Bubble Banter: Here are the 13 potential bid thieves that will play this week
Bid Thievery is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the act of winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament at the cost of a team that is a lock to get an at-large, thus robbing the field of one of the available at-large bids.
It’s not a criminal act.
In fact, in a year like this, where the bubble is weaker than wet toilet paper, these Bid Thieves will be doing America a favor.
For every successful heist, there will be one less 14-loss high major team backing their way into a bid.
So with that in mind, these are the leagues — and the teams — that you need to be the most concerned about if you happen to be a fan of a program that has spent the last three weeks on all over bubble watch.
NOTE: We discussed the mid-major bid thieves here.
ATLANTIC 10 (March 13-17, Barclays Center)
The Atlantic 10 is increasingly looking like a one-bid league if VCU (NET: 31) takes the conference tournament.
Enter Dayton (NET: 65), a team who has won five out of six games entering the postseason. The Flyers are the No. 3 seed in the A10 tournament. They played VCU to two close losses during the regular season, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable for Dayton to win some games and play spoiler here.
Similar to Dayton, DAVIDSON (NET: 68) can very easily win the Atlantic 10 tourney. The one-two punch of Jon Axel Gudmundsson and Kellen Grady is arguably the best in the conference. Davidson was once a bubble team, but they lost a few too many games in a league that simply does not have enough depth to carry more than one at-large bid. The Wildcats know they need to win this event to get into the field. Don’t sleep on this group having a big week in Brooklyn.
MOUNTAIN WEST (March 13-17, Las Vegas)
The Mountain West has been slept on for most of the season, but at this point it looks like the league is going to be able to support two at-large teams.
NEVADA (NET: 18) is the obvious one. The Wolf Pack are probably looking at a No. 4 seed if they can win the MWC tournament. And while UTAH STATE (NET: 30) is hardly a lock at this point, I do think that they are going to get into the dance as long as they don’t do anything stupid in Vegas.
The No. 3 seed in the league’s tournament, FRESNO STATE (NET: 79) has a chance to play spoiler and make a run. With two high-scoring guards in Braxton Huggins (19.3 ppg) and Deshon Taylor (18.4 ppg), the Bulldogs have already played close games against Nevada and Utah State, and there was a point in time that it looked like they were going to be near the tournament bubble. They’re dangerous, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Fresno State get hot and win this whole event.
The other team to keep an eye on is SAN DIEGO STATE (NET: 134). The Aztecs lost three of their last four games -- to the top three teaams in the league -- but they did have a four-game winning streak in February that featured wins over Utah State and Nevada. Jaden McDaniels is a future pro and he is capable of taking games over all by himself.
AMERICAN TOURNAMENT (March 14-17, Memphis)
Houston, Cincinnati and UCF are all going to be in the NCAA tournament field on Selection Sunday. TEMPLE (NET: 50) is in the tournament as of today, so they’re not going to be included in this conversation.
And while the AAC as a whole is down while WICHITA STATE (NET: 90), MEMPHIS (NET: 53) and UConn reload, two of those three are going to make some noise this weekend.
Let’s start with the former. Would you want to face Gregg Marshall and the Shockers with a postseason spot on the line? If Wichita State advances past No. 11 seed East Carolina in the first game of the American conference tournament, then they’ll get a crack at No. 3 seed Temple -- a team fighting for its at-large life with every game. The Owls need to get that one to feel safe. Wichita State has won four consecutive games. Bubble teams will make this potential game appointment viewing on Friday night.
Next year is the year everyone continues to mention with Memphis. But why not now? Penny’s bunch has been surging with four wins in their last five games heading into the postseason. Senior guard Jeremiah Martin is one of only a handful of players capable of dropping 40 on any given night. The No. 4 seeded Tigers could get a shot at UCF in the quarterfinals in a winnable matchup that would be one of Friday’s underrated games to watch.
Should I mention that they have been dangerous at home and that they’ll be playing this tournament at home?
THE BIG BOYS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Illinois: Although Illinois has gone through a recent slide, there was a random stretch in the middle of Big Ten season where the Illini won five of six games -- including wins over Maryland, Michigan State and Ohio State. Playing in Chicago at the United Center for the Big Ten tournament, a chunk of the Illinois roster calls the Windy City home as Illinois is going to have a small homecourt advantage in certain matchups. If freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu takes over a game, Illinois could crush a bubble team’s hopes.
Penn State: Winners of five of their last six games, the Nittany Lions are one of the hottest teams in the country -- regardless of NCAA tournament status. While the Nittany Lions have been mostly feasting on Big Ten bottomfeeders during that span, they also earned a notable double-digit win over Maryland that opened some eyes. Beginning the Big Ten tournament with a matchup against Minnesota, Penn State could very easily play a spoiler role in Chicago this week.
DePaul: It’s easy to scoff at the Blue Demons being a credible threat given their No. 10 seeding in the Big East tournament. This isn’t the typical DePaul team we’ve seen over the years. Entering the postseason above .500 for the first time since 2007, the Blue Demons actually swept the season series over Big East tournament first-round opponent St. John’s. If Max Strus gets loose (he dropped 43 points on the Red Storm less than two weeks ago) then St. John’s is going to be sweating on Selection Sunday.
Xavier: The Musketeers have turned the corner over the last several weeks as they earned a No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament despite barely touching the bubble. And during that streak, Xavier picked off NCAA tournament-caliber teams and other hopefuls like Creighton, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova and two wins over St. John’s. Armed with five double-figure scorers, Xavier is playing some of the best ball of any team in the Big East right now as they shouldn’t be counted out in any game at Madison Square Garden.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks could immediately cause chaos in the SEC tournament with an opening-round game against Florida. Big man Daniel Gafford is one of the premier post threats in the country and a young Arkansas team has shaken off a late-season swoon to win three straight games. This could be a dangerous situation for the Gators as they’ve been inconsistent throughout this season.
UCLA: This lost season in Westwood could get interesting if the Bruins get a shot at Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament. We’ve seen how up-and-down the entire Pac-12 has been this season. UCLA has the talent to compete with any of those teams on the right night. The Sun Devils have had some puzzling games with losses to bad opponents. It’s entirely possible that the Bruins beat Arizona State and end their bubble hopes in the quarterfinals.
Oregon: Winners of four straight games -- including a win at Washington, the Pac-12’s best team -- the Ducks are another talented team who as straightened the ship late in the year. Point guard Payton Pritchard has plenty of big-game experience while freshman Louis King can take over a game if he gets hot. The Pac-12 has been so unpredictable this season that the Ducks could take advantage and make a run here.