As the Big Ten season comes to an close this weekend, the NCAA Tournament picture in the conference seems relatively clear:
Locks: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Bubble: Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State
For the teams in the rest of the conference, they will either have to make a major run in or win the Big Ten Tournament to make the dance. Even though bubble teams still have work to do themselves to make the tournament, a major part of making the tournament is what happens with other teams, especially in some of the smaller conferences. It seems like every season, at least one team that is a lock for the NCAA Tournament falls victim to an upset in the conference tournament and takes a bid away from a major conference team. With that in mind, lets look at some conference tournaments that either have already started or are starting this weekend that could play a major role in determing whether or not Big 10 teams on the bubble make the dance.
Likely Tournament Teams: George Mason (25-5, 16-2) and Old Dominion (24-6, 14-4). Both of these teams look solidly in the field, with George Mason a 7 seed and Old Dominion a 9 seed, in ESPN's latest Bracketology. Even though an early loss in the conference tournament would probably bring them down a seed line or two, it would not take them out of the field. George Mason may be the hottest team in the country, winning their last 15 games, and has wins over top 50 RPI teams Harvard and Old Dominion. Old Dominion also has had some big wins, including ones over George Mason, Xavier, Richmond, and Clemson. Both teams will probably be very dangerous in the Tournament.
Bubble Tournament Teams: None.
Watch out for: VCU and Hofstra. The VCU Rams went 21-10 overall, and 12-6 in the conference win a couple of big wins over UCLA and a road win over James Madison; they could easily make a run in the Colonial conference tournament. VCU plays Drexel in the quarterfinals tomorrow and will have likely have a meeting in the semis with George Mason. Hofstra finished tied with Old Dominion for 2nd in the league but did not have a nonconference marquee win that would get them into the field. They did however beat George Mason 87-74 earlier this year. They will play either James Madison or William and Mary in the quarterfinals and would probably play Old Dominion in the semifinals.
Prediction: George Mason outlasts VCU while Hofstra pulls an upset against Old Dominion in the semifinals. George Mason then wins a tight game against Hofstra in the Colonial final to extend their winning streak to 18 heading into the NCAA's. Bids Stolen: 0
Likely Tournament Teams: None
Bubble Tournament Teams: Butler and Cleveland State finished the year tied at 13-5 in the conference with Milwaukee. Milwaukee got the first seed in the tournament and home court throughout the Horizon league tournament. The Butler Bulldogs have had an up and down season after becoming a buzzer beating shot away from winning a national title. The Bulldogs are 21-9 on the year with an RPI of 44; the big wins include a season sweep of conference bubble rival Cleveland State and a win over Florida State. The Vikings are 25-7 on the year and their RPI (42) is really the only thing that are currently keeping them on the bubble. They are 0-4 against the RPI Top 50 and their marquee win is a home win over Valpariso; however, if they beat Butler in the semifinals, they could sneak in as a bubble team.
Watch out for: Milwaukee. The UW-Milwaukee Panthers are only 18-12, but they are 13-5 in the league and 3-1 over bubble teams Butler and Cleveland State. Along with Butler, the Panthers have a double bye and only have to win two games to make the tournament. UW-Milwaukee will face either Valparaiso or Detroit Mercy in the semi-finals and then likely a final against Cleveland State or Butler.
Prediction: Cleveland State pulls a minor upset over Butler, but falls in a tough road game against UW-Milwaukee, who will steal a bid from one of the major conference teams. Even with the loss to Butler, the Bulldogs will barely sneak in the tournament and will play in one of the First Four games. Bids Stolen: 1
Likely Tournament Teams: None.
Bubble Tournament Teams: Missouri State. The Bears were 24-7 and won the league at 15-3. They have a solid RPI of 41, but have failed to get a true marquee win; their only two Top 50 wins coming in a season sweep against Wichita State. If they fail to win the conference tournament, they will be squarely on the bubble and 3 losses against sub-100 RPI teams will not help their cause. For Missouri State to have a realistic at-large shot, they have to make the finals of the MVC Tournament.
Watch out for: Wichita State. The Shockers (22-7) finished 2nd in the Missouri Valley at 14-4 in the league. In their two losses to Missouri State, they lost by a combined 8 points and would give the Bears a run for their money in a championship game with a Tourney bid on the line.
Prediction: Both Wichita State and Missouri State win a couple of tight semifinal games and meet again for a 3rd time this season. However, this time, Wichita State pulls out the close win and gets the automatic bid to the Tournament. Missouri State gets snubbed again, mainly because of the lack of quality non-conference wins. Bids Stolen: 1
Likely Tournament Teams: None
Bubble Tournament Teams: Gonzaga and St Mary's. Both Gonzaga and St Mary's have had disappointing seasons. The 'Zags are 22-9 on the year, but have a shockingly low RPI of 70 but are in Bracketology as an 11 seed. They have two wins against the RPI Top 50; they split against St Mary's and picked up a huge non-conference win against A-10 power Xavier. The St Mary's Gaels are 23-7 on the year with an RPI of 48; they picked got a big win at Gonzaga and their biggest win of the year is over St John's; however, St Mary only has two wins over the RPI top 90. The Gaels have are reeling, losing 3 of their last 4. Both teams have an at-large hope but should win their conference tournament to avoid sweating bullets on Selection Sunday.
Watch Out For: University of San Francisco. The Dons went 10-4 in the West Coast, finishing 3rd and picked up a big home win against Gonzaga earlier in the year and could make some noise in the WCC tournament.
Prediction: With the way the West Coast Conference tournament is set up, the top 2 seeds, Gonzaga and St. Mary's, do not have to play until the semifinals. Look for St Mary's to be upset by San Francisco, but for Gonzaga to win the conference tournament and the West Coast will be a 1 bid league. Bids Stolen: 1