Sure. Bring on the 96-team tournament. So many teams are efforting to play in the 65-team version.
Thursday’s story was the complete failure of so many bubble teams to meet the bare minimum standard for advancing to the NCAA tournament. Four teams in the top 50 of the RPI lost quarterfinal conference-tournament games to teams outside the top 100, games that did, or should, push them out of consideration for at-large bids. Memphis took the first half off and couldn’t hold on to a late lead against Houston. UAB never showed up for their game against Southern Mississippi. Kent State, which could have taken advantage of the dwindling bubble to position themselves to steal a bid, got blown off the court in the MAC by Ohio. Arizona State got waxed by Stanford.
It wasn’t just that these teams lost, but how they lost. Only Memphis put up much of a fight. All these games were neutral-court contests against teams that probably won’t even be on the NIT’s board. There’s no case, none, for putting marginal teams in the NCAAs when they can’t beat off-the-board schools in must-win games.
Even some teams that won did so unimpressively. San Diego State needed late heroics to dispatch Colorado State, and Washington fell down 35-23 to Oregon State before rallying. It’s an indication of how weak, and getting worse, the field is that these wins actually help both teams considerably. Beating bad teams shouldn’t be this beneficial, but when you’re the only ones that can do it, hey, more power to you.
In better news, Marquette moves off the bubble and onto my board after beating Villanova. They were pretty much there before holding on to win, looking very good in the effort as Memphis and UAB were falling apart. UTEP also is in, their achievement of winning Conference USA with a 15-1 mark and a 10-3 record outside of El Paso outweighing a lack of quality wins. We have to find 34 at-large teams, and no one will be able to match those chits. Even losing today to Tulsa wouldn’t change their status.
Arizona State falls off the board, Their second-place finish in a weak Pac-10 won’t be enough when you consider they have an RPI of 62, a 3-7 mark against the RPI top 100, and that quarterfinal no-show against the Cardinal. Cincinnati has to go as well. A win over West Virginia would have made it very, very interesting, but no team has ever gotten an at-large bid with 15 losses, and the ones that had 14 had some very big wins in their pocket. Cincinnati got some scalps in Hawaii back in November; since then, virtually nothing. They’re 4-12 against the RPI top 50, 7-15 against the top 100. That’s an impressive number of tough games, but they didn’t win enough of them.
Wake Forest’s bad loss to Miami got me to do something I rarely do, which is reconsider a team I’ve already moved on to the board. With a 6-4 mark against the RPI top 50, nonconference wins over Xavier, Richmond and Gonzaga, they’re in even with a 1-5 mark down the stretch. They may wear not get to wear white is all.
Here's where we stand through Thursday:
Automatic Bids (14): East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), Montana (Big Sky), Winthrop (Big South), Old Dominion (Colonial), Butler (Horizon), Cornell (Ivy), Siena (MAAC), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Robert Morris (Northeast), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Wofford (Southern), North Texas (Sun Belt), Oakland (Summit), St, Mary's (West Coast).
In (8): Gonzaga, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Clemson, Texas, Oklahoma State, Villanova, Pittsburgh.
Locks (25): Duke, Maryland, Florida State, Temple, Xavier, Richmond, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M, West Virginia, Marquette, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Texas-El Paso, New Mexico, Brigham Young, California, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee.
Those 25 teams will take at least 16 and up to 23 at-large bids, leaving three to 10 bids for 21 bubble teams:
Utah State may already be in, but a win tonight over Louisiana Tech would likely seal the deal, especially if Nevada wins the other semifinal in the WAC.
UNLV, similarly, is in good shape, and can remove all doubt by beating BYU at home.
San Diego State didn’t change the narrative around them at all by beating the Rams.
The Aztecs are 1-5 against the real teams in the Mountain West, and 10-1 against the others. (The Aztecs are 2-4 against UNLV, UNM and BYU, 10-1 against the rest. My error.--JSS) They lack quality road wins and any kind of nonconference pop. Beating New Mexico tonight, for a second time, wouldn’t fix all that, but it would likely be enough to get them off the bubble.
Virginia Tech seemingly caught a break when Miami upset Wake, but I’m not sure it works out that way. Beating Miami won’t help them the way beating the Deacons would have, and a loss would hurt a lot more. They might be in anyway—10-6 in the ACC looks good even if it’s a very soft 10-6—but as someone who likes to see teams schedule up a bit, I’ll keep them on the bubble until we see what happens today. We already know that Virginia Tech can beat the non-tournament teams in the ACC, but doing so one more time may get them into the dance. It’s a funny process.
Much of the above applies to Georgia Tech, which beat a non-tournament team in North Carolina to reach the quarterfinals. Their last win over a tournament team was in January, and they have no quality road wins. Maybe Charlotte. I think they need to beat Maryland today to stay off the bubble.
The SEC now has a chance to steal some bids if the wins fall the right way. Florida is 3-8 against the RPI top 50 with a sub-50 RPI but in on many boards. I think advancing to the SEC semifinals would get it done, and they can do that by beating Mississippi State today. Lose, and they’ll be one of the last four something.
Louisville can only watch and wait, hoping that sweeping Syracuse and nothing else is enough to get them in. It probably will.
Missouri is also in the clubhouse, with strong advanced metrics but no good wins in six weeks and a bad loss in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Their fate depends on chalk winning out in the remaining conference tournaments.
Washington didn’t get a quality win yesterday. They won’t get a quality win today, as Stanford took out Arizona State. They can get a quality win Saturday if they beat Cal, but then they wouldn’t need an at-large bid. This is the state of the Pac-10. With all that said, Washington can point to wins over Cal and Texas A&M, and by avoiding a bad loss today, probably gets in.
Rhode Island plays an elimination game with Saint Louis today, and probably needs a win tomorrow as well to stay on the board.
Mississippi can get into the dance today by beating Tennessee. If they fail, they won’t have a win over a tournament team since December 16, and probably can’t get into the tournament.
Mississippi State has to beat Florida today to stay in the discussion.
Dayton has to beat Xavier today, period.
I think we need to revisit William and Mary should some of the teams above them lose today. They have markers—two top-25 wins, two nonconference road wins against ACC schools that are dancing, 3-3 against the top 50, making their conference final—that these teams don’t. They’re out right now because of some really bad losses, but unlike, say, San Diego State or Mississippi State, they’ve shown they can beat tournament teams, and do so on the road. I really think they have a case.
Wichita State’s resume looks a little better with each passing loss. They’d need a perfect storm to move up, but after yesterday, it at least looks a little cloudy.
Illinois has to beat Wisconsin today to stay alive, but if they do, it would be such a good win that they might vault onto the board. Minnesota is in the exact same spot against Michigan State. Be curious to see how those games are called.
UAB and Memphis stay on my board, but are probably done.
Kent State has a top-50 RPI, a conference title and a win over UAB. It’s not enough.
Saint Louis has to win their next two games and see how the dominoes fall.
I’ll have an Unfiltered update later in the day.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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