It’s finally here. Judgment day in the world of college basketball. Selection Sunday isn’t just a day that everyone in the college basketball world looks forward to, it’s what every program across America strives for all season long. All the long practices, late trips, crammed schedules, etc. are done in preparation for this day. That the resume created by your team be considered worthy of inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.
Will the Crimson Tide be included among the field of participants for the 2019 tournament? Most around the country don’t believe so, but Avery Johnson’s team has a chance. This year’s bubble is as weak as it has, perhaps, ever been, and there are a few areas of Alabama’s resume that stand out in a positive manner. The selection committee is going to have a tough time sorting through the bevy of flawed resumes today, as they try to determine which teams should round out the field as the final few at-large bids.
They will give Alabama’s resume more than a glance.
Defining the Bubble
Before we can really get into the Crimson Tide’s resume, let’s first draw up the field and determine how many spots are still up for grabs. I mentioned previously that the bubble would shrink by the time Selection Sunday arrived thanks to bid-stealers in conference tournaments, and sure enough, Oregon, Saint Mary’s, and the winner of today’s Atlantic 10 Championship Game will all be sitting in seats at the table previously reserved for at-large contenders.
Here’s what I currently project the top ten seed-lines of the tournament to look like:
- 1-seeds: Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, Gonzaga
- 2-seeds: North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, Michigan
- 3-seeds: Houston, LSU, Florida State, Texas Tech
- 4-seeds: Kansas, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kansas State
- 5-seeds: Iowa State, Virginia Tech, Villanova, Marquette,
- 6-seeds: Auburn, Mississippi State, Maryland, Wofford
- 7-seeds: Cincinnati, Nevada, Buffalo, Louisville
- 8-seeds: Seton Hall, Iowa, Syracuse, Ole Miss
- 9-seeds: VCU, UCF, Utah State, Baylor
- 10-seeds: Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Washington
These 40 teams should be slam-dunks to make the field. Now let’s account for the rest of the automatic bids, starting with this week’s bid-stealers:
- 11-seed: Oregon
- 12-seeds: Saint Mary’s, Murray State, Liberty, New Mexico State
- 13-seeds: UC-Irvine, Northeastern, Vermont, Old Dominion
- 14-seeds: Georgia State*, Yale*, Northern Kentucky, Saint Louis*
- 15-seeds: Colgate, Bradley, Montana, Gardner-Webb
- 16-seeds: Abilene Christian, Iona, Prairie View A&M, Fairleigh-Dickinson, North Dakota State, UNC-Central
*Assuming victory in today’s championship games
68 total teams make the tournament, so if we crunch the numbers (40 in the first group, 23 in the second), we end up with five remaining spots for bubble at-large bids.
How Alabama Stacks Up
Let’s next take a look at the remaining teams in consideration for those last few spots:
- Clemson (19-14, 9-9 ACC; NET: 35; SOS: 39; 1-10 Quad 1; 6-3 Quad 2)
- NC State (21-11, 9-9 ACC; NET: 33; SOS: 129; 3-9 Quad 1; 5-0 Quad 2)
- Ohio State (19-14, 8-12 Big Ten; NET: 55; SOS: 45; 4-10 Quad 1; 5-3 Quad 2)
- Indiana (17-15, 8-12 Big Ten; NET: 54; SOS: 49; 6-9 Quad 1; 2-6 Quad 2)
- TCU (20-13, 7-11 Big 12; NET: 52; SOS: 36; 3-9 Quad 1; 6-4 Quad 2)
- Alabama (18-15, 8-10 SEC; NET: 59; SOS: 15; 3-10 Quad 1; 7-3 Quad 2)
- Arizona State (22-10, 12-6 PAC-12; NET: 63; SOS: 70; 3-3 Quad 1; 8-3 Quad 2)
- Saint John’s (21-12, 8-10 Big East; NET: 73; SOS: 69; 5-7 Quad 1; 5-3 Quad 2)
- Creighton (18-14, 9-9 Big East; NET: 53; SOS: 19; 3-10 Quad 1; 6-4 Quad 2)
- Temple (23-9, 13-5 AAC; NET: 56; SOS: 75; 2-6 Quad 1; 6-2 Quad 2)
- Belmont (26-5, 16-2 Ohio Valley; NET: 47; SOS: 199; 2-2 Quad 1; 3-1 Quad 2)
- UNC-Greensboro (28-6, 15-3 SOCON; NET: 60; SOS: 110; 2-6 Quad 1; 2-0 Quad 2)
- Furman (25-7, 13-5 SOCON; NET: 41; SOS: 181; 1-5 Quad 1; 3-1 Quad 2)
As you can see, despite how bad Alabama has played in recent weeks, their resume actually still stacks up quite well against their competition. The Tide have the toughest SOS of all the teams on this list, the most Quad 2 wins, and none of their metrics rank near the bottom of these teams either with a NET in the top 60 and a trio of Quad 1 wins.
