O26 Storylines: Regular Season Champs and Potential Cinderellas

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 11th, 2014

Championship Week is in full swing. For the O26 conferences, it’s more than halfway over. Eight automatic bids have already been handed out as of Monday night. Let’s take a look at this week’s storylines before Sunday’s Selection Show.

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Belmont is just one of many regular-season champions that will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. (GASTON GAZETTE)

Should one-bid leagues send their regular-season champion to the NCAA Tournament?

It’s in the best interest of one-bid leagues to send their best team to the Big Dance. That increases the likelihood of an upset, and thus more exposure for the school. We’ve already seen seven teams that won their respective conference’s regular-season title fall in the conference tournament. Enjoy the NIT, fellas. Belmont (Ohio Valley), Davidson (Southern), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Green Bay (Horizon), High Point (Big South), Iona (Metro Atlantic) and Vermont (America East) all were #1 seeds in their conference tournaments, and all probably were legitimate threats to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, those leagues will be represented by weaker teams that don’t have much upset potential. Those top seeds aren’t rewarded for season-long excellence. Instead, they’re being punished for one slip-up. It won’t change because there’s no way any league’s going to want to lose the exposure that comes along with their tournament title game being broadcast on ESPN. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see those teams dancing, and as a result, we have a watered down NCAA Tournament field. Matt Norlander made an interesting argument here.

Which one-bid leagues boast NCAA Tournament representatives that could pull upsets?

Obviously there are still leagues yet to hand out their automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament. But let’s take a look at some of the teams that could make noise in the Big Dance. Let’s leave out Wichita State, as the Shockers will be a #1 seed and will be expected to make a deep run. I’m talking Cinderellas here. Let’s start with Harvard, a team that as a #14 seed last year knocked off third-seeded New Mexico. This year’s version is even better. The Crimson are making their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and are a threat to reach the second weekend. Next, look at Delaware. The NCAA Tournament is a guards’ game, and the Blue Hens have three really good ones in Jarvis Threatt, Davon Usher and Devon Saddler. Delaware hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1999, but it’s a threat to win a game. Lastly, I’m looking at Manhattan. Rhamel Brown is the best shot-blocker in the nation, and George Beamon can really light up the scoreboard. The Jaspers play great defense and get to the free-throw line a lot. Of course all of this depends on matchups. And there are more Cinderellas that will earn their bids soon. But of the seven automatic bid winners not named Wichita State, I believe that trio has the best shot of pulling off an upset.

Devon Saddler and Delaware could win a game in the NCAA Tournament. (US Presswire)

Devon Saddler and Delaware could win a game in the NCAA Tournament. (US Presswire)

Is their a bid thief in the Mountain West?

San Diego State and New Mexico are stone-cold locks for the NCAA Tournament field. They’ll both receive high seeds regardless of how they perform in the MWC Tournament. After that pair, there’s no other team in league that can even be considered a fringe bubble candidate. Boise State and UNLV have been two of the more disappointing teams in the country, and the league is down as a whole from last season. The fourth-seeded Runnin’ Rebels are afforded the luxury of the tournament being played in Las Vegas, so that could be enough to see UNLV make a run at the auto bid. The talent is still there for Boise State. This is basically the same team that played in the First Four last season. The Broncos just haven’t been able to put it together this season. Is desperation enough motivation? I still think either SDSU or New Mexico win the automatic bid, but this is a tournament bubble teams will have their eyes on all week. A bid thief could be in the mix.

Can Stephen F. Austin get an at-large bid?

The Lumberjacks are 29-2 on the season, 27-2 if you throw out the two non-Division I games. They’ve won 26 games in a row. But they could be left out of the NCAA Tournament if they fail to win the Southland Conference’s automatic bid. Stephen F. Austin received a double-bye to the semifinals, so it only has to win a pair of games to claim the auto bid. But as I mentioned above, seven top-seeded teams will head to the NIT after falling in the conference tournament. Green Bay even had the double-bye to the semis of the Horizon League Tournament, but that didn’t prevent an early exit. Could Stephen F. Austin be in the same boat? The Lumberjacks possess a #67 RPI and their best win is against Towson. They also have a bad loss to East Tennessee State. The other defeat was a 10-pointer against Texas. Is racking up 30 wins against bad competition enough to earn an at-large bid? Would a 30-win team really be left out of the Big Dance? Without much heft on the resume, I’m afraid that’s the case. It’s auto bid or bust for Stephen F. Austin.

Which Atlantic 10 team will receive the highest seed in the NCAA Tournament?

I think it comes down to Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth. SLU ended a three-game losing streak Sunday with a nice win at UMass. The Billikens won the Atlantic 10 regular-season title outright and are the top seed for this week’s conference tournament. Second-seeded VCU is peaking at the right time, having won four straight games. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently projects SLU as a #5 seed and VCU as a #6 seed. If it comes down to those two in the A-10 Tournament title game, the winner could be looking at a really high seed, maybe even a #4 or #5. But it won’t be easy to even reach the title game, not in a league tournament that features six possible at-large teams. Although SLU struggled down the stretch, I’m going to take the Billikens to pull off the double title for the second straight season and enter the NCAA Tournament as a #5 seed. VCU should sit right where they are now, as a #6 seed. Six A-10 teams will go dancing.

Adam Stillman (48 Posts)

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