We all know the math when it comes to the Men’s NCAA D-I Tourney: 17 teams, 9 automatic qualifiers, 8 at-large bids. Mid-majors get in over many of the nationally-ranked teams thanks to these AQs. But even more disastrous for the squads on the at-large bubble are the bid stealers.
Bid stealers are units that are on the outside of the playoff picture before pulling off upsets to win their conference and take the AQs in what would otherwise be one- or two-bid conferences. For example, Georgetown had a first-four-out resume last year but ended up taking home the Big East title. They joined at-large lock Denver and bubble Villanova to represent their conference in May.
Conferences are top-heavy. This year, the CAA, Big East and Patriot all have heavy favorites (Towson, Denver and Loyola, respectively), but all have potential to send two or three teams to the big dance, should something wacky happen in conference tournaments. Here are some teams who are poised to make a run in their conference tournaments and steal an at-large bid.
Ranked 16th in this week’s IL poll, Georgetown could sneak their way in again. Their record so far is good (5-1), but they have a weak out-of-conference schedule. Unless they can beat Loyola in April, their at-large resume probably won’t be enough. But they have firepower and the right man at the helm in Kevin Warne to pull off something crazy again this year. A second straight Big East title for the Hoyas could spell heartbreak for bubble teams, as Denver and Villanova will be in good at-large shape.
At 5-1, the Blue Hens are a strong sleeper this year. They faltered against Villanova in their biggest out-of-conference game this season. To have any chance at an at-large, they would need a win over Hopkins and a strong showing in conference play. Their most likely chance at a tournament berth goes through Towson and the CAA tournament. There’s something brewing in Newark and it could be just enough to pull off something crazy in the CAA tourney.
A little higher profile than the others on this list, unranked Princeton has an uphill climb towards at-large . They’ve proven they can hang with the best these last two weeks, with close losses to Hopkins and Virginia. Then they got back on track with a conincing win over Navy on Tuesday. And of course, they have Tewaaraton candidate Michael Sowers. If they can edge out Yale and Cornell for the Ivy championship, they could punch their ticket as a second or third Ivy team.
Any bump Richmond got from upsetting Notre Dame turned to a slump with losses against Duke and Mount Saint Mary’s. High Point is in good at-large shape with two wins over ACC teams, so a Spiders SoCon ‘ship could mean we get two representatives from the Bible Belt
Almost anyone in the Patriot League
Loyola clearly is the favorite in this league and a shoe-in for the tourney. But it’s anyone’s guess who’s the next best team. Navy and Army are ranked and play mean defense. Lehigh has been a let down but still has an experienced and dangerous squad. Colgate beat ‘Cuse. Boston has Chris Gray. Bucknell has pieces despite a poor start. And Lafayette has a winning record? This is anything but a cake walk for the Hounds.
Live look at bubble teams during conference tourneys