An Updated Look at the Likely NCAA Tournament Bracket

With the losses by Northern Iowa and Liberty during the week, much discussion occurred about these two teams’ chances to receive at-large bids if either would not get their conference’s automatic bid. We thought it would be good time to discuss the chances of these teams for an at-large bid as well as how the committee views these situations.

First, both teams currently have the automatic bids for each conference. Our procedure has always been to give the auto bid to the team who currently leads the conference. If there is a tie, we give the auto bid to the team with the best NET ranking. Yes, we understand that tiebreakers come into play but we don’t consider those until March when the conference schedules are near completion and most round robins have been completed.

The cases of these two teams are quite different. Let’s look at Liberty. The Flames have a NET of 50 but a strength of schedule of 274. Some of their SOS ranking has to do with the strength of the teams in their conference, which the Flames have no control over; however, their non-conference SOS sits at 201. In viewing teams like Liberty, the committee has been very consistent over the years of viewing whether or not a team challenged themselves in the non-con. Liberty played two teams in their non-conference schedule ranked in the top 150 of the NET, which represents the top 40% of teams in the D-1. Furthermore, the Flames have only one victory in the top 150 and of their 18 wins, 15 have come against teams in quadrant four.

Now, if Liberty runs the table but loses in the finals of the Atlantic Sun tournament, their record would be 28-4 in D-1 games. While the committee has had no rules concerning how many wins a team needs to automatically receive an at-large bid, 28 wins seems to have always been a tipping point. Under 28 wins, your resume better have some meat on it to receive a bid. If the above scenario occurs, the committee would have a tough time putting Liberty in the field with the weak schedule. With two losses this week, I don’t see a way that Liberty can make the field as an at-large.

As this discussion pertains to Northern Iowa, the outlook is quite different. First, UNI plays in a much tougher conference which helps their SOS greatly, a 107 ranking. This flows down to their schedule where they have played, by comparison, nine games against teams in the top 150. They challenged themselves in the non-conference by playing two games against teams currently in the top 25 and coming away with a victory on the road over #20 Colorado. And by comparison, only five of their 15 wins have come against quadrant four teams.

If UNI runs the table and loses in the MVC finals, the Panthers would have 27-4 record, not quite hitting that 28 win mark. But that Colorado win looms large. Plus, UNI would have at least five Q1 and Q2 wins. Currently I have UNI in the second four out (if they were not the automatic bid). Northern Iowa would certainly be solidly in line for an at-large bid if they run the regular season schedule.

So while these schools are two similar mid-majors, it’s easy to see how the committee would strongly consider one team and most likely leave out the other.

LAST FOUR IN: Texas Tech, Arizona State, BYU, Rhode Island
FIRST FOUR OUT: Xavier, Alabama, DePaul, Richmond
NEXT FOUR OUT:  Virginia, Purdue, St. John’s, Minnesota

PAC-12: 6
SEC: 5
ACC: 5
BIG 12: 5
WCC: 3
AAC: 3
A-10: 3

Now it’s time for Bracket Facts:

Tip of the cap to this team: Dayton. The Flyers handled a very good Richmond team on Saturday and now have the inside track to an A-10 title. Problem for the Flyers is they are stuck on the four line as teams above them continue to have impressive wins against top flight opponents.

Best team: Baylor keeps rolling along with an impressive win at Florida. The Bears can have it on cruise control until February 15th when they begin a 22 day stretch that sees them play Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas and two games against West Virginia.

In the bracket but fading fast: Stanford. While they have accumulated 15 wins the resume is not that impressive. The Cardinal has only two top 50 wins and only three wins combined in Q1 and Q2. Sunday’s loss to Cal hurt them badly and it would seem they need to knock off one of the Pac-12 big boys to feel safe with their position.

On the uptick: Illinois. After a slow non-conference start that saw losses to Missouri and Miami, the Illini have rattled off six straight Big Ten wins and find themselves in great shape for a berth heading into February.

Look for updated brackets every Monday. Follow me on twitter @tkbrackets. I will give you updates all season long as we make our way to Atlanta for the Final Four.

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