Stolen bids. The bane of the existence of each and every team on the bubble for regionals. The single catalyst that can turn a bubble the size of the average indoor football practice bubble into a bubble the size of one you blow out of a plastic wand.
A stolen bid is when any team that wouldn’t be in a regional on their own merits gets into the tournament by virtue of winning their league’s automatic bid via the conference tournament, but other teams in their conference do get in as at-large teams.
Sometimes, this comes when an interloper outside of at-large range wins a major conference’s automatic bid. Missouri winning the Big 12’s automatic bid in 2012, their last year in the league, comes to mind, but these are rare and they’re often tough to predict before they occur.
What we see much more often are stolen bids coming from leagues where there are one or two teams in at-large range, but then those teams don’t win the conference tournament, allowing for a second or third team to get in from that league, thereby reducing the spots for bubble teams by one in the blink of an eye.
And those types of situations are what we’re going to track today. Any obvious one-bid leagues regardless of who wins the conference tournament are excluded, as are major conferences and conferences that seem like locks to get at least a handful of bids, such as the American Athletic Conference.
Here’s your primer on the leagues that could steal bids come Selection Monday.
NOTE: All RPI data pulled from WarrenNolan.com. All needs report data pulled from BoydsWorld.com and won’t reflect results from Friday.
Right now, the A-Sun has three teams in at-large range in Florida Gulf Coast (RPI 30), Stetson (RPI 31), and Jacksonville (RPI 44), and all have at least a decent shot of remaining inside the top 45 of the RPI, which is often seen as something of a magic number for being in the at-large discussion.
The Dolphins, although they have the worst RPI of the three, is actually the most likely on paper to stay inside the top 45, as the needs report suggests that they would need to win no more than 11 of their final 22 games to stay under that threshold. The Hatters would need to capture 12 or 13 of their final 23. The Eagles have the toughest road, as they would need somewhere between 14 and 16 of their final 23 to get there.
But the RPI isn’t as much of a concern for these teams as the overall resume is. None of them have impressive records against RPI top 50 teams. Jacksonville’s two top-50 wins are against a sub-.500 West Virginia team over opening weekend. FGCU didn’t have a top-50 win until Friday night, when they beat Jacksonville. And Stetson hasn’t played a top-50 team to this point. Making things tougher, their respective series against each other are their best shots to bolster those numbers, with a smattering of one-off midweek games against in-state rivals like FAU, Florida, and Florida State providing a handful of other chances.
This is one of the more muddled conferences from a postseason perspective right now, and it’s hard to predict how it will shake out. There’s a very real scenario where the at-large resumes for these teams just end up too thin, making it a one-bid league regardless, and there’s also a chance, however remote, that they get all three.
The team to watch here isn’t St. John’s, as it so often has been of late, but Creighton. They sit at 19 in the RPI, clearly in the discussion today, but they’re no lock to stay there. The needs report suggests that they’d need to win between 14 and 16 of their final 24 games to stay in the top 45, and that’s before taking into consideration their loss on Friday to the Red Storm.
They have a pretty solid resume otherwise, what with a 4-4 record against the RPI top 50 and some feathers in their cap in a road series win over Minnesota and a series split with Wichita State, but the bad news is that they won’t get much of a chance to improve upon that. They don’t have any games remaining against the top 50 as it stands today, but they do have ten more games against teams with an RPI of 200 or worse, providing plenty of RPI land mines.
This league has a chance to be a bubble team’s nightmare pretty easily. It’s easy to see a scenario where a team other than Creighton win the Big East tourney, and the Bluejays get into the field of 64 as one of the very last teams in.
The two teams to focus on here are Northeastern (RPI 19) and College of Charleston (RPI 42).
We discussed the Huskies and their status as surprising RPI darlings at length last weekend. Long story short, their RPI has staying power, as they are projected to need just 12 or 13 wins in their last 22 games to stay in the top 45. The question will be how their overall resume stacks up. They have a series win over Creighton that looks like it will safely remain a top-50 series win, but it may not stay a top-25 series win. They also have a four-game series split with Missouri, which may not stay a top-50 result as Mizzou goes through the gauntlet that is SEC play.
The Cougars may have the lower RPI, but they almost certainly have the better overall resume, what with their 5-2 record against the top 50, including a series sweep over Georgia that keeps looking better and better. If they can finish off a series win over Northeastern this weekend (they won the opener 4-1), that will be just another resume-boosting result.
