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Bubble Billikens: Breaking Down SLU’s Tournament Chances

After their devastating and controversial loss to VCU just 2 weeks ago, it seemed that Saint Louis’ postseason hopes were limited to an Atlantic 10 Tournament championship run. But yet ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has SLU in his “First Four Out,” behind only Seton Hall and Utah State, and one spot ahead of the Duke Blue Devils. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports is even more bullish on the Billikens, slotting them as the last team in the field. So how can Saint Louis position themselves to go dancing? Let’s discuss.


Automatic Bid:

This is the simplest of ways to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. If SLU can take care of business against UMass (Woodstock Academy) today and follow it up with wins in the remaining two rounds, then Travis Ford will cut down the nets in Dayton and take them straight to Indianapolis as the automatic qualifier from the A10 conference. While it is a difficult task, this scenario is entirely plausible if SLU can play their game and execute the way they did prior to their COVID outbreak in January. Check out this preview for an in-depth breakdown of the Billikens’ play style.



At- Large Bid:

Here is where things get more complicated. A loss today should seemingly burst the Billikens’ bubble and spoil Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French’s likely final season in SLU blue. A win today, and a potential semifinal loss to regular season champion St. Bonaventure is slightly less damning, but leaves Saint Louis in quite a precarious position with the Selection Committee. Knocking off the Bonnies would add a strong Quad 1 win to their resume, giving the Billikens three Q1 wins to their name and a 16-5 record overall. Assuming SLU loses in the title game in this scenario, there are other factors that need to be considered.


Bid Stealers:

The Achilles’ heel of any bubble team, bid stealers winning their conference tournament can throw a wrench in those pining for at large consideration. In the case of the A-10, SLU cannot afford for a team other than St. Bonaventure or VCU to emerge victorious in this tournament. A loss to a team like Davidson or Dayton would in effect reduce the remaining spots available off the bubble, and would put SLU in direct competition with the Bonnies and Rams for one of those coveted bids. This applies in other conferences as well, as a team with a much weaker resume would automatically catapult past the Bills and into the field, leaving the stronger teams in said conference to consume an at-large bid. In the opposite direction, it’s worth noting that the Ivy League’s decision not to play this season opens up an additional bid for those on the bubble to claim.


Bubble Teams:

In vying for an at-large bid, it becomes crucial that the teams surrounding SLU on the bubble do not acquire any impressive resume boosting victories. Here are some teams to pay attention to:

Seton Hall (57): Pirates lost to UConn yesterday, but remain very much in the field.

Michigan State (74): The Spartans are hot, but lost to Michigan this week and play them again Sunday.

Drake (42): The MVC 2 seed is playing without two stars in Arch Madness, where an early loss could take them out of the field.

Boise State (45); Colorado State (41); Utah State (48): These three MWC teams are only a few spots behind SLU in the NET.

Duke (58): SLU supporters are Tar Heel fans tomorrow as a Duke loss puts Coach K in dire straits entering the ACC tourney.

Memphis (55): The Tigers trail behind others on the bubble, but a road win at Houston this weekend could propel them past SLU.

Syracuse (51): The Orange need to secure a win or two in the ACC tournament to prove their worth to the committee.


The Eye Test and COVID-19:

While the word unprecedented is the runaway leader for most overused word of the past calendar year, the NCAA tournament selection process this year is perfectly encapsulated by it. Never before has the committee been tasked with judging resumes that were composed in such an inconsistent manner. Teams like St. Bonaventure barely played a non-conference slate before tearing through conference play, while teams like SLU rightfully earned top 25 rankings in the non-conference before succumbing to the virus and being forced to recover idly while other teams were able to gain mid-season form. In these circumstances, it is not out of the question that the selection committee will forgo the metrics when discerning the fates of bubble teams and rely on the “eye test.” If that is truly the case, SLU needs to impress in its games in Richmond (and hopefully Dayton) in order to prove to the committee that this is the same team that turned heads when virus-free. While we won’t know the committee’s stance on this until Selection Sunday, it is something to keep in mind when watching these games play out.


Oklahoma State:

Ranked 17th in the nation and projected as a 4 seed by Joe Lunardi, Oklahoma State has little to do with teams on the bubble…. right? Not quite. Entering the season led by the top player from last year’s recruiting class, Cade Cunningham, the Cowboys were hit with a postseason ban for this season. Knowing the star freshman would likely transfer or enter the draft after this season regardless, OK State appealed to the NCAA to have the ban lifted. Flash forward to today, and the NCAA has yet to rule on the appeal. Logic indicates that a decision will be levied prior to the Big 12 Tournament next Wednesday. If the NCAA fails to make a ruling by then, or overturns their initial ban, Oklahoma State will retain eligibility this year and it becomes a moot point. If the NCAA upholds its sanctions, however, an additional spot in the field becomes available, which could be significant to the Billikens and the A10 as a whole.