O26 Storylines: Harvard, the SWAC’s Strange Setup, Watch Green Bay, and Bid Thieves…Posted by Adam Stillman on March 4th, 2014
It’s finally here. The first week of conference tournaments is now underway as we start to whittle down the number of teams with a “shot” at winning the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at five major O26 storylines this week. (Note: Wichita State’s unbeaten season is undoubtedly the biggest storyline, but we’ll have a longer post on the Shockers up Thursday as Arch Madness begins in Saint Louis.)
Will Harvard be the first team to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament?
The Crimson will be the first official entrant to the Big Dance. Harvard gets two chances to pick up a win and clinch the Ivy League’s regular season title and automatic bid. The first opportunity comes Friday at Yale. Remember the Bulldogs are the only team to beat Harvard in league play this season, earning a 74-67 victory AT Harvard in early February. Yet the Crimson have come on strong as of late, winning six straight games to take a commanding two-game lead in the standings with two games left. Yale, on the other hand, has faltered down the stretch, losing two of three games. If Harvard fails to beat Yale, the Crimson can wrap things up Saturday at Brown. Ken Pomeroy gives Harvard a 71 percent and 70 percent chance to win those two games, respectively. If Harvard somehow gets swept this weekend, and Yale completes a weekend sweep versus Dartmouth, it will go to the one-game winner-take-all playoff. That seems like a long shot, though. Harvard will be able to pencil its name into the big bracket as soon as Friday night.
What the heck is going on with the SWAC?
Whatever it is, it’s certainly unprecedented. Four of the league’s 10 teams are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament thanks to poor APR scores. Yet the league is still allowing that quartet to compete in next week’s SWAC Tournament. Crazy, right? Apparently the eligible team that advances the furthest in the conference tournament will earn the automatic bid, with the highest-seeded team taking it if there is a tie among eligible teams as far as who advances deepest. What a strange sight it will be when Alabama State or Texas Southern earn an NCAA bid after LOSING to Southern in the tourney finals. They’ll be celebrating a NCAA Tournament bid while the winning team gets nothing. Bizarre world, indeed.
Can we please see Green Bay in the NCAA Tournament?
Green Bay gets a double-bye into the semifinals of this week’s Horizon League Tournament, as the Phoenix are the runaway favorite to earn the conference’s NCAA Tournament bid. Let’s hope they come through. Green Bay beat Virginia earlier this season and is a legitimate threat to make a run to the Sweet Sixteen. They have a 5’11” point guard named Keifer Sykes who throws down sick alley-oop dunks, and they have a 7’1″ center (Alec Brown) who shoots three-pointers like they’re layups. The pair averages 20.4 and 15.8 PPG, respectively, and will scare the living daylights out of the big boys. Second-seeded Cleveland State could pose a challenge this weekend, but Green Bay’s dynamic duo should be enough see them through. America is in for a real treat with this team.
Are there any potential bid stealers in the first week of conference tournaments?
While there are a number of O26 teams that could become the next March Cinderella, in a change from years past, I’m not so sure any of those teams can fall back on an at-large bid should they not earn their league’s automatic berth. Green Bay is a long shot, and that’s about it. At least for this week. There just aren’t many opportunities for bid thieves to shrink the at-large pool this season. Anybody other than Wichita State winning the MVC Tournament would certainly create that scenario, but the league is just so weak this year. Indiana State could conceivably topple the Shockers in the championship game, but I really don’t see that happening. The Sycamores could compete for the title in a regular MVC season filled with good teams across the board, but they just are up against a Wichita State team that’s a class above the rest. Any team other than Gonzaga or BYU winning the WCC Tournament would shrink the at-large pool as well, but after seeing Saint Mary’s get drilled at home by Gonzaga last week, the league’s best bet for an outsider winning the tournament doesn’t look like much of a threat. Bubble teams around the country should be able to rest easy this week.
Will Saint Louis hold on to the top seed in the Atlantic 10?
This is cheating a bit because the A-10 Tournament isn’t this week. But I didn’t want to delve into the conference tournaments too much in this post since we have a great series of posts lined up previewing all the conference tournaments this week (the Patriot, Horizon and Atlantic Sun are already posted). But I think this is an intriguing storyline. The Billikens were cruising along undefeated in the A-10 with four games to go and a three-game edge in the standings over Saint Joseph’s. Well, a home loss to Duquesne and a road defeat at VCU later, and Saint Joseph’s sits just a game back with two to play. And SLU’s next two games are in no way cupcakes. The Bills get a desperate Dayton team in Saint Louis before closing the season at Massachusetts. KenPom projects SLU to split the pair, thus earning the league’s #1 seed in the A-10 Tournament based on a head-to-head win against Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks get George Washington on the road and La Salle at home. They’re also projected to split by KenPom. In the end, I’d expect SLU to hold on to the #1 seed in the A-10 Tournament — the Billikens have just made it a lot tougher than it should have been.