Welcome to Championship Saturday. Today, automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament will be given out in mid-major conferences throughout the country. The first one starts with the America East at 11 a.m. and it goes all the way through to the Big West’s tip-off at midnight Eastern.
After a number of No. 1 seeds took automatic bids to the NIT early in Championship Fortnight, the deluge has slowed to a trickle during the past week as top seeds survived their opening rounds. The only one handed out recently was to Southland regular season champion Sam Houston State.
This has given a number of NIT bubble teams some renewed life. BYU hung around the bottom of the NIT until the Bearkats lost. Utah Valley, which fell in the WAC semifinals to Grand Canyon on Friday night, is one of the last teams into the bracket. The Wolverines are joined by a host of mid-majors in rooting for those top seeds to get the job done today.
Now, those No. 1 seeds will face their toughest challenges as they attempt to secure the NCAA berths.
The most confusing situation of any NIT team, though, is South Carolina. The Gamecocks lost to Auburn in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament — the only game they played in Nashville. At first glance, Frank Martin’s team is now 16-16 overall, but they have a victory over Division II North Greenville back on Dec. 31. So technically the Gamecocks are under .500 against Division I (though 11-7 against the SEC). Ultimately, I think that beating Auburn, Mississippi St., and Florida during conference play is going to be enough to get the Gamecocks into the NIT, but it might be closer than people think.
After Arizona State lost in overtime to Oregon last night, I’m projecting that the Pac-12 will be a one-bid conference to the NCAA Tournament. The Sun Devils certainly have a chance of dancing. They have a few good wins, but also some head-scratching losses. If Oregon were to beat Washington, it would have large ramifications across both the NCAA and NIT brackets. (Ditto for if San Diego State, which upset Nevada last night, can defeat Utah State in the Mountain West finals.)
Enjoy a wild day of games!
Last 4 In NCAA Tournament (In Order): Temple, Belmont, St. John’s, N.C. State
NIT Bracket (automatic bids in bold, bubble teams in italics):
1. UNC Greensboro
5. South Carolina
7. Loyola University Chicago
1. Arizona St.
8. South Dakota St.
6. San Francisco
7. Sam Houston St.
8. Wright St.
5. Fresno St.
6. Utah Valley
7. Wichita St.
8. Saint Francis U.
6. East Tennessee St.
Notes: Sam Houston St. was moved up a line for geographic considerations. The final bracket will come out after the relevant games on Selection Sunday. (It may be updated once the NCAA Selection Show reveals the First Four Out. Follow John on Twitter for more frequent updates.)