Before everybody is consumed with March Madness, let’s participate in the annual ritual of trying to select the 65 teams that will play in the NCAA men’s basketball tournanent.
First, the easy part: there are 31 automatic bids for conference or conference tournament champions. Now comes the hard part: picking the other 34 teams. Actually, it’s not that hard. You take five or six teams from each of the power conferences and you are down to the so-called “bubble teams,” from here on, not to be referred to as such. Here’s one guess at how the field could look after you account for the 15 conferences that will receive only one bid:
Locks: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Miami, Syracuse, Notre Dame
Hoping to go: St. John’s. St. John’s has a lot at stake Sunday against Villanova. A victory would be its 20th (no Big East team with 20 wins has ever been rejected for the NCAA tournament) and would earn the Red Storm a first-round bye in the Big East tournament. Because it can’t win on the road, Rutgers must be content with an NIT bid.
Locks: Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest, North Carolina State
Hoping to go: Virginia. Virginia has gone from the No. 4 team in the country to one in danger of not making the tournament because of its second-half fold. Comeback upset of Duke revived the Cavaliers, but they will have to win the ACC tournament – or at least reach the title game – to make the tournament.
Hoping to go: St. Joseph’s. Xavier is a lock even if it doesn’t win the conference tournament, but Temple and possibly St. Joseph’s must win to make the NCAAs. St. Bonaventure is barely clinging to hope after blowing a lead at home to St. Joseph’s Thursday night. Remember when the Atlantic 10 thought it was as good or better than the Big East?
Locks: Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
Hoping to go: Missouri. Missouri, once ranked as high as No. 2, is probably in after beating Oklahoma State. But the Tigers’ RPI is 48; they have lost to DePaul, Iowa State, and Baylor, and play Kansas on Sunday in their final game before the Big 12 tournament.
Locks: Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Hoping to go: Minnesota. Michigan State played its way in by beating Ohio State and Indiana. Wisconsin, by winning a share of the regular season title, also should be in. Minnesota needs a good run in the conference tournament.
Hoping to go: Utah State. Utah State has beaten Utah and Brigham Young, but a loss to Pacific on Thursday could have cost the Aggies a berth if they don’t win the Big West tournament. Anybody else, including UC Irvine, has to win the automatic bid.
Locks: Cincinnati, Marquette
Hoping to go: Memphis, Charlotte, South Florida. Cincinnati can still earn a No.1 seed if it wins the conference tournament, which it is hosting. Memphis can end any doubts by upsetting Cincy on Sunday. If the Tigers don’t, John Calipari has to hope the selection committee remembers that Kelly Wise didn’t play in three of Memphis’ losses.
Hoping to go: Butler. Having won the regular-season title and done well in recent NCAAs, Butler thinks it should get a bid even if it doesn’t win the conference tournament. But wins over Purdue and Indiana are canceled out by an RPI of 67.
Hoping to go: Penn, Princeton, Yale. This could go down to Wednesday’s Princeton at Penn game. Or there could be a playoff for the only automatic bid not determined by a conference tournament.
Locks: Kent State
Hoping to go: Ball State. Kent State, with 23-5 and 16-1 (conference) records going into the weekend, should be in without winning the conference tournament. Ball State beat UCLA and Kansas to open the season in Maui, but the Cardinals have tailed off since. Ohio is a team to watch in the conference tournament.
Hoping to go: Creighton, Southern Illinois. Southern Illinois beat Creighton twice and thanks to Drake’s upset of Creighton, Southern is the top seed in the conference tournament. But even with 24 wins, Southern Illinois’ RPI is in the 50s.
Hoping to go: BYU, Wyoming. BYU has a 35-game home winning streak and an RPI in the low 30s, and Wyoming has to overcome a poor RPI (mid-70s). Look out for UNLV in the conference tournament.
Locks: Arizona, Oregon, USC, UCLA, California, Stanford
Hoping to go: Nobody. The Pac-10 tournament will be more jockeying for seeds in the NCAA field than trying to impress committee members. These six teams, led by regular season champ Oregon, are solid.
Locks: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Mississippi State
Hoping to go: Nobody. South Carolina or Vanderbilt would have to go far in the conference tournament to merit a seventh bid. Kentucky could use a good SEC tournament to get ready for the Big Dance. Lately, the Wildcats don’t look like the same team that battled Duke in December.
Locks: Western Kentucky
Hoping to go: Nobody. Western Kentucky is on target to win 25 games, so the Hilltopers shouldn’t need to win the automatic bid. They started the season with a win at Kentucky that opened a lot of eyes.
Locks: Gonzaga, Pepperdine
Hoping to go: Nobody. Pepperdine has lost seven games, but five were against top-30 RPI teams. The Waves beat UCLA, USC, and BYU, and split with Gonzaga. Given how well Gonzaga and Pepperdine have played in recent NCAAs, both should be in the 65-team field.
Hoping to go: Tulsa, Hawaii. Tulsa and Hawaii have had similar seasons, but Hawaii twice beat Tulsa, which hosts the WAC tournament. One of these schools could be left out, especially if another wins the automatic bid.