The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 18, 2021

The Sure Thing/The Contenders/The Still Alives

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 8:25 am

Who’s in the Big Dance? Who’s still in contention?

Today, we break down the projected NCAA Tournament field by conference.  The format will be teams that are locks to make the tournament; teams that would be safely in if the season ended today but a losing streak could jeopardize their safety; teams that would be on the good side of the bubble if the season ended today; teams that would be on the bad side of that bubble; and teams that are not in the conversation now but with a big winning streak could play their way into an at-large bid.

We won’t include the automatic bids, because the conference tournaments will do that for us.  Of course, this season, there could be some cancellations of these tournaments.  We’ll have to wait and see.

First, let’s look at the one-bid leagues.  As of today, we foresee 20 conferences receiving just one bid, but an upset in the conference tournament in one or two could lead to an extra bid from that league.


The perpetual top contenders share the conference lead.  UMBC and Vermont are tied at 9-3 in conference play.  The two rivals face off in back-to-back games in Maryland tonight and tomorrow.  If one of these two teams earn the bid, they are probably looking at a #15 seed.


Bellarmine has a one-game lead in the league race at 10-2, but the Knights are not yet eligible as a transitioning team to D1.  Liberty is in second place at 8-2, but this Flames team is not as strong as the last two editions.  The rest of the league is mediocre for a low-major conference.  Current sixth place Florida Gulf Coast is starting to put it together and could sneak up to the #2 seed by conference tournament time.


This year’s race is as wide open as the real estate in the Near West.  Eastern Washington leads Southern Utah by 1 ½ games, but that is a Covid-scheduling issue, as SUU at 6-2 has played three fewer conference games.  The teams split back-to-back games at EWU a month ago.  This conference will hope to avoid a 16-seed play-in game.


Winthrop has lapped the field.  The 15-1 Eagles lead second place Radford by 3 ½ games and most recently swept the Highlanders.  Winthrop is 18-1 overall and has a chance to earn an at-large bid should they not earn the automatic one.


This has in recent years been the UC-Irvine show, as the Anteaters have dominated this league.  This year, UCI looks up at rival UCSB, as the 8-2 Gauchos have reeled off 10 consecutive victories.  Cal State Bakersfield is in a statistical tie with UC-Irvine for second place.  The Roadrunners venture to Santa Barbara to face UCSB twice this weekend.


James Madison has risen from fourth place to first at 8-1, while the top contenders have all lost in recent games.  Fifth place Delaware and sixth place William & Mary are the other two conference teams with hot hands, but when the CAA holds its conference tournament, any of the top six could win the event.


With wins over Memphis and Alabama, one might think that Western Kentucky could earn an at-large bid if they could take the regular season CUSA title.  It is possible, but the 8-2 Hilltoppers may find it tough to get a lot of support this year with so few quality out of conference games.

WKU faces a tough doubleheader this weekend with 8-2 North Texas in Denton.  If either team sweeps, they become the sizable favorite to cop the league crown.  If they split, then Old Dominion, UAB, and Marshall all remain in contention to win the race in the final lap.


Wright St. and Cleveland St. are tied at 15-3 in the league and own four game leads over the next contender, Northern Kentucky.  Wright State has won nine games in a row since losing to CSU.  One of the top three should take the tournament title and the automatic bid.


Covid has done a number on this league this year.  Monmouth has played 14 conference games and is 10-4.  Siena has played 10 conference games and is 8-2 to lead by percentage points over the Hawks.  Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels have played just seven conference games and they have lost two in a row to fall back to fifth place at 4-3.  Iona gets both of the two co-leaders in doubleheader games on their home floor in New Rochelle, including two with Monmouth this weekend, weather permitting.


Year in and year out, the MAC postseason tournament in Cleveland is one of the most exciting and unpredictable as any other.  We expect the same results this year.  Toledo has been leading the league race most of the season, and the Rockets are in first at 12-3, but 11-3 Akron and 10-4 Kent St. are coming on strong in February.  It doesn’t end there.  Ohio U and Buffalo, both at 7-4, and Bowling Green at 8-7 have played well enough in recent weeks to contend for the automatic bid.  If the MAC Tournament plays as scheduled, this is one that you will want to watch.


With three league teams opting out, scheduling has been an issue this year in the MEAC.  Usually, this league struggles to avoid the #16-seed play-in game, but more than once, the MEAC has produced an upset winner in the Round of 64.  North Carolina A&T leads the South Division with a perfect 4-0 conference record, but the Aggies have only played two conference games since January 3.  They had five games postponed.  

