With every game counting for so much now, us Wildcat fans need to be wary of any teams who are out to try and steal one of the automatic bids in their conference tournaments from more accomplished, possible at-large invitees to the NCAA Tournament.
For this post, I'll be looking at the lesser conferences and conferences currently in their tournaments. A lot of conferences do not have a bid-stealing risk, simply because no team could be eligible for an at-large bid. The risk rating system I'll use is 0-5 (where 0 = zero risk, and 5 = OMG DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN!). I'll put up another post in the next couple of days for the conferences with more at-large bids in play, since, well... it could take a while.
I'll start with the zero-risk conferences first, and then get into the meat of the matter. More on that after the jump!
"DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY" CONFERENCES
SWAC - Best Team: Mississippi Valley State (RPI 159)
Tournament: 3/6 - 3/10
No worries here. This conference sucks so much that no one would touch Miss. Valley St. with a ten foot pole.
Mid-East - Best Team: Norfolk State (RPI 133)
Tournament: 3/5 - 3/10
Move along, nothing to see here.
America East - Best Team: Stony Brook (RPI 156)
Tournament: Stony Brook in semifinals
Another lousy conference.
Southland - Best Team: Texas-Arlington (RPI 94)
Tournament: 3/6 - 3/10
Getting a little better; still not enough for an at-large bid, though.
Big South - Best Team: UNC-Asheville (RPI 108)
Tournament: UNC-Asheville champion
UNC-Asheville has won their tournament.
Northeast - Best Team: Wagner (RPI 78)
Tournament: Wagner in semifinals
Long Island is actually favored to win the tournament, and they have also qualified for the semis. However, Wagner's RPI is just too low to matter.
Southern - Best Team: Davidson (RPI 63)
Tournament: Davidson in semifinals
Davidson is in the same situation as Wagner; a loss in the tournament would throw them off the bubble.
Big Sky - Best Team: Weber State (RPI 69)
Tournament: Weber State & Montana in semifinals
Montana actually won the regular season title, and are listed in Joe Lunardi's bracket as a 15-seed. Weber State's nowhere to be seen on his bracket.
Atlantic Sun - Best Team: Belmont (RPI 60)
Tournament: Belmont champion
Not that it would have made a difference, anyway, but Belmont won their conference tournament. Ho-hum.
Patriot League - Best Team: Bucknell (RPI 85)
Tournament: Bucknell v. Lehigh in Finals
Even if Bucknell were to win against Lehigh, their RPI still wouldn't be high enough for an at-large bid.
Mid-American (MAC) - Best Teams: Akron (RPI 70); Ohio (RPI 71)
Tournament: 3/5 - 3/10
No bubble teams here, either.
Ohio Valley - Best Team: Murray State (RPI 24)
Tournament: Murray State champion
Murray State was a last-second shot away from coughing up their automatic bid to Tennessee State this afternoon. Luckily for us, that didn't happen.
Horizon League - Best Team: Cleveland State (RPI 75)
Tournament: Detroit champion; Cleveland State eliminated in semis
Detroit stole the conference's automatic bid; they didn't really steal much else, though.
"FEELIN' (NOT SO) GROOVY" CONFERENCES
Big West - Best Team: Long Beach State (RPI 35)
Potential Bid Stealers: The field
Tournament: 3/8 - 3/10
Long Beach St. is definitely a bubble team; they're typically listed as a 10- or 11-seed on most brackets, but they lost their first and only conference game against Cal State-Fullerton earlier today. A loss late in the tournament might leave them on the bubble for an at-large bid. However, the 49ers ran roughshod over the rest of the conference and are still a heavy favorite to win their tournament. Wins against Pitt and Xavier don't hurt, either.
Sun Belt - Best Team: Middle Tennessee (RPI 44)
Potential Bid Stealers: The field, particularly Denver
Tournament: 3/6 - 3/9
The Blue Raiders are teetering on the bubble after a really bad loss against Western Kentucky. It's possible that a loss in the Sun Belt Tournament final could take them out of at-large bid consideration; then again, maybe not.
MAAC - Best Team: Iona (RPI 38)
Potential Bid Stealers: Fairfield, Loyola (MD), Manhattan/Siena
Tournament: Iona in semifinals
A particularly hard team to judge, here. Iona does not have a Top-50 RPI win, but their SOS has kept them afloat. A loss to Loyola and their RPI is probably still good enough to get the at-large bid. A loss to Fairfield or to the winner of the Manhattan/Siena quarterfinal might drop them out of contention.
Western Athletic (WAC) - Best Team: Nevada (RPI 49)
Potential Bid Stealer: New Mexico State (RPI 65)
Tournament: 3/8 - 3/10
Nevada is squat on the bubble with little room for error. A loss to New Mexico State might not hurt their RPI enough to completely tank their at-large hopes. A loss to anyone else, however, will.
Ivy League - Best Team: Harvard (RPI 37)
Potential Bid Stealer: Penn (RPI 89)
The Ivy League does not have a conference tournament; instead, they give the automatic bid to the team with the best conference record. Harvard beat Cornell today 67-63 to finish at 12-2. Penn can still steal the bid, but they need to beat Princeton on the road on Tuesday just to get a tiebreaker game against the Crimson. However, it should be noted that Harvard is not a lock for the tournament, so they aren't guaranteed an at-large bid yet.
Colonial Athletic - Best Team: VCU (RPI 59)
Potential Bid Stealers: Old Dominion, Drexel, George Mason/Georgia State
Tournament: VCU in semis
VCU's RPI is not the best; however, the fact that they advanced to the Final Four last year might give Shaka Smart's team a little bit of weight with the selection committee. I consider them on the bubble until they're not on the bubble.
"FREAK OUT" BID STEALING SITUATIONS
West Coast - Best Teams: Gonzaga (RPI 25), St. Marys (RPI 31)
Potential Bid Stealers: BYU (RPI 47), San Francisco
Tournament: All four in semis
Gonzaga and St. Marys are locks to make the tournament; both have great RPIs and some decent wins to their credit (including wins against each other). BYU is on the bubble, currently as a 12-seed. A win against Gonzaga tonight likely puts BYU as a "lock". San Francisco is the bigger worry, as they've upset Loyola Marymount to advance to the semis. The Bulldogs and Gaels need to both win tonight to maximize our bid potential.
Edit: Gonzaga and St. Mary's both advanced to the final on Saturday night. No bids will be stolen here.
Missouri Valley - Best Teams: Wichita State (RPI 10), Creighton (RPI 26)
Potential Bid Stealer: Illinois State
Tournament: ISU v. Creighton in final; Wichita St. eliminated in semifinal by ISU
Freak out, because this is an imminent potential bid steal. Illinois State shut down the Shockers to reach the final, and if Creighton loses, ISU has stolen a bid. The final's tomorrow. FREAK OUT!