By Jesse Kramer
Three Atlantic 10 teams, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, are locks for the 2013 NCAA tournament, but three others are sitting squarely on the bubble entering the last four games before the the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has to finalize the field of 68. La Salle and Temple bowed out of the Atlantic 10 conference tournament in Friday’s quarterfinals, and Massachusetts’ run ended with a nine-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals on Saturday.
Here’s my take on these teams’ chances on Selection Sunday:
Temple is in the best shape for a NCAA tournament at-large bid. The Owls have been in most bracketologists’ fields for the majority of the season, and that should not change since a number of bubble teams in other conferences have also struggled during Championship Week.
The Owls have three top-25 wins, including one at Madison Square Garden against Syracuse. They also have five other wins against the RPI Top 75. The part of their résumé that should make Temple fans a bit nervous is their three sub-100 losses, which all came at home. The worst of these losses was to Duquesne, which did not win any other games in Atlantic 10 play this year.
“I can’t sit here and say I’m confident,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said after the Owls lost to Massachusetts in the conference quarterfinals. “We’re at the mercy of the committee to see if we can get into the tournament, and we’ll see what happens.”
La Salle is safer than Massachusetts, but even so the Explorers should not feel too comfortable. Right now, I have them in a First Four play-in game with the Kentucky Wildcats.
La Salle won five games against the top 100 and a pair against the top 25. Its most impressive win was at Virginia Commonwealth, and that victory will look a bit better if the Rams knock off Saint Louis on Sunday in the Atlantic 10 championship game. They have one bad loss to Central Connecticut State, ranked No. 198 in RPI, which came way back on November 18. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee claims that wins and losses are valued the same no matter when they occur, but I wonder they will see La Salle differently since its bad loss was an isolated incident at the very beginning of the season.
When asked to make La Salle’s case for a NCAA tournament bid after the quarterfinal loss to Butler, head coach Dr. John Giannini said, “I don’t think I have to and I don’t think I should. The record speaks for itself. The standings, finishing third in a great league speaks for itself. I think we have some high-level wins: VCU and Butler. But there’s a lot of good teams out there. I don’t really know how we compare to these other teams. There’s no question if we win today we’re in, and now, frankly, we might be at the mercy of others.The crazy thing is a lot of people that we’re fighting for those last spots with, they have lost tough games too. [The selection committee’s] job is to pick who the best teams are…I don’t they’re going to be surprised about considering La Salle based on last year and this year. One of the schools in our situation is Boise State, and I think when he was in this situation once before he watched every score and he made himself nuts. For the record, I’m going to make myself nuts.”
Massachusetts will most likely end up in the NIT for the second straight season. The Minutemen have eight top-100 wins, two more than La Salle has, but they failed to beat the top dogs when they had the opportunity to do so; their record against the RPI Top 25 is 0-4. They also have a pair of sub-100 losses to George Washington and Saint Bonaventure. The Minutemen will be rooting for Florida to defeat Ole Miss in the SEC title game on Sunday, but even that might not be enough to get them into the field.
In only a few hours, their fates will be determined.