by Leigh Klein / @LeighAlanKlein
Yesterday, we explored the four teams that are likely to be the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Now that the No. 1 seeds are projected, it begs the question who might be sneaking in this year.
The Big 12 and Big 10 are widely considered the two strongest conferences in the nation this season. Both leagues appear to be a lock to get at least six teams in “The Dance.”
Going into this season, no Big 12 team has ever been an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament with a less than .500 conference record. This streak will be tested this year. It is likely that one of the Baylor, Oklahoma State or West Virginia trio end up with a sub-.500 conference record and receives an at-large bid.
The big question for the tournament committee is going to be what to do with the Atlantic 10. Despite being rated the eighth best league in America, the A-10 has five lock bids with a good chance for a sixth. The SEC, ACC and Pac-12 will be anxiously waiting.
Four Teams That Booked Their Ticket…At Least for Now
Recent win at St. John’s establishes Musketeers as the third Big East conference entry. Out of conference victories versus bubbling Tennessee and Cincinnati should help cause. Last three league contests include resume building opportunities against Villanova and Creighton. Return of Jalen Reynolds complements terrific guard Semaj Christon and provides a balanced attack.
Arizona State, 20-8
Hangover effect after Valentine’s Day victory against rival Arizona has put tournament footing into doubt. In the Pac-12, only USC and Washington State are ‘gimmes’ and the Sun Devils don’t have either one of them left on the schedule. They are going to have to earn their at-large bid against California, then on the road against Oregon and Oregon State. Two victories are a must—three would seal it. They do have a strong resume with victories at Cal, against Marquette and that signature win against Arizona helps their cause.
Last year, the Gophers received an at-large bid with an 8-10 conference mark; fast-forward to now and with two games remaining a split would put them right in the same position. Most tournament-level victories were garnered in the confines of Williams Arena against Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida State and Ohio State.
Here’s another great case study of rewarding a team with a tough out of conference schedule. BYU registered seven losses before January that included Wichita State, Iowa State, UMass and Pac-12 bubblers Utah and Oregon—but those are all quality opponents. An RPI currently at No. 35 certainly does hurt their resume. The Cougars have wins vs Stanford, Texas and Gonzaga. They do need a solid conference tournament but they have built a credible argument to go dancing.
Not In Yet…But On the Rise
Florida State, 16-11
Despite 11 losses, the Seminoles have victories against UMass , VCU, at Pitt. Frankly, they really need to win out their last three, which would include beating Syracuse in Tallahassee—not an easy task, but Florida State could be in this game. Narrow losses against Florida and Michigan. Should be favorably viewed with a non-conference RPI of No. 40.
Oklahoma State, 18-10
Everything went wrong in a month stretch that saw the Cowboys lose eight of nine games. Two wins against the bottom of the Big 12 should only warrant so much renewed confidence; however, the schedule still holds Kansas and Kansas State in Stillwater—a perfect opportunity to regain top-15 form. Victories against Memphis and Colorado will help, but Oklahoma State has to hope that the selection committee gives a discount for the three defeats when Marcus Smart was suspended. Wouldn’t be shocking if they did.
The Razorbacks have three contests left and need to win two out of the three. Bud Walton Arena continues to be good for them as they collected four resume building wins there out of conference: SMU, Clemson, Kentucky and Minnesota. They fell in the non-conference to Cal and Gonzaga, but both those sides will be dancing. Appear to have the strongest resume of the five contenders for the third and probable final SEC bid.
The Flyers took a step back this week in Philadelphia when St. Joseph’s showed no brotherly love in a complete thrashing. With three contests left, Dayton has a difficult road as UMass, St. Louis and Richmond, who combine for 65 wins, remain. If they can steal two of these final three games, they will boast a resume that includes victories against California, Gonzaga and on the road in Oxford against Ole Miss.