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Selection Sunday Looms

   by Larry Ness - 03/10/2016

Selection Sunday Looms:

The second-to-last regular season AP poll was released Monday (March 7) and for the first time all season, the same 25 teams were ranked from the previous week (minor changes in some places). Kansas, which has won 12 straight Big 12 regular season titles, was No. 1 for a second straight week (4th week at No. 1 this season) but does ANY team want to be ranked No. 1 in the final regular season AP top-25? The final regular season polls will be taken after all schools have completed their respective conference tourneys and will be released late next Sunday or early Monday. Considering the following, probably not.

A look at the history book shows that teams entering the NCAA tournament No. 1 in the final AP poll have not fared well since the heyday of John Wooden's UCLA Bruins. UCLA won 10 of 12 titles from 1964-75, seven times entering the tournament as the nation's top-ranked team. Bob Knight's 1975-76 team, the last to finish a season unbeaten at 32-0, also entered that year's tourney as No. 1. However, since that season, just SIX schools have finished No. 1 in the AP's final regular poll and gone on to win the title. The most recent school to do so was Kentucky in 2012, with the short list also including Duke (2001), UCLA (1995), Duke (1992), North Carolina (1982) and Kentucky (1978). Doing the math, that's just SIX in 39 years or 15.4 percent, not exactly making this year's AP's final regular season No. 1 an overwhelming favorite to "cut down the nets" at NRG Stadium in Houston come April 4.

The AAC, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC open their respective conference tourneys on Thursday (March 10), as all leagues have now begun or finished their postseason events. Yale clinched the Ivy’s regular season title last Saturday and earned that league’s automatic bid for the first time since 1962. That same day, Austin Peay (OVC) claimed the first of 31 conference tourneys and will make the school’s 7th NCAA trip with an 18-17 record. The Governors won four games in four days and will take a six-game winning streak into the Big Dance. The team’s 18-17 record seems quite modest but note that Austin Peay opened this season having won 12, 8, 12 and 8 games the previous four years!

The most recent school to punch its NCAA ticket was Holy Cross, which beat Lehigh 59-56 Wednesday night (March 9) in the championship game of the Patriot League. It marks the school’s 13th all-time NCAA appearance (first since 2007) but more notably, Holy Cross (14-19) is the 25th team to make the NCAA tournament with a losing record and just the FIFTH team to make the tournament with 19 or more losses, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Like Austin Peay, the Crusaders needed to win four games, although the event was contested over nine days. Remarkably, after going 0-9 in conference road games this season, Holy Cross won all four of its tourney games as a visitor, including wins over the league’s top two seeds, No. 1 Bucknell and No. 2 Lehigh.

As of Wednesday, a ‘lucky 13’ teams have earned automatic bids to the Big Dance. Joining Yale (Ivy), Austin Peay (OVC) and Holy Cross (Patriot) are Chattanooga (Southern), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Northern Iowa (MVC), Iona (MAAC), UNC-Asheville (Big South), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Wisconsin-Green Bay (Horizon), Fairleigh Dickinson (NEC), South Dakota St (Summit) and Gonzaga (WCC). Northern Iowa’s, Iona’s, Wisconsin-Green Bay’s and Gonzaga’s wins hold extra significance, as 24-8 Wichita St (MVC), 27-7 Monmouth (MAAC), 26-6 Valparaiso (Horizon) and 27-5 St Mary’s (WCC) all now need to earn at-large bids or see outstanding regular season go for naught.

All will need ‘bubble teams’ from major conferences to lose early in their respective conference tourneys. I think most bracketologists believe Wichita St is safe (I agree) but the other three schools are sure to be nervous come Sunday. Monmouth’s resume includes road (UCLA & Georgetown) and neutral-court (Notre Dame & USC) wins and supposedly, that’s an important factor. I’d let them in if the school promised to leave its “bench antics” at home plus I have a soft spot in my cold handicapper’s heart for Valpo and its head coach, Bryce Drew. As for St Mary’s, the Gaels just can’t seem to escape the ‘shadow’ of Gonzaga, as it once again came up short in a major test vs its biggest rival. Hard to believe all four will get in but Wichita St and two of the other three seems reasonable. Then again, results from these Thursday-Sunday games will help shape the outcome. Talk about NOT being in control of one’s own destiny!

The action heats up beginning Thursday, as prior to that, the only ranked team (according to the AP) to have played was No. 19 Duke, which barely escaped 92-89 (as a 7 1/2-point) favorite over NC St on Wednesday. I’ll return Monday with a Tournament by the Numbers article and will begin an NCAA Tourney Journal on Wednesday (March 16).

Good luck...Larry

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