Monday, March 4, 2013

Bubble Poppers: At-Large Bids from Small Conferences

The conference regular season has now wrapped up in 15 out of the 31 automatic-bid-producing conferences, and conference tournaments begin this week in some of those 15.  With conference tournaments comes the chance that a top-seeded team will lose and forfeit the automatic bid that bracketologists have bestowed on it for so long.  For teams on the bubble, this may be bad news if the losing team is good enough to qualify for an at-large bid. One less slot for the South Floridas of the nation.

Here are 10 teams that could pop some other team's bubble if they lose in their conference tournament:

1. Delaware (26-3, 17-0 Colonial)
16th ranked in the latest AP poll and with a winning streak dating back to 2012, the Blue Hens are not missing the tournament this year.  But if the unthinkable happens and they lose in the Colonial tournament, the CAA will get two teams in the field when they would have only gotten one in otherwise.

2. Green Bay (24-2, 14-0)
20th ranked Green Bay has only two losses this season, none since December 5. Though their strength of schedule is abysmal, their consistency will likely be rewarded by the selection committee, even if they lose.

3. Gonzaga (25-5, 15-1 WCC)
Gonzaga started the conference season as one of three or four contenders for the West Coast Conference regular season crown. Since their loss to St. Mary's on January 10, the Bulldogs have gone undefeated while their conference contenders (BYU, St. Mary's, San Diego) sort of fell off, making the West Coast Conference a one-bid conference, unless Gonzaga loses.

4. Creighton (21-6, 13-3 Missouri Valley)
Creighton is the only team on this list that the S-Factor does not currently show as an automatic bid, but as an at-large bid.  Their RPI (26th ranked) is impressive, but their selection as an at-large bid is by no means certain given how rough the Valley's regular season was to them.  Still, wins against Nebraska and South Florida continue to look good for the Blue Jays, and I think they will have a good chance at getting an at-large bid. 

5. Toledo (26-2, 14-1 MAC)
With all the wild results from this weekend and Thursday, Toledo slipped into the AP rankings this week to #25.  Toledo is like a light-version of Green Bay: almost as dominant in conference (just one loss) almost as lengthy of a winning streak (last loss on January 10), and a strength of schedule that is slightly worse (the 222nd most difficult in the nation).  Should they lose, the Rockets still stand a good chance at getting an at-large bid. Maybe.

6. San Diego State (22-5, 13-1 MWC)
The Mountain West Conference lost a lot of its luster when TCU and Utah left, which is why the MWC is only getting one team in the field of 64 if San Diego State wins the tournament.  The MWC tournament though is notorious for upending the top seed, which has lost in six of the last seven conference tournaments.   San Diego State's last loss was on January 9, and their RPI of 36 may be enough to get them into the NCAA tournament without having to win the MWC tournament. Maybe.

7. Chattanooga (26-3, 19-1 SoCon)
Chattanooga had that monster win against Tennessee to open the season but lost 3 games against beatable opponents. Their 46-ranked RPI will probably keep them from the big dance if they lose the Southern Conference tournament. Maybe.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (25-5, 18-0 Atlantic Sun)
Florida Gulf Coast, still in only their second NCAA tournament-eligible season, dominated the Atlantic Sun Conference, and they went 2-3 against the big six conferences, including a win against LSU that is looking better and better as the season progresses. Still, the Atlantic Sun is a terrible conference (28th of 31 in conference RPI terms) and two bids from it seems unlikely.

9. Quinnipiac (26-2, 17-0 NEC)
The unexpected dominance of the Northeast Conference by Quinnipiac  this year might be enough to earn the Bobcats a bid to the NCAA tournament if they lose in the conference tournament. But like Toledo, their SOS is abysmal, and they'd basically be relying on a 3-point win against St. John's to get them in should they lose the NEC tournament.

10. Marist (23-6, 18-0 MAAC)
Though it hasn't happened in eight years, we must at least assume that Marist failing to get the automatic bid in the MAAC (Marist, Automatic, Always! Conference) is a possibility.  If that happens, could they get into the NCAA tournament anyways? I say it's unlikely given their six losses, their 49th ranked RPI, and their best win being over Princeton.

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