College Basketball: Previewing Championship Week Conference Tournaments
It's Championship Week in men's college basketball. Most of the major conferences and several mid major and low major conferences crown tournament champions and determine automatic bids for the upcoming NCAA Tournament that starts next week.
For many one-bid leagues, teams play knowing that only the tournament champion gets to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Many teams in power conferences already have NCAA Tournament bids expected based on their regular season performance. Still, other teams sit on the bubble and need to win one or more games to make the NCAA Tournament. Other teams can certainly improve their seeds up to and including a coveted No. 1 seed.
I will preview each of what I feel are the major conferences in college basketball. (In my opinion, the six BCS conferences along with the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West conferences.)
In each conference, I will list each team that is either in my most recent Schmolik 64 or who just missed it and say what is at stake for each team. (Do they need to win a game or two to get in, or what could they be looking at as a seed for the NCAA Tournament?) If you do not see your team listed, assume they have no chance at an at-large bid.
I feel several mid-major conferences do their members a disservice by scheduling their tournament a week ahead. While ACC, Big East, and Big Ten members get to state their cases for NCAA at-large berths, teams like St. Mary's and Wichita State have to sit back and wait.
I have seen plenty of teams from the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) lose bids in the last week. It's easier to make a statement victory on Friday or Saturday than before the Selection Committee meets in Indianapolis. You can say it's the old adage "out of sight, out of mind." St. Mary's has been on the wrong side of the bubble a couple of times recently, and Drexel missed out last year. I wonder if having early conference tournaments hurt them.
As always, RPI rankings are from CBSSports.com.
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Thursday—Sunday, Greensboro, North Carolina
Am I the only one who is looking at this bracket and seeing Miami as the top seed as looking funny? I don't think you see Duke and North Carolina possibly meeting in the ACC semifinals that often either.
Miami (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 2 seed in latest Schmolik 64):
Miami has an outside shot at a No. 1 seed but most likely will have to win the tournament to do so. With Duke and North Carolina on the opposite side, the Hurricanes will probably need to make the final to maintain their No. 2 seed. (An early loss could drop them to a No. 3.)
Duke (Conference No. 2 seed, No. 1 in Schmolik 64):
The Selection Committee should consider Duke was missing Ryan Kelly through a good portion of the season and has not lost a game that Kelly played in. I think one victory would put the Blue Devils in good shape to remain a No. 1 seed. A potential semifinal loss to North Carolina probably wouldn't hurt them too much.
North Carolina (Conference No. 3 seed, No. 6 in Schmolik 64):
A win over Duke could send their NCAA Tournament seed skyrocketing, possibly into a top four seed.
Virginia (Conference No, 4 seed, Not in Schmolik 64):
They get a bye to the second round, then play either N.C. State or Virginia Tech. I think they have to win at least one game and probably two to feel good about their NCAA chances. If the ACC gets five NCAA bids, Virginia would be the favorite to land the fifth bid over Florida State and Maryland. I think a win over N.C. State and a loss to Miami will put them squarely on the bubble.
North Carolina State (Conference No. 5 seed, No, 8 in Schmolik 64):
N.C. State looks solid in the field but a loss to Virginia Tech—last seed—in the opening round game would cause their NCAA seed to plummet. They should have enough of a resume—wins over Duke and North Carolina—to survive the loss though. I can see them as high as a No. 5 or No. 6 if they make a run to the final.
Florida State (Conference No. 6 seed, Not in Schmolik 64):
They obviously can't lose to Clemson. With a No. 79 RPI and a record of 17-14, they have to at least beat North Carolina and probably Duke to make the NCAA Tournament. Should they and No. 7 seed Maryland both upset the Tobacco Road schools, they could be playing a winner-take-all game in the semifinals. (Though the Seminoles did sweep the Terrapins earlier this season.)
Maryland (Conference No. 7 seed, Not in Schmolik 64):
Since they play Duke (No. 1 in the RPI), they have the best chance for a signature, eye-opening win. Unfortunately, they have a losing record in the ACC, a No. 85 RPI, and were swept by both Virginia and Florida State. Even if they beat Duke, their chances don't look that good. Beating Duke and North Carolina back-to-back might do the trick.
