Bracketology: Looking ahead and who bubble teams should root for
Conference play ends this weekend and a few more championships get decided. Also, where can bids be "stolen" this year?
This is the last busy weekend of the college basketball season. Conference play wraps up for the 17 leagues still going on, and four conferences hand out automatic berths.
First though, congratulations to Harvard, who won the Ivy League again this year and is the first team into the field of 68. The Ohio Valley title will be decided today between Eastern Kentucky and top-seed Belmont.
The other conference giving out a bid tomorrow is the Missouri Valley, and that's one that teams on the bubble will be watching closely. Arch Madness features Wichita State, which is trying to become the first team in 23 years to end its regular season undefated. That's important for bubble teams because the Valley is a one-bid league if the Shockers earn it. If Wichita loses, someone's bid gets stolen.
The Valley might be the only non-major league where a bid can be stolen. There aren't a lot of great at-large candidates at the top of the smaller conferences this year. The West Coast conference tournament could be interesting. Both Gonzaga and BYU are bubble teams, with the Zags as the better at-large candidate. If Gonzaga wins the tournament, this is a likely one-bid league. If they don't, the Zags are sweating selection Sunday.
There are a few other candidates that normally wouldn't stand much of a chance. However, since the field expanded to 68 three years ago, the committee has taken a flier on a team each year that didn't fit the typical bottom-of-the bracket profile. They have ignored glaring holes in the resume of one team each year. Those teams are 0-3 and haven't looked good in those games, so I hope they go back to rewarding teams that don't have such big holes. With that in mind, here are a few other teams the committee might take a flier on...
Southern Miss: The Eagles have three top 100 wins, none against a tournament contender and a couple bad losses. They were part of a four-car pileup atop the C-USA standings. They're a top 50 RPI team if they need an at-large bid, maybe even top 40, but there isn't much substance to that rating.
UW Green Bay: The Horizon League champs host their conference tournament, which means that if they need an at-large bid, it's because they lost to an inferior team on their home floor. The Phoenix have a home win over ACC champ Virginia and C-USA co-champ Tulsa among its four top 100 wins. But they too have a couple bad losses, including UW Milwaukee at home and a very soft overall schedule. I think this team is dangerous if they get in, but they should have to win their tournament to do so.
Toledo: The Rockets might be league co-champs, but Western Michigan (also new to the bracket today) will be the top seed when the MAC tournament starts next week. They don't have a win of significance outside the league and didn't play well on the road against better teams. Their one bad loss is a doozy -- at Northern Illinois. Like Southern Miss, this is a team that will have a decent RPI, but not much supporting it.
Stephen F. Austin: I only include the Lumberjacks because they have such a gaudy record, but their strength of schedule is, to be kind, wretched. It ranks 303rd, and their non-conference schedule is 294th. That's how you go 24-2 and still not approach the top 50 of the RPI.
There is also a possibility of someone rising up from one of the major conferences and stealing a bid, like Ole Miss did last year. However, if that happens, don't assume that bid is being stolen from the same league. It'll be stolen from whichever team happens to be the last team in the committee's at-large pool.
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