NCAA hopefuls, beware of those pesky ‘Bid Thieves’

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The bid thief doesn’t linger very long. It gets in, gets out, and handles it’s business. The bid thief is one of the last things a desperate bubble team wants to see in early March. The longer a bubble team or potential at-large team can stay alive in a conference tournament, the better their chances get at being safe from to bid thievery. Bubble teams that make a quick exit in their conference tournament leave their March Madness fate in the hands of the committee, and that’s exactly when a team becomes the most vulnerable.

But not all bid thieves are the same.  The 2008 Georgia Bulldogs were not the same as the 2010 New Mexico Aggies, who were not the same as the 2010 Houston Cougars who were not the same as the 2006 Syracuse Orange. Bid thieves thrive in unexpected circumstances. They come in all shapes and sizes, and usually, they play like there’s no tomorrow or there’s nothing to lose.

So, for fans of St. Joe’s, South Florida, Xavier, Miami, Southern Mississippi, and Colorado State: take heed and pay close attention to the following teams over the next nine days. Their performances could directly impact your team’s tournament status.

Cal-State Fullerton – Big West

Long Beach State has been the best team in the Big West for the past two years, but they have faltered in the tournament both seasons. If there is going to be a team to beat them, it’s the Titans. They feature a high-scoring offense that is necessary in order to beat Long Beach State. It’s not probably, but it’s certainly possible. Long Beach State’s strength of schedule will give them some help if they have yet another tournament slip-up. Fans of bubble teams should be vehemently rooting against the Titans next week.

Colorado – Pac-12 Conference

Does anybody actually know how many teams the Pac-12 is going to get in the NCAA Tournament? Even top teams like Arizona, Cal and Washington could be considered potential bid thieves. But of the teams that nobody is really talking about, Colorado could do the most damage. They hold wins over the four teams in front of them in the standings and a successful postseason push could put the Buffs on the right side of the bubble. This is the Pac-12 we are talking about. Anything could happen.

Denver – Sun Belt

The last thing bubble teams want is dominant mid-major squad thrown into the mix at the last-minute. Since December, Middle Tennessee State has been projected to win the Sun Belt tournament, but the Raiders also have a decent non-conference schedule in the event that they get ousted in the conference tournament. Denver was the only team to put a real hurting on Middle Tennessee this season, and having won four of the last five games, could be in a position to bounce Middle Tennessee onto and potentially off of the bubble.

Evansville – Missouri Valley Conference

Considering the MVC is one of the most competitive conferences in the country, there is a very good possibility that a bid thief emerges from the tournament. Wichita State and Creighton are NCAA Tournament locks. If neither of them hoist the MVC Tournament title, bubble teams could be in big trouble. Evansville poses the biggest threat in “Arch Madness”. They have already beaten Creighton, and if they can get past Missouri State in the first round, whom they beat in the last game of season, could face Creighton again in the semifinals. Plus, Evansville guard Colt Ryan is a dynamic scoring threat who can heat up in a hurry. He scored a career-high 43 points during the Aces previous meeting with Creighton.

George Mason – CAA

The CAA might not have as much talent is years past, but the top teams are just as tough, and capable of going on a hot streak.  George Mason lacks the non-conference resumes need to grab an at-large bid, but both teams have the leadership, toughness and experience to run the tables in Richmond. The Drexel Dragons are the top seed and could potentially grab an at-large bid if George Mason can win the tournament or make a deep run. Because of their recent postseason success, it would be foolish of us to count out the Patriots.

Illinois – Big Ten

Yup, that’s right, Illinois. It’s not a conventional pick, but neither was Georgia in 2008 or Syracuse in 2006. Sure, they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games, but the Illini have beaten some of the best teams in the Big-10. What if Brandon Paul gets hot again? What if Myers Leonard finally decides to assert himself as a force? Crazier things have happened before. Think about what happens if Illinois some how makes the NCAA Tournament. Will that save Bruce Weber’s job status?

Iowa – Big Ten

All told, Iowa hasn’t had a great season. Yes, they’re much better than they were a year ago, but this does not look like an NCAA Tournament team. Well, unless the put together a feverish run in the Big-Ten Tournament. They are finishing up the regular season strong, with two wins against top-25 teams (albeit at home). With a gun-slingin’ mercenary like Matt Gatens leading the way, the Hawkeyes do have a shooters chance. But anything short of an overtime buzzer-beating loss in the tournament finals (and that’s still probably not enough) will leave them out of the postseason.

Loyola (Md.) – MAAC

The Iona Gaels have an outside shot at receiving an at-large bid, and the Loyola Greyhounds could be the team to force their hand in the MAAC Tournament. Loyola has had a banner year this season, going 21-8 and finishing 13-5 in the conference. They split the season series with the Gaels, and swept the season series against No.3-seed Manhattan.

