The Red Wolves at 19-8 (18-8 vs. Division I, 10-4 Sun Belt) are holding second place in the Sun Belt a game back of UT Arlington, but the Mavericks hold the tiebreaker, meaning AState has to pass UTA to win the regular season title. AState has a half-game lead over Georgia State and Georgia Southern.
At stake is first place which means the #1 seed for the conference tournament and the assurance of an NIT invitation if the champion fails to win the conference tournament’s automatic berth in the NCAA. Finishing 2, 3, or 4 would give a first round bye in the conference tournament.
UT Arlington will host South Alabama (6-8 Sun Belt) and Troy (8-6) on Saturday and Monday and will finish the season playing at ULM (1-13) and UL Lafayette (6-8).
The Red Wolves host Georgia Southern (10-5) on Saturday and Georgia State (10-5) on Monday then wrap up the regular season traveling to Troy then South Alabama. Three wins in the final four regular season games assures AState of nothing worse than a first round bye.
NCAA: For the NCAA Tournament the equation is simple. Win the Sun Belt Tournament Championship on March 12th and go to the NCAA Tournament. Lose in the tournament and the NCAA hopes end.
NIT: While it is still possible for AState to clinch the regular season title, UTA has to lose two more games in the remaining four than AState loses.
The Red Wolves hopes for the NIT do not depend solely on the regular season title.
AState’s current RPI is 80 well within the range you would expect to have a solid shot for NIT at-large. There isn’t much cushion there. In the past five NIT’s, only one school outside the Power Five conferences has made it to the NIT at-large with an RPI higher than 90. That was the 2012 Illinois State team. They got in at 99 but they made the Missouri Valley Conference final losing by four points and while they went a less than spectacular 6-4 in their final 10 games their losses were to RPI 18, 23, 72, and at 137 but they also won against RPI 18 and 72 in that stretch. They went 4-8 vs RPI top 100 teams on the year.
AState’s schedule won’t look that good for the final 10 games. UTA is the only other Sun Belt team in the top 100. The Red Wolves are 2-5 vs. the Top 100.
The NIT seeds four brackets from 1-8. At 80 AState is a probable 7 seed with a legitimate shot at a 6 seed. Every 8 seed has been a school that made the tournament with an automatic bid and often the 7’s fill up with auto bids.
In trying to guess the NCAA field, you always worry have to assume some teams that should earn an automatic bid from a weaker league will get knocked off and take an at-large. In the NIT you worry about regular season champions losing their tournament but not having the resume to get an NCAA at-large.
Last year there were 15 auto bids in the field of 32 for the NIT. Most years 11 or 12 is more the norm.
AState needs a strong finish to bolster a shot at the NIT. My guess is four more wins between regular season and the conference tournament has AState in good shape with five wins all but clinching a spot.
NIT Bracketology by NYC Buckets projects AState as a 7 seed playing 2 seed Providence.
CBI/CIT: Barring total collapse AState should have a spot if desired and even a wipeout might still get a call. The question is whether AState would accept. The last time the question came up, the answer was “no” but that was a senior laden team. Devin Carter and Donte Thomas are the only seniors for the Red Wolves this year. My guess is that with a first-year head coach and most of the squad back, that AState would more likely than not make the investment.