Digging Through the Low Mids For Possible At-Large Bids

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 7th, 2017

The path to the NCAA Tournament for any mid-major starts out simply: Win the conference tournament. The alternative is to build an impressive non-conference resume and cross your fingers on Selection Sunday. Ask last year’s Saint Mary’s team that went 27-5 and was relegated to the NIT. As the Gaels learned a year ago, the Selection Committee places the bar exceptionally high and scheduling is a significant factor. A lackluster non-conference resume meant that St. Mary’s two regular season games against Gonzaga held great value (which it swept), but a pair of losses against an uninspiring Pepperdine squad sealed the Gaels’ fate. The exact recipe for an at-large bid can be hard to determine because the committee changes every year, but the following teams in traditional one-bid leagues could have a shot at an at-large bid if they falter in their conference tournaments.

Randy Bennett Found Out the Hard Way How Important Scheduling Is (USA Today Images)

Randy Bennett Found Out the Hard Way How Important Scheduling Is (USA Today Images)


The Mavericks have three losses on the season, all of which came against respectable opponents in a span of five days on the road. Aside from that, no low-major can top their pair of excellent wins that came at Texas and St. Mary’s. UT Arlington holds a top-50 RPI, but recent history does not appear to be on its side. The Sun Belt has earned only one at-large bid in the last eight NCAA Tournaments, and that bid went to Middle Tennessee State in 2013 (which has since moved on to Conference USA — more on the Blue Raiders below). UT Arlington could at least make things interesting by running the table until the conference tournament semifinals, which would give it 30 wins prior to Selection Sunday.

UNC-Wilmington/College of Charleston

The top two teams in the Colonial this season have seemingly equal resumes with stark differences. UNC-Wilmington has played a stronger schedule with only two losses, while College of Charleston has arguably the two best wins (over Davidson and Boise State). Neither team has a solid case right now, but if one or the other can stampede through the CAA regular season, maybe the Seahawks or Cougars could sneak on to the committee’s at-large radar by March.

Middle Tennessee

One of the darlings of last season’s NCAA Tournament has already put itself in contention to return to the Dance. The Blue Raiders boast a top 35 RPI and strength of schedule with a collection of quality wins over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and UNC-Wilmington. The rest of its non-conference schedule includes good but not great wins over Belmont, Evansville and Toledo. The problem the Raiders will face is with their three losses. Dropping a game at VCU is reasonable, but home losses to Tennessee State and Georgia State are not. Adding another bad loss during conference play would be the nail in the at-large coffin. If, however, Middle Tennessee manages to run the table in Conference USA, a second straight fun Selection Sunday might be in the cards.


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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