Conference tournament week has begun, and it’s make-or-break time for many schools on the “bubble” of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
A total of 68 teams will be selected for the Big Dance, with 32 of them coming from automatic bids as conference tournament winners. The remaining teams will earn at-large bids, and the results of this week’s tournament games will play a major role in determining which schools earn spots.
Here are five bubble teams who need to win at least one game in their conference tournament and/or get other help to have a good chance of making the field of 68 teams.
Rhode Island, Atlantic 10, 21-9
The Rams finished the season as the third-best team in the A-10, and because of that they probably need to at least advance to the conference tournament title game to get into the NCAA Tournament. Two losses to Dayton — the top team in the A-10 — won’t help, but five straight wins to end the season, including a victory over VCU, does look good. Still, a deep run in the A-10 tournament is sorely needed for the Rams.
Illinois State, Missouri Valley, 27-6
Failing to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title game against Wichita State might have been a fatal blow to ISU’s chances. Sure, the 27-6 record is very impressive, but the Shockers and Redbirds were the only teams in the conference to hit the 20-win mark. Illinois State’s only quality win was against Wichita State on Jan. 14, and the Redbirds were 1-2 overall against the Shockers this season (including a 20-point loss in Sunday’s MVC title game). ISU needs teams with better a strength of schedule rating and more quality wins to falter early in this week’s conference tournaments.
Michigan State, Big 10, 18-13
The Spartans usually aren’t anywhere near the bubble. Head coach Tom Izzo’s squad normally is a high seed and a strong bet to make a deep run in the tournament. This season has been quite different, though. An early exit from the Big 10 tournament could put the Spartans in a real tough spot, but winning two rounds and getting to that 20-win mark with a top 15 strength of schedule rating should be enough to earn a tournament berth.
Nevada, MWC, 25-6
Nevada closed the season with six straight wins to earn a first-round bye in the Mountain West Conference tournament. The Wolfpack probably need to win the MWC tournament to receive an NCAA bid, but they are the No. 1 seed for a reason. They are the best team in the conference, but their lack of quality wins and a horrendously easy schedule is doing them no favors.
Wake Forest, ACC, 18-12
A late-season win over a top-10 ranked Louisville team will help the Demon Deacons’ cause, but they were 1-5 in conference play against Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia and Louisville. Luckily for Wake Forest, a deep run in a loaded ACC Tournament field would likely give it a good enough case for an at-large bid.
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