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Thursday—Sunday, Brooklyn, New York
The A-10 will be playing its first season in the new Barclays Center. They also will be seeing Butler and VCU, who made the Final Four in 2011—Butler also made it in 2010—for the first time.
St. Louis (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 5 seed in latest Schmolik 64):
Their regular season championship should keep them at a relatively high seed even if they lose their first game. They may make it up to a No. 4 seed with a championship. The Billikens can make a huge statement if they can beat Butler—Conference No. 5 seed—in the semifinals. (That would be their third victory over Butler this season.)
Virginia Commonwealth (Conference No. 2 seed, No. 6 in Schmolik 64):
VCU will be hitting the road for a conference tournament for the first time in many years (the CAA Tournament has been in Richmond ever since 1990). They could meet No. 3 seed Temple and either No. 1 St. Louis or No. 5 Butler in the final. I can see the Rams as high as a No. 5 seed—maybe even a No. 4— with a championship.
Temple (Conference No. 3 seed, No. 10 in Schmolik 64):
The Owls beat Syracuse earlier in the season—it was the Orange's first loss—but Syracuse has struggled, and that win doesn't look as good as it did back in December. The Owls have been red hot lately, including a regular-season-ending win over VCU. They, however, have bad losses at home to both St. Bonaventure—a game I attended—and Duquesne this season, and that will hurt their potential seeding. I don't think a loss to No. 6 seed UMass would eliminate them, but they probably wouldn't want to lose to No. 11 seed George Washington.
La Salle (Conference No. 4 seed, No. 12 in Schmolik 64):
The Explorers will likely draw dangerous No. 5 seed Butler in their first game. If they cannot beat Butler, they will find themselves squarely on the bubble all weekend as they try to make their first NCAA Tournament since 1992. I would like their chances if they do beat Butler. (They beat them earlier this season as well.)
Butler (Conference No. 5 seed, No. 6 in Schmolik 64):
The Bulldogs draw No. 12 seed Dayton in the first round of the A-10. (It is very weird seeing Dayton seeded that low.) Wins over Indiana and Gonzaga—along with Marquette and North Carolina in Maui—should keep Butler in the top eight seeds, even with a loss to Dayton. Brad Stevens' team could gain some payback over No. 4 La Salle and No. 1 St. Louis en route to the final. Should Butler and VCU make the final, it will be a rematch of their 2011 Final Four game. I think Butler can make it up to a No. 4 or No. 5 with a win, especially if they beat No. 1 St. Louis and No. 2 VCU along the way.
Massachusetts (Conference No. 6 seed, Not in Schmolik 64):
The Minutemen—RPI No. 57—look to be a long shot to make the Big Dance. UMass has just one victory over one of the top five Atlantic Ten seeds. I don't think a victory over Temple would be enough. They probably need to make the final—and probably have to play and beat VCU—to make the NCAA Tournament.
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Wednesday—Saturday, New York
It will be sad for me to see the Big East breakup. Consider that Syracuse, Connecticut, and Georgetown will be playing in three different conferences next season.
Georgetown (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 1 seed in latest Schmolik 64)
The Hoyas shared the regular season title with Louisville and Marquette and beat Louisville in their only game in the regular season. I think they have a great chance for a No. 1 seed if they win the conference championship.
Georgetown and Syracuse—No. 5 seed—could meet one last time in the conference semifinals Friday night.
The good news would be that since Gonzaga will likely be the No. 1 seed in the West Regional, Georgetown won't have to go out west as a No. 1 seed like many of the fourth overall No. 1 seeds have in many years.The bad news for Georgetown is they cannot play in the East Regional this year as they are the host.
Louisville (Conference No. 2 seed, No. 2 in Schmolik 64)
Just like Georgetown, I think Louisville likely is also in line for a No. 1 seed if they win the tournament this week.
Marquette (Conference No. 3 seed, No. 4 in Schmolik 64)
I don't think Marquette can gain a No. 1 seed, but I think a No. 2 is in reach with a Big East Championship. (Especially if they beat both Louisville and Georgetown along the way.)
Pittsburgh (Conference No. 4 seed, No. 5 in Schmolik 64)
Pittsburgh will likely play No. 5 Syracuse in their opening round game. The Panthers won their regular season matchup. They also beat No. 1 Georgetown at Georgetown early in January, but Georgetown is much better now. A run to the final probably puts the Panthers in the top four seeds, and a championship could make them as high as a No. 3.
