The Longhorns made it interesting, but still took care of business on Wednesday night. A 72-64 win over Oklahoma kept Texas in the hunt for the NCAAs, while numerous teams in the chase pack took damaging losses. Even with big wins from Colorado State (over UNLV) and South Florida (at Louisville), the Longhorns held their ground in Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In.”
For the past few weeks, Burnt Orange Bubble Watch has compared the Horns to the other teams fighting for those final bids. This week, we turn our attention to the dangerous Bid Snatchers, those teams that come out of nowhere to win a conference tournament, steal an NCAA berth, and shrink the bubble.
Most often, those teams come from mid-major conferences, but they’ve been known to come from the Big Six, as well. In 2008, Georgia made an improbable run through a tornado-delayed SEC tournament and won the league’s auto-bid just hours before the NCAA bracket was revealed. By improbably winning their way into the tournament, the Bulldogs forced out a bubble team at the last minute.
With the Longhorns likely to be sweating the bubble all the way through the bracket’s unveiling on Selection Sunday, the team’s fans will want to keep a close eye on the tournaments below.
We start our look at the Bid Snatchers with a league that doesn’t actually have a post-season tournament, and instead awards its auto-bid to the regular-season champ. The Harvard Crimson are the only squad in the Ivy race who stands to earn an at-large bid, so Texas fans need to hope that Tommy Amaker’s bunch can win the league crown. The Crimson are not a lock for the tournament, but do have neutral-site wins over Florida State and Central Florida on the résumé. While Harvard could be left out if they fail to win the auto-bid, there’s absolutely no way that the Ivy gets a second team into the dance if the Crimson win the league.
Harvard’s loss to Penn at home last Saturday night complicated the Ivy race, leaving the Crimson just a half-game ahead of the Quakers heading into the final weekend of the season. Last night, it took overtime to secure a win over Columbia, preserving Harvard’s narrow lead as they head to Cornell for their regular season finale tonight.
At this point, their worst-case scenario is a loss tonight followed by a pair of wins by Penn. If the Crimson can hold off Cornell in their season finale, they’ll be assured at least a one-game, neutral-site playoff against Penn. The Quakers close out their season with a game against Yale tonight and a road trip to Princeton on Tuesday.
Atlantic Sun (February 29th – March 3rd)
By now, everyone now knows Rick Byrd and Belmont, the small school in Nashville that stormed onto the national radar with a near-upset of Duke in the 2008 tournament. This season, the Bruins have a marginal profile and likely won’t make the field if they fall short in the A-Sun. Belmont’s RPI was 68th in the country heading into Monday’s action, and the Bruins have just one win against the RPI Top 50.
While the Bruins likely won’t make the field without the Atlantic Sun’s auto-bid, bubblers will still be pulling for Belmont to win the title, if only for simplicity’s sake. That title chase became much easier yesterday, as the conference’s 2-seed and tournament host, Mercer, lost in the tournament semifinals. The Bruins are now just one win away from the NCAAs, and need only to knock off Florida Gulf Coast in tonight’s Atlantic Sun title game.
Jordan Cyphers and Tennessee State could steal a bid
(Photo credit: Jae S. Lee/The Tennessean)
Ohio Valley (February 29th – March 3rd)
Murray State is the big name in the OVC, and they nearly marched through the league (and their season) with an unblemished mark. The only loss for the Racers came at home against Tennessee State in early February, a fact that adds a delicious subtext to this afternoon’s league title game between the two teams.
With the tournament taking place in Nashville, this could end up being a bit of a road game for the Racers, but that might not make much of a difference. Last Thursday, Murray State marched into the Gentry Center and enacted their revenge on Tennessee State with an 80-62 drubbing. Pomeroy gives the Tigers a 22% chance to bounce back, pull off the upset today, and frustrate bubblers nationwide.
West Coast (February 29th – March 5th)
The bizarre West Coast Conference tournament setup has always been great for bubble teams. Bracketed in a stepladder fashion, the WCC protects its top teams with double byes, and even had to add a play-in game this season to accommodate the addition of BYU. As a result, St. Mary’s and Gonzaga have yet to play a game in the tournament, which moves into the semifinal round tonight.
The Gaels and Bulldogs are the league’s only locks at this point, although BYU is a team in the bubble discussion. If the Cougars won the auto-bid, it would not be nearly as disastrous as having the San Francisco Dons win the title, but it could still qualify as bid thievery. Bubble teams will definitely be pulling for Gonzaga to take care of BYU tonight and relegate the Cougars in the at-large discussion, but the most important thing is that St. Mary’s knock off San Fran in the first semifinal.
Missouri Valley (March 1st – 4th)
According to stats guru Ken Pomeroy, the Missouri Valley is the most dangerous early conference tournament for bubble teams. Heading into Arch Madness, there was a 17% chance that the league’s auto-bid would be won by someone other than Wichita State or Creighton, the two MVC teams that are considered a lock for at-large bids.
Northern Iowa and Missouri State were the two most likely teams to steal a bid in the MVC, according to Pomeroy, but both went down in yesterday’s quarterfinals. That leaves the top four seeds all intact for today’s semifinal action, with bubble teams pulling hard for the Shockers and Jays to take care of Illinois State and Evansville. Based on cumulative probabilities, Pomeroy gives roughly a 60% chance that bubble teams will see their dream MVC championship match-up of Wichita State and Creighton.
Colonial (March 2nd – 5th)
The CAA has been a mid-major darling in recent seasons, but the tripe at the bottom of the league standings this season has certainly hurt the league’s chances for multiple bids. At the top of the table, Drexel and VCU are the only likely candidates for at-large bids, but the Dragons appear to have the inside track to an at-large thanks to their regular-season crown. Neither team has a flashy profile, but the Rams at least own a win over South Florida, another squad in the at-large discussion. Fans of bubble teams would be most pleased by one of these two teams winning the league tournament, with the other making an early exit.
