The bracket is starting to settle into form this late in the season, with minimal day-to-day fluctuation. We can start to draw conclusions on which teams are already in, which are still in contention, and how many bid-stealing conferences are out there. The field is comprised of 32 automatic bids (from conference tournament champions) and 36 at-large bids.
The following 25 teams have already done enough to warrant an at-large bid. Even if each of them were to not win again in the regular season, they would still be selected into the field:
|12||North Carolina||Atlantic Coast|
|13||Florida St||Atlantic Coast|
|21||St Mary’s CA||West Coast|
|22||West Virginia||Big 12|
|23||Notre Dame||Atlantic Coast|
|25||Wichita St||Missouri Valley|
1 or 2 wins Away
This next group of 8 will be in the field, barring a monumental collapse down the stretch:
|28||VA Commonwealth||Atlantic 10|
This next group is fighting for the few remaining at-large bids and hoping that the teams in the two groups above them grab all 11 auto-bids in their respective conference tournaments. Some of these teams may be able to sneak in with as few as two more wins, but would be well-served to rack up as many as possible down the stretch to avoid reliance on winning the conference tournament:
|34||Illinois St||Missouri Valley|
|35||Oklahoma St||Big 12|
|37||Iowa St||Big 12|
|39||Virginia Tech||Atlantic Coast|
|43||Miami FL||Atlantic Coast|
|44||Michigan St||Big Ten|
|47||Kansas St||Big 12|
|49||Seton Hall||Big East|
|54||Rhode Island||Atlantic 10|
|55||Boise St||Mountain West|
|56||New Mexico St||WAC|
Any team not listed as one of the 62 above will need to win their conference tournament in order to make the field.
Some conferences have teams that would qualify for an at-large if they were to miss out on an auto-bid. This includes the following:
The top 36 teams above should feel pretty safe even if they don’t win their conference tournament, but outside the top 36 and bid-stealing starts to play a factor. The most important conference tournaments to pay attention to are:
West Coast: Gonzaga or St. Mary’s needs to win this auto-bid to avoid a certain stolen bid.
Conference USA: Middle Tennessee must earn the auto-bid; nobody else in the conference is remotely close to an at-large and the Blue Raiders have all but locked up their at-large.
American: It would be helpful for all if SMU or Cincinnati earns this auto-bid. Houston wouldn’t be bad necessarily, but anyone else would be a disaster for bubble teams.
Missouri Valley: Wichita St is definitely in and Illinois St is very likely in; you want one of these two to get the auto-bid if your team is on the bubble.
Atlantic 10: VCU and Dayton are near-locks for an at-large, so it’d be easiest if one of them earns the A10 auto-bid. Rhode Island is close, so it wouldn’t be that bad if they earned it, but nobody else is in contention for an at-large.
The 6 major conference tournaments are important to keep an eye on, but with so many at-large contenders it is much less likely that a bid is stolen from those.