Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Full NIT Bubble

The NIT bubble is a fascinating puzzle. After the first two seed lines there's no telling which teams are going to make the tournament. It'll depend heavily on how the selection committee decides to let teams into the field. I am going to try and lay out here what my current thoughts are about the field and how it could play out tomorrow night at 9 pm on ESPNU. For each team I'll highlight the pros and cons of their cases to the committee. If you're not on this list I just can't imagine hearing your name called tomorrow night, but I've been shocked before.

Assumed Safe: NCAA Tournament bubble teams (Rutgers, Nevada, Pittsburgh, Clemson, North Texas, Wisconsin, Oregon, North Carolina), Michigan, New Mexico

They're Probably Safe But They're a Mid-Major:

Sam Houston State: The Bearkats fell in the WAC semifinals on Friday night. They finished 25-7 and were the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament thanks to WACPts. They didn't receive an automatic bid though, because that went to Utah Valley. SHSU is ranked 65th in NET, 52nd in Strength of Record, and 68th on KenPom. They won at Oklahoma and Utah during non-conference. The only blemishes on their resume is a Quad IV loss at UT Arlington and a 2-4 overall record against Quad I and II. They should be in the NIT.

Santa Clara: Herb Sendek's squad was the third best team in the West Coast Conference this season behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. That alone should be enough to get them an at-large bid to the NIT. Santa Clara currently ranks 64th in Strength of Record, but is 84th in NET and 82nd in KenPom. The Broncos, who finished 23-9 overall, beat Boise St., Iona, and UC Irvine during non-conference play. Santa Clara should be in unless the committee just decides to go all predictive and ignore actual wins and losses.

Liberty: Liberty tied for first in Atlantic Sun with Kennesaw State. The Flames are 44th in NET and 48th in KenPom. They're basically the opposite of Santa Clara, as they're 1-5 against Quad I and II (a neutral site victory over fellow NIT participant Bradley) and just 89th in Strength of Reecord. Still, it'll be hard for the committee to ignore a NET that high along with going 26-8 and 15-3 in conference play.

UAB: This one is a little weird because the Blazers will play for an NCAA Tournament berth at 8:30 pm against Florida Atlantic in the CUSA finals tonight. If they lose that game though UAB should still be in line for an NIT bid. The Blazers are 52nd in NET and 54th in KenPom. They also have a Strength of Record of 69. UAB is 25-8 overall and beat FAU at home and just beat North Texas on a neutral court.

Middling Majors I Think Are Safe:

Seton Hall: The Pirates are 17-15 in their first season under Shaheen Holloway, but they have four Quad I wins, including Memphis on a netural court, at Rutgers, home against Connecticut, and a blowout win at Providence to end the season. SHU struggled a bit down the stretch, going 2-6 in their final eight games as injuries took a toll. Losing to DePaul by a point in the opening round of the Big East tournament wasn't the best look, but Seton Hall has the best wins of any major conference team below the obvious candidates. SHU is 73rd in Strength of Record, 80th in NET, and 69th in KenPom.

Florida: I would think that Florida gets into the NIT. The Gators are 16-16 overall in Todd Golden's first season in charge. They're 60th in the NET, 63rd in KenPom, and 78th in Strength of Record. Of Florida's 16 losses 15 were either in Quad I or II. Their only "bad" loss was at home to Vanderbilt, which doesn't look bad at all at this point. The big question here is what the Gators want to do after losing their best player, senior center Colin Castleton, to a season-ending injury a few weeks ago. Florida beat Georgia and LSU since then and lost in overtime to Mississippi St. in the SEC Tournament. They can win games without Castleton and deserve a chance to start the next phase of the program.

