Beware of bid thieves.
For weeks, basketball fans been watching the NCAA Tournament bubble, hoping their teams can win the games they should and maybe score an upset or two.
But an NCAA Tournament bid isn’t always in the hands of the bubble teams. In just about every season, a team that has no business playing in the Big Dance will make a run at a conference title by grabbing an automatic bid at the 11th hour.
These are those teams, the spoilers. Bubble teams should watch with trepidation.
Bid thieves are not teams already on the bubble that could play its way in like Nebraska, Minnesota or a host of teams in the SEC. Instead, these are teams that are conference tournament champions or bust.
They are either major conference teams capable of making a run in the league tournaments or they are teams in leagues that would be receive only one bid if the regular season champion wins out.
For example, if any team other than Wichita State wins the Missouri Valley tournament, the MVC will be a two-bid league and one bubble team will be out of luck. The same is true if a team like Georgia wins the SEC Tournament or Utah wins the Pac-12.
Here are the teams that could spoil the next two weeks for bubble teams.
The Broncos this season returned five starters from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament, but they need the Mountain West Tournament to return. Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic still give Boise State the backcourt to make the Broncos contenders. If Boise State can put together a consistent defensive effort for a weekend, the Broncos can play the role of spoiler.
The Bulldogs have shocked the SEC Tournament before, albeit under strange circumstances. In 2008, Georgia won the SEC Tournament by winning two games in one day at Georgia Tech after a tornado damaged the Georgia Dome. The SEC Tournament is back in Atlanta, and this year’s Georgia team is much better than the last-place team that won in 2008. If someone knocks off Florida, a Georgia team that’s 10-6 in the SEC would have as good a chance to win as any team.
Eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention thanks to an eight-game losing streak in January, Illinois is starting to heat up. The backcourt of Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams led Illinois to three consecutive wins over Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan State in the last two weeks. And don’t doubt a John Groce team in a tournament setting: This is a coach who has a Maui Invitational title, a Sweet 16 appearance and an upset of Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament on his ledger.
Green Bay will be one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the field, but what if the Phoenix lose in the Horizon League Tournament? Green Bay doesn’t have a great at-large profile at No. 51 in the RPI and a strength of schedule barely inside the top 150. Still, given the state of the bubble, the selection committee might look favorably on a 24-5 team that beat Virginia and lost by three to Wisconsin. Why Milwaukee as the spoiler for Green Bay instead of Horizon No. 2 Cleveland State? Milwaukee defeated Green Bay 73-63 on the road and lost in overtime in the first meeting. With Jordan Aaron back from suspension, Milwaukee will be more dangerous than a typical No. 5 seed in the Horizon.
If Wichita State wins the league tournament, the Missouri Valley will be a one-bid league. The Shockers have shown few signs of weakness in league play, so any upset would be a long shot. Indiana State is the No. 2 seed in the Arch Madness and the consensus No. 2 team. Still, the Sycamores are limping into the postseason with three consecutive loses, including a 71-69 loss to third-place Northern Iowa. The Panthers won five of their last six.
The Rebels aren’t nearly the complete team they were last season when they won the SEC Tournament. But this team still has Marshall Henderson chucking 3-pointers against an SEC full of teams susceptible to losing games they shouldn’t.
Gonzaga and BYU both could be at-large bids out of the West Coast Conference, making San Francisco the team with the most to gain in the league tournament. Portland is the only team to defeat both Gonzaga and BYU this season, but San Francisco has been the more consistent team during the season. The Dons enter the WCC Tournament on a hot streak with five consecutive wins.
Bubble teams in the Big East already want nothing to do with Seton Hall. The Pirates have six conference wins this season, four of which coming on regular season sweeps of Georgetown and Xavier. Seton Hall also defeated Providence on the road in overtime on Dec. 31. The Pirates might not be able to win the Big East Tournament, but they might not have to in order to knock teams out of the NCAA field.
The Big 12 was a grind this season, especially during the month or so when Texas Tech was of the toughest outs in the bottom tier of the league. The Red Raiders defeated Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and took Kansas to the buzzer this season. This is a well-coached team under Tubby Smith with an under-appreciated forward in Jaye Crockett, and few teams in the Big 12 should be considered invincible.
The Runnin’ Rebels have a roster that should be better than 19-10 and needing the Mountain West Tournament to get into the field. This has been a disappointing season, but the Rebels have homecourt advantage. The Mountain West is not a strong conference this season, so the tournament isn’t the grind it was a year ago. If UNLV can beat New Mexico or San Diego State, the Rebels can win in Vegas.
Larry Krystkowiak should be a Pac-12 coach of the year candidate as Utah approaches the 20-win mark and flirts with a winning conference record in his third season. Keep in mind, this is a program that won six games total in 2011-12. The Utes have one of the stronger defensive teams in the league and a duo of Jordan Loveridge and Delon Wright that has kept them competitive all year. Utah has defeated UCLA, Colorado and Arizona State this season and took Oregon, the Buffaloes and Arizona to overtime.
Like Texas Tech, West Virginia enjoyed a few weeks as one of the more dangerous teams in the Big 12. The Mountaineers defeated Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State during a five-game stretch from Jan. 28-Feb. 10. The Mountaineers’ backcourt of Juwan Staten and Eron Harris can keep up with anyone in the league.
Beware of bid thieves.