Syracuse (Conference No. 5 seed, No. 5 in Schmolik 64)
The Orange have lost four of five although they were all to teams seeded ahead of them in the Big East. As the No. 5 seed in the conference, they will have to win four games in four days to win the tournament. Hopefully they don't lose their first game or you could be seeing them fall all the way to a No. 8 or No. 9 seed and a possible early matchup vs. a No. 1 seed.
This will be Syracuse's last chance to play in the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden. So expect a loud crowd for them in their game(s) this year, especially if they play Georgetown in the semifinals.
Notre Dame (Conference No. 6 seed, No. 6 in Schmolik 64)
Notre Dame's RPI is No. 44 so they better not mess around with their first game against either No. 11 Rutgers or No. 14 DePaul. I think the Fighting Irish could make it as high as a No. 4 if they take the title.
Villanova (Conference No. 7 seed, No. 9 in Schmolik 64)
The Wildcats have beaten four of the top five seeds in the regular season. Their opening round game vs. No. 10 St. John's shouldn't cost them an NCAA berth if they lose it, although a first round win would certainly remove all doubt. I think Villanova needs to beat Louisville to possibly move out of the No. 8-No. 9 NCAA Tournament seed territory.
Providence (Conference No. 8 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
The Friars, despite a decent Big East record, are a longshot to make the NCAA Tournament with an RPI at No. 84. They absolutely have to beat Georgetown and make the final to have any chance at an at-large bid.
Cincinnati (Conference No. 9 seed, No. 11 in Schmolik 64)
The Bearcats are the most in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament among the eight teams in the most recent Schmolik 64. While they beat Villanova, they don't have Villanova's quality wins. I think a loss to Providence would put them in serious risk of missing the tournament. I think they should be in with a win.
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It is great to see the Big Ten Tournament back in Chicago for the first time since 2007. With seven likely NCAA Tournament bids and a possible four teams in the top four seed lines, this could be the hottest tournament in the country this week.
Indiana (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 1 seed in latest Schmolik 64)
Indiana won the regular season title. The best news for them is that they will play either No. 8 seed Illinois or No. 9 seed Minnesota in their first game. Both teams look to be solidly in the NCAA field, and, I think, even a loss shouldn't cost the Hoosiers a No. 1 seed. Indiana is probably playing not only to preserve their No. 1 seed but for the No. 1 in the Midwest Regional—Indianapolis. Since it will be at Lucas Oil Stadium, you can expect a sea of red should Indiana play there. That is bad news for anyone else playing against them.
Ohio State (Conference No. 2 seed, No. 3 in Schmolik 64)
The Buckeyes have made the Big Ten Championship Game four years in a row, winning two championships. Now they were all held in Indianapolis, but OSU won the most recent tournament in Chicago.
I think Ohio State is a long shot for a No. 1 seed but they should be able to get a No. 2 with a championship (possibly with just a berth in the final). I think Ohio State and Michigan State—if they meet in the semifinals—will be playing to be the second highest seeded Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State (Conference No. 3 seed, No. 2 in Schmolik 64)
I think the Spartans would have the best chance at a No. 1 seed should they win the championship. Though I would give it to Georgetown, Louisville, or Miami—who beat MSU in the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge earlier this season—if any of the three win their conference tournament. They have a big win over Kansas earlier this season, so I would put them ahead of the Jayhawks if both cut down the nets this weekend. Like Ohio State, I think the Spartans need to make the final to make it to the No. 2 line.
Should Ohio State play Michigan State and North Carolina play Duke at the same time, I think I will need two TV's.
Wisconsin (Conference No. 4 seed, No. 5 in Schmolik 64)
The Badgers have a surprisingly low RPI—No. 42—which would put them in dangerous territory with a bad loss. But unless No. 12 seed Penn State springs two upsets in a row, Wisconsin will be fine and probably between a No. 5 and No. 7 seed come Sunday. They could make it to a top four seed with a win over Michigan—certainly with a win over Indiana. I will be looking forward to a rematch between Wisconsin and Michigan. Also remember that Wisconsin beat Indiana this year in Bloomington and has won 11 games in a row vs. the Hoosiers).
