This week, the bracket for March Madness will finally be fully realized. So far, there have been five teams who clinched automatic bids into the NCAA's. As the week goes on, The Cycle will take a day-to-day look at who's moving in and out of the tournament. As the week progresses, will look at the bubble teams and see what's needed during this ever softening bubble to reach the tournament. This begins today as there are four games that will decide automatic bids, though not much to see in terms of bubbles.
Autobids: Harvard, Liberty, Creighton, Florida Gulf Coast, Belmont
West Coast Conference: Tonight, it's Gonzaga trying to finish this outstanding regular season as they look to defeat St. Mary's for the third time this year. I wasn't sure if the Gaels needed a win to clinch a spot, but looking at their resume, they have no losses vs +150 RPI teams, beat Creighton two weeks ago and are 26-5 with a 33 RPI. They're in win or lose. For the Zags though, this game is a must-win in order to lock up a #1 seed. They don't have the strongest schedule and even with a win, you could argue that they belong more on the two-line than the top-line. Thus, a win for Gonzaga tonight would clear any doubts to them getting a top seed in my eyes.
MAAC: Last year, Iona qualified as an at-large, becoming on the 2nd MAAC team to qualfiy as an at-large. This year, they try to head back to the NCAA's and will face Manhattan, who haven't been to the NCAA's since 2004, when PG Luis Flores and coach Bobby Gonzalez led the Jaspers to a win over Florida as a 13-seed. A Manhattan win would also make them the 2nd sub-.500 team to reach the tourney after Liberty won the Big South yesterday.
Southern: Davidson had a great year in the Southern conference, going 17-1 in the league and overall are 25-7. However, without a win tonight over Charleston, they are still heading to the NIT. No back door for the Wildcats. At least Charleston was second in the league, so if they were to win, they wouldn't have to worry about playing in Dayton in the first four.
CAA: With VCU gone, the Colonial has been a weaker league. It's title game will feature two teams looking to end long NCAA tourney droughts. Northeastern hasn't been to the Big Dance since 1991, while James Madison hasn't been in since 1994. Northeastern is guaranteed at least a berth in the NIT if they were to lose tonight.
Tomorrow, the Sun Belt will play its conference championship, and they'll be plenty of time to discuss Middle Tennessee State tomorrow, so let's focus on the other big loser from yesterday: Stony Brook. They dominated the America East conference, finishing 14-2 and three games clear of the rest of the league. Unfortunately, they lost to Albany yesterday and now are done in terms of the NCAA's, since they have no wins over the top-100 in RPI and a very weak schedule. A team like this who can run roughshod over an entire league over a full season, then have their season end on one fell swoop is particularly harsh. Yes, I know they will make the NIT, but that's not really the point when you easily win a league. Too bad for the Seawolves.