Championship Week is here, and with it, the annual countdown from every Division I team to just the 65 that will make it to the NCAA tournament. We’ll work the problem every day here at Basketball Prospectus, starting with the teams that have locked up bids, automatic or otherwise, and working down through the bottom of a highly unimpressive bubble, and we’ll do it right up to Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, when the field for March Madness is announced.
This may be a much simpler process this year, as not only do we have a weak field to begin with, including significant stratification, but many teams simply played their way out of the discussion over the past few weeks. Remember when the Atlantic 14 was going to get six bids? They’re at three and holding because of how poorly Dayton, Rhode Island and Charlotte played down the stretch. The Big 11 may get just four bids thanks to Illinois’ collapse, and earlier fades by Minnesota and Northwestern. The Big East’s quixotic run at nine or more bids is likely over due to the inability of Connecticut, South Florida and Cincinnati to hold things together. Conference USA may only take one bid as well, with Texas-El Paso likely to make the field so long as they avoid a bad loss.
Let’s reiterate general principles. I am trying to guess what the committee will do, not give you the Joe Sheehan Invitational. I am only picking the field, not attempting to predict seeds or matchups. I have a very generous board--32 teams are currently on the “bubble” tab of my spreadsheet, and you have to screw up to get moved off of it, generally speaking. It may seem strange to include Minnesota and St. Louis, but believe me, there’s a rationale for doing so. Also, it takes a lot to jump from the bubble to in; I don’t ever like to move a team back once I’ve made a decision on it, so while everyone else has Oklahoma State and Louisville in, I’ll hold on for another game, thanks.
Last night’s results may have stolen a bid, but just maybe. St. Mary’s was probably going to be one of the last teams in or first teams out of the field, one way or another. They saved themselves six sleepless nights by waxing Gonzaga in the second half of Monday’s West Coast Conference final. Old Dominion would have had a similar tough week, albeit with better credentials, but they held off William and Mary down the stretch to reach the field. Siena, on the other hand, needed to win last night to dance, given their donut against good competition during the regular season. They needed overtime to beat Fairfield, and can now ready themselves for a 12/5 or 13/4 game next week.
Tonight, bubble teams will be sweating Butler, which lost to Cleveland State a year ago in the same spot to take a bid away. Wake Forest remains displeased. Neither the Summit nor the Sun Belt finals will have any effect on the selection process, although it’s worth noting that Oakland, should they win tonight, could be seeded as high as 13th.
As of Tuesday afternoon, with South Florida putting DePaul out of our misery, here’s what my board looks like:
Automatic Bids (9): East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), Winthrop (Big South), Old Dominion (Colonial), Cornell (Ivy), Siena (MAAC), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Wofford (Southern), St, Mary’s (West Coast).
In (1): Gonzaga.
Locks (29): Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, Temple, Xavier, Richmond, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Butler, New Mexico, Brigham Young, California, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee.
Those 29 teams will take at least 20 and up to 29 at-large bids, leaving four to 13 bids for, in rough order:
Bubble (32): Oklahoma State, Texas-El Paso, Utah State, Missouri, Louisville, Virginia Tech, UNLV, San Diego State, Notre Dame, Marquette, Georgia Tech, Arizona State, Memphis, Florida, Alabama-Birmingham, Rhode Island, Mississippi, South Florida, Washington, Wichita State, Connecticut, Seton Hall, Mississippi State, Dayton, Illinois, Charlotte, Kent State, William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Saint Louis.
You may be scratching your heads at some of those names. I understand. We’ll get deeper into all of these teams in tomorrow’s piece.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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