With every game counting for so much now, we 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.
The risk rating system I'll use is 0-5 (where 0 = zero risk, and 5 = OMG DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN!) A lot of conferences do not have a bid-stealing risk, simply because no team could be eligible for an at-large bid.
Today's round of bid thievery is shorter than the rest -- we're talking about the other "mid-major" conferences who haven't started their tournaments yet. (Sorry Missouri Valley and Great West, you would otherwise be here!) As I mentioned yesterday, for multi-bid conferences, the more teams that are "locks", the less likely a non-deserving team will be a bid thief. Tournament formats also affect the likelihood that bids are stolen. Today's slate after the jump: The Mountain West, Atlantic 10, and Conference USA.
Locks: Temple, St. Louis
Bubbles: Xavier, Dayton, St. Joseph's
Potential Bid Thieves: 8, particularly Dayton & St. Bonaventure
Tournament: 3/6 - 3/11
In other major misnomer, the Atlantic 10 actually has 14 teams in their conference. "Wait, Sasser, why then are there only 8 PBTs? Shouldn't there be 10?" That's the beauty of this tournament -- the bottom two teams in the conference don't get to participate! Hooray for fewer PBTs! In an interesting order of seeding vs. RPI, St. Joe's actually has to play a first round game against 5-11 Charlotte. St. Bonaventure has the 3-seed in the tournament and gets a game off, so So in the first round alone, we could see two bubbles pop (Dayton and St. Joe's) and three or four PBTs go down.
Locks: Southern Mississippi, Memphis
Bubbles: Central Florida
Potential Bid Thieves: 9, particularly Tulsa
Tournament: 3/7 - 3/10
Tulsa has a first-round bye, which means they only have to win three games to steal the bid. C-USA has a lot of parity this year, with the top six teams going 13-3, 11-5, 10-6, 10-6, 9-7, and 9-7 respectively. While four PBTs will be lost in the mix in the first round, everybody's capable of beating everybody here. Central Florida's bubble is rather questionable, but don't be surprised if they're in the at-large hunt if they play their play to the final.
Mountain West (MWC)
Locks: UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico
Bubbles: Colorado State
Potential Bid Thieves: 4
Tournament: 3/8 - 3/10
This conference is why I gagged at the Pac-12 yesterday -- Three automatic bids and a solid bubble team from a field of 8. Compare that to three (realistically) bubble teams and NO LOCKS from a field of 12 in the Pac-12. Sheesh. No byes here -- just three days of basketball. Pay close attention to Colorado State who is listed as an 11- or 12-seed in most brackets; they get a date with TCU to start the tournament. If they win that game, their at-large chances are pretty good, even with a loss to SDSU in the second round. A loss to TCU could see their bubble pop. The only teams with realistic shots at stealing the bid here are TCU and Wyoming, and they'll have to get through some pretty stiff competition just to get there. But again -- they only have to play three games.
- VCU survived a close one against Drexel to take the CAA's automatic bid. Drexel's RPI will be in the 70s, but several bracketologists show them in "Last Four In".
- St. Mary's squeezed past Gonzaga in OT, 78-74, to win the West Coast Conference bid. This game didn't matter, as Gonzaga will likely be going dancing as an 8-seed. I see Saint Mary's as a 5-seed.
- Denver was upset by Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt semifinal. Middle Tennessee State went down over the weekend, and their RPI sits at 59 for the moment. The Blue Raiders may have an RPI higher than 60 once all is said and done, and will likely miss out on an at-large bid.
- I apparently missed the Summit League in my March 3 analysis. Oral Roberts was upset by Western Illinois, 54-53, in the Summit League Semifinal. WIU will be facing bubble team South Dakota State in the final. I'm setting Risk to 2.0 for the Final, because SDSU and Oral Roberts are both fringe bubble teams.