When the field of 68 is finally revealed Sunday evening it means the phrase “bubble watch” goes on its trip to the land of jargon until next February when it again will be around as the regular season starts to come to a close.
This year’s bubble bunch took a hit Saturday when Wyoming beat San Diego State 45-43 in the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game. The Cowboys have an RPI around 80, not good enough to get in as an at-large, and San Diego State, with an RPI around 25, will still get in despite the loss.
“We’ve been so close before, just seeing it slip right from our fingertips,” Wyoming senior Larry Nance Jr. said. “To know that this is ours, and there’s nothing anybody can do to take that away from us, like I said, it’s everything we imagined and more.”
That means one of the teams that have been declared bubble teams over the past two weeks will get bumped. Oklahoma State, Purdue, Indiana, Mississippi and LSU are all power conference teams with RPIs from 48-54 and they will all have a rough Saturday wondering if their resume is good enough to get them in the tournament.
“I do think we’re in the tournament,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the Boilermakers’ loss to Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten semifinals. “We’ve had 13 Big Ten wins, and I do feel we’re in the tournament. But we had to overcome some things. There’s no doubt the way we played nonconference we had to go get — I said it when we walked out of non-conference. I just said, we’ve got to get 13 Big Ten wins in some way, counting the Big Ten Tournament, however you want to accumulate it, we’ve got to get to 13, and we were able to do that.”
Temple lost to SMU in the American Athletic Conference semifinals and will be one of the teams waiting to see their name on Sunday.
“There’s great angst, great angst,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’re in an unknown area that we’re not real familiar with and we just kind of have to take a step back and see what this next 24 hours brings.”
Xavier coach Chris Mack summed up the feelings of those waiting, even if they think they are a lock.
“As bad as we feel today,” he said after the Musketeers lost 69-52 to fourth-ranked Villanova in the Big East title game, “give us about 20 hours and we’ll be excited to play another day.”
The teams on the bracket fence dodged a bullet Saturday when Rhode Island lost to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 semifinals. A win by the Rams, who have an RPI around 55, would have kept them alive for an automatic bid if they could have beaten VCU in Sunday’s championship game.
WAITIN’ FOR DAYTON: Eight teams get the NCAA Tournament started before the rest of the field, Tuesday and Wednesday in the first round played in Dayton, Ohio.
One game each day will be played between two of the last four of the 36 teams to receive at-large bids. The extra game is by no means a tournament death notice. VCU started its run to the Final Four in 2011 with a first-round win over Southern Cal 59-46. Four games later, the Rams beat Kansas to reach the Final Four where they lost to Butler in the semifinals.
The other two games feature teams trying to be a No. 16 seed and face the awesome task of being the first one ever to beat a No. 1 seed. It’s a guarantee that Hampton, which beat Delaware State on Saturday to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament and the league’s automatic bid. The Pirates’ sub-.500 record (16-17) and an RPI in the neighborhood of 260 mean they will definitely be in Dayton.
Other teams which are in the field with high RPIs include: Manhattan (163), North Florida (154), UAB (143) Coastal Carolina (129) and Texas Southern (124).
WHO’S NO. 1?: The losses Friday in the Atlantic Coast Tournament semifinals by Virginia and Duke started a lot of talk about the teams being No. 1 seeds. In the past it always seems the Tournament Selection Committee has made its mind up about the top seeds when their work first starts at midweek rather than wait until the final day when most of the housekeeping around the bracket is taken care of.
Since 2005, there have been three occasions when two teams from the same conference earned No. 1 bids. In one of those cases neither team won their conference tournament. In 2006, Villanova lost in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament and Connecticut was out a round earlier and both were No. 1 seeds. Maybe Virginia and Duke will still be on that top line on Sunday.
HOME COOKING: UAB (19-15) took advantage of the Conference USA Tournament being played on its home court to earn its first NCAA Tournament trip since 2011 with the win over Middle Tennessee State.
Connecticut, the defending NCAA champion, can do the same Sunday with a win over SMU in the American Athletic Conference title game at the XL Center in Hartford, one of the Huskies’ home courts during the regular season. It would be an upset if the Huskies, with an RPI around 75, can beat the 20th-ranked Mustangs, but they have made some magical runs to national championships.
“It’s a scenario where we lose and we don’t get a bid,” Huskies coach Kevin Ollie said. “You know, we feel not the pressure, but we feel the opportunity.”
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