Ahead of the final regular-season weekend of the season for the majority of mid-majors, it's time to take stock of where we stand vis a vis potential at-large NCAA Tournament berths ... not that this sort of thing isn't being done a thousand other places, but dammit, it fascinates me and I've spent waaaaaaaaay too much time thinking about it the past few days not to write about it.
Gonzaga is a lock and the A-10 aren't mid-majors, so I'm not discussing them. Elsewhere, in terms of likelihood:
Remaining schedule: vs. Cleveland St., Horizon tourney (at higher seed)
Odds: Just about airtight
Breakdown: With a glittering 8-2 mark against the RPI top 100 and half of those eight wins coming on the road, the Bulldogs would have to have some seriously freaky [excrement] go down to miss the NCAAs. Even a home loss tomorrow (to a good Cleveland St. team) and first-round shocker against one of the Horizon's lesser lights probably wouldn't evict the Bulldogs ... though it would at least pull them back into the discussion, and if enough leagues like the A-10, SEC, WCC, etc. hand their automatic bids out to teams that otherwise wouldn't qualify, the unthinkable could happen. Fortunately, that's not especially likely to happen.
Prediction: Butler closes out the regular season with the win and snares an at-large in the 8-9 range when one of the Horizon's desperate trio of solid runners-up (Cleveland, UW-Green Bay, Wright St.) takes them down in the tourney.
Remaining schedule: at Niagara, at Canisius, MAAC Tourney (Albany--i.e. Siena's home court).
Odds: Better than 50-50, but not by much.
Breakdown: Not going to completely rehash my Siena arguments from earlier this week, but a win up at Niagara tonight would push them to a perfect 6-0 against RPI 50-100 opponents, with two of those coming on the road. The only two losses against sub-100 teams would be by two points each away from Albany, and Siena also has the advantage of scheduling no one outside of the RPI top 200. I think a run from here to the MAAC final gets it done. That said: a loss at Niagara would be a killer (it shouldn't be, but this is the world we live in) and I also happen to think the Committee didn't get the chance to outrageously snub a mid-major last year and is probably aching to do it again for old time's sake.
Prediction: This hurts, but I don't think the Saints pull it out on the road tonight. The Purple Eagles' joint is going to be jumping and Niagara has a hell of a team. The good news: hopefully that'll give the Saints just enough of an edge to take care of business on their home court at the tourney, which is what I expect will happen.
3. UTAH ST.
Remaining schedule: at Nevada, vs. San Jose St., WAC tourney (Reno, i.e. Nevada's home floor)
Odds: Can't say I like them
Breakdown: It's really, really sad that I can look at a team that's gone an incredible 13-1 in a good league like the WAC and say "I don't think they'll make it without the automatic bid," but there's just no way to spin that loss at St. Mary's as anything but devastating. USU is 5-3 against the RPI top 100, but every one of those wins has come at home in Logan. The SMC tilt was a chance to prove that USU could handle their business against a decent (if hardly "good," when you consider that Mills wasn't playing) team on the road as well as at home, and they flubbed it. The Committee's not going to like that string of sub-RPI 250 opponents on the schedule, either. A loss this weekend at Nevada ends just about all hope. If the Ags run the table up to the WAC final their final record will be gaudy enough that they'll be right on the cutline ... but results elsewhere would have to be very favorable for me to feel good about their chances. They deserve a bid, flat-out, no question, but I've seen too many teams like this get the back of the Commitee's hand to think optimistically.
Prediction: Nevada wins the WAC tourney on its home floor, USU goes to the NIT as one of the most hotly debated teams on the Bubble. Man oh man, do I hope I'm wrong.
Remaining schedule: vs. Illinois St., Valley tourney (St. Louis)
Odds: Not good
Breakdown: With just one RPI top 50 win and an "eh" average RPI win/loss reading of 160/100, the Bluejays would almost have to hang their hat on an outright Valley title. Too bad it looks like UNI is going to share it with them if the Panthers down Evansville at home this weekend ... because Creighton does have some things going for it, namely a 9-4 overall record against the top 100 (which would improve to 10-4 should they hold serve vs. ISU), four top 100 wins on the road, and a potential 11-1 record in the final 12 games. But it's hard to really see it being enough when the Bluejays have only even played that single game against the top 50 and have more losses outside that top 50 (all six) than basically any other team on the Bubble.
Prediction: It's my guess, however, that the Bluejays won't need the at-large. They've been the best team in the Valley by a mile and a half over the last month, and that should continue at Arch Madness.
5. ST. MARY'S
Remaining schedule: at Loyola-Marymount, WCC tourney (Las Vegas)
Odds: Pretty terrible, actually, unless the Mills injury just confuses the hell out of the Committee.
Breakdown: Mills or no Mills, the Gaels have all of three top 100 wins. All three are fairly impressive--vs. USU, neutral vs. Providence and San Diego St.--but that's not enough to build a tourney resume around. After getting trucked by Santa Clara and Portland without Mills, the Gaels have to both a) get Mills back b) beat Gonzaga to prove their at-large worthiness. But this is where we're in Catch-22 mode: if the Gaels have just beaten Gonzaga, that means they've just won the automatic bid, right? I don't see a set of results where the Gaels fail to win the WCC and can still get an at-large unless the Committee goes in for some 2006-style "St. Mary's looked so good in losing to Gonzaga by two points in the WCC final, we're letting them in regardless of their actual accomplishments"-style hijinks.
Prediction: Away from Moraga and with Mills likely rusty, the wager here is that Portland sends the Gaels to the NIT with a semifinal WCC win.
Their losses to Charleston (RPI 110) and the Citadel (151) aren't as bad as you might think, but with just a 2-4 record against the top 100 Davidson can't absorb a third SoCon loss and still have any hope of getting an at-large; Northern Iowa has a decent 7-4 top-100 record and earned four of those wins on the road, but six losses to sub-100 teams is way too many, even if Creighton hands them the outright Valley crown; nobody else is worth even discussing, really.
RPI figures and records ganked from the unbelievably useful Selection Sheets at BBState. You should subscribe.