4 Bubble Teams That Must Win Conference Championship to Earn NCAA Tourney Bid
A number of mid-majors have put together very good resumes this season. Some are safely in the NCAA tournament field regardless of whether or not they win their conference tournament, but others have taken enough blows that they are now in a position where they most likely need to win their league tournament championship in order to make the NCAA tournament.
Here are four teams that have put themselves in such a position.
Before the loss to Buffalo, I would have said that Akron had a chance at an at-large bid. The Zips' only bad loss came in their season opener in November, and they have a good record against high-quality competition at 4-3 against the top 100. But now, they have two sub-200 losses. Combine that with their No. 136-ranked strength of schedule, and things are not looking too good for Akron if it cannot win the MAC tournament championship.
Also, only one of those top-100 wins came on the road.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee has a fantastic overall record. The Blue Raiders will enter the Sun Belt tournament at 27-4 (19-1 in league play), with their best win coming against No. 59 Ole Miss at home. They also have a sub-100 loss at Arkansas State.
The big number that could help Middle Tennessee sneak into the at-large field is their No. 9-ranked non-conference strength of schedule. Even though they did not capitalize on numerous opportunities in non-conference play, they still did not have a bad loss. Their three non-conference losses were at Florida, at Akron and at Belmont.
Indiana State Sycamores
Indiana State is not really a bubble team anymore, but its name is still popping up in a few bracket projections. The Sycamores did a good job against high-quality competition with seven top-100 wins, including three on road/neutral sites, but their seven sub-100 losses will keep them out of an at-large field.
They need to win the Missouri Valley tournament this weekend, which is not too far-fetched. As the No. 5 seed, Indiana State will face Evansville in the quarterfinals and then most likely Creighton in the semifinals. They split the season series with both teams.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
To say Louisiana Tech must win the WAC tournament is not really true. It's just that, without the automatic bid, the Bulldogs will probably need some other bubble teams to lose. In other words, even if their name winds up being called on Selection Sunday, they should not feel too comfortable.
With two regular-season games remaining, Louisiana Tech is 5-2 against the top 100. Only one of those wins came away from home, and it was against a Utah State team that was missing two starters. Even so, the Aggies are barely in the top 100 right now at No. 95 in RPI, so that win, in addition to a home win over the Aggies, might not count as top-100 wins by Selection Sunday.
However, the Bulldogs will get two chances for top-100 road wins this year at Denver and at New Mexico State. If they win both of those, they can feel much more comfortable on Selection Sunday if they do not lock up the WAC's automatic bid.
But still, their strength of schedule ranks only No. 254. And they cannot blame that on playing in a mid-major conference because their non-conference schedule is not much better at No. 239.
Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot, a blog dedicated to college basketball news, observations and insights on nationwide topics. You can follow Jesse on Twitter at Jesse_Kramer, and you can follow The Catch and Shoot at Catch_N_Shoot.