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.
With regular season play just about wrapped up, we'll be taking a look at the "Big Six" conferences. (I'll be doing the 3-4 remaining conferences within the next day.) Generally speaking, for multi-bid conferences, the more teams that are "locks", the less likely a non-deserving team will be a bid thief. Tournament format also comes into play: For example, the Big East's tournament features two rounds of byes, meaning that bid thieves have to take each other out before they challenge "lock" or "bubble" teams. Therefore, it's much less likely you'll see a bid thief come out of that conference (although it has happened, sort of). I'll give you the rundown after the jump:
Locks: Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin
Potential Bid Thieves: 5 teams, particularly Iowa
Tournament: 3/8 - 3/11
Let's just start off with our home conference, shall we? Because half the conference is a lock and we're the bubble team, there aren't many places where a lesser team will be able to steal the auto-bid. Moreover, the first-round Iowa-Illinois game will KO one of the Potential Bid Thieves. I choose Iowa as the most likely bid thief candidate, since they've had the most wins against the Top 6 of the conference.
Locks: Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, West Virginia
Bubbles: Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Connecticut
Potential Bid Thieves: 7, including UConn
Tournament: 3/6 - 3/10
Seriously, you have 16 teams. This double-bye thing is bull$%&*! Play a standard 16-team bracket and get it all over with, already! Seriously, though -- this bracket is a bubble team's dream, and I think it has a LOT to do with why the Big East gets so many teams into the NCAA Tournament in recent years. Bubble teams get to play a garbage team in the first round. And then, in the second round, they get to play a middle-of-the-road team just above them! Two wins not against the best in the conference can be a big boost on paper, but they're the only major conference with that luxury. Anyway -- the bracket does not favor PBTs. They have to win five(!!!) games to steal a bid, typically. At least three PBTs will be KO'ed in the first round. If a PBT still exists by the third round, they're playing against a top team with fresh legs. Not exactly an easy route. That said -- UConn managed to win the tournament last year as a #9 seed. It's doable. In the ideal world, however, Seton Hall and Connecticut all lose in the opening round, and Cincinnati loses in the second round (they have a first-round bye). In that case, all three of their bubbles likely pop, and Wildcat fans would be none the happier.
Locks: Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State
Potential Bid Thieves: 4, none very good
Tournament: 3/7 - 3/10
This is an incredibly top-heavy conference. None of the PBTs have an RPI under 120. To make matters worse (for them), the bottom four have to play each other in the first round. I don't see there being any way that a bid gets stolen here.
Atlantic Coast (ACC)
Locks: North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Virginia
Bubbles: North Carolina State, Miami
Potential Bid Thieves: 7, particularly Miami & Clemson
Tournament: 3/8 - 3/11
Another very top-heavy conference. They may be slightly more competitive than the Big 12, however, and I include Miami as a Potential Bid Thief because they are currently a fringe bubble team at best -- they would need at least two wins in order to gain entry into the tournament. All four lock teams get a bye in the first round, which means at least three PBTs will also go down in the first round. It's also really hard to see one of the lower teams beating UNC or Duke.
Locks: Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt
Bubbles: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi State
Potential Bid Thieves: 7, particularly Alabama
Tournament: 3/8 - 3/11
There's Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt -- and not much else. Same as the Big Ten and ACC, the top four teams get a bye. Alabama's the only real likely competitor here, and that will only be the case if they can suddenly find the 3-point shooting touch that carried them early in the season. I don't see anyone beating Kentucky AND Florida/Vanderbilt.
Redheaded Stepchild of the "Big Six", a.k.a. The Pacific 12 (Pac-12)
Bubbles: Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona
Potential Bid Thieves: 8, particularly UCLA and Stanford
Tournament: 3/7 - 3/10
Ugh. This conference makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a razor. The way this weekend went, it seems like nobody really wants to be in the Big Dance. Washington lost to UCLA on the road. Cal lost at Stanford. Arizona tanked in the second half to lose to Arizona State. No teams are locks. ZERO wins against the RPI Top 25. This is probably a two-bid conference, with one bid going to Oregon and the other going to Washington or Cal (whichever team doesn't choke in the Second Round). The bottom eight have to duke it out in the first round, but after that, there's probably going to be a ton of parity. If Oregon and either Washington/Cal can make it out of the second round, then whomever is left of the PBTs could run the table and pick up the auto bid. And trust me, NONE of these teams deserve to be dancing.
News from this weekend-
- Creighton beat Illinois State in overtime on Sunday, and the collective world of the bubble teams breathed a huge sigh of relief. No bid stolen.
- Gonzaga and St. Mary's both won their semifinal games on Saturday night, meaning the WCC will be limited to two bids this year.
- Iona lost to Fairfield in the MAAC semifinal, 85-75, on Sunday afternoon. I considered this the other "ideal" situation for bid stealing, as Iona's loss to a lesser team (and one less win) tosses them off the bubble. Most brackets do not list them among "Last Four In", and several brackets do not even show them in "First Four Out". This means that the MAAC will likely only have one bid.
- Drexel and VCU both advanced to the CAA final. VCU completely dominated George Mason in the first half, but then went cold in the second half and only managed a 10-point win. VCU is still considered a strong bubble team, so I am upgrading the risk to 3 for the VCU-Drexel final. A Drexel win could be trouble, but there's no guarantee that VCU gets an at-large bid this time around.