You almost knew it would happen in a year when there are few, if any, dominant teams, and those who have all but secured NCAA bids tend to let down in conference tournaments at the end of a longer-than-ever college season. The lower seeds are messing up the brackets in the conference tournaments and creating a mess for the NCAA selection committee to sort out tonight and Sunday.
Case in point: Conference USA, where seventh-seeded Houston (19-15) upset 21st-ranked UTEP (26-6) in the championship game today to win the automatic NCAA bid that goes to tourney winners. The Miners have done enough to get an at-large bid after going 15-1 in conference play and climbing to 41st in the RPI ratings.
On the other hand, you have to pity a team from a one-bid conference like Jackson State (19-12) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. After starting the season 0-10, it went 17-1 in conference play, but then lost in the tournament to eighth-seeded Grambling. Yyou can't give a bid to a team like the Tigers that lost a game to Wagner (5-26).
The same holds true in the Mid-American Conference, where top seed Kent State (23-9) was upended by ninth-seeded Ohio (21-14), which then upset second-seeded Akron for the NCAA berth.
Earlier in the week, St. Mary's (26-5), which was on the NCAA bubble, upset Gonzaga (26-6), in the West Coast Conference final to earn its way into the NCAA field. But the Zags also definitely are in, so, there goes another at-large bid.
Where will the committee find at-large bids for deserving mid-majors such as Gonzaga and UTEP? They'll take them away from overrated major conferences. The Atlantic 10 was overrated all season long in the RPI in my opinion, and really, there's three quality teams in the SEC. But the most interesting thing on Selection Sunday might be to watch what happens to the Atlantic Coast Conference, where chaos reigns supreme in the conference tournament.
First-seeded Duke (28-5) beat 12th-seeded Miami (20-13) earlier today to reach the tournament final against seventh-seeded Georgia Tech (21-11). Duke figures to be a No. 1 NCAA regional seed, and Tech probably has earned an NCAA bid, despite a 7-9 conference record, because of its 44 RPI.
As things stand now, I have to believe fifth-seeded Wake Forest (19-10) blew an NCAA big by losing to Miami for its fifth loss in the past six games. The top four in the ACC, Duke, Maryland (23-8), Florida State (22-9) and Virginia Tech (23-8), probably are in the NCAA, though I think the latter two are weak and even Maryland is questionable except for the presence of Grievis Vasquez. Clemson (21-10) is another team that could be tossed, especially if Tech gets in.
Here's a look at some other conferences on the eve of Selection Sunday:
Atlantic 10: Only the top three, Temple (28-5) and semifinal opponents Xavier (24-8) and Richmond (26-7) seem assured of berths. Richmond's OT win put it in the final. St Louis (20-11) and Rhode Island (23-9) are on the bubble.
Big 12: The top four, Kansas (31-2), Kansas State (26-6), Texas A&M (23-9) and Baylor (25-7), should be in. The question is which two of the next three, Missouri (22-10), Texas (24-9) and Oklahoma State (22-10) will get off the bubble. Texas has had some bad losses but has the best record and RPI. Oklahoma State has a better RPI than Mizzou but lost to the Tigers in their only meeting by 15, but Missouri had a terrible tournament loss to Nebraska.
Big East: There have been upsets galore, leading to tonight's final won by third-seeded West Virginia (26-6) over eighth-seeded Georgetown (23-9), 60-58. But the top eight teams in conference play should make it. Seton Hall (19-12) and South Florida (20-12) undoubtedly will be better than some bubble teams that get in, but with so many bids going to the Big East, they probably are headed to the NIT.
Big Ten: The top five teams likely are in the NCAA field, but sixth-seeded Minnesota (21-12), which won its semifinal with Purdue (27-5) in a blowout, might make it even if it loses the tourney final against Ohio State (26-7). Figure Michigan State (24-8) and Wisconsin (23-8) are in. Maybe fifth-seeded Illinois (19-14) is on the bubble and could lose out to Minnesota.
Mountain West: Top two seeds New Mexico (29-4) and BYU (29-5) lost in the semis last night to fourth-seeded San Diego State (25-8) and UNLV (25-8). So, figure all four make the NCAA field. Aztecs assured themselves of getting in with win over UNLV.
Pac-10: Second-seeded Arizona State (22-10) blew its chance for an NCAA bid when it lost to seventh-seeded Stanford. Figure tournament finalists Cal (23-10) and Washington (24-9) will be the only two to make it. Huskies took the decision away from the committe with a win over Cal.
SEC: The top three teams, Kentucky (31-2), Vanderbilt (24-7) and Tennesee (25-8) are shoo-ins for the NCAA. Fourth-seeded Mississippi State (23-10) has been up and down all season but beat Vandy in the semis and should get in. Can't see the NCAA going much beyond that.
WAC: To top things off tonight, first-seeded Utah State (27-7) lost to third-seeded New Mexico State (22-11) after the Aggies nipped second-seeded Nevada (20-12) by a point in the semis. With a questionable 67 RPI recently, New Mexico State needed to win to get in, but the top two teams from this conference rewarded because Utah State's RPI was 32.