Michigan (Conference No. 5 seed, No. 3 in Schmolik 64)
The loss at Penn State and the last second loss last weekend to Indiana hurt their seeding. I can't imagine the Wolverines will lose to Penn State again. I think Michigan will have to make the final to get back up to the No. 2 line as the Selection Committee won't forget the Penn State loss.
Iowa (Conference No. 6 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
The Hawkeyes are a long shot at No. 77 in the RPI. They most likely need to make the final to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. Standing in their way are No. 3 Michigan State and No. 2 Ohio State, two teams Iowa was unable to beat this year.
Illinois (Conference No. 8 seed, No. 7 in Schmolik 64)
A team that should be solidly in the NCAA Tournament field like my Illini—they beat probable No. 1 seeds Indiana and Gonzaga this season—really is looking to avoid the dreaded bad loss. Illinois drew No. 9 seed—No. 24 RPI—Minnesota in the first round so a loss most likely will not cost Illinois an NCAA berth.
Of course Illinois will love playing the Big Ten Tournament in their home state.
If they beat Minnesota, a rematch against Indiana is up next. After the Tyler Griffey buzzer beater, the Hoosiers will look for payback. I see Illinois probably between a No. 7 and a No. 10 but can sneak up to a No. 6 if they can beat Indiana a second time.
Minnesota (Conference No. 9 seed, No. 8 in Schmolik 64)
The Golden Gophers are the coldest of the Big Ten NCAA Tournament contenders, but their RPI—No. 24—means they have no chance at missing the Big Dance. There is good news and bad news in the fact that they will play No. 8 Illinois in the opening round. A loss won't hurt them but they can't like having to play the Illini in Chicago. I think Minnesota is in the same NCAA seeding situation that Illinois is in—No. 7-10 unless they beat Indiana.
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Wednesday—Saturday, Kansas City
Kansas (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 2 seed in latest Schmolik 64)
The Jayhawks should be the favorite playing in their backyard. They have won five of the last seven Big 12 tournaments, and the only other team to have won it—Missouri—is now in the SEC.
That being said, Kansas had a disappointing season—by their standards, losing a home game in conference play and losing to TCU—RPI No. 229 and dead last in the Big 12.
The TCU loss is going to hurt Kansas's chances at a No. 1 seed. I think the Big East champion, if it is Georgetown or Louisville and Michigan State—if they win the Big Ten, should be ahead of Kansas if they win their tournament(s).
With many Big Ten teams—Georgetown, Louisville, and Miami—in contention for No. 2 seeds, the Jayhawks could be looking as low as a No. 3 seed should they lose before the final here. I don't see them not playing in Kansas City for the NCAA Tournament though, as most of the teams ahead of them will likely play elsewhere.
Kansas State (Conference No. 2 seed, No. 4 in Schmolik 64)
Barring another TCU upset victory, Kansas State will face a dangerous No. 7 seeded Texas squad with Myck Kabongo back. They will then likely face No. 3 seed Oklahoma State in the semifinals—a rubber match between the two. That would be a key game as if either make the final they will likely be the second highest seeded Big 12 team in the NCAA Tournament and could play their first round games in either Kansas City or Austin. I see them as a No. 4 or No. 5 with a No. 3 seed likely should they win the tournament.
Oklahoma State (Conference No. 3 seed, No. 4 in Schmolik 64)
Oklahoma State's first game is against No. 6 Baylor who upset Kansas last Saturday. They are likely in the No. 4-No. 5 range and can move up to a No. 3 with a championship. They would like to pass KSU in the Big 12 pecking order as they would have a better chance to play close to home the first weekend.
Oklahoma (Conference No. 4 seed, No. 10 in Schmolik 64)
Oklahoma's last impression was a loss at TCU. Unlike Kansas, the loss really hurt the Sooners. They open with No. 5 Iowa State. Iowa State needs the game more than Oklahoma—Oklahoma's RPI is No. 33 vs. No. 47 for ISU and Oklahoma beat Kansas. Still, I can see Oklahoma falling out of the NCAA Tournament altogether if they lose to the Cyclones, and there are a lot of upsets during Championship Week. Oklahoma has to be in with one win and can really improve their seeding if they beat Kansas again.
