A small crowd in Nashville yelling “Let’s go Peay” will watch one of the worst teams in basketball qualify for March Madness Saturday evening, while two of the best teams will need to win Saturday and then two more times in front of huge crowds in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to likewise get invited as the Summit League Champion to the second biggest sporting event in America behind the Super Bowl.
Yes, the system is unfair. But by having all 351 teams in conferences and letting all 32 conference champions into the tournament, the NCAA gives every Cinderella a chance.
So as not to bog this post down with a huge table, we set up a link here so you can track; 15 teams coded “G” due to being ineligible, 47 “Fs” for already being eliminated, 194 “Es” whose only chance for a bid is to win their tournament, 28 “D’s” who are good enough to merit consideration but in truth will only get in if they win their tournament, 40 “Cs” who will be on the bubble if they do not win their tournament, and 27 “Bs” like Kansas who will get in regardless.
The best two teams that can only get in by winning their tournament are South Dakota State (expected to be ranked 30th based on RPI Forecast) and IPFW (Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, ranked 60th). More than 35,000 are expected come to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, over the next few days and these two can get in only if they win three straight games in the Summit League, ranked as the 11th best conference of 32.
The teams do not have any huge road upsets against top 50 teams, but the conference that brought us all-time Value Add greats such as Ben Whiteside, Keith Benson, Nate Wolters and George Hill has five players in the top 3% of all players at www.valueaddbasketball.com (as many as the Big East). The worst team in the conference, Western Illinois, won at tournament-bound Wisconsin, IUPUI went to overtime at Marquette, and Oral Roberts won at Tulsa.
Last year the Summit League was not nearly as good, but the top four teams looked very good in the postseason, with 15-seed North Dakota State playing Gonzaga tough, South Dakota State upsetting Colorado State on the road, Oral Roberts pulling an upset, and IPFW almost doing the same. If one of the top two teams win the Summit, be careful if you are a2 -seed.
In any event, it is ironic that two teams that good need to win three tough games to get that show while the 211th best team (Austin Peay) just needs to beat the 218th best team (Tennessee Martin) to take the Ohio Valley and get the first bid. However, they both pulled off great semifinal upsets, and whoever wins will have to go through a play-in game in Dayton to get to the 64-team bracket that are filled out by so many Americans.
In a fair world, a second Summit League could get on based on an RPI near 30, ahead of say an LSU team that may get in with an RPI of 98. Yes, they have the best future player in basketball, Ben Simmons, and that will draw more ratings, but the top two Summit League teams have been better than LSU this year.
Let the national tournament continue — and we will continue to update the list as the 289 teams alive today slowly par down to the 68 whose names will be called on Selection Sunday next weekend.