Last time we checked-in, I said there were seven spots up for grabs. Following the results of two days worth of conference tournaments, I think there are now two spots that are truly uncertain.
I am fairly confident about 34 out of 36 of the at-large spots. The two that are up in the air are spots currently filled by Kansas St and Syracuse. I included both in my last update. K-State was my last team in and Syracuse was in a play-in game.
I said K-State needed to pull off the difficult task of beating Baylor to stay in the bracket. Well, they did just that yesterday. The Big 12 is arguably the strongest conference from top to bottom and similar to last year’s version which sent seven teams to the dance. Kansas St would be the sixth team from the conference to make it this year. However, a 6-10 record against the RPI Top 100 and weak non-conference schedule are reasons why they might not get picked.
Meanwhile, I said Syracuse had to win their opening game against Miami to feel safe. They lost and now it could a coin flip as to whether or not they hear their name called. They went 10-8 in the 2016-17 ACC, which some people were calling at one point the best conference in college basketball history. However, their non-confernece results were so awful that they are at this point. Teams with five losses to teams with RPI of 100+ have made it before, but it is never a guarantee.
Elsewhere, teams that were looking good but not totally safe (Xavier, USC, Vanderbilt) have won the necessary games in their respective tournaments so now I see them being in without much of an issue. And two teams that were on the wrong side of the bubble but still in the mix (Illinois and Iowa) flamed out yesterday.
So, teams that can be realistically picked over Kansas St and Syracuse are Rhode Island if they can get past Dayton in the A-10 tournament or possibly Middle Tennessee if they do not secure the automatic bid. Illinois St also has a chance to receive an at-large but I am still not high on their chances. TCU and California are in the mix and still alive in their tournaments. But the selection committee does not like power conference teams that have few wins against quality competition. K-State and Syracuse also have to watch out for bid thieves. It is possible that some team other than Cincinnati or SMU wins the AAC or a team other than Dayton or VCU wins the A-10 to take away a spot.
Here is my updated projection.
1 Villanova, UNC, Kansas, Kentucky
2 Gonzaga, Oregon, Baylor, Florida
3 Louisville, UCLA, Arizona, Florida St
4 Duke, West Virginia, Butler, Purdue
5 Virginia, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, SMU
6 St. Mary’s, Minnesota, Iowa St, Maryland
7 Creighton, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Wichita St
8 Dayton, Arkansas, Miami, Michigan
9 Seton Hall, Virginia Tech, Marquette, Oklahoma St
10 VCU, Northwestern, Xavier, Wake Forest
11 Michigan St, Vanderbilt, Providence/USC, Kansas St/Syracuse
12 Middle Tennessee, Nevada, UNC Wilmington, UT Arlington
13 Princeton, Vermont, ETSU, Bucknell
14 Winthrop, FGCU, Akron, Cal St Bakersfield
15 Iona, Northern Kentucky, North Dakota, Texas Southern
16 NC Central, UC Irvine, Jacksonville St/New Orleans, South Dakota St/Mount Saint Mary’s