Like the Charlotte 49ers, the UMass Minutemen (Charlotte’s homecoming opponent on Saturday) are off to a fast start (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic 10). But despite the fact that they have one more loss and two less wins than the Green and White, they’re very similar to the Niners in some respects as far as their overall rankings and schedule. Tomorrow, I’ll preview things from a gametime standpoint and point out what precisely the Niners need to do to win (because they’ll have their hands full), but this is just to compare each team’s tournament resume as of now.
First, the teams are right next to each other in the latest RPI rankings. Charlotte currently sits at 54; UMass is right above them at 53. That qualifies both of them for true bubble status when it comes to the tournament. However, they figure to be in the NIT conversation.
Advantage: Split decision
Neither has been able to manage a true signature win as of yet. The Minutemen were able to knock off a very good Harvard team that went to the Big Dance last year but have struggled a bit; however, they have a little bit of an edge due to beating Sweet 16 team Ohio earlier in the year (the Bobcats, though, had lost to Robert Morris and Winthrop, but have benefited from a weak Mid-American Conference schedule as of late). Meanwhile, the Niners defeated Xavier while holding off a strong Davidson team (another tournament team) that suffered a difficult loss to a sub-500 Georgia Southern team (and who also play in a weak conference–the Big South). Other than that, no victories truly stand out (both teams defeated La Salle, though, who beat both Butler and VCU).
Advantage: UMass (slightly, thanks to the Ohio and Harvard wins)
Neither team has suffered any truly devastating losses just yet. While Charlotte fell to Miami in a blowout, its effects were minimized with the Hurricanes’ rise through the polls over the last week. And even though Richmond and George Washington were blowouts as well, those two teams were high enough in the RPI rankings to not do too much damage to the Niners (at the same time, they were road losses, which the Selection Committee look down upon). UMass, on the other hand, also lost to Miami, but by a much closer margin (13) and in a much more competitive game. Their other losses (N.C. State, Tennessee, Saint Louis, GW) are far from being qualified as “bad”.
Strength of Schedule
Out of conference, both teams have three common opponents (Northeastern, ECU, Miami), and the result was the same for both sides: wins over the Huskies and Pirates and loses to the Canes. Both participated in early-season tournaments: UMass in the Puerto-Rico Shootout (where they beat Providence before falling to then sixth-ranked N.C. State and Tennessee) and Charlotte in the Great Alaska Shootout (which they won, sweeping Texas State, Oral Roberts and the aforementioned Northeastern). While they have played their share of bottom-feeders (Miami (OH) and Northern Illinois–who they beat by a combined six points), the Minutemen can boast a tougher non-conference slate than the Niners, though.
Advantage: UMass, thanks to the Puerto Rico Shootout appearance.
If it came down today to either UMass or Charlotte getting in, the edge goes to the Minutemen. But there’s no doubt the Niners will need to take care of business on their end to even be in the conversation–starting on Saturday. With DeMario Mayfield suspended, that task will be a little tougher.