O26 Storylines: Boise State, Indiana State and Southern Miss…Posted by Adam Stillman on February 7th, 2014
I’m beginning to think nobody wants a bid to the NCAA Tournament. At least not any of the O26 teams that are considered on the bubble. A couple more teams seemingly withdrew their names from consideration this past week, and that’s the laser focus of this week’s O26 Storylines post. While Wichita State’s ongoing quest for perfection is a no-brainer for storyline of the week, we already wrote about the Shockers here and here. And even though Sacramento State delivered maybe the most improbable finish of the season, it really doesn’t have any meaningful ramifications.
Are Boise State’s at-large NCAA Tournament chances gone?
Yes. It’s the Mountain West automatic bid or bust for the Broncos. Boise State (15-8, 5-5 MW) let a golden opportunity slip through its hands on Wednesday night, coming up just short in its upset bid against San Diego State. The Broncos led by as many as 14 points in the second half before finally capitulating when Dwayne Polee drained a three-pointer with five seconds left to give the Aztecs a 67-65 advantage (the final margin). That was Boise State’s best shot at a resume-making win, and the Broncos blew it. They are quickly running out of opportunities. Only a home game against New Mexico on February 12 constitutes a shot at a quality win. While the Broncos’ aren’t hindered by any horrible losses — the worst being against UNLV and its #102 RPI — Boise State can’t boast any quality wins either. Their best win is over #118 RPI Utah. Yikes. Even a win against New Mexico won’t be enough to save the Broncos. They’ve just missed out on too many chances. Just look at the list. Kentucky, Iowa State, San Diego State (twice), New Mexico, Saint Mary’s. Five of those losses were by single digits, including three that were by four or fewer points. If Boise State can’t win the MW Tournament, the Broncos will have to go down as one of the most disappointing teams of the season.
Can Indiana State go dancing?
The Sycamores’ only option at this point is to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in early March. That’s not out of the question. Arch Madness is usually pretty wacky. The top seed has won the tournament once in the last three tries (Creighton last season). And remember, Indiana State won the 2011 MVC Tournament as the #3 seed to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. But that’s an especially tall task with Wichita State looming on the opposite side of the bracket. Indiana State will likely enter the event as the #2 seed, and if seeds hold true to form, we’ll get a third meeting between the Valley’s top two teams on Sunday. Will the third time be a charm for the Sycamores? That doesn’t seem likely after seeing what Wichita State was able to do in Terre Haute with perfection on the line. Indiana State sits at 17-6 overall and 8-3 in the MVC. Not bad, but there’s just not enough quality on the resume. The best win? At Notre Dame in mid-November. While the win over the then-ranked Fighting Irish looked nice at one point, Notre Dame’s nosedive has taken all luster off that victory.
What about Richmond?
This is just becoming a theme now. Opportunity was there, Richmond couldn’t capitalize, at-large hopes are on the ropes. Yada, yada, yada. The Spiders had Saint Louis and VCU come to their building last week. The door to the NCAA Tournament was there. And Richmond fell flat on its face, dropping both games by double digits. The situation was exacerbated when it was announced Wednesday that leading scorer Cedrick Lindsay is done for the season with a knee injury. That’s no bueno. Richmond, sporting a #49 RPI, promotes a resume lacking quality. Sure, home wins against Massachusetts and Saint Joseph’s in late January were nice, but when it came time to clash with the class of the Atlantic 10, the Spiders (15-8, 5-3 A-10) showed they just aren’t an NCAA Tournament team. Home games with George Washington and VCU, as well as a season-ending road game at Dayton, dot the remaining schedule. Opportunity is still there. But can Richmond capitalize?
Can Southern Miss steal an at-large bid?
The computers really like Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles boast a #34 RPI ranking and a #36 Ken Pomeroy rating. The schedule — despite a gaudy 19-3 record — tells us otherwise. Southern Miss’ best win is against #51 RPI North Dakota State all the way back in November. A victory against Louisiana Tech (#78 RPI) isn’t bad either, although that came after Tech lost its leading scorer Raheem Appleby. Horrible losses to Tulsa (#127 RPI) and Western Kentucky (#117 RPI) don’t help, neither does a 31-point pasting at the hands of Louisville in late November. Yet Southern Miss still has a shot at an at-large bid. CBS’ Jerry Palm projects Southern Miss currently in the field as a #12 seed. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi doesn’t even have the Golden Eagles in his ‘First Four Out’ OR ‘Next Four Out’. Yet Louisiana Tech, the main challenger in Conference USA, sits in that latter category. Southern Miss is favored in each of its final nine games, the slimmest odds being 63 percent at Middle Tennessee State next weekend. Would a 28-3 regular-season record and a loss in the C-USA Tournament title game to Louisiana Tech be enough to get the league two bids? With other bubble teams dropping like flies, that certainly wouldn’t be a surprise.
Will the Big South favorite please stand up?
This is probably the first (and only) time the Big South will be a part of O26 conversation this season — well except for that four-overtime game between VMI and Gardner-Webb on Wednesday night. But this is as good a time as any to point out just how bizarre this league is. Four teams are tied for the Big South lead with 6-3 conference records — VMI, High Point, Coastal Carolina and UNC-Asheville. Then four more teams sit just a game back with 5-4 marks — Radford, Campbell, Winthrop and Gardner-Webb. When Ken Pomeroy released his projected conference standings on January 2, he listed the Big South as the third-most competitive league in the nation behind the Northeast Conference and the Patriot League. Well, those two leagues don’t have anywhere near the parity found in the Big South. Reigning conference-tournament winner Charleston South was the favorite to win the regular-season title in Pomeroy’s projections, winning the league in 3,307-of-10,000 projections. UNC-Asheville, Radford and Winthrop all won the league during the simulations at least 1,000 times. All 12 teams won the league at some point during the simulations. It’s really at toss-up at this point as far as who wins the regular-season title, and more importantly, the conference tournament title. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently projects UNC-Asheville as the league’s representative in the NCAA Tournament, while CBS’ Jerry Palm has Coastal Carolina. It should be one wild conference tournament, that’s for sure.