Six teams on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament
Championship week is upon us and teams are running out of time to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. A number of programs find themselves on the proverbial bubble, leaving their postseason hopes in the hands of computer metrics and the subjective eye test.
Will signature wins trump strength of schedule? Will power conference also-rans best mid-majors who fell short in their conference tournaments? We examine six teams that will be holding their breath on Sunday as the official bracket is announced.
27-7 (17-3) – RPI: 55 – SOS: 199
Key Wins: Notre Dame (N), USC (N), @ UCLA, @ Iona
If the Hawks and their entertaining bench mob are awarded an at-large bid, it will mark the third time that the MAAC has sent multiple teams to the Big Dance. Monmouth’s case for inclusion in the tournament is fairly simple. The Hawks played 23 games away from their home court, the highest total for any college basketball team in three seasons. They won 13 of their 17 true away games, and tacked on six more neutral site games, going 4-2 in those contests. Their overall resume includes two triumphs over presumed tournament teams (ND, USC) and one against a team already in the field (Iona). The counter-argument against Monmouth is its strength of schedule. If they were to sneak into the tournament, they’d have the worst SOS of any at-large team by a wide margin. As of Thursday, TeamRankings.com gives Monmouth a 2.7 percent chance of receiving an at-large bid.
24-8 (16-2) – RPI: 48 – SOS: 116
Key Wins: Utah, @ Northern Iowa
The Shockers need the committee to focus on what their win-loss record was when talented point guard Fred VanVleet was in the lineup. The three-year starter missed four games this season and the Shockers dropped three of those contests. Since VanVleet’s return to the lineup, Gregg Marshall’s team is 22-4 with a win at home against Utah and a road victory over Northern Iowa. Unlike fellow bubble team Monmouth, Wichita State has only one “bad” loss — a five-point defeat at Illinois State (RPI: 117). For perspective, Monmouth has three losses to teams with a sub-200 RPI. The Bracket Matrix, a site that aggregates 96 projected brackets, estimates that Wichita State will make the tournament as a 10-seed.
Saint Mary’s (CA)
27-5 (15-3) – RPI: 36 – SOS: 165
Key Wins: Gonzaga (2), UC Irvine
Randy Bennett’s team swept Gonzaga en route to the WCC regular season title, SMC’s first since 2012. The problem for the Gaels is that they failed to challenge themselves in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Saint Mary’s did not participate in an early season tournament, which robbed them of an opportunity to acquire a marquee win outside of the WCC. Their lone non-conference game of note came at Cal, in which the Gaels erased a nine-point halftime deficit and led the Golden Bears with just 19 seconds remaining. They would end up losing the game by four points. Just last season, Larry Eustachy’s Colorado State team was left out of the tournament with 27 wins, so the committee won’t be breaking any new ground if they leave the nation’s most efficient offense out of the field of 68.
26-6 (16-2) – RPI: 53 – SOS: 177
Key Wins: @ Oregon State
The Crusaders’ overtime loss to UW-Green Bay in the Horizon League semifinals may have doomed them to the NIT. The Horizon hasn’t been a multi-bid conference since Butler left for the Big East, and according to the RPI, it currently ranks as the 20th best conference out of 32. Valpo’s resume features just one RPI top-70 victory and four sub-150 losses. Bryce Drew’s starting power forward Alec Peters is a legitimate star, but he disappeared in Valpo’s two premier non-conference games against Oregon and Oregon State, shooting just 33 percent from the floor. Peters’ play against top-flight competition combined with the team’s mediocre 9-5 record against the RPI top-150 will likely have them on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.
19-13 (9-9) – RPI: 67 – SOS: 31
Key Wins: St. Bonaventure, Texas A&M (N), @ Duke, Notre Dame
Much like Wichita State, Syracuse is hoping that the committee will exclude a certain portion of its schedule during the evaluation process. Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine games this season and the Orange went 4-5 in his absence. NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chair Joe Castiglione made it clear on Thursday morning that Boeheim’s absence would be taken into account. Castiglione spoke on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning,” stating, “We discuss (his absence) as a factor. We are considering it without prejudice.” Castiglione added that the loss of a coach is viewed in the same light as the a loss of a key player. If St. Bonaventure makes the tournament, Syracuse will have four wins over teams in the field, an advantage on its resume that none of the mid-major bubble teams can match.
21-11 (10-8) – RPI: 68 – SOS: 58
Key Wins: Texas (N), Maryland, Purdue
The Wolverines’ three best wins are compelling, but a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament is an absolute necessity if Michigan hopes to go dancing. John Beilein’s team overcame the loss of Caris LeVert at midseason, but they’re leaking oil down the stretch. Michigan has dropped four of its last six, including three double-digit defeats. Their home win over Maryland has also lost some of its luster. The Terps were the third-ranked team in the country when Michigan edged them out at Crisler Center back in January, but Maryland has since slipped to third in the Big Ten and 18th in the AP poll. The Wolverines’ resume is devoid of any bad losses, with their worst defeat coming on the road to Ohio State. Duncan Robinson was the difference in their dramatic second-round overtime win against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament. If they are simply competitive in the Big Ten quarterfinals against Indiana, they should find themselves on the right side of the bubble.