The past three days of conference tournaments have only muddied up the bubble picture when trying to determine Who's In and Who's Out of the NCAA Tournament just five days before Selection Sunday. After games in three conference tourneys in particular, with "early" conference exits, three teams will be sweating it out through Selection Sunday:
St. Mary's, South Alabama, and Virginia Commonwealth.
All three of these schools won their regular-season conference championships, only to bow out earlier than expected. This only serves to make the selection process even more difficult for the selection committee.
What do you do to teams who ran up impresssive won-loss records, dominated their conferences in the regular season, and possibly even spent time during the year in the Top 25, only to fall early in a tournament of a conference that traditionally only gets one bid?
Such is the case with these three. Let's examine each of their cases to get in the Big Dance:
ST. MARY'S. The Gaels (24-6) took the West Coast Conference regular-season title with a 13-1 record over #22 Gonzaga and WCC Tourney champion San Diego. Their only WCC loss was at Gonzaga. St. Mary's spent most of the season in the Top 25, only to fall out in the second-to-last week of the season.
SOUTH ALABAMA. The Panthers (26-6) spent a week in the national rankings, tied for first in the Sun Belt with a 12-2 record, and beat Mississippi State and UAB for quality wins. One thing that may work in the Panthers' case is that there has been speculation for most of the season that the Sun Belt may be a two-bid league this year, especially since the WAC, which has gotten two bids to the Dance every year since 1993, will only get one this season.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH. VCU (23-7), the darlings of last season's Dance when as a #11 seed beat Duke in the first round, won the Colonial Athletic Association, but fell in the semifinals of the tournament to William & Mary. 2006 Final Four darlings George Mason proceeded to beat W&M last night in the final. The CAA has gotten two or three teams in the Dance for a few years now, so it wouldn't be a complete shock to see VCU join Mason in the field. However, people were skeptical if VCU would make it BEFORE St. Mary's and USA bowed out unexpectedly early.
Unfortunately, I think that only one of these three teams will make the NCAA Tournament, and I feel like that team will be South Alabama. I can hardly see the West Coast Conference given three bids, and VCU has no quality non-conference win on its resume to prove they can truly compete with the big boys this year outside of the CAA. With 26 wins, USA deserves to go dancing in my book.