Iowa State (Conference No. 5 seed, No. 12 (First Four) in Schmolik 64)
Iowa State is clearly on the bubble and a loss to Oklahoma would really hurt their chances at the NCAA Tournament. I think they should get in if they beat the Sooners. They were really close to beating Kansas in Ames and would likely get a third shot at Kansas if they can beat Oklahoma.
Baylor (Conference No. 6 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
Finishing 9-9 in a down Big 12 this year doesn't help. The win over Kansas kept their faint NCAA hopes alive, but they are at least a win—if not two—away from feeling like they have a chance.
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Tuesday—Saturday, Las Vegas
New Mexico (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 3 seed in latest Schmolik 64)
The Lobos are the defending champion and regular season champion. They are ranked No. 2 in the RPI but not in the Top 10 in either the AP or USA Today polls. I'm not sure they or the MWC has enough respect for New Mexico to get a No. 2 seed. I think New Mexico is looking at a No. 3 if they make the final, a No. 4 if they lose in the semifinals, and a No. 5 if they lose in their first game.
Colorado State (Conference No. 2 seed, No. 6 in Schmolik 64)
The Rams would be in danger of falling to a No. 8 or No. 9 seed with an early loss. I think they will have a chance at a No. 4 seed should they win the tournament. They could get a third chance against New Mexico in the final—CSU lost the first two.
UNLV (Conference No. 3 seed, No. 7 in Schmolik 64)
Even though UNLV played the last six tournaments on their home floor like they are this season, they haven't won the tournament since 2008. They also lost at home to Fresno State to end the regular season, The Selection Committee may look at these games as home games and be less forgiving if they lose early. Their ceiling looks to be No. 5 if they win out.
San Diego State (Conference No. 4 seed, No. 9 in Schmolik 64)
They look to be relatively safe even if they lose to No. 5 Boise State in the opening game but would cement a bid for sure with a win.
Boise State (Conference No. 5 seed, No. 11 in Schmolik 64)
The Broncos are in the most danger of missing the tournament among the top five. Their RPI is at No. 37, and they currently have three wins vs. the RPI Top 25. San Diego State isn't going to hurt their RPI that much with a loss. I don't know if a win would guarantee BSU makes it, but their chances would go way up.
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Wednesday—Saturday, Las Vegas
If anyone in Las Vegas actually wants to watch basketball, they can see two championship games this Saturday, the MWC at 3 p.m. and the Pac-12 at 8:10 p.m. I don't see too many people at both games though.
UCLA (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 8 seed in latest Schmolik 64)
I don't think there's any danger of UCLA missing the tournament like last year's regular season champion Washington did last year. This tournament is wide open and UCLA can really improve their seed this weekend. If they can beat No. 4 Arizona a third time—they swept them in two games in the regular season—and go on to win the tournament, look for the Bruins to be as high as a No. 5 or even a No. 4 seed.
California (Conference No. 2 seed, No. 9 in Schmolik 64)
The Bears had won seven in a row—including wins at Arizona and Oregon—before losing at home to Stanford in their regular season finale. The loss cost Cal a tie for the Pac-12 regular season championship. Their RPI is borderline—No. 48—so they should probably avoid an opening-round loss to feel secure about playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Oregon (Conference No. 3 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
Unlike California, the Ducks are heading in the wrong direction. Even though most of the Bracket Matrix brackets had Oregon in, I would look out if they lose to Washington or Washington State—especially WSU—in their opening game. They are two games ahead of Colorado, but they were swept by the Buffaloes—and by California as well. They have the No. 254 ranked non conference schedule so I can see them missing the Big Dance altogether. They better show up in Vegas or they may be in the NIT.
Arizona (Conference No. 4 seed, No. 4 in Schmolik 64)
The Wildcats, despite ending up as the No. 4 seed, have the best non conference profile among Pac-12 teams—wins over Miami and Florida. Their first-round game is against Colorado, who they barely beat in Tucson and lost to in Boulder. Then they will have to beat UCLA, who they were swept by. I see them possibly up to a No. 3 seed with a tournament win. Since they will likely be the highest seeded Pac-12 team regardless, they have a good chance staying in the West Regional and in a local site—San Jose or Salt Lake City—for their opening-round games.
