This Week's Bracket
Big Ten (7)
Big 12 (6)
Big East (6)
Mountain West (3)
Missouri Valley (2)
West Coast (2)
Selection Sunday is finally only a matter of days away and the debates about which teams deserve bids will soon be resolved. Tickets to The Dance are being punched by way of conference tournaments and the bracket is a few games away from being solidified. The bubble teams will be under the most scrutiny over the next few days, so let’s start with them.
Murray State caused some waves when they lost the Ohio Valley championship to Belmont on Saturday. The immediate reaction on Twitter was that Murray State should be in the field in spite of losing out on the automatic bid. The Racers compiled an impressive 16-0 record in conference play and even cracked a few top 25 rankings.
However, a look at the résumé reveals a team probably will be in the NIT. Murray State has an RPI of 68 and a schedule strength ranking of 234. The two best teams they played (Xavier and Valparaiso) handed them losses by an average of 31 points. Murray State had one RPI top 100 win (Illinois State, who almost caused some havoc by making a run in the Missouri Valley Tournament). Barring a complete meltdown from every other bubble team or the selection committee catching everyone off guard, the Racers will be on the outside of the field.
This is a prime example of the cruelty of conference tournaments for mid/low-major programs. The singular goal of making the NCAA tournament can be stripped away by a crazy shot in the closing seconds and a successful season can be relegated to the NIT.
In other bubble news, compelling storylines have formed in most of the major conferences, particularly the Big 12 and SEC. The Big 12 has been one of college basketball’s deepest conferences this year. Two teams, Oklahoma State and Texas, have had similar seasons and find themselves in similar positions heading into the Big 12 tournament. Both finished 8-10 in conference, and a sub-.500 conference record is always an immediate red flag.
At the moment I have Oklahoma State getting the nod over Texas for a spot in the field. Why? The Cowboys and Longhorns have nearly identical RPI and SOS numbers, but Oklahoma State has actually put together a list of quality wins while Texas is riding the difficulty of its schedule. For me, the difference lies in Oklahoma State’s 6-8 record against RPI top 50 teams versus a 3-11 mark in that category for Texas. Both teams need a win or two in the Big 12 tournament to have any sense of comfort on Sunday.
The SEC is a whole different story. Kentucky dominated the conference from start to finish, running up their 31-0 record in the process. Georgia and Arkansas seem to be relative locks to make the field, but LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss are three teams that are very similar and are all hopeful bubble members. LSU has wins over West Virginia and Arkansas (the best pair of wins of the trio) and swept Ole Miss. Ole Miss defeated Arkansas, Oregon and Cincinnati, along with Texas A&M. A&M swept its two meetings with LSU, but heading into the SEC tournament I have the Aggies as the lone member of this trio on the outside of the field due to an overall lack of quality wins.
All of the bubble teams are cheering hard for the favorites to prevail in the major conference tournaments, as a team on the outside of the field could steal a bid by catching fire for a weekend (see Illinois State, almost).
Be sure to follow @ScoutBrackets for the latest on teams punching their tickets and to see which bubble teams should really be sweating on Sunday evening. Also be sure to check back here Sunday morning, as a Selection Sunday preview and bracket will be up. After the bracket is released, I will also have a reaction to what the committee did that will post on Monday. It’s the best time of year for college hoops fans, so make sure you stay up to the minute on all the happenings!
First Four Out: Texas, UCLA, Texas A&M, Illinois
New to the Field
Left the Field