In the north, Norfolk St. 7-4, leads Morgan St. and Coppin St., both 6-4, by a half game.  NSU swept Morgan and split with Coppin, but their remaining regular season games have been cancelled.  If the MEAC Tournament is cancelled, N.C. A&T will almost assuredly be awarded the automatic bid and express trip to a 16-seed play-in game.


Merrimack sits in a first place tie with Wagner at 8-4, but the Warriors are still in the transition phase to D1 and not yet eligible for the Dance.  Wagner leads 6-4 Bryant by a game.  The Seahawks have won seven games in a row.  There are seven teams within two games of first in the NEC, so this should be an interesting conference tournament.


Belmont is 16-0 in the league and 22-1 overall, but the Bruins did not play any power conference teams like they usually do.  Still, because Belmont has been winning games by lopsided scores, they have a shot at an at-large bid should somebody shock them in the OVC Tournament.  Second place Morehead St., 13-3, lost at Belmont by 15, but they get the Bruins to close out the regular season in Morehead.


The league was split into thirds this year to lessen travel.  Army and Navy are the only two teams to play out of conference games, so it will be close to impossible for the automatic winner to receive anything other than a 16-seed.  Navy is 8-1 in the league and 11-2 overall.  Their out of conference wins include a sweep of the DC teams, George Washington and Georgetown.  Should the Midshipmen run the table, they could move up to a 15-seed.

Colgate at 9-1 is the overall leader in the league, while Lafayette at 7-5 leads the three-team Central Division.  Bucknell has won four in a row to improve from 0-4 to 4-4, but all four games came at the expense of Lehigh.


The Socon has been worthy of multiple bids in past years, and there are four rather good teams this year, but this is not the year for two league teams to get bids.

UNC-Greensboro has been near the top for the last five years, but the Spartans have won the SoCon Tournament just once.  UNCG leads the league at 10-4 by a half-game over 10-5 Wofford.  Two years ago, Wofford destroyed Seton Hall in the opening round and scared Kentucky in the Round of 32 at the Big Dance.

Furman (8-4) and Chattanooga (9-5) have begun to play like legitimate contenders in the last two weeks.


Five teams have taken over in February, and any of the five could win the conference tournament.  Even though Stephen F. Austin is in third place at the moment, their conference record is 9-1, and their one loss came at 10-1 Abilene Christian.  Sam Houston is also 10-1, and their lone loss came at SFA.  Nicholls is 9-2, which would lead most leagues, but in this one, it’s only good enough for fourth place.


The SWAC rates last in conference power, so the winner of this league will be in the 16-seed play-in round.  Prairie View and Jackson St. sport 6-0 league marks, with Texas Southern at 4-2.  The two co-leaders had both of their scheduled games against each other postponed, and they could both remain undefeated in conference play.


It’s a good bet that the team representing the Summit League in the Big Dance will have the word “Dakota” in its name.  South Dakota St. (6-2), South Dakota (9-3), and North Dakota St. (9-3) are the top three in the league.  SDSU has a neutral site win over Utah St. and a narrow loss to West Virginia, so the Jackrabbits probably give this league its best chance to win a game in the Big Dance.


This league has a lot of better than average but not great teams.  Texas St. leads the West Division at 9-3 with 7-5 Arkansas St. in second.  Both teams have four game winning streaks.  South Alabama leads the East Division at 8-5, and the Jags have reeled off six in a row.


New Mexico St. has dominated this conference in recent years, but Covid has really done a number on the Aggies this year, and they have fallen to sixth place.  Perennial also-ran Grand Canyon has ascended to the top at 6-0 in the league and 12-3 overall.  The Antelopes own an eight-game winning streak with a 22.8 point scoring margin in that streak.

Multiple Bid Leagues


Lock: Houston 11-2/17-2

Safe: —–

Good Bubble: —–

Bad Bubble: Wichita St. 8-2/12-4

In Contention: Memphis 8-3/12-6, SMU 7-4/11-4

Wichita St. could move to the Good Bubble with a win over Houston tonight.


Lock: —–

Safe: —–

Good Bubble:  VCU 9-2/16-4

Bad Bubble: St. Bonaventure 8-3/10-3, Saint Louis 4-2/11-3

In Contention: Davidson 6-2/10-5, Richmond 4-3/11-5

Wins over St. Bonaventure and Richmond have moved VCU into the field for now.


Lock: Virginia 11-2/15-4, Florida St. 8-2/12-3

Safe: Virginia Tech 8-3/14-4, Louisville 6-3/11-4

Good Bubble: North Carolina 7-5/13-7, Clemson 7-5/13-5

Bad Bubble: Syracuse 6-5/12-6

In Contention: Duke 7-6/9-8, Georgia Tech 6-6/10-8

Duke was given up for dead in January, but the Blue Devils are far from dead.  Look out UVA!  You’re headed to an ambush as Cameron Indoor this weekend.