Colorado (Conference No. 5 seed, No. 11 in Schmolik 64)
I have the Buffaloes at No. 4 in the Pac-12 pecking order ahead of Oregon—who Colorado swept. The only thing stopping Colorado from their second straight NCAA bid is No. 12—last—seed Oregon State. Then again, Colorado just lost to them at home in their last regular-season game. I would think the NCAA would think twice inviting a team that lost twice to Oregon State in less than a week.
If they beat the Beavers, they have a chance at some big time wins against Arizona and potentially UCLA. They may wind up as high as a No. 8 or No. 9 if they make some noise this week.
Stanford (Conference No. 8 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
The Cardinals are a long shot, but the draw will help Stanford gain some quality wins and build up their RPI—currently No. 65. A win over UCLA probably won't be enough but a run to the final may be—especially if they beat Arizona. Should Stanford make it to the final, I would be worried if I were Oregon, Colorado, or California—who Stanford swept—and I lost early in the Pac-12.
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Thursday—Sunday, Nashville, Tenn.
Without a doubt, this tournament should have the biggest impact on the NCAA Tournament. Four teams—No. 50 Kentucky, No. 55 Tennessee, No. 56 Mississippi, and No. 62 Alabama—are squarely on the bubble. The SEC was clearly down as they had three teams ranked below 200 in the RPI—South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn.
Also, many SEC regular season games were won by the home team. Tennessee and Kentucky got to play Florida at home and won, picking up a quality win in the process. Alabama and Mississippi did not have that chance. (They only played the Gators on the road and lost.) The Selection Committee has to look at this tournament very seriously this weekend in deciding who is in and who is out.
Florida (Conference No. 1 seed, No. 3 seed in latest Schmolik 64)
The Gators have been the class of the conference. They are playing for as high as a No. 2 seed with a win and should be a No. 3 unless they lose their opening game.
Kentucky (Conference No. 2 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
The Wildcats were the last team I eliminated from the Schmolik 64. They will likely play No. 7 Arkansas in their first game, a game they must have. I think they should be fine if they make the semifinals but a run to the finals would lock it up. I would think UK will have many fans in Nashville to help them. If they are on the bubble, they will be the one team everyone is going to be waiting to hear whether they get in or not. I don't think losing Nerlens Noel will affect the committee's decision. They did beat Florida and Missouri without him.
Mississippi (Conference No. 3 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
The Rebels gained a first-round bye but will likely play No. 6 Missouri in their first game. (They split their first two games.) Since Ole Miss could not beat Florida or Kentucky—at home—they must have the win to feel good about their NCAA chances, and it may not be enough. Mississippi does have a head to head sweep over Tennessee they could use should it come down to the two of them though.
Alabama (Conference No. 4 seed, Not in Schmolik 64)
The Crimson Tide had horrible luck with their SEC conference schedule. They could not get Florida, Missouri, or Mississippi to come to Tuscaloosa, losing all three. They did get Kentucky at home and won. Alabama and No. 5 Tennessee played twice, each winning on their home court.
If Tennessee can get past their first game—against either No. 12 South Carolina or No. 13 Mississippi State, expect the quarterfinal between the two to be an NCAA Tournament elimination game. The winner may not even make it, and Florida likely awaits in the semifinals.
Tennessee (Conference No. 5 seed, No. 12 (First Four) in Schmolik 64)
The Selection Committee may disagree, but I like teams that play well down the stretch. The Volunteers won eight of their last 10 games, including wins over Florida and a convincing win over Kentucky. It will probably be all for naught if they lose their first-round SEC Tournament game or their second round to No. 4 Alabama. The best case scenario for Tennessee is for them to make the semifinals and Mississippi to not make it. They do not want it to come down to them and Ole Miss.
Missouri (Conference No. 6 seed, No. 9 in Schmolik 64)
It's weird that the No. 6 seed in the SEC is the second highest seeded SEC team while three teams ahead of them aren't even in the last Schmolik 64. Credit the Tigers non conference schedule, beating VCU and—to my dismay—my beloved Illini in St. Louis. Their opening-round game will be against No. 11 Texas A&M or No. 14 Auburn—A&M should be a heavy favorite. Losing to Texas A&M—RPI No. 98— should be OK, but losing to Auburn—RPI No. 244—would put Missouri in big danger. Other than Florida, they probably need this tournament the least as long as they avoid a horrible loss.
