- Joe Lunardi, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Four down, 64 to go. Through Sunday afternoon we've seen the first four automatic bids for the NCAA tournament handed out and to date the bids have gone according to plan, so to speak.
The Murray State Racers preempted any bubble talk by edging Tennessee State in the Ohio Valley Conference title game. The Racers are joined by UNC-Asheville and Belmont, who earned auto-bids on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Creighton Bluejays earned a prominent place in the hearts of bubble teams by edging Illinois State in overtime to prevent the Redbirds from stealing a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Who should be sending the McDermott family thank-you notes? Well, start with the Seton Hall Pirates, who have squandered a recent big win over the Georgetown Hoyas with consecutive losses to Rutgers and DePaul. The Pirates, now among our Last Four In, could still make the tournament, but they won't do it with their back-up lights on. As I discuss elsewhere today, I believe they need two wins in the Big East tournament to rest easy.
While hope remains for the Hall and other major conference teams with opportunities to do damage in conference tournaments, there are some that we can now safely count out of the NCAA tournament.
The Butler Bulldogs fell in the Horizon League semis and with an RPI of 113 and only three wins against the RPI top 100, it's safe to say the Bulldogs won't garner any at-large consideration. The Iona Gaels make a slightly more interesting case, but after losing to Fairfield in the MAAC tournament, I have them at No. 74 on the seed curve -- our "Next Four Out."
This is where teams would fall if Selection Sunday were today. Remember, the curve flows left to right, then right to left, then back again as you read down the chart. Teams with an asterisk currently lead their conferences and project to receive automatic bids, per the rules of bracketology. While Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan tied for the Big Ten regular-season title, the asterisk goes to the Spartans as they are the highest of the three teams on the S-Curve. Teams with an asterisk in bold have won their conference tournaments and clinched auto-bids.
GREEN: Teams with tourney odds of 90 percent or better through games of Feb. 28.
YELLOW: "Last four in" (will play March 13-14 in Dayton, Ohio)
GOLD: Lowest four auto-bids (will play March 13-14 in Dayton, Ohio)
RED: "First four out" (teams 69-72 on the S curve)
PURPLE: "Next four out" (teams 73-76 on the S curve)
The Full S-Curve
*conference leader (teams)
Add the current AQs to the "solid" at-large candidates (current Tournament Odds at 90 percent or better) and there are 37 teams in the field. Add in the remaining automatic qualifiers yet to be decided and that's another 18 spots. All told there are 55 of the 68 spots accounted for, with 13 still up for grabs among current "Bubble" teams.
The bubble (25 teams for 13 spots)
IN (13, in S-Curve order):
36-Saint Louis, 37-Southern Miss, 38-California, 39-West Virginia, 40-Connecticut, 44-Mississippi State, 45-Colorado State, 46-South Florida, 47-BYU, 48-Northwestern, 49-Seton Hall, 50-Xavier, 51-Texas
OUT (11, in S-Curve order)
69-Tennessee, 70-VCU, 71-Oregon, 72-NC State, 73-Miami (FL), 74-Iona, 75-Arizona, 76-Saint Joseph's, 77-Dayton, 78-Marshall, 79-Ole Miss, 80-Middle Tennessee
Though Seton Hall is playing with fire, the Big East remains the top dog with 10 bids. Four of those teams (West Virginia, UConn, South Florida and Seton Hall) remain outside of our 90 percent odds "lock" status, however. Other bubble teams should hope for some carnage when the Big East tournament starts Tuesday.
With a win Sunday over Maryland, Virginia moved over the 90 percent odds threshold, giving the ACC four teams solidly in the field, though things still remain murky for Miami and NC State.
In the SEC (currently with five bids), keep an eye on the Tennessee Volunteers. As of now, I have them just outside of the bracket, among our First Four Out. But the Vols have won four straight and their win Saturday over Vanderbilt makes them serious players for one of the final at-large bids. They'll need to perform in the SEC tournament, however, where they draw the winner of Ole Miss and Auburn. That's a must-win for Tennessee. A second win -- likely against Vanderbilt or Mississippi State -- will mean much more.
Joe Lunardi provides the latest look at his S Curve, which shows the Creighton Bluejays doing bubble teams a big favor by winning on Sunday.