BIG 12

Lock: Baylor 9-0/17-0

Safe: Kansas 10-5/16-7, Oklahoma 8-4/13-5, Texas 7-4/13-5, West Virginia 7-4/14-6, Texas Tech 6-5/14-6, Oklahoma St. 7-6/14-6

Good Bubble: —–

Bad Bubble: —–

In Contention: TCU 4-6/11-8

This league is pretty much set in stone barring some unusual circumstance.  The top seven teams should receive bids, and even 7th place Oklahoma St. should be an 8 or 9-seed and safely in the field.


Lock: Villanova 8-2/13-3, Creighton 12-4/16-5

Safe: —–

Good Bubble: Xavier 4-4/11-4, Seton Hall 10-5/13-8

Bad Bubble: Connecticut 7-5/10-5

In Contention: St. John’s 8-7/14-8

Madison Square Garden should be exciting if the Big East gets to hold their tournament this year.  St. John’s really needs three additional good wins in addition to not losing to a bad team.


Lock: Michigan 9-1/14-1, Illinois 11-3/13-5, Ohio St. 11-4/17-4, Iowa 9-5/15-6

Safe: Wisconsin 9-6/15-7, Purdue 9-6/14-8

Good Bubble: Rutgers 8-7/12-7, Indiana 7-7/12-9

In Contention: Maryland 7-9/13-10, Minnesota 6-9/13-9, Michigan St. 4-9/10-9

Any Big Ten team that plays .500 ball in conference play will receive a bid this year, and we believe there is one more bid for the team that goes 9-11 (or 9-10 or 8-9 depending on missed games).  A couple of Big Ten coaches are on hot seats and on the Bubble.  Penn State will definitely have a new coach next year, but Indiana, Maryland, and Minnesota could also be forced to make moves if they don’t get into the field.


Lock: —–

Safe: Loyola (Chi.) 14-2/19-4

Good Bubble: Drake 12-2/21-2

Bad Bubble: —–

In Contention: —–

After Wichita St. fled the Valley for the AAC, it was thought that the days of this league receiving two bids to the tournament were over.  Guess again.  Loyola of Chicago and Drake would both have to collapse to miss out on the Dance this year.


Lock: —–

Safe: San Diego St. 9-3/15-4

Good Bubble: Boise St. 13-3/17-4, Colorado St. 11-3/14-4, Utah St. 11-3/14-6

In Contention: Nevada  9-5/14-7

A win over UCLA makes SDSU safer than the other four contenders.  Boise St. finishes with Utah St. and two games against San Diego St.  A 3-0 finish would propel the Broncos into the Safe category.


Lock: USC 12-2/18-3

Safe: UCLA 10-3/14-5, Oregon 7-3/12-4

Good Bubble: —–

Bad Bubble: Colorado 10-5/16-6, Stanford 9-6/13-8

In Contention: Utah 6-7/9-8, Oregon St. 6-8/10-10

The former Conference of Champions has not earned one since Arizona cut the nets in 1997!  Only UCLA twice and Oregon once have made the Final Four since then (Utah made it before they joined the league).


Lock: Alabama 12-1/17-5, Arkansas 9-4/17-5

Safe: Tennessee 8-5/15-5, LSU 8-4/13-6, Florida 6-5/10-6

Good Bubble: Missouri 6-6/13-6

Bad Bubble: Ole Miss 7-6/12-8

In Contention: Georgia 6-8/13-8

You don’t see Kentucky on this list.  They are out of contention for an at-large bid, but that doesn’t mean the Wildcats cannot win the conference tournament.  The two hot teams in this league are Arkansas and Ole Miss.  The Razorbacks probably have the best chance to make it past the Sweet 16 from this league.  Ole Miss needs a few more big wins to get into the field.


Lock: Gonzaga 11-0/20-0

Safe: —–

Good Bubble: BYU 6-3/15-5

Bad Bubble: —–

In Contention: Saint Mary’s 2-4/11-6

We placed SMC in the “In Contention” section, because in theory, they could finish 6-4/15-6 in the regular season, which would include an upset of Gonzaga.  Short of that, the Gaels will be staying home this year.

Coming tomorrow–Updated ratings, updated bracketology, and our annual mid-major coaches ready for the big time list in three separate posts.

Coming soon–The PiRate Ratings have created a tabletop baseball strategy game more advanced than anything on the market.  It’s called “Sabertooth Baseball,” and look for more information about this next week!

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