Depending on the source you study, the SEC still has as many as four teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble (we believe there are really only two, but we’ll explain that in greater detail later today.) Fans of bubble hopefuls Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Tennessee should be pulling for a couple of different things to happen at the SEC tourney in Nashville this week — either for their own team to cut down the nets or for Florida or Missouri to capture the title.
A championship for UA, UK, UM, or UT will give that winning team the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament and prevent any Selection Sunday sweating they might have to endure otherwise. A win by Florida or Missouri would give the auto-bid to a team that’s already earned its ticket to the Big Dance.
What the SEC’s bubble teams don’t need is some underdog squad making a surprise run to capture the tournament crown.
Just as upsets in other league tourneys can take away at-large berths, so too can an upset-winner in Nashville. If a Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, or some other team works its way onto the SEC’s trophy-presentation podium on Sunday, there will be one less NCAA at-large bid available to the Crimson Tide, Rebels, Volunteers, and Wildcats.
That’s just the state of things in Nashville. The SEC’s bubble teams also need to be keeping an eye on the following key conference tournaments across the country this week:
Conference USA – SEC bubble hopefuls should be pulling for Memphis to win its league tournament. The Tigers were regular-season champs and are currently 27-4 with an RPI of 16. Southern Miss is 21-8 with an RPI of 35 and a seat squarely on the bubble. It’s possible C-USA might just be a one-bid league if Memphis wins the title. The Tigers went 16-0 in conference play and fans in Knoxville, Lexington, Oxford, and Tuscaloosa should be rooting for them to be just as successful in their league tourney this week.
Horizon League – It’s doubtful that regular-season champ Valparaiso (24-7, RPI 60) would earn an at-large bid if it’s upset in its league tournament, but better safe than sorry. Fans of SEC bubble teams should be pulling for Valpo when they play Wright State in the finals on Tuesday.
MAC – SEC fans should be rooting for Akron. The Zips are 23-6 with an RPI of 53. If Akron is upset, it’s possible the selection committee might give a league that’s had past NCAA tourney success a second bid. That would gobble up a potential bid for an SEC squad.
Missouri Valley Conference – This one’s already in the books as top-seeded Creighton slipped past second-seeded Wichita State in the finals. So the Blue Jays are in but the Shockers are very much in bubble contention with a 26-8 record and a #39 RPI. The fact that the league’s top two teams reached the finals is a positive for the the SEC’s hopefuls. The MVC ranks #9 in RPI as a conference (one slot behind the SEC) and might have earned three bids had some other team pulled an upset. Oh, and in case you missed yesterday’s final, this happened, too.
MWC – This one’s tough. The Mountain West boasts the nation’s top RPI as a conference, even ahead of the mighty Big Ten. No less than five teams have bid-worthy resumes: New Mexico (26-5, RPI 2), Colorado State (22-7, RPI 15), UNLV (22-8, RPI 22), San Diego State (19-9, RPI 32), and Boise State (19-9, RPI 37). What the SEC’s hopefuls don’t need is for one of this league’s other four teams to win this week’s tournament.
Patriot League – Regular-season champ Bucknell should be the team SEC fans are backing when they host Lafayette in the tourney finals on Wednesday night. The Bison are 26-5 with an RPI of 51 and a history of being pesky in the NCAA tourney. If they’re taken down in an upset, it’s possible the selection committee will throw a lifeline to Bucknell.
Sun Belt Conference – Bad news from this tournament, SEC fans. Sixth-seeded Western Kentucky will face fourth-seeded Florida International tonight. FIU knocked off top-seeded Middle Tennessee State yesterday and there’s a good chance the Blue Raiders will now snatch an at-large bid as a result. MTSU was 19-1 in its league this year, 28-5 overall, and carries an RPI of 29. Had they won their league tourney, no other Sun Belt team would have been given an at-large bid. As it stands, this now looks like a two-bid league.
WAC – This tournament doesn’t tip-off until Tuesday and the favorites are #1 seed Louisiana Tech (25-5, RPI 46) and #2 seed Denver (21-8, RPI 57). This will likely be a two-bid conference whether there’s an upset-winner or not, but to be on the safe side… pull for La. Tech.
West Coast Conference – While there was bad news from the Sun Belt tourney in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the news is good from Las Vegas. The league’s two top seeds and two NCAA hopefuls — Gonzaga and St. Mary’s — will meet in their tourney finals tonight. Gonzaga is already a lock for the Big Dance (29-2, RPI 10), but St. Mary’s is on the bubble (26-5, RPI 30). For safety’s sake, SEC fans should be pulling for the Zags tonight.