Bracket Brief: The Madness begins
Championship Week kicks into high gear now that the regular season has ended for all but the Ivy League. Already five automatic bids have been handed out with five more going out tonight. The five automatic bids so far: Florida Gulf Coast, Liberty, Harvard, Belmont and Creighton. Nothing really noteworthy there except that Liberty is 15-20 and ranked 290th in the latest RPI. You can bank on them playing in the First Four.
The five matchups tonight are FIU vs. Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt, Davidson vs. College of Charleston in the Southern, Northeastern vs. James Madison in the Colonial, South Dakota State vs. IPFW in the Summit League, Iona vs. Manhattan in the MAAC and Gonzaga vs. St. Mary's in the WCC. No bid thieves are lurking in tonight's games. St Mary's looks like they would be an at-large team so bubble teams may not have to worry if Gonzaga loses. One trend that has carried over from last year is the lack of regular season champions winning the conference tournament. Last year only 10 teams pulled off the double feat.
Thus far only Creighton is a dual champion and they were a lock to make the tourney anyway. Middle Tennessee's loss last night in the Sun Belt semifinals puts them squarely on the bubble. They're 28-5 and 28th in the RPI, which is hard to overlook, but they lack a real signature and have a strength of schedule of 135. It's going to be a long week for the Blue Raiders.
Also, with the power conferences gearing up for the conference tournaments here's an updated look at who is a lock, who is a near lock and who is on the bubble:
Arizona, Butler, Colorado State, Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Indiana, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisville, Marquette, Memphis, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, NC State, New Mexico, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, San Diego State, St. Louis, Syracuse, UCLA, UNLV, Wichita State, Wisconsin
Now that's 33 teams from 11 conferences. If there are no bid thieves then that leaves a maximum of 15 at-large spots to be filled which is good news for teams that are a win or maybe two away from being a lock:
California, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, St. Mary's, Villanova
Those six bring our at-large total to at least 28. So there will be as many as nine at-large spots left for the ever-growing bubble:
On The Bubble
Akron, Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Baylor, Boise State, Cincinnati, Colorado, Iowa, Iowa State, Kentucky, LaSalle, Louisiana Tech, Maryland, Massachusetts, Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss, Providence, Southern Miss, Temple, Tennessee, Virginia
22 teams fighting for no more than nine at-large births. This should make for a very wild week leading up to Selection Sunday.