Selection Sunday is getting extremely close and the number of automatic bids to the NIT is extremely low at the moment. (Still a long way to go!)
That means that the NIT bubble is extremely robust. All those open spots are leaving opportunities for a plethora of teams to make legitimate claims to an at-large position. The way I see it there are currently 13 teams vying for (currently) seven spots in the NIT. Because I’m making a few dramatic changes in tonight’s bracket I wanted to lay out my logic in a bit more detail.
Let’s put them into groups.
Major Conference Teams
Includes: Colorado, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech
You can add Ohio St. to this group if you want and say that there are 14 teams vying for eight spots, but I think the Buckeyes, despite Thad Matta not committing to playing, are relatively safe. (And they’ll play if invited.)
Colorado is the only one of these three teams currently in my bracket. The Buffaloes will finish with an RPI in the high-90s and an 18-14 record against Division I opponents. Colorado is 9-4 since starting the season 10-10 and I expect that progress, along with wins over Oregon, California and Xavier might be enough to sneak into the bracket.
Good wins are where Georgia Tech’s profile excels, but that’s partly because the Yellow Jackets had so many opportunities in the ACC. A lack of road wins plus a 10-15 overall record against the Top 200 puts them squarely on the bubble. Teams like that have made the NIT in the past, but they’ve also been left out. It may be that GT’s 263rd ranked non-conference schedule could be what ultimately does them in.
Texas A&M played difficult non-conference and conference schedules, which is why the Aggies are currently 16-15 and still hanging around the NIT bubble. They have 13 losses to teams in the Top 50 of the RPI. But 2-13 against the Top 50 and 4-14 against the Top 100 shows they’re probably not a postseason basketball team.
The Atlantic 10
Includes: Richmond, Davidson, George Washington, George Mason
This is the second tier of the Atlantic 10 behind the Dayton, VCU, Rhode Island trio that is battling for NCAA Tournament positioning. A few of them are likely to make the NIT. Davidson did itself a big favor today by beating Dayton, but the Wildcats are still just 9-14 against the RPI Top 200 (4-12 vs. Top 100). Richmond tied for third during the A-10 regular season and looks to have the best overall profile. GW and GMU are both a little off the edge. GMU needed to beat VCU today to be taken seriously, but the the Colonials can still help themselves with a win over Richmond tonight.
The Mountain West
Includes: San Diego St., New Mexico
Fresno St. and Boise St. could also be in this group, but the I believe that the profiles for the Bulldogs and Broncos are better than their conference brethren. SDSU just blew out Boise in the MWC tournament, but has some really questionable losses. Of course the Aztecs are still playing, a win over Colorado St. later tonight would definitely help. New Mexico went 0-6 in their games against Top 50 RPI teams, which is probably why the Lobos will miss out on the NIT, though they have the better RPI.
Includes: Valparaiso, UNC Asheville, San Francisco, New Mexico St.
The Horizon, Big South and West Coast conference tournaments have all already finished, so there’s nothing left for Valpo, UNCA and USF to do except wait. Valparaiso is 4-3 against the Top 100, but will be without Alec Peters—who was injured late in the season. The Crusaders lost an ugly game, 43-41 in the Horizon League tournament without him. How the committee decides to handle Peters’s injury will determine Valpo’s NIT fate, which makes them potentially the toughest team to project in the bracket. UNCA’s best wins are at Furman and Elon, but the Bulldogs are an interesting team that went 15-3 in the Big South before being upset by Campbell in the conference tournament. San Francisco went 10-8 in the WCC and beat Utah and Illinois State on neutral courts in non-conference, but failed to beat any of the WCC’s top three during conference play. One win might’ve been enough, but it looks like Kyle Smith’s new team will fall just short.
Then there’s New Mexico St. Depending on who you ask the Aggies might be the favorite in the WAC tournament. If they win the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament then this whole exercise is moot, as Cal St. Bakersfield would get an automatic NIT bid. But if that doesn’t happen it will be interesting to see how the committee handles NMSU gaudy record (currently 26-5) with basically only winning at Arizona St. as proof of being able to win difficult games on the road. (Note: NMSU also beat New Mexico, Samford, and UC Irvine at home.)
That’s it. It will definitely be interesting to see how it all shakes out—and if any other team manages to steal an automatic bid before the weekend is out.