11 teams that could pop NCAA Tournament bubbles

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NCAA Tournament Bid Thieves are everywhere. Here are 11 that could steal a trip to the Dance.

<p> 11 teams that could burst NCAA Tournament Bubbles</p>

Finishing the season on the NCAA Tournament bubble is a tight-rope walk to start. In addition to a handful of teams looking to build their NCAA Tournament resumes, bubble teams must also keep an eye on conference tournaments starting this week.

Bid Thieves are everywhere.

Bid Thieves are teams that otherwise who would not make the NCAA Tournament, but win their conference tournaments to steal an at-large bid from an otherwise “deserving” bubble team.

Think of 2008 Georgia, a team that wasn’t going to sniff the postseason but won the SEC Tournament to banish one unsuspecting at-large team to the NIT. Last season it was Colorado. The No. 5 team in the Pac-12 won the conference tournament for an NCAA bid, perhaps at the expense of its own regular season league champion. A sixth-place USC team did the same in the 2009 Pac-10 Tourney.

We have targeted 11 potential Bid Thieves. Among our criteria to be a Bid Thief, the team must:

1. Not be on the NCAA bubble now and unlikely to play in the Tournament without winning a league tournament.
Be able to win a conference tournament. DePaul winning the Big East

2. Tournament would steal a bid, but DePaul isn’t winning the Big East Tournament.

3. Come from a multi-bid league, or by virtue of winning the conference tournament, turn a one-bid conference into a multi-bid conference.

Here are 11 teams that could pull off such a feat.

11 TEAMS THAT COULD BURST NCAA TOURNAMENT BUBBLES

Arkansas
How the Razorbacks could steal a bid: Win the SEC Tournament, bonus points for defeating bubble teams Alabama, Ole Miss or Tennessee.
Why they're a bid thief: Arkansas has quality players in B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell and a difficult defensive system for which to prepare under Mike Anderson. All of that has been enough for the Hogs to defeat NCAA hopefuls Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee in Fayetteville. The only reason Arkansas isn’t a tournament team is its 1-9 road record. Lucky for Arkansas, the SEC Tournament is played at a neutral site. Unfortunately for Arkansas, the Hogs are 0-2 on neutral sites.

Arkansas State
How the Red Wolves could steal a bid: Win the Sun Belt Tournament, making Middle Tennessee an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Middle Tennessee has a five-game advantage over the rest of the Sun Belt, but the Blue Raiders haven’t won a conference tournament since 1989 in the Ohio Valley. Beyond that, the last two Sun Belt Tournament champs have had a losing conference record (Western Kentucky in 2012, UALR in 2011). Middle Tennessee doesn’t have any top-50 wins, but the Blue Raiders have won 27 games. They may be tough to leave out of the field. Why Arkansas State? The Red Wolves are the only Sun Belt team to defeat Middle Tennessee this season with a 66-60 win on Jan. 3.

Related: Ryan Kelly leads key stats of the week

Air Force
How the Falcons could steal a bid: Win the Mountain West Tournament.
Why they’re a bid thief: Air Force flirted with the possibility of being at at-large bid in February when the Falcons started 5-2 in the league. With an RPI outside the top 80, a 7-8 Mountain West record and no notable non-conference wins, Air Force looks like a team outside the field. But the Falcons have notched home wins this season over UNLV, San Diego State and Boise State. One hot streak by guard Michael Lyons could vault the Falcons to the MWC’s automatic bid.

Denver
How they could steal a bid: Win the WAC Tournament, making Louisiana Tech an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Louisiana Tech is undefeated in the WAC and had a gaudy record at 26-3 (the Bulldogs, however, finish on the road against New Mexico State and Denver before the conference tournament). Despite the record and top-50 RPI, Louisiana Tech’s at-large credentials would be shaky if the Bulldogs fall in the WAC tournament -- Louisiana Tech’s best win is over Southern Miss while it has lost to Northwestern State and McNeese State. After a slow start, Denver may be the most likely team to upset in the WAC Tournament. The Pioneers have won 15 of the last 16, including a BracketBreaker win at Northern Iowa on Feb. 23.

Related: Experts debate Indiana's MVP: Zeller or Oladipo?

Evansville
How the Purple Aces could steal a bid: Win Missouri Valley Tournament, making Creighton and/or Wichita State at-large selections.
Why they’re a bid thief: Creighton and Wichita State have been shaky in recent weeks, and Evansville has been in position to pounce. The Purple Aces swept Wichita State this season, and Creighton needed a late push to beat Evansville 71-68 on Feb. 16. The Aces’ top player, wing Colt Ryan, enters the MVC Tournament on a tear at 28 points per game in his last four.

Maryland
How the Terrapins could steal a bid: Win the ACC Tournament, bonus points for beating bubble team Virginia.
Why they’re a bid thief: The Terrapins likely played themselves out of at-large contention by losing to Florida State, Boston College and Georgia Tech on the road since Jan. 30 and then a loss to red-hot North Carolina at home Wednesday. Maryland can beat good teams, as it defeated NC State and Duke earlier this season, both at home. If Dez Wells continues playing at a high level and Alex Len plays like a top draft pick, Maryland could catch a winning streak in the ACC Tournament.

Related: College basketball power rankings: Gonzaga takes top spot

Murray State
How the Racers could steal a bid: Win the Ohio Valley Tournament, making Belmont an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: The Ohio Valley has not supplied two teams to the NCAA Tournament since 1987, but newcomer Belmont could be an exception if the Bruins lose in the conference tournament. Belmont has been in the top 25 of the RPI for most of the season and defeated Middle Tennessee, Stanford and Ohio in the non-conference schedule. Murray State would be a strong candidate to upset Belmont in the OVC tourney. The defending league champs still have Isaiah Canaan and defeated Belmont 79-74 on Feb. 7.

Northern Iowa
How the Panthers could steal a bid: Win the Missouri Valley Tournament, making Creighton and/or Wichita State at-large selections.
Why they’re a bid thief: Northern Iowa is in a similar boat as Evansville. A well-coached team under Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa looks to take advantage of Creighton and Wichita State’s recent inconsistency. The Panthers defeated both the Bluejays and the Shockers in their most recent meetings as well. Balanced scoring, strong defense and good free throw shooting will make Northern Iowa a dangerous postseason team.

Southern Miss
How the Golden Eagles could steal a bid: Win the Conference USA Tournament, making Memphis an at-large selection.
Why they’re a bid thief: Conference USA may end up a one-bid league, but the only way to find out is if Memphis loses in the conference tournament. Southern Miss’ is the league’s second-best team, but lost by a combined 29 points to the Tigers in two meetings in February.

USC
How the Trojans could steal a bid: Win the Pac-12 Tournament
Why they’re a bid thief: USC stole a bid before in 2009 when it won the Pac-10 tournament as a No. 6 seed. Meanwhile, no one wants to play the Trojans now with interim coach Bob Cantu in charge. USC has won six of the last nine, including an overtime win at UCLA on Jan. 30 and an 89-78 win over Arizona on Feb. 27.

Xavier
How the Musketeers could steal a bid: Win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, bonus points for defeating bubble teams UMass.
Why they’re a bid thief: Xavier has not been consistent late in the season, failing to win back-to-back games since Feb. 9-13. The Musketeers, though, can beat anyone on a good day at home. Xavier defeated Saint Louis 77-66 in overtime Wednesday and Memphis 64-62 on Feb. 26. If not for losses to Richmond, UMass and Dayton in February, the Musketeers would be a stronger bubble team. For a team that hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 2005, the Musketeers wouldn’t shock anyone if it went on a run in the conference tournament.

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