Well the regular season has come and gone, and we're down to postseason play. The Miners' best chance of making the NCAA tournament is by winning the upcoming conference tourney, but their at large hopes aren't completely dead. Joe Lunardi, of ESPN, has released his most recent projections, and as I had predicted earlier in the week, the Miners have slipped into the "next four out" category heading into the conference tourney. This leaves them 8 teams outside of the tournament, but not the worst position to be in. Of course, these projections are only the opinion of one person, but one would have to think the Miners couldn't be in much different shape than this.
Here is what Lunardi's projections look like.
LAST FOUR IN
FIRST FOUR OUT
NEXT FOUR OUT
Here is my uneducated opinion on the teams that currently are ahead of UTEP in this at large race. Michigan St dropped its regular season finale to finish at 16-13, and 9-9 in conference. They should play Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, and would likely play Wisconsin in the second round if they were to make it. They probably need both wins to have a serious chance to make the NCAA tourney. Anything short of that should definitely doom them.
Boston College still has to play a game against Wake Forest on Sunday, and should get that win to finish 9-7 in ACC play. A loss there would undoubtedly drop them from at large contention, barring a run deep into the ACC tournament. If they do get the win, and another win or two in the ACC tournament, the Eagles should be in pretty good shape.
Virginia Tech lost their last two games of the season against fellow bubblers Clemson, and Boston College to finish at 9-7 in conference. I think these guys definitely need two wins in the ACC tourney to have a good shot, but the if they win one, the tourney might feel sorry for them considering they were snubbed last year.
Colorado really has no business here. They lost their mid-week game at Iowa St, but were able to finish up with a win over Nebraska at home. They finish 8-8 in conference, and should definitely need two wins in their conference tourney to be a serious at large threat.
Alabama greatly improved their chances by knocking off Georgia on Saturday. I still don't bye them as an at large team, but they finished 12-4 in the SEC with wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. It might be enough. It might not. It all depends on how the committee views the SEC West. An early exit in the SEC tournament, and that should be the last of the tide.
Georgia lost its last game against Alabama, but in my opinion is still ahead of the tide in the at large race. One win in the SEC tournament might do it for them, two definitely will.
USC jumped into this spot by knocking off Washington in the season finale to finish in a tie for third in the PAC 10. They have some good wins, but their RPI is still up around 70. Two wins in the PAC 10 tourney will probably be enough for the Trojans.
Baylor has absolutely no business in the at large conversation. They finish at 7-9 in conference, and anything short of a run to the Big 12 championship should completely drop these guys off the board.
Washington St lost its season ender in OT to UCLA. A win would've undoubtedly put them in the tournament, and the fact that they were playing without their best player (one game suspension) may be taken into account by the selection committee. In the end though, a 9-9 finish in the PAC 10 should not be good enough, they need to make it to the conference championship.
Memphis kept its at large hopes alive by surviving Tulane at home on Saturday. The Tigers have a good resume, but have shot themselves in the foot, make that both feet, down the stretch. They certainly need to make it to the conference championship to have a shot.
Nebraska is in the same boat as Baylor. They finished 7-9 in conference which should be the deal breaker when talking about an at large bid. They have to make the Big 12 championship to even be considered.
UTEP did well to finish the season, and would be in much better shape if not for their minor breakdown, and that charade by the refs at ECU. Still, here we are with an outside shot at an at large bid. If we make it to the conference championship game, we will at least be in the discussion come next Sunday.
In my opinion, throw out Baylor and Nebraska right off the bat. They're done. Washington St is right behind them at .500 in conference. I don't see Michigan St, Colorado, or Virginia Tech doing enough to make it, but you never know. That leaves the most serious threats as BC, Alabama, Georgia, USC, and Memphis as the most serious threats to our at large hopes. We should be rooting against those guys.
We could potentially face Memphis in the conference championship, and even if we lost, they would get the auto bid taking them off this list. UAB would likely break into the at large conversation, but three losses to Memphis would surely doom the Blazers. Meaning, basically, that Memphis isn't really a threat to our at large chances.
As I said earlier in the week, I want to win the conference tourney so our NCAA tournament lives stay in our own hands. Anything short of that, and we will be in the hands of people who likely don't see the Miners, or C-USA in the same eyes that we do. At least we're close though. A run to championship game will keep us in that at large discussion, and outside of winning the conference tourney championship that's really that's all you can ask for.
*Here is a link to Joe Lunardi's latest NCAA tournament bubble projections. Lunardi's Latest Projections