That’s right, it’s “what does my favorite mid-major team need to do to get an at-large bid” season. Every few days, we’ll take a different team and dissect its resume to see what it needs to do to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. We start with East Tennessee State.
With East Tennessee State moving into Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out on Wednesday, it seems time to talk about whether the Bucs really have a shot at dancing if they fall short in the Southern Conference Tournament. Here’s where they stand.
Record: 16-4 (8-2 SoCon)
vs. Quad 1: 2-1
vs. Quad 2: 2-1
Good Wins: @ LSU, @ UNCG, vs. UNCG
Bad Losses: @ North Dakota State (Q3), vs. Mercer (Q4)
Biggest remaining games: vs. Furman (Feb. 19), @ Wofford (Feb. 26)
This doesn’t look great. That LSU win — which is huge, by the way — is doing virtually all the heavy lifting. The in-season sweep of UNC Greensboro boosts the metrics, but it’s hard to say how the committee will view it with the Spartans not projecting as a potential at-large team.
On the other end, the loss to Mercer would be understandable if ETSU didn’t also lose at North Dakota State. Generally, the committee can forgive a bad loss in conference play; it happens when you play a 16- or 18-game schedule. Pair it with one at North Dakota State and, well, it changes a little.
But ETSU can’t go back and change its body of work. Assuming ETSU wins out (the only way this conversation stays relevant), its NET will bump up a little bit, the record will be a little better, and probably the SOS as well.
St. John’s got an at-large bid last year with a final NET of 73 and a pre-tournament KenPom of 81 — both far worse than where ETSU is right now. The Red Storm also had five Quad 1 wins and five Quad 2 wins. If ETSU, through no fault of its own, can’t reach those numbers, then it needs to make up for it somewhere else. The problem is, there might not be anywhere else to look.
In the past, we’ve been able to look at mid-majors with thin resumes and say it would be a good test case to see how much committee members value metrics like KenPom and Torvik. Those aren’t official selection criteria, but are a helpful tool to evaluate teams.
Only, ETSU isn’t exactly blowing up the computers. It ranks in the 70s in offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Their overall KenPom ranking of 66 is on par with middling NIT teams and power conference at-larges from last year. Last year’s 75th-ranked team in Torvik was San Francisco, which missed out on the NIT.
Verdict: If ETSU wins out in the regular season, and does so convincingly, it can slip in. There’s no more room for error and the Bucs would be better off just winning the SoCon Tournament.