Several smaller-conference tournaments are already underway, most notably the Missouri Valley, which holds it championship game Sunday in St. Louis. There’s been much discussion of late about the dearth of mid-major at-large berths in recent years with many hoping that trend reverses itself this year.
There are in fact a few — but only a few — viable mid-major at-large candidates right now.
Wichita State (27-4): Barring a stunning early ouster at Arch Madness, Wichita will be in the dance. The Shockers have already cracked the Top 10 on KenPom, even higher than where they were last year when they made the First Four. This despite just one RPI Top 50 win all season (over Illinois State).
Middle Tennessee (26-4): The Blue Raiders, which beat bubble contender Vanderbilt, are in decent shape should they reach the Conference USA tourney final but lose. I currently have them as a No. 11 seed, higher than my last three at-large teams. A Top 25 non-conference schedule rating certainly helps.
Illinois State (25-5): The Redbirds — top seeds in the Missouri Valley tournament — will have a chance even if they lose to Wichita State in their tourney final, but their resume is admittedly very thin (just two RPI Top 100 wins). It may be a tough sell.
Saint Mary’s (26-3): The Gaels missed the cut last year at 27-5. No such concern this year. They’re a consensus Top 25 team who I have as a six seed. Lock it up.
And that’s it. All due respect to Vermont, Monmouth, Princeton and the like, but you’re going to need to win that conference tourney. This is March.
A reminder: Selection Sunday is March 12, and the tourney begins March 14. The Final Four is April 1-3 in Phoenix.
* — Denotes projected conference champion, automatic berth
This edition’s bracket is Midwest vs. West and East vs. South in the national semifinals, based on the order of my No. 1 seeds. UPDATE: A previous version had some game sites in the wrong places. They have been corrected below.
LAST FOUR BYES: Xavier, Seton Hall, Wichita State, Providence
LAST FOUR IN: USC, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Illinois
FIRST FOUR OUT: Syracuse, Kansas State, Cal, Iowa
NEXT FOUR OUT: Ohio State, Rhode Island, TCU, Georgia
MULTIPLE BID CONFERENCES: ACC (10), Big Ten (8), Big East (7), Big 12 (5), SEC (5), Pac-12 (4), A-10 (2), American (2), WCC (2)