Indulge me for a moment by comparing the profiles of the following two teams.
Team No. 1 has rolled up a gaudy 25-4 overall record and has won 17 of 18 games against the 15th rated league in the RPI. It is No. 27 in the RPI even though its most notable wins of the season came against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Central Florida.
Team No. 2 has piled up an equally impressive 24-4 overall record and has won all 13 games against the 11th rated league in the RPI. It is No. 18 in the RPI even though its most notable wins of the season came against Tennessee, Ohio and Southern Mississippi.
Those résumès look pretty similar, right? Well, it may surprise you to learn then that team No. 1 is Middle Tennessee, which may need to win Sun Belt tournament to earn an NCAA bid, and team No. 2 is Memphis, which many consider a lock to make the field of 68 even though it's credentials are somewhat lackluster.
The Tigers squandered their final chance to earn a semi-credible win out of conference Tuesday night when they lost 64-62 at Xavier despite rallying from 11 down at halftime. Granted a win over the rebuilding Musketeers (16-11) wouldn't have even really given Memphis that much to crow about, but at least it would have been a road win against an opponent from a quality league.
Prior to the Xavier game, Memphis has played four potential at-large contenders. The Tigers won by five at NCAA tournament hopeful Tennessee back when the Vols were still struggling, but they lost at home against Louisville and in the Bahamas against VCU and Minnesota.
That Memphis couldn't win at the Cintas Center either raises the question of exactly where the Tigers stand compared to other NCAA tournament hopefuls?
ESPN.com projected Memphis as a No. 5 seed prior to Tuesday's game, which to be honest seemed very optimistic even before the Xavier result. SI.com and Yahoo! Sports' Bracket Big Board had the Tigers as a No. 7 seed. By contrast, Middle Tennessee was a No. 11 seed in one bracket and a No. 12 in the other two.
To be fair to Memphis (and to my colleagues), the Tigers' have seven more wins against teams in the RPI top 100 than the Blue Raiders, which probably accounts for some of the discrepancy in how the two teams were seeded. Nonetheless, it doesn't make any sense that Memphis is five or six seed lines better than Middle Tennessee simply because it has beaten East Carolina or Loyola (Maryland) or Northern Iowa.
Bottom line, I'd have both Memphis and Middle Tennessee in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today, but I don't think either should have much margin for error, nor do I think they should be judged differently just because one is a brand name.
Memphis has lost to the best teams it has faced, beaten a couple of decent opponents and fattened up on a weak league. Middle Tennessee, for the most part, has accomplished the same thing.