Now things get real. The calendar has turned to February and college basketball season has kicked into high gear. Teams have played nearly three-quarters of the regular season (shoutout to still undefeated San Diego State!). You would think that would mean that most resumes would be close to locked down, but that’s far from the case.
Take Memphis, for instance. The Tigers are sitting right on the NCAA bubble right now, according to the BracketMatrix, but Penny Hardaway’s squad is about to embark on a brutal 10-game stretch to finish the season. They might not even be favored in half of those games. That is why I have serious concerns about their viability as an NCAA Tournament team and have moved Memphis into the First Four Out group that makes up the NIT’s top seeds.
A few mid-majors are also trying to walk a delicate tightrope when it comes to bracket qualification. Once again, the Southern Conference is one of the best mid-major conferences in college basketball. They have three teams in the top 80 of KenPom: East Tennessee State, Furman and UNC Greensboro. Last year, the Buccaneers were part of a four-team race that also included Wofford. ETSU went 13-5 in the SoCon and was perplexingly shut out of the NIT. This season, Steve Forbes has his team on top of the conference, which could lead to an automatic NIT bid, if necessary. Of course, In a just world ETSU would be trying to round out a profile for a shot at an NCAA at-large, but the committee’s persistent focus on Quadrant I and II wins makes it a long shot. This time around it’s UNC Greensboro and Furman that are solidly on the NIT bubble. And while they’ll be strong favorites in most of their games down the stretch, they can only really afford losses to each other.
Other teams in a similar spot include BYU and Saint Mary’s in the WCC (and San Francisco in terms of NIT qualification). In CUSA, it’s whichever team between Louisiana Tech and North Texas doesn’t win the conference, and in the Atlantic 10, it’s Saint Louis and Duquesne. The Billikens have built a strong NIT profile on the strength of no bad losses, but taking one down the stretch in A-10 play could push them closer to the cut line.
Once again, this projection attempts to figure out what the NIT bracket will look like on Selection Sunday, including predictions of all remaining games (thanks to KenPom and T-Rank). It is not if the season ended today. The data was current as of Feb. 1, 2020. Teams in italics are in danger of losing their spot in the NIT bracket because approximately 10 teams that are the top seed in a 1-bid conferences will receive an automatic bid after losing in their conference tournament.
Last 8 in NCAA: Arkansas, VCU, Stanford, Cincinnati, BYU, Rhode Island, Purdue, Alabama
8. Colorado St.
4. Virginia Tech
5. St. John’s
6. Louisiana Tech
2. Arizona St.
7. San Francisco
4. Notre Dame
5. Utah St.
6. UNC Greensboro
7. South Carolina
2. North Carolina St.
8. Boise St.
5. Saint Louis
Next bracket: After Valentine’s Day