Bracket Bits: Potential mid-major bubble teams
Given this year’s rather unimpressive Bubble, there’s been ample opportunities for so-called “mid-majors” to cash in. But as the calendar turns to March, Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley) is the only one to really take advantage: the Panthers will be Dancing. Old Dominion was in a similar position in mid-January until some unsightly Conference USA losses clouded their horizon. The Monarchs can still make it, but not without a strong finish, and maybe a little help.
Which brings us to the next question: Are there any other potential mid-major teams who could make a late push toward at-large consideration? Here are the leading candidates (records are D1 only) …
Wofford (21-6) | (Southern) – The Terriers might be the leading candidate thanks to a Top 20 non-conference schedule that includes a victory at NC State. Wofford’s other Top 100 wins include Iona and Sam Houston State. The biggest hang-up, and it sticks out like a 300-pound gorilla, is a loss at The Citadel, which stands at No. 310 on the RPI rankings as of this posting. It would also be a bit unusual for a six-loss team in Wofford’s situation to gain momentum on the At-Large Board. Assuming the Terriers would lose only to Chattanooga in the SoCon tourney finale, there’s an outside chance, but it’s just that.
Murray State (23-4) | (Ohio Valley) – Much like Wofford, the Racers will be a team to watch if they make the NCAA tournament. But there are road blocks, obviously, like a current RPI hovering around 70. And given the OVC landscape, it’s unlikely to improve much. Murray also lacks a marquee non-conference victory and has a NC SOS ranked around 250. That alone is a tough hurdle to bypass.
Valparaiso (23-5) | (Horizon) – The Crusaders wrapped up a Horizon League title Friday night, so at worst, there will be a trip to the NIT. Making it to the NCAAs as an at-large? It’ll be tough with a NC SOS ranked at 280 (at publication). Combined with three sub-150 RPI losses? Tough to see it. What Valpo offers is victory over Murray State and Green Bay, and a 7-2 mark against Top 150 teams overall.
Stephen F. Austin (20-4) | (Southland) – Another dangerous opening-round opponent if the Lumberjacks make it. The trouble spots include an RPI in the upper 60s and a win at Memphis as the team’s top selling points. A two-point home loss to Northern Iowa looks really heartbreaking if you’re an SFA fan. If they win out and lose only to Sam Houston State in the Southland finale? Committee might look, but there isn’t enough to feel strongly about it – yet.
Iona (24-6) | (MAAC) – With an RPI around 50, the Gaels could be discussed, but there’s nothing on their profile to match, say, Wofford’s win at NC State. In fact, the Gaels have not beaten a team ranked in the Top 100 of the RPI (0-3). A long shot for sure, even with a Top 100 NC schedule.
That’s pretty much it for now. Again, we’re not including teams from the Atlantic 10 or West Cost Conference on this list. They’re listed under Bubble Banter. If any of the above get close enough, we’ll add them to that page.