The answer to that question will likely determine who earns the last spot or two in the field. Thursday afternoon’s early game window definitely didn’t provide enough clarity.
I’ll start this Thursday
I’ll start this Thursday afternoon update with the easy nuggets before moving on to the puzzles that remain.
- The Florida Gators didn’t exactly lock up a bid by knocking off the Arkansas Razorbacks in the SEC Tournament 8/9 game, 66-50, but they’re almost there (despite their presence in the “Last Four In” group below). Tomorrow, if UF can defeat the LSU Tigers for a second time this season, Mike White’s squad will be in the field of 68 for the third straight season.
- One less bubble-burster is hanging around in the Big East Tournament, as the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats eliminated the eighth-seeded Providence Friars, 73-62.
- The MAC Tournament’s No. 1 seed and NCAA lock, the Buffalo Bulls, blew right past the Akron Zips in the conference’s first quarterfinal in Cleveland, 82-46. The Bulls just need to win twice more to secure the Mid-American’s automatic bid and preserve an at-large spot.
But the combination of results in the day’s first games at the ACC Tournament and Big Ten Tournament left us with a bit of a conundrum for projecting the final at-large spot. Sure, the Ohio State Buckeyes gave themselves a bit of breathing room by holding off the Indiana Hoosiers, 79-75, in Chicago. And at first glance, that loss should have eliminated the Hoosiers from contention, particularly as their record dropped to 17-15. But in Charlotte, the NC State Wolfpack couldn’t build on their 29-27 halftime lead over the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, falling by 20 in the end, 76-56.
So, with the last team in this morning’s projected field, Indiana, and the first team excluded, NC State, both losing, what’s the call?
If the Selection Committee’s shiny new tool, the NET, rules this season’s deliberation, the 32nd-ranked Wolfpack are in the driver’s seat, even if they own just two wins over teams in the current field and the worst non-conference schedule in the country.
But if the Committee once again values Quadrant 1 wins over everything else, the 51st-ranked Hoosiers have an edge, thanks to the six on their profile. And that’s true even with 15 losses. As the Committee has shown by taking 15-loss Vanderbilt Commodores (2017) and Alabama Crimson Tide (2018) teams in each of the past two seasons, the quality of your wins matters more than the number of times you lost.
And there’s yet a third option, in the 46th-ranked Belmont Bruins, the second team out this morning. If the Selection Committee is willing to show mid-majors a little love, a real possibility due to the fact six of the 10 members represent such schools or conferences, the OVC co-champs have a shot. Note that the Committee elevated the Nevada Wolf Pack to the No. 4 seed line in their February bracket preview despite the Pack’s lack of Quad 1 wins.
With that in mind, I’m making a bold projection. Mind you, I don’t expect it to last with plenty of games and potential bubble drama left. But this possibility feels more real to me than it has since Saturday night.
Last Four Byes: Minnesota, St. John’s, TCU, Ohio State
Last Four IN: Florida, Temple, Texas, Belmont
First Four OUT: Indiana, NC State, Creighton, Oregon
Next Four Out: Lipscomb, Clemson, Alabama, UNC Greensboro
With both Creighton and TCU from the group above in action at the moment, and the Pac-12 Tournament’s top seed, Washington, and Mountain West No. 1 Nevada also underway, this list may shuffle a bit more before the evening session begins.