Five of these thirteen teams will make the NCAA Tournament field, with four of them playing in Dayton for the First Four play-in games Tuesday and Wednesday night. Based on the selection committee’s historical precedents, it’s hard to imagine any of the small conference teams getting in. The committee has shown a strong bias against teams with bad SOS, and whether or not that’s because that is a convenient excuse to dismiss small programs in favor of larger ones to drive more viewership, it’s become a reliable indicator in projecting the field. So, we can safely assume Belmont, UNC-Greensboro, and Furman aren’t getting at-large bids.
But, those three aren’t the only ones on this list that have a terrible SOS. Look again at NC State’s resume. Their SOS is 129th. How is it possible that the Wolfpack can have such a horrible SOS while playing in the ACC? Well, for one, the bottom of that conference was as bad as it’s been in a long time this season, and that’s where most of NC State’s (as well as Clemson’s) conference wins came from. But they also had the second worst non-conference SOS in the country this season. NC State’s non-conference SOS is literally 352nd out of 353 total Division 1 teams. The committee hates power conference teams that schedule like this. It seems like every year there is one team that the committee likes to send a message too, and I have a strong feeling this year’s team will be NC State.
So, just like that, we are down to nine teams. In August, the NCAA announced their new NET rankings would be taking the place of the RPI on the committee’s team sheets this season. The NET rankings are a much more advanced way of deriving a team’s value compared to the archaic RPI. Something tells me the committee will be wanting to put their shiny new ranking on display this season, and any team that ranks poorly in the NET is likely going to end up on the outside looking in.
Which brings me to Saint John’s and Arizona State. According to Bracket Matrix, the overwhelming majority of brackets have both of these teams among the last few in the tournament. However, with NET rankings of 73 and 63, respectively, I don’t think these two teams are as safe as others do. Hell, even if we just assume that the NET weighs exactly the same as the RPI did in the committee’s minds, these two teams would be in big trouble. The lowest rated teams in the RPI to get at-large bids in the history of the tournament were 2011 USC (67), 2011 Marquette (64), 2005 NC State (63), and 2012 Stanford (63). Saint John’s is way off of that mark, and Arizona State would be a historical outlier themselves. Granted, we are comparing two separate ratings systems, but considering there is zero data on how the committee will utilize the NET, it makes logical sense to reference the metric that the NET will be substituting for.
If those two teams are left out for that reason alone, Alabama is now jostling with only six other teams for five spots, and again, the Tide have some numbers that stand-out as among the best of the group.
With that being said, Alabama would be a bit of a historical outlier themselves if they are indeed included in the field. Only two other teams in the history of the tournament have received at-large bids with 15 losses. However, both of those teams came in the last two years, one of which was ‘Bama last season. And both times the 15-loss team received a 9-seed (2017 Vanderbilt was the other).
Both of those teams also went 19-15 though, which is a win better than this year’s Tide. Only four other teams (1991 Villanova, 2001 Georgia, 1990 Kansas State, and 1988 LSU) have ever received at-large bids with only three more wins than losses. So, it’s happened before, but not in almost 20 years.
Overall, I think Alabama, despite playing terrible basketball down the stretch, actually has a decent chance to make the tournament field still. I won’t give the Tide any better than a 50/50 shot, but it’s definitely higher than the 10-15% chance I’m seeing most prognosticators give Avery Johnson’s club.
We’ll find out tonight.