With conference tournaments it may be time to take a look at some of the mid major conferences that could steal some bids from fringe high major bubble teams. The Colonial, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley , West Coast, Big West and Possibly the Metro Atlantic have clear favorites that teams such as NC State, Mississippi State, Connecticut and the entire PAC 12 should be rooting for in their conference tournaments.
In the Colonial a four-team race turned into a two-team race as Drexel (25-5, 16-2) and VCU (25-6, 15-3) have pulled away from George Mason (23-8, 14-4) and Old Dominion (19-12, 13-5).
The front-leading Dragons have lost once since Dec. 10th, 23 of 24 and 17 straight, while playing suffocating defense. VCU is 14-1 in their last 15 games, and the 1 loss came at George Mason on a Sherrod Wright buzzer-beating three pointer.
But in the Colonial either VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion (who are the two-time defending champs) have won the tournament since 2006.
Old Dominion has lost to VCU and Drexel by a total of five points the last time they played them. George Mason has also had close games with Drexel and VCU, falling to the Dragons by 7 and beating the Rams in that thriller.
March 1-3 will have bubble teams glued to the CAA hoping, sweating that seeds hold and VCU and Drexel meet in the title game on Monday.
In the Missouri Valley, Wichita State (26-4, 16-2) has over taken early-season favorite Creighton (25-5, 14-4) for the top spot in the conference. These two teams are clearly the class of the conference, what should worry teams on the bubble is what comes after that. Evansville, Missouri State, Drake, Northern Iowa and Illinois State all finished 9-9 in conference, and all of them have at least one MVC title game appearance since 1999.
Arch Madness is always one of the most intriguing tournaments of Championship Week. Drake holds a triple overtime win over Wichita State, while Evansville and Northern Iowa both suffered last second, one-possession losses.
As for Creighton, besides a loss to Wichita State their 3 other conference losses came at the hands of Missouri State, Evansville and Northern Iowa.
To borrow a cycling term, it is quite possible the peloton could catch the lead pack in St. Louis and that could be bad news for some come Selection Sunday.
The West Coast Conference is kind of like the Colonial; a couple of lead teams; St. Mary’s (25-5, 14-2) and Gonzaga (24-5, 13-3) with a team on the fringe of an at-large berth in BYU (24-7, 12-4). But the conference has a couple of teams in Loyola Marymount (19-11, 11-5) and San Francisco (18-12, 8-8) who are very capable of knocking off a top 3 seed early.
For the first time in 11 years someone other than Gonzaga has their name solely on the WCC regular season title. The top 2 teams lost 5 total conference games, other than each other they each lost to Loyola Marymount, Gonzaga has losses to BYU and San Francisco, and that’s it.
San Francisco had quite a week last week, defeating Gonzaga 66-65 and then giving St. Mary’s all they could handle before late free throws made the 67-60 loss look worse than it was. The 5th seeded Dons now have confidence heading to New Orleans Arena for the WCC Tournament they can hang with the kings of the conference.
Loyola Marymount holds victories over St. Mary’s and BYU and a four-point loss to Gonzaga, other than a late-season loss to San Diego all of their blemishes in conference came at the hands of the top 3 teams. The only one of them they have yet to avenge is Gonzaga, something they could end up doing in the WCC championship game.
The final two conferences have clear favorites and having the automatic berth go to anyone other than Murray State (28-1, 15-1) in the Ohio Valley and Long Beach State (22-7, 15-0) in the Big West would be disastrous for any bubble team.
Murray State and LBSU are about as secure as a mid-major hoping for an at-large bid could be this time of year.
The 1-loss Racers righted the ship quickly after being knocked off at home by Tennessee State 72-68 at home. Included in their 5-game winning streak since the loss, is a convincing bracket buster victory over St. Mary’s and an 18-point drubbing of Tennessee State for revenge. The Ohio Valley should be theirs for the taking but funny things happen this time of year and the Racers could be tripped up by someone, maybe #2 seed Tennessee State.
Long Beach State played anyone and everyone in their non-conference slate, and while they didn’t win as many as they would’ve liked it certainly did prepare them for conference play. A conference they have run roughshod over thus far.
No problem for the 49ers right? Well there are a couple of potential stumbling blocks for LBSU. The first is two-time defending champion UC-Santa Barbara (16-9, 10-4). The 3rd seeded Gauchos have defeated Long Beach in the last two tournament finals, including last season when the Beach was also the #1 seed. The second problem is the old sports adage about how tough it is to beat a team three times in one season. That is something the 49ers will have to overcome that three times if they hope to secure the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The 37 at-large teams must come from somewhere and a lot of the bubbles around the country can pop at any moment. These are just a few of the conferences where if upsets happen and you listen close you will hear the sound of bubbles popping so fast you’d think someone was running over a roll of bubble wrap with a Mack truck.