Dayton’s Chris Johnson snatches boards and possibly bids
(Photo credit: Al Behrman/Associated Press)
Atlantic 10 (March 6th – 11th)
The Battle on the Boardwalk looms large in the at-large drama this season, with Xavier, Dayton and St. Joe’s all needing to beef up their résumés down the stretch. UMass was even on the fringes of the bubble discussion earlier this week, but a tough loss at home to Temple may have ended that talk permanently. While the A-10 still has to wrap up its regular season this afternoon, bubblers will no doubt be rooting for Temple or Saint Louis to take home the post-season title, while also hoping that the Musketeers, Flyers, and Hawks all lose as early as possible.
Conference USA (March 7th – 10th)
The bubble situation in Conference USA is not nearly as simple as the leagues we’ve already covered, solely due to the fact that no team is a clear lock for the tournament. Both Memphis and Southern Miss have profiles that would seem to be good enough for NCAA inclusion, but bad losses down the stretch could screw that up.
The Golden Eagles already took a spill against both Houston and UTEP, then nearly ate an unforgivable defeat to SMU at home on Wednesday night. With a season-ending road trip to Marshall still on tap this afternoon, Southern Miss must avoid another bad loss that could overshadow their 10-4 mark against the RPI Top 100.
When the C-USA tournament kicks off next Wednesday, bubble teams will be squarely in the corner of the Memphis Tigers. A win by Southern Miss would not be too damaging, because like BYU, the Golden Eagles could already be an at-large inclusion. Central Florida, however, has shown it can knock off good teams and is more than capable of bid larceny. UCF is also a team that has already been in the bubble discussion, but Tuesday night’s lopsided loss to Memphis didn’t help their case. An early tournament loss by the Knights would be a boon to bubble teams everywhere.
Big West (March 8th – 10th)
Long Beach State earned a lot of press in early November with their upset win at Pittsburgh. The 49ers followed that up a month later with a neutral-site win over Xavier, but the Musketeers weren’t at full strength thanks to suspensions from the Crosstown Brawl. Since then, both the Musketeers and the Panthers have fallen off, so the value of those wins have likely diminished in the eyes of the Selection Committee. Unfortunately, those are the only RPI Top 100 wins for LBSU, which posted an 0-6 mark against the RPI Top 50.
The Big West is full of teams ranked 200+ in the RPI, putting them in the bottom tier that is used on the Selection Committee’s Nitty Gritty reports. A loss to one of those schools in the Big West Tournament could be fatal to the at-large hopes of the 49ers. Regardless, LBSU will still be considered for an at-large if they fail to secure the Big West’s auto-bid, so Horn fans should be pulling for Casper Ware and Co. next weekend.
Mountain West (March 8th – 10th)
The Mountain West has clearly been a three-bid league for the last few weeks, with Wyoming and Colorado State continually taking missteps in their pursuit of a fourth NCAA slot for the MWC. The Rams may have finally pushed themselves over the hump with a huge comeback win against UNLV on Wednesday night, but that loss at Boise State still sticks out on an otherwise impressive résumé.
Bubble teams will be happy with UNLV, New Mexico, or San Diego State winning the tournament title, but will also be hoping for an early loss by Colorado State. The Rams also could help out bubble teams by losing at Air Force today in the regular-season finale, an outcome that is very possible when you consider CSU’s 2-9 mark on the road.
The Washington Huskies could be dancing in March
(Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Pac-12 (March 7th – 10th)
Like Conference USA, the Pac-12 is a tough league to figure out. The conference did itself no favors with an abysmal non-conference record, finishing 1-29 against teams in the RPI Top 50. That meant that as conference play began and teams starting knocking each other off, there were no good wins to be had. As a result, there are no true at-large locks in this league, and it’s hard to justify even three bids coming from the conference. As Andy Glockner pointed out in a recent Bubble Watch, likely regular-season champ Washington has the profile of a mid-major champ, not one of a Big Six title holder.
For bubble teams, that presents an interesting situation. If you took the names off of the profiles and did a blind comparison, it wouldn’t be a stretch to give the Pac-12 only one bid. We’d personally fall on the side arguing for two bids, but it’s insane that you could conceivably make a case for a major conference to earn only an auto-bid. However, with a weak bubble and the cachet that a power conference name provides, it’s probably much more likely that we see three teams in the field on Selection Sunday.
At-large contenders are hoping for early tournament slip-ups by Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado, the three bland, average teams that could still somehow receive a third bid from the Pac-12. (It’s worth noting that we originally had “earn” in that last sentence, but had to edit it to “receive.”) The primary focus for fans of bubble teams, however, is a Pac-12 post-season title for Cal, although a win by Washington wouldn’t be disastrous.
Bid thieves can certainly come from other conferences, as proven by the 2008 Georgia team mentioned earlier. With the depth of the top leagues, however, the odds of that happening are very slim. With the Big East, Big 10, and Big 12 currently projected by Joe Lunardi to put 23 teams in the tournament, it’s tough to see a team outside of that group winning one of those league’s tourneys.
What bubble fans will be watching for in those tournaments is how fellow bubblers are faring. For Texas, that means rooting for Northwestern to get bounced early in the Big 10, or to see Miami lose quickly in the ACC tournament. The Longhorns will have to take care of their own business, too, as the opportunity for a big win will present itself in the form or Baylor or Iowa State in the Big 12 quarterfinals next Thursday.