During Championship Week when all 32 conferences hold the conference tourneys, including the Ivy League which is having their first tournament this year, the bubble is a precarious place, particularly for mid-major’s. This year will be no different. The top six power conferences are all well represented in this week’s bracket with 32 of the 36 at-large bids slated for top leagues.
Right now the three second tier leagues, the American, Atlantic 10, and Missouri Valley, are expecting two bids each and the WCC with perennial powers Gonzaga and St. Mary’s should both fill them.
In the American Athletic Conference, Cincinnati (5 seed this week) and SMU (7 seed) appear to be headed for tournament locks barring a disaster in the second half of the season. Houston is clearly on the bubble and will most likely have to win the tournament to get in.
The A10 is in a similar situation, though a little more precarious. Dayton (8 seed) should get in with a strong showing down the stretch. Rhode Island (last four in) is in for now and VCU is bouncing in and out of the bracket weekly. Odds are the A10 will end up with two teams in the tournament, Dayton accompanied by either Rhode Island, VCU, or the tournament winner, but a scenario with three teams seems unlikely.
The Missouri Valley is in the weakest position of the three. Both Illinois St. (9 seed) and Wichita St. (11 seed) are in right now, but a weaker than normal non-conference slate for Wichita St. has needed a run down the stretch to ensure another appearance in the tournament. Illinois St. is an interesting case. They scheduled several good opponents (New Mexico, Fort Wayne and St. Joseph’s), and they took care of business. Plus, they have a neutral court win over Tulsa which was a rematch from an early season loss at Tulsa, but they have no signature non-conference road win. A Top 30 RPI is a good signal for an at large bid, but no guarantee.
As for the one traditional bid leagues, a couple of interesting stories are emerging. Kevin Keatts has the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks running roughshod through the Colonial and Middle Tennessee St. has picked up where they left off after knocking off 2 seed Michigan St. last year. Both of these squads have strong resumes and good numbers from the analytic gurus, similar to Illinois State. Middle Tennessee St. did beat UNCW in a holiday tournament and may ultimately have the upper hand if these teams don’t win their conference championships. Right now they are both in, but the bubble is shaky ground.
Here is the conference breakdown for the January 23rd bracket: