UAB vs Missouri State: Which Team Will Make the NCAA Tournament?

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2011

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 28: Aaron Johnson #1 of the UAB Blazers lays the ball up under the arm of Josh Southern #52 of the Boston College Eagles during Pre-Season NIT on November 28, 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

UAB (22-7, 12-4 C-USA); RPI:  28, SOS:  68

Missouri State (25-8, 15-3 MVC); RPI:  42, SOS:  127       

Common Opponents:  Tulsa (both lost)

*Since this article discusses at-large candidacy, assume that UAB does not win their conference tournament

Why UAB Gets In

UAB defeated East Carolina on Saturday to finish out the regular season.  The win ensured the Blazers of an outright Conference USA regular season championship, finishing one game ahead of UTEP and Tulsa.  Prior to that, UAB won an important road game at Southern Miss, who had been in contention for the league title prior to losing. 

In a league race that was back and forth throughout the season and had as many as five teams tied for first place at one point, UAB’s championship was hard fought and well deserved.  The emergence of teams like Tulsa, along with Southern Miss and even Marshall, helped to make Conference USA much more competitive than it has been in recent Memphis-dominated seasons.    

This depth of competitive teams helped put Conference USA at No. 8 in the conference RPI rankings, right behind the Pac-10 and just in front of the Atlantic 10.  The league finished the regular season with three teams in the RPI top 50—UAB, Memphis and Marshall—and three more between No. 51 and No. 61—Southern Miss, UTEP and Central Florida. 

UAB picked up three wins against the RPI top 50, including a win over a strong tournament candidate in VCU.  Overall, the Blazers were 3-4 against the top 50, with losses at Georgia—by only two— and Duke in their non-conference schedule.   

What was the biggest reason for UAB’s C-USA title?  A 6-2 road record in league games, capped off by the win at Southern Miss.  Overall, UAB had a very solid 9-5 record on the road this season.  That includes a win at Arkansas—a team that knocked off Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee at home.

Why UAB is Left Out

While Conference USA has more good teams than in past years, there are certainly no great teams in this league, including Memphis.  As a whole, the league picked up just a couple excellent wins against big-name teams.  UCF beating Florida and Marshall over West Virginia were the two biggest headliners for the conference.

How much does a handful of wins over teams ranked higher than No. 50 of the RPI actually count for when discussing a team’s at-large merits?  While Memphis is still in the running for an at-large bid, the other teams who finished near the top of the league—UTEP, Tulsa and Southern Miss—are pretty much out of contention at this point.  Each needs to win the Conference USA tournament to make the dance.

UAB came up a bit short on some of their biggest opportunities to impress the selection committee.  The losses to Duke and Georgia aside, the Blazers were swept by Memphis this season.  Despite the fact Memphis is not what they were just a couple years ago, winning at least one of those games would have gone pretty far in making UAB a more credible at-large candidate.


Why Missouri State Gets In

Like UAB, Missouri State earned a conference championship outright.  The Bears won the Missouri Valley with a record of 15-3, beating Wichita State in the season finale to claim the title.  Missouri State came up a possession short of winning the MVC tournament as well, losing to upstart Indiana State on Sunday. 

En route to their MVC regular season title, Missouri State swept Wichita State and Creighton and also won at Northern Iowa (before spiraling down after losing Lucas O’Rear).  Throughout the season, the Bears proved they were the team to beat in a league which is competitive top to bottom. 

Missouri State survived numerous tough road tests in the Valley, finishing a 7-2 record on the road in league games.  Given the 10,000-plus arenas of Creighton, Northern Iowa and Wichita State, that is a very impressive feat. 

How many bubble teams from the Big Ten or Big 12 would have also won seven road games in this league?


Why Missouri State is Left Out

Notice there was no mention of non-conference games in the portion above.  That’s because Missouri State has absolutely nothing of value in that department to present to the selection committee.

Missouri State had a few opportunities in their non-conference schedule but came up short on all of them.  The Bears lost at Tennessee in the NIT Tip-Off, as well as coming up 0-for-Oklahoma with losses to Tulsa and Oklahoma State. 

To top it off, the Bears let Valparaiso run all over them in their BracketBuster matchup a couple weeks back.  That was the Bears’ last chance to prove something to the committee outside of their MVC success.  Losing by double-digits to NIT hopefuls outside the league may very well offset their conference title accomplishment.

Also, winning the Missouri Valley just isn’t quite as prestigious it was in the early to mid 2000’s.  In those days—led by Southern Illinois and Creighton—the league was usually around No. 7 or No. 8 in terms of conference RPI and regularly saw multiple teams make the NCAAs.  This year, the MVC was just No. 12 in conference RPI, behind the Horizon League and just ahead of the imbalanced WAC.


Who Gets In?

Again, this assumes UAB doesn’t go on to win the Conference USA tournament.  Given the number of teams who finished bunched together near the top of the league, UAB fans shouldn’t count on winning it. 

Despite each winning their conference regular season championships, neither has a win over a legitimate NCAA tournament team this season.  There is a bit of speculation involved with determining whether either team deserves to make the tournament.

Based on relative strength of conference, strong road record, more competitive non-conference showing, and lack of any really bad losses (though at Arizona St. may be questionable), UAB deserves a shot to dance.

UAB:  IN, Missouri State:  OUT


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