O26 Resume Review: BYU, Saint Joseph’s, Stephen F. Austin Up; Gonzaga & Dayton Down…Posted by Adam Stillman on February 27th, 2014
It’s hard to believe that we’re just several days from the start of the O26 conference tournaments. While most of those first-week tourneys feature one-bid conferences, the West Coast Conference is hoping that it won’t fall under that category for the first time since 2011. Selection Sunday is just over two weeks away, so let’s take a look at the O26 teams that helped and hurt their at-large candidacies this past week.
- BYU (20-10, #33 RPI): BYU got the win it desperately needed. The Cougars were living on a strong non-conference schedule — 27th-best according to Ken Pomeroy — and strong wins against Texas and Stanford. But BYU was taking hit after hit in WCC play, with losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. The Cougars picked up a huge resume win last Thursday night with that 73-65 victory against Gonzaga. Sure, 10 overall losses and five losses in conference play isn’t inspiring, but BYU now boasts three wins over probable NCAA Tournament teams. The Selection Committee has to find 36 at-large teams to fill out the field somehow, and BYU now looks to be in position to earn a bid. There are certainly stumbling blocks the rest of the way, as BYU closes the regular season Saturday at San Diego, no easy place to win this season. KenPom gives BYU a 61 percent chance of winning that game, but a loss there and/or an early exit in the WCC Tournament would cause things to look dicey again. If the Cougars win out until the WCC Tournament championship game, though, they’ll go dancing. Projected seed for now: #12
- Saint Joseph’s (20-7, #38 RPI): The Atlantic 10 looks to be a safe bet to earn five bids to the NCAA Tournament. A sixth isn’t even out of the question with this year’s extremely soft bubble, and Saint Joseph’s might just now be fourth in that pecking order. The Hawks have won five straight games after a dominant 79-53 win against fellow bubble-dweller Dayton on Tuesday night. The Hawks have three games left in the regular season — at St. Bonaventure, at George Washington and home vs. La Salle. KenPom projects this team to lose both road games and win the home contest, but I think Saint Joseph’s will go 2-1. Either way, the Hawks look like an NCAA Tournament team. Projected seed for now: #11
- Stephen F. Austin (25-2, #69 RPI): Why? Because 68 teams have to make the field, and because the Lumberjacks haven’t lost since November 23 (that’s 22 straight wins) — not to mention they have an awesome nickname. Four more regular season wins along with a victory in the Southland Tournament semifinals — the top two teams get byes to the semis — would put Stephen F. Austin at 30-2. I think there would at least be a debate if the Lumberjacks were to fall in the conference finals. Yes, their best win is against Towson, and yes, they lost at East Tennessee Sate (as well as a 10-point loss at Texas). But 30 wins is 30 wins, and with an RPI of #69 and currently the same in KenPom’s ratings, I think a discussion is warranted. Seth Davis agrees with me. And maybe we’d get to see more buzzer-beating dunks like this if they make it. Projected seed for now: #13 as an automatic qualifier
- Gonzaga (23-6, #29 RPI): I never thought I’d include Gonzaga in this column, as I always figured they’d be safely in the NCAA Tournament. Now, I’m not so sure. The Zags’ RPI looks very nice, but a closer inspection of the profile leaves some doubt. Mark Few’s team has two bad losses to Portland and San Diego, and its best win is a take-your-pick choice between BYU, West Virginia and Arkansas with two road games to play at Pacific and Saint Mary’s to close the regular season. Would a couple losses there and a loss in the WCC Tournament be enough to end Gonzaga’s streak of 15 consecutive seasons with berths? It would certainly be a possibility, but ultimately, I don’t think it will happen. The Bulldogs will likely win at least one of their remaining regular season contests, and should be the No. 1 seed and favorite to win the league’s automatic bid in Las Vegas next week. And keeping up with the theme of today’s column, 68 teams do have to make the field. It’s just surprising that Gonzaga hasn’t already wrapped up its bid by this point in the season. Projected seed for now: #10
- Dayton (19-9, #57 RPI): The Flyers did all the hard work. They won six games in a row and crept back into the at-large conversation. Then came Tuesday night’s 26-point loss at Saint Joseph’s. Dayton and Richmond are fighting to become the Atlantic 10′s sixth NCAA Tournament participant, but five might be the ceiling now. Dayton closes the season with a make-or-break stretch — vs. Massachusetts, at Saint Louis, vs. Richmond. KenPom projects the Flyers to go 2-1 in those games, winning the home tilts. I think Dayton has to go 3-0 to ensure an NCAA Tournament bid. Projected seed for now: #10