By the time Selection Sunday rolls around, the selection committee’s job is usually fairly easy. Most of the bubble teams in contention have already played themselves out during conference tournaments, and the top of the bracket has settled for the most part.
Bubble Watch: Who is locked and who still has work to do?
Some teams are comfortable. Some aren’t locks for the NCAA tournament but should still feel good about themselves. And some have work to do in the final hours before Selection Sunday.
That won’t be the case this year. Even with less than 24 hours until the field is announced, there could be as many as seven or eight teams fighting for what appears to be one or two bids at the bottom of the bracket. Throw in a couple of potential bid-stealers and it’s going to be a difficult stretch for the committee.
What are the biggest questions facing them as they enter crunch time?
1. Will the late-season performances of Oklahoma and Arizona State be a factor?
Win/loss record in a team’s last 10 or 12 games is no longer an official selection criteria, but in a crowded bubble year, how Oklahoma and Arizona State finished could come up in the room. Both teams were ranked in the top five nationally toward the end of December, and both teams have totally collapsed in the two-plus months since. Oklahoma went 6-12 in its final 18 games, dropping eight of its final 10. The Sooners did win two of their final three regular-season games — which could have wrapped up a bid — but were bounced in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament. Meanwhile, Arizona State beat Xavier and Kansas during nonconference play but then finished 8-10 in what is generally considered a down Pac-12. The Sun Devils appeared to seal things up by beating USC and UCLA at home in early February, but they then proceeded to lose five of their final six, including an opening-round Pac-12 tournament game to Colorado. The committee has consistently claimed that the full body of work is what matters, and both Oklahoma and Arizona State have to hope that’s the case. Because right now, neither is playing like an NCAA tournament team.
2. How will the committee view the gaudy-but-mostly-empty records of Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee?
Had Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee advanced to the title game of their respective conference tournaments, we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But Saint Mary’s was bounced in the West Coast Conference semifinals by BYU, while Middle Tennessee suffered a shocking quarterfinal loss in the Conference USA tournament to Southern Miss. Let’s start with Saint Mary’s. The Gaels finished 28-5, but their entire résumé essentially centers around a win at Gonzaga back in mid-January. The Gaels’ next-best wins are at BYU and home against New Mexico State. They’re just 4-3 against Quadrants 1 and 2. Middle Tennessee is in a similar position, with a better RPI and SOS but without an elite win. The Blue Raiders’ three best wins have come against Western Kentucky twice and Murray State. They’re 5-4 against Quadrants 1 and 2. Both teams have impressive records away from home, but both teams also have a couple of bad losses — with Middle Tennessee’s loss to Southern Miss coming in the dreaded Quadrant 4 category. It’ll come down to what part of these profiles the committee focuses on.
3. Will the Bonzie Factor be a thing?
Notre Dame became perhaps the most interesting bubble team in the country over the past several days, playing itself into the mix by beating Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament before falling to Duke in a quarterfinal. How much will the committee weigh the absence of Bonzie Colson? After he returned from a 15-game absence due to injury, Notre Dame went 3-2 with the losses coming at Virginia and to Duke. Before he got hurt, the Fighting Irish were 11-3. But their at-large résumé is borderline with and without Colson. As it stands, Notre Dame has a low RPI in the 60s with a Quadrant 1 record of 2-9. The Irish have a win on a neutral court against Wichita State, as well as victories over likely NCAA tournament teams Florida State, Virginia Tech and NC State. But even with Colson, the Fighting Irish didn’t have clear-cut tourney credentials. They lost to Ball State and Indiana and were run off the court by Michigan State in East Lansing. The eye test would say Notre Dame will get in, but the résumé likely falls short — with or without Colson.
4. How much will RPI really be weighed?
The committee will supposedly have a diminished reliance on the metric. The three teams to watch for in regard to this question are Louisville and Syracuse at the high end and Oklahoma State at the low end. Were Louisville (39) and Syracuse (44) to miss the NCAA tournament, they would be the highest-ranked power-conference teams to be left out. If Oklahoma State (87) were to make it, the Cowboys would be the lowest-ranked team to be included in the field. From a pure win-loss perspective, Oklahoma State would clearly have a superior résumé. The Cowboys have two wins over Kansas, a win over Texas Tech, a win at West Virginia, two wins over Oklahoma and victories over Texas and Florida State. They’re 5-12 against Quadrant 1 and don’t have a single Quadrant 3 or 4 loss. Meanwhile, Louisville also doesn’t have a bad loss, but the Cardinals haven’t defeated a single top-50 RPI team and are 5-13 against Quadrants 1 and 2. Syracuse has top-20 SOS and nonconference SOS, but the Orange have two Quadrant 3 losses. They do have a couple of good wins, namely victories over Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech. Will the committee set a precedent in either direction?
5. Which team is most at-risk if Davidson beats Rhode Island?
There’s only one potential bid thief playing Sunday, as Davidson will face Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 title game. San Diego State winning the Mountain West already shrunk the potential field by one bid, and Davidson could do it again Sunday. There are a couple of teams likely to be sweating a Davidson win the most: Arizona State and Saint Mary’s. Looking at the field, one could make the case 66 of the 68 bids are spoken for. A Davidson win means there is only one spot left. Saint Mary’s and Arizona State find themselves on the right side of most projections entering Selection Sunday; one of those teams would be bounced. If Louisville, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Middle Tennessee, Baylor or Syracuse still harbor hope of a bid, they’ll be rooting for Rhode Island as well.
How about that subplot, though? Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley needs Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley to win.