Loyola-Marymount – West Coast Conference

The Lions have won seven of their last nine, beat Valparaiso in BracketBusters and own road victories against BYU and St. Mary’s. The West Coast Conference is still anybody’s to win. If LMU can avoid Gonzaga in the conference tournament, their chances at snagging a bid from a bubble team increase dramatically.

Northern Iowa – Missouri Valley Conference

In the Missouri Valley Conference, nothing is set in stone. This team is known for their post-season magic, and Anthony James looks to be the guy that might keep it alive in the postseason. The Panthers have been woefully inconsistent, but you have to remember that this is the MVC we are talking about. You never can count a team out until they are cutting down the nets.

Northwestern – Big Ten

Northwestern is becoming the reincarnation of Virginia Tech. The only major conference team to have never reach a NCAA Tournament has been on the wrong side of the bubble each of the past three seasons. A heart-breaking loss to Ohio State this week firmly entrenched them on the bubble’s weaker side. But the Wildcats fared well on a neutral court earlier in the season, winning the Charleston Classic, and the only ugly losses they suffered were on the road. John Shurna is a desperate man. Sometimes desperation is all it talk to create some magic.

Penn – Ivy League

Sure, there’s no Ivy League Tournament for them to win, but if they win their final three games, all against the league’s weaker teams, they will be tied with Harvard for the Ivy League title. Since the teams split the season series, a one-game playoff would decide the league’s auto-bid, and we all remember what happened in last season’s one game playoff. The difference this season is that Harvard could grab an at-large bid if they are to lose to Penn in dramatic fashion, which would certainly shake things up for the bubble.

St. Bonaventure’s – Atlantic-10

Can anyone figure out the Atlantic-10 hierarchy this year? Every team has some questionable losses, and no team has been able to assert themselves as the top dog. That should make for an interesting conference tournament.  The Bonnies have played much better down the stretch, and with Andrew Nicholson, the conference’s top big-man, they could be a team to give at-large hopefuls a few nightmares.

South Dakota State – Summit League

There is only one possible scenario in which the Summit League receives two bids this season. South Dakota State would have to beat Oral Roberts for the championship in a game undecided with less than sixty seconds left. Oral Roberts would need a razor-close loss coupled together with poor performances from other bubble teams and very little bid thievery in order to snag an at-large bid. If SDSU beats them convincingly, bubble teams can probably breathe a bit easier. But SDSU has Nate Wolters, a guy who could very well become the next “Wally Szczerbiak”.

Tennessee – SEC

Cuonzo Martin thinks his team deserves a bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Volunteers have put together a very good season in year one of the post-Pearl era, but their at-large hopes are very slim. The Vols have the size, toughness and talent to make an unexpected run at the SEC Tournament title. The only problem is that Kentucky is standing in their way, and Kentucky is like really, really good. But if there was a “bid thief” to emerge from the SEC, Tennessee would have to be considered a likely candidate.

Tennessee State – Ohio Valley Conference

The Tigers have the distinct honor of being the only team in the nation to defeat the Murray State Racers this season. They also benefit from receiving a double-bye in the OVC tournament and will only have to win two games in order to earn an at-large bid. In all likelihood, they will have to face the Racers in a championship rubber-match in order to do so.

Tulsa – Conference-USA

The Golden Hurricanes are tied for third in the conference, but have no shot at an at-large bid. They do boast a sturdy C-USA record, and have only lost one conference game in regulation by more than three points. Their regular season finale against Memphis should determine if this team has what it takes to steal an auto-bid. Just two seasons ago, Houston emerged from the eighth seed to steal a bid for bubble teams. Tulsa might be able to do the same in 2012.

UConn – Big East

If the Huskies play like they did against Louisville, they will spend no more than 24 hours in New York City. But if this team decides to play with energy, cohesiveness and passion, they could do some special things. UConn has fallen so hard that they have to put together a noteworthy performance at the Big East Tournament just to get them back in bubble contention. But as we’ve seen in the past (Kemba in 2011 and Jerry-Mac in 2006) anything is possible at Madison Square Garden.

Virginia Commonwealth – CAA

Remember what you just read about George Mason? Well, all the same applies to VCU. As it stands, Drexel looks like the only team that will receive a bid to the Big Dance. But the crowd in Richmond is bound to be pro-VCU, and senior forward Bradford Burgess isn’t likely to go down without a fight. If this team is making a high percentage of their shots, they are a tough team to beat. Anything short of an appearance in the finals will send the Rams packing for one of the “Little Dances”.