Saint Mary's should challenge Gonzaga

Mickey McConnell and the Gaels top our mid-major power rankings this week. Chris Williams/Icon SMI

Nonconference games are nice indicators of potential, but it's only during the middle of January that we start to see the impact of the "freshman wall" or whether a team's fast start will carry through the season ... or crash before the conference tournament.

With that in mind, we've brought back the retooled Mid-Major Power Rankings to see which under-the-radar squads could make big noise in March.

Following the cue of our colleague, Joe Lunardi, the Mid-Major Power Rankings have undergone some revisions. We formerly examined all conferences outside of the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10, but now we're narrowing our focus to the conferences that haven't usually produced more than a pair of NCAA tournament teams each season. Besides, it is hard to justify ranking the San Diego State Aztecs in our index when they haven't left the top 25 since the beginning of the season and currently sit at No. 6 in the nation.

We've also adjusted our formula to feature in-conference statistics, which provide a more accurate picture of a team's true power than those compiled in the up-and-down nonconference schedule. To that end, we will evaluate weekly in-conference offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and the margin for Conference USA, the West Coast Conference, the Colonial Athletic Conference, the Missouri Valley Conference and the Horizon League -- leagues that could feature multiple NCAA bids this March. Due to prolonged recent success however, the Memphis Tigers and Gonzaga Bulldogs are omitted from our rankings. That doesn't mean those teams -- or teams from the MWC and Atlantic 10 -- won't be studied here, however.

There will be editions of this report that mention teams from one-bid conferences (we are already preparing a discourse about the Oakland Golden Grizzles) or outliers that present interesting statistical cases, such as the emergence of the Colorado State Rams as a potential postseason qualifier.

Even if the Mountain West's BYU Cougars and San Diego State Aztecs were included in our rankings, the Saint Mary's Gaels would give them a run for the top spot on our board. So far, the Gaels have distanced themselves in the WCC, posting a remarkable 1.21 points per possession (PPP) through four conference games. Gonzaga sports the next best offense (1.16) but after last night's shellacking by Santa Clara, the Zags are allowing slightly more than a point per possession (1.03 OPPP). The road to the WCC crown still goes through Spokane however, and a visiting team hasn't won there since 2006-07. The Jan. 27 matchup between Saint Mary's and Gonzaga at the Kennel will be a good test for both teams, to say the least.