With only a few weeks left in the regular season, teams across the country are polishing their resumes in hopes of seeing their name flash on the screen on Selection Sunday.
Mid-majors have a much slimmer margin for error than Power 5 schools, but still, there are a handful who have put themselves in position for an NCAA Tournament bid, even if they do not win their conference tournaments.
Locks, if they existed:
As in: Gonzaga CAN lose the rest of its games and miss the NCAA Tournament, but we know that’s not going to happen. So barring something insane, these teams are all dancing.
Gonzaga: Gonzaga’s win over Ohio State at the PK80 is looking better by the day, and that is going to carry the Bulldogs into the tournament field unless something crazy happens. Wins over Texas, Creighton, and BYU help as well, but if Gonzaga truly wants to position itself well, a win in Moraga on Saturday would go a long way.
Rhode Island: The Rams haven’t lost in 64 days, and in that time, they have positioned themselves as the clear favorite in the Atlantic 10. But upsets happen. If someone knocks off the Rams in the A-10 tournament, they needn’t worry. A (virtual road) win over Seton Hall in the non-conference will carry a lot of weight, as will a conference win over St. Bonaventure. Victories over Providence, Charleston, and Florida Gulf Coast might not be as sexy, but they should move the needle as well.
Saint Mary’s: With a horrid non-conference schedule, Saint Mary’s had to rack up a ton of wins in the West Coast Conference, and that is what has happened. Buoyed by a dramatic win at Gonzaga, the Gaels are 23-2 and one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Jock Landale trails only Trae Young in the KenPom Player of the Year race, and KenPom gives the Gaels a 37 percent chance of running the table in WCC play.
Should be in:
Nevada: If the tournament started right now, Nevada would be in with ease. No question. But the Wolf Pack have potentially lost Caleb Martin and his 19 points per game for the rest of the season, and they did not handle their first game without him on Wednesday too well, falling at home to UNLV. There are still enough opportunities for good wins left on the schedule that Nevada shouldn’t have much to worry about...unless it can’t scrape together a couple wins without its star.
Work left to do:
Boise State: Record-wise, Boise State is right there with conference foe Nevada. The only problem: the Broncos’ 211th-ranked non-conference schedule, per KenPom. Couple that with two losses to teams ranked 100-or-worse (though Iowa State and Wyoming aren’t BAD teams by any measure), and I’m not ready to move them into the Should Be In category yet. Win these next two games (at Utah State and at home against Nevada) and that will change. The country deserves to see Chandler Hutchison in the NCAA Tournament.
Middle Tennessee: I want to move the Blue Raiders into Should Be In. Really badly. I just fear that Conference USA isn’t quite strong enough to hold them. Wins over Ole Miss and Vandy are nice to have, but neither team is particularly good. In fact, winning at Murray State was probably more impressive. I’d put Kermit Davis’s team in the field right now if I had the power, but it wouldn’t hurt to run up that record against the better CUSA teams and earn sweeps over Western Kentucky and UAB.
St. Bonaventure: I’ve maintained that despite a bad start to A-10 play, the Bonnies could get back into the at-large discussion. They’re not there yet, but with five straight wins are moving in the right direction. The A-10 might be down this year, but it’s still much better than most mid-major conferences, and the could work to their advantage. Beating Davidson, for example, would be no small feat. Same with a win at Saint Louis to end the regular season. But really there’s just one way to get back into the at-large field: beat Rhode Island.
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers’ at-large hopes took a huge hit with a loss to UTSA last weekend. But they also have one thing that no one else on this list has: a win over likely 1 seed Purdue. The could off-set three sub-100 losses (including an awful one to Ohio), but Western Kentucky can’t afford any more hiccups. The Hilltoppers finish the regular season with games against Old Dominion, UAB, and Middle Tennessee. Win every game until then, then pick off two of those teams, and Western Kentucky will have a strong at-large argument.
Keep an eye on:
New Mexico State: We’ve had this discussion before, both on the podcast and on Twitter. New Mexico State probably needs to win the WAC Tournament to get in. BUT THINK ABOUT THIS FOR JUST A SECOND. The Aggies have a win over Miami and four total against KenPom top 100 teams. They could be 29-4 going into Selection Sunday. If Utah Valley wins the WAC Tournament, the Aggies deserve at least a look.