NCAA Tournament Field Projection: Stone Cold Locks and Bubble Talks
With only one week left to go before March and its inevitable Madness, I think it's a good time to start looking at who's likely in and out of the NCAA Tournament.
I'm going to go through it step by step, so those of you who are well-versed on the process of creating the 65-team field can probably skim over parts you already know.
First, you have to look at your automatic qualifiers. With the addition of the Great West Conference this year, you have 32 conferences. Fortunately, as there is a probationary period before a conference gets an automatic bid, you still only have to worry about 31 teams for the next few years.
The automatic qualifiers are, in all cases but the Ivy League's, determined by the end-of-season conference championship (the Ivy League's auto bid is determined by the regular season championship). Obviously we don't have the results of those yet, but for the sake of our sanity we'll assume the top team in the conference wins the conference tourney.
Now, I split up the automatic qualifiers into three groups.
First are the auto-qualifiers from definite one-bid leagues. This is the easiest group to deal with, because no matter what happens in the conference tourney there will only be one team in the NCAA tourney; all that could change is the name and the seed. These one-bid leagues and their current leaders are (in the case of a tie, the team with the better overall record will be listed):
America East (Stony Brook 20-7)
Atlantic Sun (Campbell 18-9)
Big Sky (Weber State 18-8)
Big South (Coastal Carolina 24-5)
Big West (UC Santa Barbara 16-8)
Mid-American (Akron/Kent State 20-8)
Mid-Eastern (Morgan State 20-9)
Northeast (Robert Morris 19-10)
Ohio Valley (Murray State 26-3)
Patriot (Lehigh 17-10)
Southern (Wofford 21-8)
Southland (Sam Houston State 19-6)
Southwestern (Jackson State 15-11)
Summit (Oakland 22-8)
Sun Belt (North Texas 19-8)
Now, there's the second group, which contains conferences that will be one-bid leagues if the teams currently leading in the standings win out, but could be two-bid leagues if someone else wins the conference tournament. They are as follows:
Metro Atlantic (Siena 22-6)
Horizon (Butler 25-4)
Ivy (Cornell 23-4)
Missouri Valley (Northern Iowa 24-3)
Pacific-10 (California 18-9)
West Coast (Gonzaga 22-5)
Western (Utah State 22-6)
All the other conferences have at least an outside chance to get two teams into the NCAA tournament without a huge upset in their conference tourneys. They and their leaders are as follows:
Atlantic 10 (Richmond 22-6)
Atlantic Coast (Duke 22-5)
Big 12 (Kansas 26-1)
Big East (Syracuse 25-2)
Big Ten (Purdue 11-3)
Colonial (Old Dominion 21-8)
Conference USA (UTEP 20-5)
Mountain West (New Mexico 25-3)
SEC (Kentucky 26-1)
Now that we've looked at all the auto bids, it's time to start talking at-larges (remember, none of the following categories will include the proposed auto bid teams). We'll break these up into a number of different categories.
First are the stone cold locks—teams that ought to be in no matter what happens. They are as follows:
Temple (22-5, Atlantic 10)
Kansas State (22-4, Big 12)
Texas A&M (19-7, Big 12)
Villanova (22-4, Big East)
West Virginia (21-5, Big East)
Pittsburgh (21-6, Big East)
Georgetown (18-7, Big East)
Michigan State (21-7, Big Ten)
Ohio State (21-7, Big Ten)
Wisconsin (20-7, Big Ten)
Brigham Young (25-3, Mountain West)
Tennessee (20-6, Southeastern)
Vanderbilt (20-6, Southeastern)
Next we have the master locks. This is a group of teams are pretty sure things for the tournament; all they have to do is go .500 for the rest of the regular season and maybe win one conference tourney game, and they're fine. Anything less, and they could be in a more precarious position.
Xavier (19-7, Atlantic 10)
Maryland (19-7, Atlantic Coast)
Wake Forest (18-7, Atlantic Coast)
Texas (21-6, Big 12)
Baylor (20-6, Big 12)
Missouri (20-7, Big 12)
Louisville (18-9, Big East)
Next, we have the top of the bubble. These teams have played their way in to this point, but could see it all go to waste with a collapse down the stretch.
Virginia Tech (21-5, Atlantic Coast)
Clemson (19-7, Atlantic Coast)
Florida State (19-7, Atlantic Coast)
Georgia Tech (18-9, Atlantic Coast)
Marquette (17-9, Big East)
Illinois (17-10, Big Ten)
UNLV (20-7, Mountain West)
Then, there's the real bubble. These teams are living and dying on every win and loss, and one signature victory in these final few weeks can make all the difference.
Rhode Island (20-6, Atlantic 10)
Charlotte (18-8, Atlantic 10)
Dayton (18-8, Atlantic 10)
Oklahoma State (19-7, Big 12)
Connecticut (16-11, Big East)
Cincinnati (15-11, Big East)
UAB (21-5, Conference USA)
San Diego State (20-7, Mountain West)
Florida (19-8, Southeastern)
Mississippi State (19-8, Southeastern)
Then we come to the bottom of the bubble. These are teams that are on the outside right now, but with a hot streak and/or some wins against quality competition (though some will not get the chance to do either), could sneak into the field of 65.
Saint Louis (18-8, Atlantic 10)
Texas Tech (16-10, Big 12)
Notre Dame (17-10, Big East)
South Florida (16-10, Big East)
Seton Hall (15-10, Big East)
Northwestern (17-10, Big Ten)
William & Mary (19-8, Colonial)
Northeastern (18-10, Colonial)
Memphis (20-7, Conference USA)
Tulsa (19-8, Conference USA)
Wichita State (22-7, Missouri Valley)
Arizona State (19-8, Pacific-10)
Washington (18-9, Pacific-10)
Ole Miss (17-9, Southeastern)
Saint Mary's (22-5, West Coast)
Louisiana Tech (21-6, Western)
So as you can see, there are still plenty of teams who have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. What's more, the situation is very fluid; this list will probably be obsolete by tonight.
Now, this is a list based on my own knowledge and weighing of stats (I tend to focus on RPI Top 50 records more than anything else, but I try to take into account a lot of variables), and since I'm not on the selection committee, may be completely off-base. However, if you do have a question about why a team is in a certain spot, be sure to leave a comment, and I'll do my best to explain my position. Thank you.
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