Lock Your Doors: Potential Bid Thieves

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 4th, 2016

No two words strike fear into the hearts of college basketball’s bubble-dwelling teams like “bid thieves.” The aptly named conference tournament crashers have a ripple effect on the rest of the landscape, impacting teams from leagues far beyond their own. When a team with no legitimate at-large aspirations wills their way into the field, another program’s season is suddenly viewed through a dramatically sadder lens (such is life in the NIT). A bid thief, like any good bandit, is sneaky and unsuspecting. If we all knew who they were at the outset of the conference tournaments, they wouldn’t be very effective thieves. Still, there are signs and symbols to look for. First and foremost, the pool of suspects all hail from a conference that has a team that owns a resume strong enough to merit an at-large bid. That means the potential bid thief population comprises second tier mid-major clubs and the also-rans of power conferences. From that group, at least one or two teams will almost definitely rise and dash the hopes of those on the bubble. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can spot some a caper before they become one.

Northern Iowa is peaking at just the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa is peaking at the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa

The Panthers are the perfect place to start, as they boast a textbook bid thief background. UNI has beaten North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Sounds like the beginning of an at-large case? Not exactly. Ben Jacobson’s club also had a stretch this season where they lost 10 of 15, including duds against Missouri State (KenPom #241) and Loyola (KenPom #185). They’ve been utterly inconsistent throughout the season, despite the aforementioned flashes of impressiveness. If the team that’s 4-1 against the KenPom top 50 shows up to Arch Madness, the Panthers are absolutely a threat to knock off Wichita State and steal the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid. UNI has won eight of its last nine (which includes a victory in Wichita), so everything could be breaking right for this thief to emerge in St. Louis.


If Monmouth fails to win the MAAC tournament, the Hawks would find themselves squarely on the bubble, even with that tidy list of non-conference wins (most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown). The MAAC tournament will be far from a cakewalk for Monmouth, with second seeded Iona looming as its toughest test. The Gaels and Hawks split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Monmouth came out on top in a wild, 200+ total point, trash-talking, slap-fight-inspiring battle in mid-January, while Iona returned the favor by beating Monmouth by 16 in a less remarkable affair. If the basketball gods are good to us, we’ll see these two square off again in Albany. Both play at a breakneck pace (each are in the top 30 nationally in possessions per game), as Iona is able to run with Monmouth in a way most teams can’t. They also may have the best player you don’t know about. Iona senior AJ English is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game and has multiple 40+ point games this season. An English-dominated conference tournament could mean a two-bid MAAC – a scary proposition for bubble teams everywhere else. 


Wait, Louisiana State University? I think I’ve been watching too much ESPN. Sure, Ben Simmons may be the most talented player in the nation, but LSU has not come anywhere close to leveraging his talents into Tournament consideration. Still, despite the rocky season, the Bayou Bengals will have hopes of an SEC tournament run – and the talent to carry them out.  A win Saturday over Kentucky and a Vanderbilt win over Texas A&M could land LSU in a five-way tie atop the SEC standings and position them with favorable SEC tournament seeding. LSU may have looked like a mess for the better part of the last four months, but bubble teams would be wise not to discount a Simmons-led surge in Nashville next week.

Bennet's Tough Week May Have Resigned Saint Mary's to the NIT (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

Only one team will win the WCC. Will it be Randy Bennett and St. Mary’s? (Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

The West Coast Conference

The trio of teams atop the WCC — St. Mary’s, Gonzaga, and BYU — all find themselves in a relatively murky circumstance. St. Mary’s should feel good about its future inclusion in the field of 68, but with only two contests against top 50 competition (both wins over Gonzaga), an at-large bid still is no certainty. The Zags, on the other hand, have had plenty of chances, but may find it difficult to escape their 1-7 record against the top 50. BYU’s resume is a step below the others, but the Cougars have stolen a win from both the Gaels and Bulldogs this season. St. Mary’s clinched the top seed in the conference tournament, though Gonzaga’s at-large hopes may be bolstered by the chance to play BYU in the tournament semifinals. Lose that game and the Bulldogs will almost assuredly head to the NIT, while BYU would gain a notch on the resume that could push them to the fringes of at-large consideration. St. Mary’s road to the final is definitively easier, with Pepperdine (KenPom #127) looming as the biggest potential hurdle en route.

So who could be the WCC bid thief? Of these three teams, BYU has the worst at-large case and would definitely qualify as a bid thief should they steal the WCC tournament crown. A Gonzaga-St. Mary’s final would be a bit trickier to decipher, but in a twist on WCC convention, bubble teams should probably be rooting for the Gaels in this scenario. The wildest outcome would be a team from outside the top three making a run in Vegas. And sorry bubble teams, but at the end of this wild WCC season, that scenario shouldn’t be ruled out.

Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com and has contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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