Let me preface this extra entry this morning before proceeding. I am not a member of the NCAA Selection Committee, obviously. I do not have a secret source inside the room leaking information to me.
However, I am friends and acquaintances with more than one former member of the selection committee, and I do know a lot about how the process works.
Based on the learned knowledge, it is my belief that prior to the start of play on Saturday, March 16, there are 66 teams penciled into the bracket with room for two more from The Bubble.
Three teams are still alive that will not get an invitation if they fail to win their conference tournament. These three are U Mass, Southern Mississippi, and Vanderbilt. Additionally, it is our belief that Alabama needs to beat Florida today to be considered for one of the final two spots. If these teams win their tournaments and receive automatic bids, somebody penciled in will be erased off the paper.
Along with the Crimson Tide, Tennessee and Kentucky are waiting and hoping from the SEC. Don’t think for a second that politics doesn’t play a part in this process. Kentucky does not belong in this tournament, as the Wildcats are no better than Arkansas since the loss of Nerlens Noel. The Cats have lost all four games away from Rupp Arena by double digits since Noel went down. This is the resume of an NIT team that if it gets three home games, could easily be headed to Madison Square Garden in a couple weeks.
Tennessee cannot be selected ahead of Alabama. Their resume pales in comparison to the Tide, which beat them two out of three times, including the most important game yesterday.
Boise State and La Salle really should not be considered. They have too many losses to “bad teams,” and they lost early in their conference tournaments.
The wildcard in all this is Akron. Should Ohio top the Zips in the MAC Championship Game, Akron could very well steal one of the two remaining bids. Ohio will not get in as an at-large, so this game is very important for bubble-watchers.
Middle Tennessee has a resume that looks like a for-sure at-large team, and with Ole Miss winning last night, the Blue Raiders look like the leading candidate for one of the two remaining invitations. However, remember what I said about politics. The Sun Belt Conference has sent two teams to the dance before, and even sent four many years ago when it was a stronger league, but Middle will be excluded if Akron loses to Ohio. The Zips beat the Blue Raiders in the regular season.
I believe that Maryland punched its ticket last night with the upset of Duke. I also believe that Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota are still in the Dance despite early exits from the Big Ten Tournament. You can add Oklahoma and Iowa State from the Big 12, and Colorado will still get in from the Pac-12, while Arizona State will be left out.
I have also included Wichita State from the Missouri Valley and St. Mary’s from the West Coast, but remember what I said about politics. The Gaels are poison after picking up a truckload of NCAA violations. While the punitive action does not commence until next season, the Selection Committee may decide to dole out its own punishment.