When Northwestern topped Michigan last week in their penultimate game of the regular season, it was not an elimination game. That said, the miraculous buzzer-beater that the Wildcats made following an impossible full-court pass with two seconds on the game clock certainly felt like the type of play we’ve come to expect out of college basketball matchups in the month of March.
It wasn’t an elimination game, by any stretch, but the basket that came off the hand of forward Derek Pardon to defeat Michigan will almost certainly be the final addition to a resume that will finally get the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament after a 112-year drought, the longest in Division-I history. Nothing is finalized, but it is widely assumed that Northwestern will receive an at-large bid after a 21-win season that included huge wins against Michigan, Dayton and on the road against then-ranked No. 7 Wisconsin.
Three tickets to the big dance were punched this weekend on the behalf of Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State and Winthrop. None of these were particularly surprising, as each came into their respective conference tournaments with the No. 1 seed.
Wichita State winning the Missouri Valley will raise some questions surrounding Illinois State’s at-large candidacy. Illinois State posted an identical 17-1 conference record to match Wichita’s, but didn’t have the same non-conference credentials as the Shockers. Thus, it was widely viewed that Wichita would receive an at-large bid if Illinois State had won the conference tournament. Whether the tournament committee deems Illinois State as worthy of an at-large selection has yet to be seen.
The biggest upset of the weekend came in the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) when top-seeded Monmouth fell to No. 4 seed Siena. Monmouth came in as the MAAC tournament favorite for the second consecutive season. They will surely be relegated to the NIT for a second straight season. Monmouth’s 55 wins over the past two seasons are the most among any Division-I basketball program without an NCAA tournament appearance.
Teams with work left to do
Syracuse finds itself in an eerily similar position to the one the team was in a year ago. The team sits at 18-13 after regular season play but has as many or more bad losses (Boston College, Georgetown, St. John’s, UConn, Georgia Tech) as it has quality wins (Florida State, Virginia, Duke, Miami).
The general consensus is the Syracuse still has work left to do, but that’s no different perception than last year’s team had prior to a one-and-done ACC tournament performance. As memory serves, that team was widely perceived as not a tournament-quality team. Yet, they still got hot and made a run to the final four.
The University of Rhode Island hasn’t made an NCAA tournament this century, with their last appearance coming in 1999. However, they currently find themselves on the bubble for this year’s tournament and are benefiting from a better perception of the Atlantic 10 conference in recent seasons.
Dayton and VCU are thought of as at-large teams from the A-10 this season, leaving a possibility for a third team from the conference to sneak in. The easiest way for Rhode Island to qualify is for the Rams to win the Atlantic 10 tournament. However, a deep conference tournament run with a win over either Dayton or VCU could be deemed enough to reward Rhode Island with an automatic bid.
Wake Forest is the biggest question mark of a bubble team as things stand right now. They could be left out in lieu of a team like Illinois State or Rhode Island. They could be left out if the tournament committee deems the ACC isn’t deserving of 10 bids. They could be left out if a team like SMU fails to win their conference tournament. There are a lot of moving pieces here.
Wake Forest’s biggest win on the year is Louisville, and their resume is, seemingly, very similar to that of Syracuse’s. Each has 18 wins with a respectable RPI rating and a similar conference record. Conversely, Wake Forest is lacking signature wins. However, they’re also lacking the terrible losses that plague Syracuse’s resume.
No one actually knows what the tournament committee wants, so all of this is sheer speculation. The one thing that’s certain is that we are all currently in the calm before the storm, and there’s only a week remaining before brackets are being torn up all over the nation.
Embrace the madness.