Bid thieves are the bane of bubble teams heading into Championship Week and these 6 teams could shrink the bubble by winning their conference tournaments.
Conference tournaments are set to begin in the coming days and the first tickets to the 2022 NCAA Tournament will be punched in the process. Teams on the March Madness bubble can often use conference tournaments to improve their resumes for the selection committee but they are also terrified of what could happen if upsets occur where teams that weren’t projected to make the field win their way into the tournament.
This phenomenon is known as the bid thief, and it usually affects mid-major leagues where the heavy favorite loses but still has a strong enough resume to earn an at-large bid, theoretically shrinking the bubble by one spot. 2021 saw a few power conferences enter the bid thief game as Georgetown and Oregon State went on surprising runs in Championship Week, costing Louisville and Colorado State spots in the field.
Several leagues could produce bid thieves over the next ten days. Here are a few squads that could cause several bubble bids to pop by stealing their tournament’s automatic bid into the dance.
6. Potential March Madness bid thieves – San Francisco Dons (WCC)
The WCC is the domain of Gonzaga, which is the nation’s No. 1 team and a heavy favorite to win the conference tournament to secure the league’s automatic bid. Saint Mary’s is also safely in the field, but the league does have a few teams capable of pulling upsets to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
While BYU and Santa Clara are capable of winning games in the WCC Tournament, the most likely bid thief is San Francisco, a quality basketball team that is right near the cut-line thanks to its overall body of work. The Dons are the No. 4 seed in the WCC, meaning they will likely draw BYU in the quarterfinals before a date with Gonzaga if they advance.
Knocking off the Bulldogs would likely put San Francisco against Saint Mary’s with a ticket to March Madness on the line, which would be a winnable game since the Gaels won both regular-season matchups by a combined seven points. The Dons could definitely put themselves into the NCAA Tournament by winning the WCC Tournament, which would knock someone else out of the field.
5. Potential March Madness bid thieves – SMU Mustangs
The next team to watch on the bid thief front is SMU, which is firmly on the bubble out of the American Athletic Conference. The Mustangs have taken some bad losses in a down AAC this year but they have also demonstrated an ability to beat good competition.
SMU is currently second in the American standings, which would allow them to avoid Houston until the final if seeding held to form. The current No. 3 seed is Memphis, which is a better overall team than SMU but one that the Mustangs swept during the regular season.
The auto bid comes into play if SMU tops the Tigers and gets to the final against Houston, which has been ranked in the Top 25 all season long but isn’t the same team after losing Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser to season-ending injuries. The Cougars split their season series with SMU with each team winning on its own floor, giving the Mustangs confidence that they can win again on a neutral site.
Most bracketologists see SMU as either one of the first teams out of the field or one of the last teams in. Winning the American would definitely get SMU in the field, costing someone else on the bubble a slot.
4. Potential March Madness bid thieves – Virginia Tech Hokies
This year’s potential power conference bid thief could come out of the ACC, which has been thoroughly mediocre all season long. Duke is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and could easily be a No. 1 seed but the Blue Devils have shown some lapses in conference play, losing three games while also letting a few bad teams hang around.
Wake Forest and Notre Dame are probably the two safest ACC teams outside of Duke, meaning an ACC Tournament win from someone like North Carolina or Miami would also shrink the bubble. There are also teams that could get hot for a week in Brooklyn and win the whole thing like Virginia Tech that would certainly qualify as bid thieves.
The Hokies entered the season with a lot of promise but largely flopped, going 10-10 over their first 20 games to start 2-7 in the ACC. The script has flipped for Virginia Tech since February with the Hokies winning nine of their next ten games to climb back into the fringes of the bubble conversation.
This run could give the Hokies plenty of confidence when they get to Brooklyn and make them a dangerous foe for anyone to conquer. Virginia Tech has the talent to win the ACC Tournament and can easily do so in a subpar league, which would cost another bubbler their tournament dreams.
3. Potential March Madness bid thieves – Belmont Bruins
The Ohio Valley Conference usually isn’t a multi-bid league but there is significant potential for that to happen if someone can topple Murray State. A 28-2 record combined with a perfect 18-0 mark in conference play means that the Racers will go dancing even if they lose in Evansville, which is a frightening scenario for the bubble.
The good news for potential bubblers is that the Racers have looked dominant against their league, which has enabled them to enter the polls over the past several weeks. A tight win over 13-17 Southeast Missouri State over the weekend is proof that Murray State can be beaten on a bad night, which offers hope to a team like Belmont.
The Bruins have been flirting with the bubble all year long after a solid non-conference performance that saw them get to the final of the ESPN Events Invitational and win at Saint Louis. The problem is that the Bruins lost to Ohio in non-conference play and dropped three games in OVC play, leaving them in an auto-bid or bust scenario this week.
That kind of desperation could give them an edge against the Racers, who may take a foot off the gas if they don’t feel as much pressure to win as Belmont does. If the Bruins can find a way to knock off Murray State their ticket will cost someone else a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Potential March Madness bid thieves – Missouri State Bears
The Missouri Valley Conference has produced plenty of bid thieves in the past and 2022 could be no exception. The presumed favorite in Arch Madness, Loyola Chicago, actually fell from the No. 1 seed to the No. 4 seed after losing to Northern Iowa in their final regular-season game.
The Ramblers have a solid resume built on good metrics and a few good non-league wins like a neutral-site victory over San Francisco that has proven to be extremely valuable. There is enough good work here that the Ramblers could still earn an at-large bid if they can get to the Missouri Valley final and lose, which would create a potential bid thief in Missouri State.
The Bears went 22-9 during the regular season and split their season series with Loyola Chicago, picking up a 79-69 win on the road in January when the Ramblers were ranked inside the Top 25. Even though the metrics have indicated that Missouri State is a quality basketball team their overall performance isn’t good enough to earn an at-large bid from the selection committee.
The path to a two-bid MVC comes from Loyola-Chicago getting to the final of Arch Madness before falling to Missouri State. If that scenario passes both of them should get in while another at-large hopeful has their dreams crushed.
1. Potential March Madness bid thieves – Dayton Flyers
The most bid-thief potential comes out of the A-10, where there is only one surefire lock for the NCAA Tournament in Davidson. Entering the final week of the season at 24-4 overall and 14-2 in conference play, the Wildcats have a good road win over Alabama on their resume and the metrics to justify their inclusion in the field.
The issue that bubble teams could run into is that the A-10 has a slew of very good teams without at-large-worthy resumes that could beat Davidson in the tournament, punching a ticket for themselves and taking a bid away from someone else. The most likely bid thief is Dayton, which has shown it can beat elite competition thanks to a neutral-site win over Kansas in November at the ESPN Events Invitational down in Orlando.
The main reason that the Flyers aren’t a true bubble threat is four Quadrant 4 losses, including three in a row at home in November that are weighing down their resume. Dayton has also beaten bubblers Miami and Virginia Tech this season, showcasing their danger ahead of their lone regular-season meeting with Davidson over the weekend.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Flyers beat the Wildcats and use the momentum from that win to steal the A-10’s automatic bid. Teams that are truly on the bubble in Championship Week will be praying that Dayton doesn’t get hot in Washington and knock them out in the process of winning the A-10 Tournament.
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