Bubble teams might be smart to root for C of C when the conference tournament comes around, as it seems entirely likely that these two teams’ RPIs come closer together by the end of the season, and the Cougars will likely have the better overall case for being an-large if it comes down to it.
FAU (RPI 10) and Southern Miss (48) are clearly in the conversation, and would probably both be in at this point, but the Golden Eagles’ case is not as much of a lock as you might think given the way they’ve played this season.
The RPI is already on the high side of where they would want it, and the needs report says that they have to win 17 or 18 of their last 22 games to stay inside the top 45. Their 2-6 record against the top 50 is also troublesome, and in the modern version of CUSA, there just aren’t that many chances to pad that part of the resume. In fact, they only have one more game this season against a top-50 team, and that’s a midweek game against RPI 36 South Alabama, which is far from guaranteed to be a top-50 game the rest of the season.
The good news is that their path to get inside the top 32 is pretty similar to the path to get inside the top 45, as they would need to win 20 of their final 22, and if they can do that, they’d likely be a lock come Memorial Day, what with a gaudy overall record, a likely CUSA regular season title, and an RPI inside the top 32.
When you get right down to it, FAU’s overall resume isn’t all that much better, but they’re in the pole position with their RPI where it is today, and their paths to staying inside the top 32 and 45 are much clearer. Bubble teams should probably root for the Owls.
We’ll only check in briefly here, as Kent State (RPI 59) is the only team with even a remote chance of earning an at-large bid, and given that they would need to win 20 or 21 of their final 22 games and without a series win over a team ranked higher than 142 in the RPI, it seems their chances are slimmer than slim. Still, to be safe, bubble teams should hope that the Golden Flashes grab the automatic bid.
The MVC is an interesting conference because, on its face, it looks like a league with a few at-large candidates, including Indiana State (RPI 49), Missouri State (RPI 59), Dallas Baptist (RPI 60), Bradley (RPI 68), and Illinois State (RPI 77).
All have relatively direct paths to get inside the top 45, and while they won’t all get there, if for no other reason than they’ll beat up on each other a little bit, it’s safe to assume at least a couple of them will. They also all have different pros and cons on their resumes. The team with the best RPI right now, Indiana State, is just 1-4 against the top 50. The team with the best winning percentage against the top 50, Bradley at 4-4, is one of the furthest away in RPI. Dallas Baptist and Missouri State have looked the most like regional teams so far, but they both have resumes in the middle of that five-team pecking order as it stands today.
There’s simply way too much still to be decided in this league to say with any certainty what will occur. But when in doubt, bubble teams, root for Dallas Baptist or Missouri State, the teams you have to assume will be there when it’s all said and done.
Rivals UNLV (RPI 39) and Nevada (RPI 46) are the top two teams to keep an eye on.
UNLV has a solid resume all around. The RPI is in a nice spot, they played a pretty solid non-conference schedule, and they’re 6-5 against the RPI top 50. Nevada’s, meanwhile, is a little thinner, particularly when it comes to wins against top 50 foes, as they’re just 2-3, with only another series agains the Rebels in mid-May giving them more chances for top-50 wins.
Bubble teams should root for UNLV to win that series, to provide some clarity in the pecking order, and for them to win the automatic bid in the MWC tourney.
This is a classic potential bid-stealing league, as the OVC has all of one team, Tennessee Tech (RPI 26) in the at-large conversation. With the kind of tear that they have been on in the last several weeks, winning the 16 to 18 of their final 23 games to stay inside the top 45 seems like a cakewalk, which would put them squarely in the postseason discussion. If they can do that and then they lose in the OVC tournament, there’s a better than average chance that this becomes a two-bid league overnight.
Suffice it to say that bubble teams will be huge TTU fans come conference tournament week.
Like the OVC, this conference is an obvious one, although their one team in the discussion, Sam Houston State (RPI 56), is in a more precarious position from an at-large standpoint. Some of that is because they weren’t able to take advantage of some of their chances against top teams on their schedule, but they’ve also been victimized a bit by some of the usual RPI-boosting teams on their schedule, such as Rice, Houston, and Southeastern Louisiana, not pulling as much weight this season from a metrics standpoint, as each of those teams have RPIs worse than 100 as it stands today.
The needs report suggests that they would need to win 18 or 19 of their final 23 to get inside the top 45, and while this program has gone on similar runs in the past, that’s a tall task. Still, this is where bubble teams’ allegiances should lie when the SLC gets together to play their tournament in Sugar Land in May.