Villanova: Villanova came on strong towards the end of Kyle Neptune's first season and is currently 75th in NET, 77th in Strength of Record, and 60th in KenPom. The Wildcats are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have beaten Seton Hall, Xavier (away), Creighton, Seton Hall (again, away) during that stretch. They're currently 17-16 overall, but clearly NIT quality.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies are 78th in NET, 81st in Strength of Record and 81st in KenPom. They played a soft non-conference schedule, which allowed them to get out to a gaudy (and deceiving) 11-1 record before stumbling on a 7-game losing streak in ACC play. Since then though they've played alright, beating the teams they should but also Duke, Virginia and Pittsburgh at home. VT is 19-14 overall and seems like a classic NIT selection.

Colorado: Another team that seems like a classic NIT selection is Colorado. The Buffaloes are 70th in NET and 59th in KenPom, though just 94th in Strength of Record. Colorado is 17-16 overall, but has wins against Tennessee and Texas A&M on a neutral court in non-conference, plus a win at Arizona St. in February. The Buffaloes also beat fellow Pac-12 bubble contenders Utah and Washington down the stretch. I would expect Tad Boyle's squad to make it, but they're the diciest proposition in this group because of their five Quad III and IV losses.

These Really Are Bubble Teams:

Washington St.: Kyle Smith's Cougars find themselves right where they were at this point in the season last year, right on the NIT bubble. WSU is 72nd in NET, 92nd in Strength of Record, and 58th in KenPom. That KenPom rating along is probably enough to get the Cougars into the NIT. They'll need to hope that's what the committee relies on though, because WSU is just 1-11 against Quad I opponents (of course the one win was at Arizona). The Cougars also have a 5-3 record against Quad II opponents and are 17-16 overall, so it seems like they'll eventually make it into the field.

Cincinnati: Another team that is still playing! The Bearcats are playing in the AAC semifinals against Houston as I write this post. A win there would obviously be a huge boost to the resume. Even without it though UC seems like a strong NIT candidate. They are 68th in NET, 74th in Strength of Record, and 52nd in KenPom. My concern about Wes Miller's squad is that they have just three Quad I and II wins to go with two Quad III losses. Cincinnati's inability to beat Houston or Memphis during AAC play is the reason they might end up missing out on the NIT.

San Jose St.: Tim Miles has one of the best stories in college basketball this season with the West Coast Spartans. They're 96th in NET, 87th in Strength of Record, and 93rd in KenPom. What SJSU does have going for it though is a bunch of good wins. They have victories over Santa Clara, Utah St., Boise St. and Nevada. That ability to beat quality competition might not be enough to quite offset the lackluster overall metrics.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers might be the most interesting team on the NIT bubble. They are 93rd in NET and 97th in KenPom, but 66 in Strength of Record. How? By going 7-15 against Quad I and II thanks to a ton of close victories. Nebraska beat Penn St., Wisconsin, Rutgers (away), Maryland, and Iowa (away) during the final month of the regular season. Of course then Nebraska went and took their worst loss of the season to Minnesota to start the Big Ten Tournament. Nebraska also lost a bunch of games from its rotation due to injury. It'll be interesting to see how the committee looks at Nebraska's predictive metrics versus its difficult schedule, 16-16 record, and overall body of work.

More Bubble Teams:

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are 90th in NET, 85th in Strength of Record, and 88th in KenPom. The finished ahead of Virginia Tech in the ACC standings, but they also went 2-5 in their last seven games including losses to Boston College and at Syracuse. They're a reasonable candidate though at 19-14 overall.

Saint Louis: The Billikens officially entered the NIT at-large pool with a loss to VCU in the A-10 semifinals this afternoon. They were 95th in NET, 80th in Strength of Record (though 58th in KPI) and 94th in KenPom before the loss. Their best win is at home against Memphis in their third game of the season.

Dayton: The Flyers have a better NET (76th) and KenPom (74th) but worse resume metrics than their conference mates. Dayton won at VCU, which is the best win a team can get in the A-10, but they also have four Quad III and IV losses. Dayton plays Fordham a little later in the A-10 semifinals.

