Four months ago, 349 Division I men’s basketball teams began play in search of an invite to the NCAA tournament. Today, we can only say, if you don’t make it, it’s your own bloody fault.
After all, the basketball committee is a forgiving, beneficent group. How else to explain that Oklahoma State had a seven-game losing streak, but bracketologists agree OSU is in the field? That Iowa can be 6-11 against the top 100, but that’s good enough?
Anyway, it’s last call, conference tournaments in earnest. Here’s what’s at stake in the bigger leagues:
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Dayton (22-9) has had a weird season, playing well in Maui, losing four straight in January and following with six wins in a row. It probably meets Saint Joseph’s (21-9) in the semis. A win might be advisable for Dayton, requisite for the Hawks.
While top-seeded Virginia and Duke are trying to climb uphill to a No. 1 seed in the big tournament, Pitt and Florida State are bent on getting in. Pitt (46 RPI) is only 1-6 against the computer’s top 50 but the committee will like its 7-2 road record. A prospective quarterfinal matchup against North Carolina would be big for the Panthers. Florida State (59 RPI) probably needs an opening win over Maryland and another breakthrough against Virginia.
This league’s strength is so unquestioned — seven teams seen as in — that its postseason gala might hold very little suspense. But Oklahoma State (eighth in the league at 8-10 but one of those seven) might want to avoid sweaty palms by beating Texas Tech. West Virginia (17-14) has some nice wins, but needs at least two more against those seven, at minimum.
While Villanova tries to hold serve for a No. 1 seed, the primary bubble focus is on Thursday’s Providence-St. John’s collision of 20-11 teams. The Friars have a 53 RPI and are 2-6 against the top 50, better than St. John’s 57 and 1-7. Georgetown is also a factor, but at 17-13, it might need to beat Creighton on Thursday after opening with DePaul.
Welcome to the most interesting tournament, with a handful of teams knocking at the door, or at least looming in the driveway. Nebraska (19-11) probably punched its ticket with a propitious win Sunday over Wisconsin; next week, it will try for its first NCAA-tournament victory. Indiana (17-14) and Illinois (18-13) have considerable work ahead to get noticed — they meet Thursday — while it’s more realistic for Minnesota (19-12). The Gophers are a wishful 3-8/6-8 against the top 50/100, but the committee will value their No. 6 strength of schedule. They get Penn State first and then would play Wisconsin. Iowa doesn’t want to muddy things by losing its opener against Northwestern.
There’s speculation the league could get as few as three NCAA bids; my sense is, it’s in much better shape, in line for as many as six or seven. The week might be more about avoiding the bad loss (Colorado against USC, Stanford versus WSU) than adding big markers. Most vulnerable is California (55 RPI, 4-9 against the top 50, 7-11 versus the top 100), which likely needs at least to win a prospective quarterfinal against Colorado. Stanford might be next-most vulnerable (43 RPI, 4-8 top 50/7-11 top 100). Oregon appears to be in with its win over Arizona. Utah’s (20-10) nonconference schedule is a deal-breaker, but the Utes (who meet Washington first) are capable of a big run.
Behold Arkansas (21-10), which swept Kentucky, then put up 110 points on Ole Miss. And then went to Alabama in the season-ender and got smoked by 25. It figures to get Tennessee (20-10) in the quarters, in what could be make-or-break for both. Missouri (21-10) might need a serious run on the order of an opening win over Texas A&M and another over vaunted Florida.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org