Central Michigan have more than made up for that in the tournament. Buffalo has beaten No. 19 South Florida 102-79 and No. 9 Florida 86-65. Central Michigan beat No. 28 LSU 78-69 and No. 7 Ohio State 95-78. (All rankings are RPI.)
At one point, I was going to write that the MAC didn’t get good seeding for lack for respect. But respect is earned. And the MAC record — before this March — hadn’t done a lot to earn it.
After Buffalo and Central Michigan’s run, next year may be different.
But it’s always been hard for MAC schools to schedule Power Five teams; the prestige schools have much more to lose than win in playing them. Getting a big school to travel to a MAC school is very difficult.
After this year’s NCAA tournament, it may be even more so.