Every year as the 2020 NCAA tournament approaches, the talk of the college basketball world revolves around the teams on the “bubble”. Fans of bubble teams live and die by the results of the last few games before Selection Sunday while feverishly tracking the results of other bubble teams to see where their squad stacks up. One factor that many fans tend to overlook when their team is on the cusp of the NCAA field are the possibility of bid thieves. Bid thieves are teams that don’t have any shot at an at large bid, but end up winning their conference tournament replacing a team that will already get in with an at large bid.
The result of a bid thief winning their conference tournament is that the number of at large bids available shrinks by one, meaning that the team that was previously considered the last team in the field will miss the tournament. Below is a list of teams from likely multi-bid conferences who have what it takes to become a bid thief. Fans of bubble teams should familiarize themselves with these teams and root against them during championship week.
American (AAC): #10 seed Temple
The Temple Owls have all of the signs of a potential bid thief as they are a team with a lot of talent that hasn’t performed to expectations, but has a couple of really good wins that shows they can play with anyone in the league on any given day.
Quinton Rose is a potential first team all-conference player who does it all for the Owls, leading the team in scoring, assists, and steals. He teams up with Nate Pierre-Louis, one of the best rebounding guards in the sport, to form one of the league’s most formidable backcourts. The main weakness with these guys, as well as the entire team is three point shooting, where Temple struggles to find consistency. However, they’ll be playing with nothing to lose so hitting shots should come a little easier and if they play with some intensity on defense, they could go all the way to the AAC title game and give the favorites a scare.
Atlantic 10: #5 St. Bonaventure and #7 Davidson
The Bonnies made a surprise run to the A-10 title game as a five seed last March where they lost a heart breaker to Saint Louis. That was an extremely young team with three freshman starters, but those guys are all back and with that great experience under their belt, they’re capable of finishing the job this time. Point guard Kyle Lofton and center Osun Osunniyi are the best inside/outside combo in the league after Jalen Crutcher and Obi Toppin of Dayton. Osunniyi has battled injuries throughout the season, but he’s healthy now and the Bonnies don’t lose much when he’s on the court.
With the lethal backcourt of Kellan Grady and Jon Axel Gudmundsson leading the way, this Davidson squad is finally starting to hit their stride and are doing so at the perfect time. They were picked as one of the favorites in the conference but started out slow, in large part due to inconsistent scoring from their veteran stars. But with the way these two are playing now and with the 2018 A-10 title run under their belt, the Wildcats are a team that absolutely no one wants to see in Brooklyn.
The ACC is so top heavy, and I just can’t picture any of the teams that aren’t in the top four beating two of those teams to win the title, especially considering the top four have double byes.
Big 12: #8 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State has been one of the most puzzling teams in college basketball this year. They couldn’t have asked for a better start, winning their first seven games that included a dominant performance in the NIT season tip-off, blowing out both Syracuse and Ole Miss. The Cowboys looked like a tournament team heading into conference play, but stunningly lost their first eight Big 12 games. They’ve somewhat recovered, but they still finished in the bottom four of the league and will have to win four games in four days to take home the title.
The problem Oklahoma State had during their losing streak was scoring; they went through way too many long scoring droughts on a nightly basis. Senior guard/forward Lindy Waters has had a nightmare season shooting the ball, but he’s shown in prior years how lethal of a shooter and all around scorer he can be. If the Cowboys can get Waters and Thomas Dziagwa going from three in Kansas City, the rest of the offense will open up and things could fall into place for the Cowboys to make a run at the Big 12 title.
Big East: #10 DePaul
The pick a few weeks ago would have easily been Providence, but the Friars have played so well that they’re now in a really good position to get an at large bid. That leaves just three teams in the conference not in at large contention, and I actually believe the last place Blue Demons have a shot to win it all at Madison Square Garden if they get hot.
DePaul had a very disappointing Big East season after a promising start in non-conference play. It’s tough to diagnose what went wrong for them when the calendar flipped to 2020 as well as predict which Blue Demons team would show up on a nightly basis, but there’s one thing you can’t deny when evaluating this squad – they have talent. Paul Reed is an elite athlete and a double-double machine at power forward. Grad transfer point guard Charlie Moore is the leading scorer and is having the best year of his long collegiate career, and Jalen Coleman-Lands is a strong third option that’s a nice compliment to Moore in the backcourt. Freshman wing Romeo Weems is super talented, and forward Jaylen Butz does a lot of dirty work and is a reliable option down low.
DePaul’s best five can hang with anyone in the conference, and they’ve proven they can take down good teams with wins at Iowa and at home vs. Texas Tech, Butler, and Marquette. The issue the Demons have is consistency, but if they can get everyone on the same page and play hard all tournament, they’ll be a dangerous team in the big apple.
Big Ten: None
Similar to the Big East, the Big Ten has been so good this year that the majority of their teams will end up in the dance. With ten teams looking like a good bet to make the tournament, it’s really tough to see any of the bottom tier teams winning four or five straight games. Purdue is a solid team and still has slim at large hopes, but their offense is way too inconsistent to string together a four game run against this type of competition.
Pac-12: #12 Washington
Similar to DePaul and Oklahoma State, the Huskies had a promising start to the season, but collapsed in conference play. They check all the boxes of a potential bid thief – talent, proof that they can beat good teams, and inconsistent play that caused a disappointing regular season. Part of the derailment of the season came as a result of point guard Quade Green being declared ineligible for the remainder of the season in early January. The Huskies then had to burn freshman Marcus Tsohonis’ redshirt, and he was thrust into the starting role right away.
If I was a fan of a Pac-12 school, I’d be very scared to face Washington in the first or second round in Vegas. There is two potential first round picks in the back of the Huskies zone in Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Stewart is a man among boys; he can score in the post as well as anyone in the conference and is one of the best rim protectors and rebounders on top of that. McDaniels is a freak athlete with great length and is a perfect fit in the back of the 2-3 zone. Nahziah Carter is another athletic and talented forward on the back line for the Huskies, and he’s elevated his game offensively this season and turned into a quality scorer.
There’s no denying that the Huskies’ frountcourt is downright scary, but the backcourt play hasn’t been up to standard and is the main cause of their last place finish. However, Tsohonis has looked good at times and if he and Jamal Bey can play with more confidence and figure out how to close out games, this team will be very dangerous in Las Vegas.
SEC: #9 Alabama
The Crimson Tide entered the season with tournament aspirations, but they’ve been the definition of inconsistent this year and will most likely need to earn the automatic bid in Nashville to punch their ticket. You don’t see teams with barely winning records win the title in a conference as strong as the SEC very often, but I wouldn’t put it out of the question for Alabama. The Tide play fast and furious and launch a lot of three pointers, a very high variance style of play. When they’re shooting well and Kira Lewis jr. is at his best getting everyone involved, this team may drop 100 on you. However, when it’s not their day shooting and the team starts playing lazy and selfish, they may lose by 30.
All season long, you never knew which Alabama team would show up, but it is apparent they have enough talent to win every night out. With a last ditch run at a tournament bid and little to lose in Nashville this week, I expect a sense of urgency out of Nate Oats’ club and if they get shots to fall, look out.