With Selection Sunday looming, here are the remaining bid-stealer contenders that could shake up the NCAA Tournament picture.
March Madness is just around the corner, and college basketball fans everywhere are gearing up for the excitement of the NCAA Tournament. While many of the top-ranked teams are already on everyone’s radar, there’s always the potential for a surprise bid stealer to emerge from nowhere and shake up the bubble picture. Seemingly every year, there are a handful of teams that fly under the radar for most of the season, only to pull off a shocking upset in their conference tournament and earn an automatic bid to March Madness.
We’ll take a look below at some of the teams that could potentially play the role of a bid-stealer ahead of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. These squads have the potential to make a splash and upset some higher-seeded opponents in March Madness and leave bubble teams on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. So, buckle up and get ready for some surprises – especially if the tournament picture shrinks because of a bid-stealer or two.
- North Texas: The Conference USA could reasonably be a multi-bid league for the first time since 2012 with 29-3 Florida Atlantic already safely in the field. FAU is joined by North Texas, UAB and Middle Tennessee in the C-USA semis, where the Mean Green have the best chance to steal a bid. Grant McCasland’s squad ranks 26th nationally in defense on KenPom and had a pair of close defeats against FAU during the early part of conference play. Since Feb. 1, North Texas has been the 15th-most efficient team in all of college basketball, per T-Rank. UNT faces a talented UAB squad in the C-USA semis.
- Clemson: Despite a third-place finish in the ACC, the Clemson Tigers entered Champ Week out of the tournament picture with a pair of Quad-4 losses and a poor nonconference schedule. But thanks to a blowout 80-54 win over NC State on Thursday, Clemson is two victories away from punching a ticket regardless. The Tigers will first have to solve Virginia in the ACC semis before taking on either Duke or Miami in the title game. Clemson beat Duke and lost to Virginia and Miami by a combined 11 points during the regular season, making this scenario not entirely implausible.
- Oregon: The Ducks stole a bid back in 2019 by winning four games in four days before eventually reaching the Sweet 16. Oregon’s current four-game winning streak is its longest of the season with the Ducks offense scoring 1.20 points per possession during this run. While defeating its semifinal opponent, top-seeded UCLA, is no small task, it took the Jaylen Clark-less Bruins all of 38 minutes Thursday before pulling away from Colorado. With a similar showing Friday, Oregon could be marching into a win-and-dance title game Saturday night.
Don’t Count Them Out
- UAB: Like North Texas, UAB is also vying to join Florida Atlantic as Conference USA representatives in the Big Dance. The Mean Green get the nod as the favorite in Friday’s matchup, though the Blazers aren’t a pushover by any means. Andy Kennedy’s squad is the most talented in the conference, thanks to superstar Jordan “Jelly” Walker, who helped cut down the nets last season. Whether UAB or North Texas wins Friday, the C-USA is ripe for a bid steal.
- Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt has been one of the hottest teams in the country of late. The Commodores are 9-1 since February with wins over Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn and Mississippi State. Vandy turns its attention to Friday’s showdown with Kentucky in hopes of taking down Big Blue Nation for the second time in 10 days. It’s a challenging road ahead to capture the SEC title, especially with starting big man Liam Robbins sidelined for the season, but Vanderbilt is playing with nothing to lose.
- Ohio State: After a dreadful regular season and the worst Big Ten tournament seed in school history, Ohio State has pieced together a pair of commendable performances in Chicago to advance to the league quarterfinals. The Buckeyes have won four of five since a dismal 1-14 stretch in Big Ten play, and are now set to take on Michigan State on Friday. Has this recent run been a fluke or has Chris Holtmann’s squad actually found something? Time will soon tell.
- San Jose State: San Jose State captured its first-ever Mountain West tournament victory Thursday night when it held off Nevada in overtime. The win extends the Spartans’ Cinderella season, and now Tim Miles’ squad sits just two wins away from ending a 27-year NCAA Tournament drought. But to make it happen, San Jose State has to slay the dragon of the conference in San Diego State on Friday, a program that is 16-1 against the Spartans since they joined the league.
- Middle Tennessee: Middle Tennessee is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since pulling off upsets in 2016 and 2017. To do so, Nick McDevitt’s group will need to take down top-seeded Florida Atlantic on Friday in the Conference USA semis. Fortunately for the Blue Raiders, they already have a recent win over FAU, using a second-half surge to take down the Owls back on Feb. 16. If Middle Tennessee can do it again, it would cement the Conference USA as a two-bid league.
- Cincinnati, Tulane, Temple, UCF, Wichita State, East Carolina: Like the Big Ten and SEC, the American hosts its championship on Sunday, so Friday’s slate of games will only be the quarterfinals. As it currently stands, Houston is a projected 1-seed, Memphis is safely in the field, and the remaining six competitors are in win-or-go-home situations. Because of the top-heavy nature of the American this season, three consecutive wins by any of these six teams in Fort Worth would be nothing short of a shocker. Cincinnati is probably the most obvious threat here, though the Bearcats went 0-4 against Houston and Memphis during the regular season.