Tournament Hopes: Handicapping the current resumes of the Mountain West Conference

Thirteen days from today the MWC Tournament champion will be crowned and the NCAA Tournament field will be one day from being set and seeded. When it comes to the league tournament, everyone has a shot to cut down the nets and guarantee themselves a little March Madness.

That’s the dream anyway. In 2003, Colorado State lived it, becoming the lowest seed to ever win the MWC Tournament. They supplanted San Diego State who, just one year earlier, had won the tournament as a 5 seed.

Perhaps someone can find a little luck this year, too. But barring any miracles in Las Vegas, the MWC is chugging towards Selection Sunday with just six teams still in the mix. And that’s being generous. Very generous. Below are those six squads, their resumes, and what they still have left on their schedules.

It is important to note that with 31 automatic bids being handed out, only 37 at-large bids exist. So that RPI had better look pretty good come the third Sunday in March.

[table id=4 /]

This is my first year trying to predict the MWC’s number of NCAA tournament bids. Obviously, MWC teams have to pray Cinderellas in other leagues don’t win their tournaments. This is a math-driven selection process. There are exceptions to the math in this process, but I’m hoping I can break down how much math this process really relies on…

  • Only four teams with an RPI inside the top 30 have failed to grab an at-large bid since 1991.
  • Since 1995 only one team from a “Big Six” conference (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, Big East) has failed to make the field with an RPI inside the top 40 (Cincinnati in 2006).
  • Since 1995 only two teams have received an at-large bid with an RPI outside the top 70 (New Mexico in 1999 and Air Force in 2004).
  • Since 1995 only 14 teams with an RPI outside the top 60 have gained at-large bids (less than one per year).
  • From 1995 through 2010, less than 30% of teams with RPI outside the top 30 received at-large bids.
  • Conference RPI matters and the MWC is currently ranked #1 by major RPI services.
  • The NCAA Selection Committee has downplayed the importance of how a team finishes in the hopes of forcing teams to schedule better in November and December. No longer are NCAA committee members given a sheet that shows a school’s record in its last 10 or 12 games.  I included teams’ current streaks in my breakdown because at some point, most committee members will have an idea of who’s hot and who’s not and that could still weigh into their decision whether it’s printed on a piece of paper or not. It just won’t weigh as heavily as it once did.

The past two years — since the NCAA field expanded to 68 — the selection committee has handed out 37 at-large bids per season, 74 overall. Here’s how those bids have broken down:

  • RPI 1-29 = 40 (54.0%)
  • RPI 30-39 = 14 (18.9%)
  • RPI 40-49 = 9 (12.1%)
  • RPI 50-59 = 8 (10.8%)
  • RPI 60-69 = 3 (0.4%)
  • RPI 70+ = 0 (0.0%)

Now, how do things stand for MWC teams if the tournament field was selected today?

New Mexico will clearly get a bid. The Lobos probably don’t have any shot at a #1 seed, but anything can happen. If they finish hot and some other noise happens around the nation, there is always a possibility.

UNLV, Colorado State, and San Diego State should be in the tournament as well. They all have a good record, RPI, and a solid strength of schedule ranking. The average RPI of the teams they’ve beaten isn’t great, which the committee will look at, but they should all still be safely in the field.

Boise State and Wyoming are much tougher to gauge  Boise State’s RPI, at 43, gives them a little better than 10% chance of grabbing an at-large bid. Wyoming, well they are not sitting in a good spot at all. Three teams with RPIs over 60 have made the field the last two years. If, and it’s a BIG if, they can finish the season as hot as they started it, their chances improve greatly. As it stands today, Boise State and Wyoming have a lot more work left to do than any other teams in the MWC still hoping.

In order of likelihood, I’ve got New Mexico and UNLV, followed by Colorado State and San Diego State. If bids went out today, Boise State. and Wyoming, bringing up the rear, don’t make it. It looks to me like the league just barely grabs four bids.

Remember though, there is still a lot of basketball left…

UPDATE: Baylor loss helps Boise State

Baylor’s 79-70 loss to Texas Monday evening improves Boise State’s chances. It is very possible this loss takes the Bears off the bubble and makes the Broncos one of the first four out.

UPDATE: Joe Lunardi places Boise State in as a 12 seed

With the Alabama loss to Ole Miss, Joe Lunardi has placed Boise State in the South (North Texas) Region.

2 Replies to “Tournament Hopes: Handicapping the current resumes of the Mountain West Conference”

  1. We’ll see if a fifth team can sneak in via winning the MWC tournament.  Basically meaning either Boise State, Air Force or Wyoming.

    1. @DannyRoach With Alabama losing to Ole Miss tonight, Lunardi now has Boise State as a 12 seed in the South Region. They still have business to take care of though.

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