Davidson and George Mason moved off of the bubble and into the tournament by winning their conference championship games. Gonzaga joined St. Mary’s on the big board by losing to San Diego, filling a second at-large slot and squeezing the remaining bubble teams a bit harder. South Alabama’s surprising loss complicates things as well; does not making the Sun Belt finals while taking a bad loss to Middle Tennessee State—again—knock them out of the tournament? Western Kentucky was the big winner there, drawing the mediocre Blue Raiders (16-14, 110 RPI, 163 Pomeroy) instead of the Jaguars, who had beaten them twice. They can play their way off the bubble tonight.
The other key game tonight involves Butler taking on Cleveland State for the Horizon title. As with last night’s West Coast matchup, an upset would take away a spot in the tournament for a bubble team. A year ago, Butler lost at Wright State in the semis of the Horizon tournament in a similar scenario. Tonight, with the game at Hinkle, the Bulldogs should push through to an automatic bid, warming hearts in places like Tempe, Columbus and Philadelphia.
Speaking of Philadelphia, I wanted to take a look at the Atlantic 14, which features two bubble teams from the city (St. Joseph’s and Temple) as well as two others in Dayton and Massachusetts. The A14 isn’t assured of having any teams garner at-large bids; not one team other than Xavier has locked up an invite, and even Massachusetts, best-positioned for an at-large, probably needs at least one win in Atlantic City this week.
Now, this is really something considering that both Dayton and Rhode Island were ranked at one point during the year, and that talk of an A14 resurgence and a four-bid season were in play just six weeks ago. Unfortunately, the league put on a clinic in how not to get multiple bids. You can look at the conference standings and see why: multiple-bid leagues need separation, and the A14 had clustering: eight teams between 9-7 and 7-9. Xavier went 14-2 at the top, losing only to the Philly schools (a big reason why both sit on the bubble right now), while St. Bonaventure finished 4-12. The rest of the league beat each other up.
The middle of the conference, in effect, sabotaged the league’s chances at a bellwether season by being too good. Dayton, of course, couldn’t survive its injury problems, a big reason why they finished just 8-8. But teams such as LaSalle, Duquesne, St. Louis, Richmond and Charlotte, with zero at-large hopes among them following poor nonconference performance, repeatedly stepped up with big wins over the NCAA candidates in the league. Massachusetts suffered a 4-6 start in conference that featured a home loss to Fordham before closing with six straight wins. However, their 10-6 conference mark is baby-skin soft 0-4 against Xavier, St. Joseph’s and Temple, 10-2 against everyone else. Dayton lost eight of 11, including a home game to Duquesne, before winning their last three against Fordham, St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph’s, the latter game doing the league more harm than good, as that game helped the Hawks to a 3-6 finish that included home losses to LaSalle, St. Louis and Temple.
Now, you can make cases for all four teams, but the math is weighted heavily against them. Using CollegeRPI.com,I checked the A14, A12 and Atlantic 10’s history back to 1994. What I found was the following:
- The committee has skipped over a team to take a lower one in the league standings exactly once in the last 14 years, inviting two 10-6 teams, with 20 wins and top-50 RPIs, Xavier and Richmond, over 18-11 (11-5) George Washington, with an RPI of 74.
- No A14 team with less than a 10-6 record has been invited since 1994, when George Washington went 8-8 and got in. For what it’s worth, I can’t for the life of me understand the selection looking at GW’s schedule and stats. If you remember that one and can explain it, please let me know. Not that there are any bracket-savvy people lingering around the A14.
Those two figures would seem to eliminate everyone but Xavier and Temple. UMass, of course, seems the best candidate, but consider how much emphasis the committee has placed on conference standing, how soft UMass’ 10-6, third-place mark is, and that Temple went 3-1 against Xavier, St. Joseph’s and Massachusetts. Even at that, Temple’s lousy nonconference work and bad losses to Richmond, Fordham and the College of Charleston would make it a suprising pick. Temple played a strong schedule; they just didn’t beat anyone.
The A14 tournament, which opens tomorrow in Atlantic City, will solve these problems. No team other than Xavier can survive a quick exit, and it seems impossible for more than one team to join X in the NCAA tournament. That’s a steep drop from the heights of January, and a critical lesson for conferences outside of the BCS: you want your league to be good…but not too good.
Here’s the board heading into Tuesday night’s games:
On the Board (2): St. Mary’s, Gonzaga.
In (28): North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, Xavier, Kansas, Texas, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Connecticut, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State, Memphis, Butler, Brigham Young, UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, USC, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky.
Those 28 teams represent 10 conferences, which means that group has to take 18 at-large bids at minimum, and could account for as many as 28. Realistically, it will take 24 to 26. For now, we’ll keep calling it 28. That number drops Friday and Saturday, mostly.
Automatic Bids: Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Winthrop (Big South), Cornell (Ivy League), Drake (Missouri Valley), Austin Peay (Ohio Valley), Siena (MAAC), George Mason (Colonial), Davidson (Southern), San Diego (WCC). Remaining certain one-bid leagues include the America East, Big Sky, Big West, Northeast, Patriot, SWAC, Southland, Summit and WAC.
Bubble (29): Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, Massachusetts, St. Joseph’s, Temple, Dayton, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Villanova, Ohio State, VCU, UAB, Houston, Illinois State, UNLV, New Mexico, Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, South Alabama, Western Kentucky.
There are between six and 16 spots available for these teams. The attempt at sifting through them will have to wait another day, however.
For the sake of completeness, the teams with RPIs of 70 or lower who are no longer under consideration are Creighton, Stephen F. Austin, Southern Illinois, Oral Roberts, Texas Tech, Florida State, Ohio.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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