Kent St.: The Golden Flashes are another team still playing, this time in the MAC championship against Toledo tonight. If they don't win that game though they'll have a decent argument for an at-large bid. They're 63rd in NET, 51st in Stength of Record, and 78th in KenPom. Kent St. is 27-6 overall after going 15-3 in MAC play. Kent St.'s issue is that they have just one Quad II win (at Ohio) after playing a lackluster non-conference schedule (well they played Charleston, Houston, and Gonzaga, but good luck with those). Update: Kent St. defeated Toledo on Saturday night to clinch the MAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

San Francisco: The Dons closed the season strong, making it to the semifinals of the WCC tournament before falling to Gonzaga. USF (20-14) has a neutral site double-overtime win over Santa Clara, a home win against Arizona St., plus a win at fellow WCC bubble team Loyola Marymount. USF is also 108th in NET, 113th in Strength of Record, and 101st in KenPom.

Loyola Marymount: 107th in NET, 102nd in Strength of Record, 108th in KenPom. LMU has the worst raw metrics of the three WCC teams, but they also have the best win — at Gonzaga. LMU also beat Saint Mary's and Nevada at home and Wake Forest on a netural court. In fact, LMU is 5-8 against Quad I and II competition and 4-4 against Quad III. A weak non-conference schedule might be what ultimately prevents them from making the NIT.

Tulane: The Green Wave looked to be an NIT lock earlier this season, but they closed poorly and are now 100th in NET, 90th in Strength of Record and 100th in KenPom. They're also still alive for an NCAA Tournament berth (they play Memphis in the AAC semifinals later today). Tulane is 6-4 right now against Quad I and II, but they also have six Quad III and IV losses. It's possible, they hear their name called thanks to wins at Memphis (OT), versus Memphis, and versus Cincinnati (OT).

BYU: The Cougars are 85th in NET and 73rd in KenPom, but 121st in Strength of Record. They went 2-11 against Quad I and II and also have four Quad III and IV losses. They did beat Loyola Marymount in the WCC tournament. They also split with USF and LMU during WCC play, which basically created a situation where none of the three teams have an outstanding resume.

Utah: The Utes are 17-15 overall. They're also 81st in NET, 99th in Strength of Record, and 71st in KenPom. So they have to be mentioned here. They've also been extremely injured down the stretch and lost their last six games, including against Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament.

UCF: The Golden Knights season ended last night with a loss to Memphis in the AAC quarterfinals. UCF went 18-14 overall and is 73rd in NET, but 107th in Strength of Record. They are 66th in KenPom though, but a committee that selects on power ratings and not resume could potentially give them a spot. UCF also really struggled down the stretch after starting the season 13-4. This would be an odd choice.

Marshall: The other team in the Sun Belt alongside Louisiana and Southern Miss, the Thundering Herd went 24-8, including 13-5 in conference play. They're 83rd in NET, 95th in Strength of Record, and 84th in KenPom. They didn't play a Quad I game all season, but they did go 2-2 against Quad II, including winning at Duquesne and James Madison. If that's your marquee wins though it's tough to imagine an NIT berth coming.

Princeton: The Tigers were the co-champions of the Ivy League with Yale and will play the Bulldogs on their home court at Jadwin Gymnasium in the finals of the Ivy League tournament for a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. If they don't they'll hope the committee looks at their 19-8 overall record (10-4 Ivy League). The Tigers ranked 119th in NET, 109th in Strength of Record, and 117th in KenPom coming into today. Update: Princeton defeated Yale on Sunday afternoon to clinch the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Fordham: Look, the Rams are a great story and they were 76th in Strength of Record coming into today, but they're also 130th in NET and 137th in KenPom. It would be a shock to see a team that played that terrible of a non-conference schedule and whose best wins are at Tulane and at Duquesne in the NIT. 

Officially declined postseason play: Texas Tech. Not .500: Ohio St., Oklahoma.

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