I think Arkansas needs to win the tournament. The only team that Arkansas could beat to possibly put the Razorbacks in bubble consideration is Florida, and they would only meet the Gators in the final.
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Memphis (Conference USA No. 1 seed, No. 8 in latest Schmolik 64)
The Tigers are playing their last season in C-USA before joining the Big East's football schools in a yet unnamed conference. They should be the overwhelming favorite to win as they went unbeaten in the regular season. They are playing for seeding and could wind up with as high as a No. 6 or No. 7 if they win the tournament.
Southern Mississippi (Conference USA No, 2 seed, No. 12 (First Four) in Schmolik 64)
The Golden Eagles have an RPI of No. 34. They look very similar to the UAB that made the NCAA Tournament back in 2011 with a similar high RPI and lack of quality wins. Southern Miss has the only win over a team that is firmly in the RPI Top 100 (No. 57 Denver).
I think their only chance at an at-large bid would be to make the final and lose to Memphis—for a third time this season. If Southern Miss hadn't lost to Marshall—RPI No. 203— last week, I would feel a lot better about their chances—their RPI would probably be in the Top 30 if they hadn't lost that game.
One team Southern Miss is cheering for this weekend is Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech beat Southern Miss this season, and the Golden Rebels wouldn't want to be compared to them on Selection Sunday.
Others: I can't think of another team at the top of my head from any other conferences that can make it as an at-large bid. I doubt Louisiana Tech or Akron can survive a loss. (Especially Akron after one of their starters got suspended.)
Gonzaga (WCC Tournament Champion, No. 1 in Schmolik 64)
Gonzaga looks to be safe as a No. 1 seed. I can see Louisville or Georgetown passing them for the No. 3 overall top seed, but it really won't matter as Gonzaga would still head west. Right now, I would pick Gonzaga over Miami, Kansas, or any Big Ten champion other than Indiana.
Belmont (Ohio Valley Tournament Champion, No. 10 in Schmolik 64)
The Bruins made a huge comeback in the OVC championship or we would be talking about whether or not Belmont would get in as an at-large team. They have a great RPI—No. 18—and their non conference strength of schedule was No. 2—second in the country. But their only Top 50 win was Middle Tennessee State—No. 29. I think at best, Belmont may make it to an 8-9 game, but I think double digits is more likely. I think they will be a sleeper in the NCAA Tournament, and I wouldn't be too surprised if they make it to the Sweet 16. The Bruins seek their first NCAA Tournament win this season—they are 0-5.
Creighton (MVC Tournament Champion, No. 7 in Schmolik 64)
The Bluejays won their second straight MVC championship. Their RPI is No. 25, so I would expect to see between a No. 6 and No. 9 seed come Selection Sunday. They don't have any wins against the RPI Top 25, so don't be surprised to see them closer to the 8-9 game.
Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt Tournament Semifinals, No. 12 (First Four) in Schmolik 64)
The Blue Raiders were upset in the Sun Belt semifinals but yet maintain an RPI of No. 29. They have no wins against the RPI Top 50 and their only win against the RPI Top 100 is Ole Miss—No. 56. Central Florida is currently just outside the Top 100 at No. 101.
On the other hand, they clearly have a high RPI and their non conference RPI is 18th, and their non conference schedule is ranked 12th. The Selection Committee seems to value quality wins but they also value teams that play tough non conference schedules. What message would they send to MTSU if they rejected them, especially if they take Ole Miss, who they beat?
St. Mary's (WCC Tournament Runner Up, No. 10 in Schmolik 64)
St. Mary's lost three times to Gonzaga. They did beat Creighton in the Bracket Busters event, which probably puts them in good shape to make the tournament along with their RPI (No. 31). Still, it's going to be a long wait for the Gaels and they have been shut out of the tournament a couple of times recently too.
Wichita State (MVC Tournament Runner Up, No. 11 in Schmolik 64)
The Shockers look in now but have to hope there aren't a lot of upsets or bubble teams winning this week. Their non conference RPI is No. 9 and they have victories over Creighton, VCU, and Southern Miss. They did lose to Tennessee though.