The at-large spots for today’s NCAA tournament selections are set. No more bid thieves are out there, unless you think that Ole Miss still needs to win to earn a spot (I tend to think yesterday’s result put them in the field). If the committee sets the identity of the 37, then they can also get about the business of properly seeding teams. The guess here is that is underway, and they’ve moved on from selecting the entries.
How it turns out depends on how the committee views the role of the last four at-large spots, and the answer to some key questions. I’ll point out that, while we don’t have much history with the expanded 68 team field and the use of the First Four games, the selections have been as follows: UAB, Clemson, USC, VCU, Iona, BYU, California, South Florida.
Half of those spots went to teams outside the top eight conferences, often in selections that were considered surprises by those trying to predict. UAB was not thought to have enough, VCU was widely pilloried (before they went to the Final Four), Iona was a surprise unless you were aware of the committee affinity for the RPI, and BYU was also considered not to have done enough by many, coming in behind Gonzaga and St. Mary’s in the WCC.
If those selections were part of a larger philosophy to use the expanded last three spots for more atypical profiles and teams with less opportunity to earn big wins at home against traditional powers, then Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss have a better chance than people think.
The key questions that will decide the bubble:
1. Did Middle Tennessee Do Enough, and Does the Committee Want the Best Available Mid-Major in one of these spots? I addressed why Middle Tennessee should be in here, and it comes down to whether the committee sees 0-2 against top 50, or puts it in context and sees 28-5 and an RPI that has them comfortably in.
2. The Crazy Case of Kentucky. Kentucky has been Virginia on steroids since Nerlens Noel was injured, adding wins against Missouri and Florida at home, but going only 2-4 in the other games, including 0-4 on the road, losing by an average of 17 points. The eye test matches the numbers; they have gone down hill and are probably on the wrong side. Cynics will say that the committee will see Kentucky and put them in; the committee says past history is no consideration. Because it is a first four game, though, Kentucky might get an opportunity to “prove it” one more time.
3. La Salle and the True Borderline Profile. The Explorers are very much on the cut line, they have some good wins (at VCU, Butler) and beat Villanova and Temple. They also played the kind of schedule that the committee loves, getting teams like Miami and Bucknell, and competing in a quality conference. Will the committee take their road record over other big conference schools like Tennessee and Maryland?
4. Will the RPI Save Southern Miss? It’s what they have going for them for a second year in a row. Losing three to Memphis means no wins over tourney type teams, so the top of the profile is bare. UAB got put into these games a few years ago, though, with a similar case.
5. Maryland and the Recency Effect. Committee chair Mike Bobinski said yesterday that the tournaments were just an extension of the regular season. No greater weight. That’s not good news for Maryland, who can point to the two wins versus Duke, but wants the Committee to ignore the 3-8 record against tournament type teams (yes, I’m including pre-injury Kentucky), and the weak non-conference schedule.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]